Guardianship System Needs Fixing, Report Concludes

[This article was originally published on July 30, 2004.  The links were updated on July 12, 2018.]

The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on the nation's guardianship system Thursday, July 22, 2004, at which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) unveiled a report highly critical of the guardianship system and ElderLawAnswers member Robert Aldridge testified.

The consensus at the hearing mirrored the conclusion of the GAO report: both state governments and federal officials need to improve the current guardianship process, which has allowed some vulnerable seniors to become victims of abuse and neglect.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the Aging Committee, requested the year-long GAO investigation of the guardianship process in February 2003 after hearing witnesses testify about cases across the nation in which appointed guardians mistreated elders. The resulting report, "Guardianships: Collaboration Needed to Protect Incapacitated Elderly People," concludes that the current guardianship system is fragmented, inconsistent and lacks even the basic information required for effective oversight.

The GAO investigators found that state courts vary widely in how their guardianship systems operate and what they require of guardians; states are generally reluctant to recognize guardianships originating in other states; there is little collaboration regarding guardianships between state courts and federal agencies; and most courts surveyed do not track the number of active guardianships or the number of elderly under guardianship, or maintain a database on abuse.

At the committee's hearing following the report's release, Barbara Bovbjerg, the GAO's Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security, said GAO investigators found courts in Florida, New Hampshire, Florida and California that are running "exemplary programs" that could serve as models for others.

To download a copy of the GAO report in PDF format, go to: (If you do not have the free PDF reader installed on your computer, download it here.)

To visit the Senate Committee on Aging's Web site, go to: