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Thinking of a guardianship? Avoid financial exploitation

As an adult child of a parent entering their twilight years, you might be struggling to balance your parent's stridently independent personality with their need for care. Even starting a discussion about nursing homes, in-home care or guardianships can be difficult. What if you finally settle upon a guardianship, only to find it does not meet your loved one's needs? 

How big of a problem is it?

In New York state an estimated $1.5 billion is lost every year due to financial fleecing of the elder population, according to the Office of Children and Family Services.

Much of this occurs through guardianships, and it is only going to get more prevalent; 49 million Americans are over 65 currently, and that is set to grow in the coming decades.

The news media have taken particular interest in guardianships lately. "Last Week Tonight" covered guardianships in a recent episode, and outlined some of the more outrageous predatory behavior: in one case, billing for 100 hours of services in a single day. The New Yorker also covered the issue, focusing on the state of Nevada and the story of how one elderly couple was removed from their home through a guardianship.

It is important to remember that not all guardianships are bad. In fact, they can be an essential service for an incapacitated older relative. All too often problems arise from antagonistic relatives, nursing homes acting in bad faith or attorneys posing as friends or relatives.

What can you do about it?

The elderly are some of the most vulnerable in our society to crime. Here are few steps that you can take to make sure the wealth your relative has spent a lifetime earning is not squandered:

  • Think carefully about who you want as your agent. Preferably someone with common sense, sound judgment, sensible with their own money. A guardian will be in charge of items such as bank accounts, outings, food, running the household, medical care and much more.
  • Build in safety mechanisms. It's great to find a trusted friend or individual to be a guardian. However, there might be options in which you could make it so you can verify any decisions they make through clauses in the guardianship contract.
  • Revoke the agreement if you feel the need. A guardian can be removed, but the process will need to go through court and might take a while, so it is important to choose carefully in the beginning.
  • Set enough time aside. The documents, appointments and various processes involved in setting up a guardianship will take a lot of time and should not be rushed.

It can be a difficult topic to bring up with a loved parent, aunt, uncle or another relative. However, avoiding the subject is so often how the process becomes confusing, rushed and mistakes are made. Planning ahead is the most important part in preventing an abusive guardianship.

A guardianship should be a protection for your loved one, but unfortunately, some will see it as an opportunity to get paid. Putting the right measures in place can reduce the chances of this happening.

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