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New Federal Legislation Seeks to Minimize Elder Financial Exploitation

Senior financial exploitation funnels tens of millions of dollars away from seniors in New York and throughout the country each and every year. The problem has only exacerbated in recent times as the economic downturn spurred more fraud and the country’s aging demographics made more targets.

One way to help a senior in need, particularly those with more advanced challenges, like Alzheimer’s or dementia, is to go to the court to seek actual guardianship of the loved one. Court-appointed guardians are able to make many decisions on the senior’s behalf, with the hope of preventing the elderly community member from being taken advantage of by others.

Yet, it is becoming obvious that some guardians not only fail in their duty to protect seniors–but actually neglect and exploit the very people in their care.

Legal guardians obviously have tremendous power over those relying on them. And when the guardian has ill-motives, they are well-positioned to decimate a senior’s health, finances, and spirit. The misconduct is tragic, and more policymakers are working up ways to prevent this form of abuse.

Proposed Federal Legislation
For example, a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently introduced the “Court-Appointed Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act.” The main thrust of the bill is to amp up oversight programs for guardians so that fewer individuals who are likely to exploit actually become guardians (or stay as guardians). The measure would work by providing a federal funding stream for individual state programs targeted at improving the guardianship process. Specifically, individual state courts could apply for grants that would help with background checks and monitoring. Right now, with budgets stretched thin everywhere, many state systems are unable to provide the ideal level of oversight, allowing seniors to be handed over to the care of those doing them harm.

As Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the sponsors of the bill explained: “”Seniors deserve to live their lives safe from abuse and mistreatment. While most court-appointed guardians are undoubtedly professional, caring and law-abiding, there is mounting evidence that some guardians use their position of power for their own gain. This legislation would help increase accountability and oversight of guardians and protect those who are most vulnerable.”

The likelihood of the measure’s passage is currently unclear. A Home Town Source news report on the story noted that a similar bill was proposed last year without success. However, the fact that the bill has both a Republican and Democrat as co-sponsors is a positive sign that a rare compromise might be reached which could allow the bill to advance.

If you have questions about any number of legal issues affecting seniors in New York, feel free to contact our elder law attorneys to learn more.

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