WHY WE NEED MORE DATA ON GUARDIANSHIPS
by Marcia Southwick
Many people, when they hear the words “data collection”, think of Google and Facebook. We’ve been literally used as commodities for exploitation. Data collection destroys privacy and freedom!
People in Guardianship, though never have privacy–they are monitored 24 hours a day and the charges are paid out of their own estate. They aren’t in the same situation as most citizens. They are rendered voiceless in many cases. Yet, courts all over the nation have been handing people’s most fundamental rights, often thoughtlessly, over to guardians who then controls everything about the person’s life–down to where they will live, who can visit and when, and what their allowance will be each month–usually about $100 bucks if you’re lucky. In the meantime, you could be wealthy, but since all of your assets are under the guardian’s (or conservator’s) control, you’ll never see a dime. They also pay themselves out of your assets but you will never know how much.
What prevents a guardian from going rogue with no one watching? When it comes to guardianship, there are plenty of examples of financial exploitation and isolation, but the reports don’t come from databases. — the reports come from the press. Press coverage seems to be just about the only way someone can be freed from guardianship.
Presently, there are very few states with the technology to gather statistics and organized records, Minnesota being one of the few. Without a state knowing how many guardianships there are, there is no effective way to know what happens to a person as a result of guardianship. The goal is to know where a person in guardianship is located, what kind of powers were given to the guardian, how long the guardianship has been in place, how often the person is being visited and a record of the court hearings and motions.
One goal, as pointed out in the link below, is to achieve restoration of rights for those who no longer need guardianships, or who were wrongly placed in overly restrictive situations. How can anything be done to help people if no one is tracking where and who they are? We know a few examples of families who have searched for years to find a parent taken into guardianship.
Another goal is to provide oversight by connecting the dots. Why was the person put into guardianship in the first place? (The petition-) Was an alternative to guardianship suggested or tried? (Court documents would show whether they did or didn’t.) Was there a proper evaluation for incapacity?
(You’d be surprised by how many people in guardianship are never evaluated by a proper committee, much less anyone at all. Research has shown many examples of frightening short cuts when it comes to “incapacity declarations,”. To make things even worse, many cases have bypassed due process altogether.)
We need to know: When was the guardianship initiated? Are there any complaints about the guardian? And are there other red flags, such as not turning in detailed annual accounting or any receipts? This situation deserves our attention and support. People under guardianships can be reduced to ghosts of their former selves, languishing in institutions alone. with no one seeming to care.
Wouldn’t it be useful for the state itself to collect information in case a guardian moves from one county to another, or from one court to another? States and county courts don’t have the proper technology to track cases. That’s why passing the 2021-2022 Guardianship Accountability Act introduced to congress is so important. Funds would be provided by the Federal Government to improve technology for the states, and to create a national database. The funds would be provided to the highest state and tribal courts who would make decisions on court improvement efforts.
Without stored records of complaints about a guardian, not much can be done about a guardian who has generated flurries of complaints. The Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act would require that complaints be addressed and kept in a permanent file. This file would go into a central state database. States should adopt the Act, which is a rights-centered approach to caring for those who need help. Alternatives to guardianship in the document go a long way towards cracking open the sometimes barbaric hold that the guardianship system has over the people in it.
Judith Widener of Nebraska, convicted in 2014, ran guardianships all over the state. She opened 40 different bank accounts through which she filtered assets belonging to the people under her protection. She was in complete control of the lives of 400 people– stuffed in institutions, no doubt, and out of sight. And yet, nobody in the Lincoln courthouse was aware of the whole picture–for an inexcusable amount of years. If counties and then the state had collected complaints, numbers of people under protection for each guardian, and a few other important details, this would never have happened.
Here’s an example of how bad things can get without comprehensive record keeping. In New Mexico, court records were examined, piece by piece, and investigators found at least two dozen guardianship cases had been closed, even though the people in guardianship were still alive without rights restored. No records, accountings, or other documents were there to reveal anything about these cases, much less the welfare of the people subjected to them. One woman put into guardianship is still nowhere to be found.
Investigations also found that two professional guardianship companies had stolen over 11 million dollars from the people in their care. A third company had failed to turn in accountings for particular cases for 10 years. Is this a system protecting people, or is it harming them? Considering how little we know about the fate of people in guardianship, the system itself is a public safety hazard.
We don’t know why people were put into guardianship (i.e. what was said in the petition), we don’t know how long a person has been in the guardianship, or whether the guardianship is limited, or plenary, We don’t know where people are being kept, we don’t know what happens them if they are moved out of state. What SHOULD we be expected to know? A lot more than we do.
Guardianship/Conservatorship Monitoring – Recommended Data Elements