The South Florida advocacy group that pushed lawmakers to pass current reforms in adult guardianship asked its membership about their legal experiences. The finding gives a snapshot of a very broken system that is very lucrative for a handful of professionals and their attorneys.
The foremost finding of survey is that in more than three-quarters of cases judges ignored advanced directives of seniors and instead appointed a professional guardian, thus rendering carefully planned living wills moot.
Retired Hollywood physician Sam Sugar, who co-founded Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said the survey went out to 285 members and that he received 67 responses from throughout the country.
His group says many professional guardians appointed to oversee the lives of incapacitated adults – a majority of them seniors with dementia – often take financial advantage of these vulnerable citizens and work with attorneys to drain assets and property. As plenary guardians they have complete control over their assets.
In the meantime, the family of these so-called wards find themselves powerless because judges are often complicit and allow the ransacking of the senior’s life savings. The problems in adult guardianship can be found nationwide as more baby boomers live longer their heirs and are more vulnerable to dementia and other degenerative diseases.
The Palm Beach Post in its series, Guardianships: A Broken Trust, revealed the incestuous nature of guardianship and how money from the savings of incapacitated seniors flowed into the household of Circuit Judge Martin Colin through his wife, professional guardian Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt.
Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath — in a series of reforms announced in the wake of the series — transferred Judge Colin out of the Probate & Guardianship Division. Colin announced his retirement.
His wife’s cases were all moved to the North County Courthouse to prevent an appearance of favoritism by Colin’s closest colleagues but she continues to operate.
The Florida Legislature in the last two years has passed reforms to give the state its first regulatory authority over professional guardians and to hold them criminally accountable when they defraud the wards in their care.
Sugar said ignoring pre-need directives is a violation of due process for the incapacitated seniors and “spits in the face of our American notions of fair play, civil rights and justice.”
“This racket is unfettered, growing, predatory, and operates with absolute impunity because of the involvement of elected judges who function without supervision or monitoring or juries,” Sugar said.
In a landmark case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach last year ruled that pre-need directives must be followed by the judge when determining a guardian.
The questionnaire also found 30 percent of guardianships are switched from public to private guardianship and back.
“This tactic is used by abusive guardians and their attorneys to maximize their cash flow since in many public guardianships for destitute individuals are prohibited from selling any property the ward might own,” Sugar said. “In switching back and forth between public and private guardianship the predators guarantee that they will take every possible dollar from every possible source.”
More than 80 percent of those who sent in survey said they believed the judge who appointed the professional guardian were improperly influenced. About 65 percent of respondents believe the judge was responsible for the abuse in their cases.
Nearly 50 percent said their loved ones were isolated from their family by professional guardians and over-medicated.
All the results of the AAAPG survey can be found by clicking here.