Can we talk about the other Clark County? (Guardianship Abuse & Bonus John Oliver)
Some horrifying guardianship exploitation cases have come to light in Las Vegas (Clark County), Nevada.
In essence, Clark County Nevada courts appointed professional guardian April Parks to serve as guardian for wealthy elderly residents. The court appointed Ms. Parks apparently with no due process, no hearing, no opportunity to object, and no notice either to the "wards" or their adult children. There was no independent evaluation of capacity - no court investigators or Guardians ad Litem were appointed. Ms. Parks used her position to financially exploit some of her wards (this is both my opinion and an adjudicated fact). You can read the distressing details in this New Yorker article or watch this "Last Week Tonight" segment.
I learned some things, both from the New Yorker and from John Oliver. Mainly what I have learned is that Clark County, Washington, is not the same as Clark County, Nevada.
First, Washington is one of only 12 states in the United States which requires that professional guardians be certified by a professional board. Read about our Certified Professional Guardianship Board here. This Board is similar to a Bar Association and has broad authority to investigate and take action in cases involving professional guardians. Washington has required professional guardians to be certified since 1997.
Second, Washington seems to have a much higher standard of due process in guardianship cases. Washington courts use investigators, called Guardians ad Litem, in every case involving an adult. Washington courts encourage an adult in a guardianship case to have an attorney represent and advise them and will appoint attorneys at no cost for indigent adults.
Third, Washington requires that a guardianship petitioner give NOTICE of the petition and hearing to the alleged incapacitated persons, their spouses, adult children, their custodians, and any other involved persons. (It seems Nevada law also included notice requirements which were apparently disregarded.)
Fourth, Clark County, Washington, has a dedicated Elder Justice Center where a full-time detective and a full-time prosecutor work with Adult Protective Services to prosecute crimes against vulnerable adults.
All in all, I think Washington is more protective of vulnerable adults. That does not mean we haven't had professional guardians fail. About six years ago, I represented a skilled nursing facility who came to me with suspicions about a professional guardian, and they were right. We had that professional guardian removed from our resident's case and filed a complaint with the Washington CPG board. That professional guardian subsequently resigned.
Is a power of attorney a safer option? Generally, I prefer powers of attorney or that family members serve as guardians, but, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the most common perpetrators of financial exploitation are family members (57.9%), followed by friends and neighbors (16.9%). ncea.acl.gov
Getting older is risky. Having another person involved in your finances is risky. But I think Washington State has done a lot to lessen the risk.
If you suspect that a vulnerable person is being taken advantage of, you can make a confidential report to Adult Protective Services by calling 1-877-734-6277 or by going to this website.