Guardianship Gone Wrong

There are over 1.5 million adults under the care of a guardian in the United States. Usually, the guardian is a family member or friend, but sometimes a professional guardian is hired instead. A recent story in The New Yorker explores how some professional guardians are taking advantage of their positions.

A Real Life Horror Story

At the heart of the story are Rudy and Rennie North, an older couple who live in a senior community on a golf course in Las Vegas. The couple’s health is not the best, but they get by with a little help from their daughter and a nurse who stops by a few times a week.

Then one day a woman named April Parks showed up and told them she was their court-appointed guardian. They could either pack a few things and come along with her to the nursing home she had picked out for them, or she would call an ambulance to collect them. Although they were upset and confused, they followed Parks’ commands.

Rudy and Rennie’s daughter thought her parents had been kidnapped. She had not been notified that Parks was appointed guardian, and was not told that her parents were moving. She was finally able to locate them after a note with Parks’ contact information was posted to their old front door.

At a hearing on Rudy and Rennie’s plight, the court praised Parks for her good work, and Rudy convinced himself that having someone take care of him and Rennie was a good idea. He soon regretted this decision.

Parks sold off all of Rudy and Rennie’s belongings and transferred all the money the couple had into an account in her name. She started making healthcare decisions on the couple’s behalf, and they were prescribed new medications, some of which were antipsychotics and sedatives. She prevented Rudy and Rennie’s daughter from getting information about her parents’ health, and even blocked her from visiting them a few times. When Rudy, Rennie, or their daughter called Parks to complain, the estate was billed for Parks’ time. And all of this was legal.  

Parks was only relieved of her guardianship duties after Rudy and Rennie’s daughter got the media interested in her parent’s predicament.

It Could Happen To Anyone

Rudy and Rennie’s story is shocking, but it isn’t at all uncommon. Courts have the power to appoint a guardian to care for anyone it considers unable to care for themselves. Very little, if any, oversight is given to guardians, despite the vast power they hold over their charges.

The best way to prevent a stranger from being appointed as the guardian of you or someone you love is to create a power of attorney document as part of your estate plan that names who you would like appointed as guardian. The document can be created so that it only springs into action when it is needed.  

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