In America, there are thousands of seniors who have lost their homes and their dignity to the criminal greed of unscrupulous guardians, who target aging individuals with considerable assets, find courts that can name them as their legal guardians, and charge hefty fees for their services, ultimately liquidating assets to line their own pockets.
In most cases, the individuals in questions are actually able to live on their own, and guardians simply get doctors to write false incapacity certificates. In fact, according to research by Hunter College, 1 out of 4 guardianship petitions in New York are “brought by nursing homes and hospitals, sometimes as a means of collecting on overdue bills.”
Several journalistic investigations have uncovered a fraudulent guardianship epidemic led by hundreds of people who have made it their life’s profession, sometimes obtaining guardianship for hundreds of individuals at a time.
The phenomenon is prevalent in states that attract large numbers of seniors, such as Florida and Nevada, and it survives thanks to the help of judges who do not think family has any priority and often grant guardianship to strangers, even when family members are able and willing to assume it.
Ginger Franklin, a Nashville resident, recently shared her horrifying experience of the guardianship system with public media site NextAvenue.com. When she fell down the stairs in her home in 2008, she was barely 50. She suffered a brain injury and her aunt was advised to ask the court to appoint a guardian.
Franklin went on to live in a group home for mentally ill adults. When she unexpectedly recovered, only seven weeks after her accident, the guardian told her that she no longer had a home; the court had given the guardian permission to sell all of Franklin’s assets.
Ms. Franklin was sent to a group home, where she had to work for free, cooking, grocery shopping, dispensing medication, and even cleaning the owner’s home.
During that period, Franklin’s estate was paying $850 monthly rent and $200-per-hour to the guardian for doing things like writing checks to pay for Franklin’s expenses and having phone conversations.
After two years and with the help of some media attention, Franklin was able to win back her freedom in court, and proceeded to sue the guardian.
Franklin was lucky because she was relatively young and trusted her own perception of the situation. In many cases, however, older individuals have expressed that the sudden appearance of willing guardians has taken them off guard, and they have often thought that perhaps guardians were right, and they were unable to live on their own.
Elizabeth Indig, a Las Vegas, Nevada resident, is the daughter of another victim of this broken system. Her 93-year-old mother had a private guardian appointed to care for her without Indig’s knowledge. The daughter has been fighting in court for years, to no avail. Meanwhile, the guardian charged excessive fees and stopped paying Indig’s mother’s homeowner’s association fees. As a result, the house was foreclosed, and the woman had to move to a nursing home.
Some career guardians have become millionaires through exploiting supposedly incapacitated seniors.
In Nevada, a man named Jared Shafer has assumed guardianship over more than 3,000 people in the course of 35 years. Shafer has also taught numerous courses on how to make a profit by becoming a private guardian. Between 1979 and 2003, Shafer worked for the government as a public guardian. He later formed his own private guardianship company.
Another career guardian from Nevada, April Parks, has been found to have referral arrangements with hospitals to find affluent seniors. In one, among hundreds of shocking cases, Parks showed up at the house of Ruddy and Rennie North and told them “that she had an order from the Clark County Family Court to ‘remove’ them from their home. She would be taking them to an assisted-living facility,” as reported by the New Yorker.
The Norths’ daughter had to fight for years before getting her parents out of Parks’ control. In the process, they lost much of their health as well as their home, which was sold by Parks, who transferred the proceeds directly to her own bank account.
Some wards live virtually like prisoners.
Parks has often convinced judges that her wards’ children were a bad influence, in order to further isolate them and gain more control over their assets. Once, when an assisted living facility had a new director who objected to her fraudulent dealings, Parks removed all her wards from it and took them to a cheaper and more “accommodating” facility.
Private guardians like Parks have only now started having trouble with the law, thanks to several journalistic investigations. There are a million and a half adults in the care of guardians in the US.
They are in control of about $273 billion in assets. American Bar Association has recognized that private guardianship as it functions today is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
As media attention gives leverage to the people fighting unscrupulous guardians in court, some of the most shocking aspects of the faulty system are coming to light.
A man who purchased a storage unit in Nevada earlier this year found a set of sinister leftovers: 27 urns containing the remains of wards who had never been buried. For decades, law enforcement and the judicial system have routinely dismissed accusations against abuses of the guardianship system.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of this perverse system, our elder law experts can help. We have experienced lawyers who often partner with the media and law enforcement to resolve horrific guardianship situations. Victims are often entitled to damages and restitution. Contact us today for a free legal consultation if you or a loved one is a victim of a guardianship scam. 833.201.1555 OR EMAIL US.