Senate Aging Committee Releases Report on Guardianship
The Senate Special Committee on Aging has issued a report entitled “Ensuring Trust: Strengthening State Efforts to Overhaul the Guardianship Process and Protect Older Americans.” The report is, according to the Committee, part of its “effort to highlight opportunities to improve protections and supports for older Americans and people with disabilities.” The report “presents a broad review of the guardianship system, provides insight into discrete issues from a variety of stakeholder perspectives, and identifies opportunities for improving the lives of those individuals for whom decision-making authority has been entrusted to a guardian,” providing an overview of guardianship and related arrangements, data and information regarding the effect these relationships have on individuals nationally, common barriers to proper oversight, and alternatives to guardianship. The report also contains recommendations for courts and policymakers.
The report focuses on three key areas that should be addressed to protect the well-being of individuals placed under guardianship:
- · Oversight of Guardians and Guardianship Arrangements
- · Alternatives to Guardianship and Restoration of Rights
- · The Need for Better Data
The Committee recommends several actions to improve oversight of guardians and guardianship arrangements:
- · Enhanced Monitoring – State courts should engage in more thorough and
frequent reviews of guardianship arrangements, and should work with financial monitoring companies to identify suspicious transactions and notify the court and guardian of potential risks.
- · Background Checks – Courts should conduct criminal background checks on
all prospective guardians.
- · Improved Collaboration – Coordination and communication should occur
between the court and federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Veterans Administration (VA), and between the court and community organizations.
- · Volunteer Visitor Programs – Support for individuals who help to inform the
court about the status of the respondent before a guardian is appointed and periodically throughout the guardianship should be increased.
- · Training – All parties related to the guardianship, including the guardian, court
staff, and family members, should be trained on guardian responsibilities and on the signs of abuse.
To encourage the use of less-restrictive alternatives and promote restoration of rights, when appropriate, the Committee recommends:
- · “Promotion of Alternatives to Guardianship – States should encourage courts to
utilize alternatives to guardianship through state statutes and public awareness campaigns. Such efforts would officially promote less restrictive alternatives such as limited guardianships and supported decision-making.
- · Increased Training and Education – Required comprehensive training for
judicial officials, attorneys, and guardians would increase understanding and appreciation of less restrictive alternatives to guardianship and the availability of opportunities for restoration of rights, when and if it becomes appropriate.
- · Strengthened Protections for Individuals under Guardianship – State laws need
to be strengthened to ensure individuals seeking a restoration of rights are guaranteed unbiased legal representation and access to resources for a timely consideration by the courts.
- · Nationwide Adoption of the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other
Protective Arrangements Act – State guardianship laws need greater uniformity to ensure better protections and control for individuals being considered for guardianship and those pursuing a restoration of their rights.”
To provide policy makers and other stakeholders with improved data regarding guardianship arrangements, the Committee recommends:
- · Statewide Data Registries – Such registries would create a single location to collect and disseminate data, allowing for more cohesive collection of data.
- · Increased Federal Support and Guidance to States– Support to state court systems or other state entities would help create cohesive collection efforts, improving the ability to share information and collect national data.
- · Increased Data Collection by Federal Agencies – Additional resources aimed at data collection from federal agencies would help states design, test, and improve data collection systems, complement increased federal guidance, and further help create a more consistent national data collection effort.
- · Creation of a National Resource Center – A national resource center on guardianship would collect and publish information for the benefit of courts, policy makers, individuals subject to guardianship, guardians, community organizations, and other stakeholders. Information collected and published by the resource center may include statistics related to guardianship, information on laws and regulations, published research, and training materials.