The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently released a report on a select examination of financial exploitation, neglect, and abuse of seniors. When an adult is found to be incompetent, a court may appoint a guardian of the estate who makes financial decisions for the incapacitated individual. The GAO sought to examine if alleged abuse of guardians is widespread, and to test state guardian certification processes. To determine if guardian abuse is widespread, the GAO interviewed advocates for seniors as well as court documents.
The GAO found hundreds of cases of reported abuse by guardians from 1990 to 2010, the GAO concluded that their findings should not be interpreted as evidence that guardianship abuse is actually occurring on a widespread basis. Most of the allegations they identified involved financial exploitation and misappropriation of assets. Abuse allegations were directed at guardians taking advantage of wards by engaging in schemes that financially benefited the guardian but are financially detrimental to the ward under their care. Also, the allegations underscore that the victim’s family members often lose their inheritance or are excluded by the guardian from decisions affecting their relative’s care.
In a test of guardian certification processes, the GAO obtained guardianship certification from New York and North Carolina and met guardianship certification requirements for Illinois and Nevada using fictitious applicants. One of their fictitious applicants had a credit report that showed $30,000 in outstanding debt, and a repossessed car. None of the certification organizations in their tests checked the applicants credit history. Another applicant used a dead person’s Social Security number. Again, the state’s certification discovered the use of the deceased Social Security number.