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November 1, 2010

Abuse Cases Put Focus on Court-Appointed Guardians (USA)



By LISE OLSEN HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Oct. 28, 2010

Federal auditors uncovered hundreds of allegations of physical abuse and mistreatment by guardians of the elderly and disabled in 45 states, including Texas, where they spotlighted mismanagement, courthouse cronyism and illegal use of U.S. veterans' benefits, says a national report released Wednesday.
Stakes are extremely high in guardianship proceedings, a legal process in which judges can declare someone to be mentally incapacitated and transfer rights over all assets and basic life decisions to a court appointee.
The report includes an ongoing dispute about Michael and Jean Kidd, a Richardson couple, ages 67 and 70, who were declared mentally incapacitated and placed in a nursing home after the husband broke his hip last year. "Under the care of court-appointed guardians, their house went into foreclosure, their car was repossessed, their electricity was shut off, and their credit was allowed to deteriorate," says the new report by the Government Accounting Office, an investigating arm of the U.S. Congress.
The Kidds so far have kept their home, but continue to fight their guardianship in Collin County court.
Nationwide, complaints about guardianships are common, but no one centrally tracks or investigates abuse, the GAO found. "Although we continue to receive new allegations from family members and advocacy groups, we could not locate a single website, federal agency, state or local entity, or any other organization that compiles comprehensive information," the report said.
Lax procedures
Only 11 states, including Texas, require screening and certification for court-appointed guardians. Some have such lax procedures that government investigators used "counterfeit documentation and fictitious educational and professional histories" to obtain certifications.
The Kidds' guardian got certified despite criticism he received for his work in their case, said Debby Salinas Valdez, a San Antonio-based member of a group promoting reforms in Texas known as GRADE — Guardianship Reform Advocates for the Disabled. She and other GRADE members argue oversight of guardianships needs improvement.
Only three states mandate credit checks for guardians hired to manage all assets of elderly and disabled people. Texas is not one of them.
"Courts failed to adequately screen potential guardians, appointing individuals with criminal convictions and/or significant financial problems to manage estates worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars," the GAO found.
In one featured case, Texas jurists failed to remove a guardian even after he stole his ward's VA benefits for years.





SOURCE:    The Chron


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