How the Elderly Lose Their Rights
October 3, 2017 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it.

After a stranger became their guardian, Rudy and Rennie North were moved to a nursing home and their property was sold.
posted by poffin boffin (57 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Fuck this shit and fuck this country that allows this shit, and most of all fuck the President this April Parks person, who sounds like a real piece of shit. God damn it I hate our species so much.
posted by Caduceus at 1:54 PM on October 3 [19 favorites]

I feel as if I just read a dystopic/horror short story. But nope...this is just the fucking world we live in where people prey on other people for profit.

I feel dirty having just read about what happened to this family.

Ugh. I'm glad you shared this but fuck, that was not an easy read. I cannot imagine what they went through.

posted by Fizz at 2:02 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]

If there's any justice April Parks will be spending the rest of her life in jail.
posted by bshort at 2:03 PM on October 3 [12 favorites]

Darn you, poffin boffin, I was just coming to post that.

I spent the last 5 years managing my parents in their decline; I cannot imagine what I would have done if someone had seized them from me. There would have been serious legal action.
posted by suelac at 2:05 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

so like. our choices are to either die in abject poverty or save up enough money to avoid dying in abject poverty only to be robbed by someone who leaves you to not only die in abject poverty but also as a helpless prisoner of a corrupt court system in cahoots with soulless fraudsters.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:07 PM on October 3 [22 favorites]

anyway, a meteor
posted by poffin boffin at 2:07 PM on October 3 [15 favorites]

Horrifying. My heart is beating faster with every sentence.
posted by clawsoon at 2:10 PM on October 3

O’Malley described a 2010 case in which Parks, after receiving a tip from a social worker, began “cold-calling” rehabilitation centers, searching for a seventy-nine-year-old woman, Patricia Smoak, who had nearly seven hundred thousand dollars and no children. Parks finally found her, but Smoak’s physician wouldn’t sign a certificate of incapacity. “The doctor is not playing ball,” Parks wrote to her lawyer. She quickly found a different doctor to sign the certificate, and Norheim approved the guardianship.


Based on this, ANYONE could just show up and take me into custody, with no evidence, despite any action I may have taken to make provisions for myself. Holy shit.
posted by suelac at 2:14 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]

The obvious solution is for someone to find a doctor that will testify that April Parks is of diminished mental capacity, and must be cared for by a guardian.
posted by notsnot at 2:20 PM on October 3 [29 favorites]

God, I hate people.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:24 PM on October 3

Shitty, incompetent, overburdened, or just plain corrupt state court systems are at the root of so many problems. How horrible.
posted by praemunire at 2:24 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


Norheim was transferred from guardianship court to dependency court, where he now oversees cases involving abused and neglected children.

posted by ProtectoroftheSmall at 2:26 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]

Here's some happy news to follow up - Parks was arrested in Pennsylvania in March 2017, extradited to Las Vegas, and faces over 200 felony charges including racketeering, exploitation and perjury.

"That came just in time as we uncovered in court documents that Parks was about to expand her business and hire more staff. She'd gotten a contract with Valley Health System's six Las Vegas hospitals, which would make her the first choice to refer patients for guardianship services."
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:28 PM on October 3 [33 favorites]

Not how I expected Satan to look.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

Oh, no, she's definitely got a Dolores Umbridge vibe to her.
posted by praemunire at 2:32 PM on October 3 [14 favorites]

Holy shit. The fatal combo of profit motive and judiciary indifference makes me seriously want to vomit.
posted by 41swans at 2:32 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

It sounds like Shafer, who "has assumed control of more than three thousand wards and estates and trained a generation of guardians," is still going. The best you can hope for is that most of the guardians he trained were decent people and aren't doing this stuff, because there are, because of him, a whole lot of them out there.
posted by clawsoon at 2:37 PM on October 3

Jared Shafer: “The only person you folks should be thinking about when you change things is the ward. It’s their money, it’s their life, it’s their time. The family members don’t count.”

So, you say these guardians are working to preserve the estates of these wards and protect them from predatory family members?

Last spring, a man bought a storage unit in Henderson, Nevada, and discovered twenty-seven urns—the remains of Clark County wards who had never been buried.

Oh. You haven't even managed to preserve enough of their wealth to see that they're decently buried.
posted by asperity at 2:39 PM on October 3

Norheim, the court representative, abused his position. Greedy people who just didn't care about wrecking lives. The Norths' health was seriously jeopardized. Parks is a monster. I'd be very surprised if there wasn't quite a bit of graft involved. Capitalism at its very sleaziest.
posted by theora55 at 2:41 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]

This is so horrifying.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 2:50 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

Parks was only one symptom. She was aided by judges, hospitals and doctors. There's no way she was the only one, and turning her into the bad guy rather than the system and everyone complicit in it will not stop it from happening again. I just don't understand how the court system can turn to a state guardian when the people have living children and siblings who are willing to take over care. Do seniors have to preemptively appoint family members or trusted friends as guardians to prevent this? Or is it not preventable?

