Plan Ahead to Minimize Risk of Guardianship Abuse

An 87-year old New York man slowly began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. A widower, without many close family members, the senior befriended many people around him. For example, he often used the same cab driver, and he and the younger man grew to know one another. Eventually, the senior’s cognitive challenges placed him in real danger of harming himself or his interests. The details are a little fuzzy, but somehow the cab driver was appointed the man’s legal guardian by a court, providing him significant control over all of the senior’s affairs.

What the elderly man did not know, however, was that the cab driver had a checkered history. The driver was a convicted bank robber, and he quickly went back to his old ways after gaining control of the senior’s life. The guardian bought a new Humvee, spent time at strip clubs, and purchased a wide range of gifts for himself—all on the senior’s dime. Fortunately, the abuse was uncovered–the guardian is now in prison. However, the financial damage was already done and the senior lost nearly $640,000 that will never be returned.

Guardianship abuse is a common problem. Elder care planning is critical to avoid falling victim.

As a recent My Elder Advocate article on the subject discusses, court-appointed guardians have immense control over the lives of those in their care. When that control is placed in the wrong hand, then neglect, mistreatment, and outright abuse are common. A guardian is often a trusted family member, but a court can also appoint someone who is less familiar with the senior or even an institution, like a nursing home.

The single most important step that can be taken to avoid potential guardian abuse is planning ahead. Not putting one’s legal wishes in place ahead of time–including identifying alternative decision makers–opens to door to problems. It is important not to make assumptions about how a court will decide these matters. A judge does not know your history, is not familiar with your relationship with any particular person, and cannot read your mind. If the time ever comes when you need a guardian, the chances of having someone appointed that you would never choose yourself is higher than you might think. Without legal documents in place, you are exposing yourself to potential neglect down the road.

To learn more about this particular form of elder mistreatment take a look at the helpful resources at For help putting long-term care plans in New York, please contact our elder law estate planning attorneys today.

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