How 1.3 Million Americans Became Controlled by Conservatorships

“We’re only talking about this because in June, Britney Spears had the opportunity to speak to the public and the court directly,” Harris told HealthDay Now. “That transparency and accountability is vital in an institution like guardianship.”

Most Americans who wind up in a guardianship are suffering from medical problems that could impair their decision-making ability, Harris and Sugar said.

These include young adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, seniors afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and people suffering from severe mental illness.

“The state has this interest in protecting the interests of people deemed to lack legal capacity. That could be children. That could be older adults. Most often, people with disabilities,” Harris said.

Many times, a guardianship is placed on a special education student who turns 18, after their school district suggests the move to a parent, Harris said.

The districts say, “Look, your child is reaching the age of majority [turning 18], if you want to stay involved in their health and education you need to go to court and ask for a guardianship,” Harris said.

But people also are placed in guardianships for more vague reasons related to their personal decisions and actions, Harris added.

Watch the HealthDay Now interview on conservatorships below:


         

             
             

         

         
     

“Sometimes just the precipitating event is that they’re making decisions that are not deemed in others’ eyes to be appropriate,” Harris said.

Three-fourths of the time, the people appointed as guardians are friends, family or acquaintances of the person, the National Council on Disability says. Professional or public guardians are placed in charge of the financial and medical decisions of the rest.

“These guardianships are designed to last a lifetime, and they almost always do,” Sugar said. “Getting out of them is nearly impossible.”

There are very few requirements for becoming a guardian. For example, 60% of courts don’t review the credit histories of potential guardians, and about four in 10 don’t bother conducting criminal background checks, according to the National Council on Disability.

Sugar said Floridians can become certified as a professional guardian by taking a weekend course.


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