I didn't think it would be possible to read anything this week more horrifying than the events of the past few days. 2017: The year of Hold my beer
posted by Mchelly at 3:05 PM on October 3 [27 favorites]

they mentioned a case where it happened even though the senior had a living will appointing a child as their guardian.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:06 PM on October 3

time to figure out how to appoint a Python script my legal guardian in case of incapacity
posted by grobstein at 3:08 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]

actually, correction, the parent had designated the child as executor of the estate, not as guardian.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:09 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Vegas, this kind of treatment - happening just beneath the surface - was infuriating to witness, in part because the system was designed to defeat average people at every turn and reward the predatory agencies. The one lawyer mentioned in that story that really cares, Elizabeth Brickfield, is someone I know personally (she was an associate at the time when my father was a partner at the same firm), and she has complained about this practice many times - she was a tenacious fighter, but the system often ground her down too.
posted by mystyk at 3:12 PM on October 3 [22 favorites]

posted by AlexiaSky at 3:16 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

This happened to my great-great-grandfather 80 years ago. Attorneys from Baker, Botts & Baker (now Baker Botts) brought him before their pet judge and lied their asses off -- namely, that he had no surviving family when he had four adult children and dozens of adult grandchildren with whom he was in contact and who lived a few hours away -- to get control of his assets and put him in a home. It was made easier by the fact that his English was poor (they also portrayed him as a simpleton, when previous court cases in which he'd had a translator described him as brilliant) but mostly by the corruption of the judge and the willingness of the "guardians" to lie for their own purposes.
posted by katemonster at 3:36 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]

This reminds me of the article and FPP on Britney Spears and how her father and some lawyers get to control all of her money and pay themselves hefty fees for doing so.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:38 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

time to figure out how to appoint a Python script my legal guardian in case of incapacity

"like uber, but for stealing estates, think etherium with an immediate and lucrative revenue model"
posted by idiopath at 3:48 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

I'm trying to figure out what can be done to prevent someone from just swooping in and stealing you and your property: is a durable power of attorney giving authority to one of your children enough? I had both medical and property POAs for my parents, but if someone claimed I was misusing that, and taking advantage, I'm not sure I could have fought them off.
posted by suelac at 3:55 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

First, at least in my home state, guardianships don’t get handed out like candy, and the courts want to see the alleged incapacitated person in the court unless it’s physically not possible (and a physician attests to that). Where the hell is the ad litem at the hearing where these guardianships are being handed out? There are some judges and attorneys not competently discharging their duties there. You needed a real intersection of shady people here to make this work, because there are checks in place to protect folks, at least where I practice.

Elder abuse, in all its forms, is rising to greater prominence in the media as the Boomers age and start getting worried. That’s a boon to everyone. That said, for every one of these egregious cases like in the article, there are 10 folks with dementia slowing dying through lack of supervision. Guardianships exist for a very good reason.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:13 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]

When I got married I was surprised to find out that there was no official witness required (this was in Japan). I signed the form, my wife put her stamp on it (I would have stamped it too but I don't have a stamp) and then 1 or 2 other people also had to stamp it but they could be anyone and in our case were my wife's mother and her friend. I walked the completed form to city hall by myself and that was it, we were married.

I hope there was some follow-up that took place but I suspect that there are quite a few old people without immediate family who end up "married" to people they've never met and their "spouses" take the estate when they die.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:15 PM on October 3

I had both medical and property POAs for my parents, but if someone claimed I was misusing that, and taking advantage, I'm not sure I could have fought them off.

yeah, this is what makes the guardianship fraud so fucking disgusting and predatory; the whole purpose of it is to protect elders from abusive children, spouses, other relatives etc who have POA etc over them and are misusing it. so when the fraudians take over the lives of the seniors, i would imagine that the courts are somewhat predisposed to assume that it's because the family members can't be trusted, if they're not already in the pockets of these gross monsters.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:17 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

As somebody who isn't going to have kids and isn't particularly close to family, this worries the shit out of me.

But also, ironic that I have a family member who is homeless, disabled and elderly and we cannot get the state to take her as a ward. My guess? Because she doesn't have enough assets to make it worthwhile to any guardian.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:19 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]

My heart just breaks for the Norths, Adolfo Gonzalez (I'm glad to hear he got his pets back) and all the other people in this article. And their families. And I hope that monster April Parks gets the book thrown at her.

I don't have kids, don't want to get married, and have no close blood family - my friends and my cats are my family. I have a will and POA and everything, and don't live in a corrupt county, so I hope that will safeguard me as I grow older. That, or I die before I become so elderly that I start attracting (human) vultures.

It sounds like Clark County had the perfect storm of lots of elderly people, many of whom had some assets, a corrupt court system, and no oversight for who got placed into guardianship and who was the guardian. This allowed April Parks and those like her free rein to do as they liked with vulnerable elderly and their assets. At any rate, I hope there isn't this level of corruption everywhere there are old people with money/houses/valuables.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:28 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

April Parks and some others described in this article are the type of criminal who would be best dealt with by the Chinese justice system
posted by knoyers at 4:50 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

One of Shafer’s former bookkeepers, Lisa Clifton, who was hired in 2012, told me that Shafer used to brag about his political connections, saying, "I wrote the laws."
That reminds me of how Robert Moses locked his power into place in New York - he wrote the laws. If you know how to write a law for your own purposes, you come up with things like declaring that no out-of-state resident - not even family members - can be appointed a guardian. With that clause, in a retirement-destination-state, you've just ballooned the size of your vulnerable target population.
posted by clawsoon at 4:53 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]

knoyers: April Parks and some others described in this article are the type of criminal who would be best dealt with by the Chinese justice system

Or enabled by it.
posted by clawsoon at 4:54 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

Jeebus. It's the Sandpiper scam from Better Call Saul.
posted by notyou at 4:56 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

Rosie M. Banks: At any rate, I hope there isn't this level of corruption everywhere there are old people with money/houses/valuables.

My parents declined and died over the last few years. We didn't experiencing anything nearly this horrifying, but even in reasonably nice places there's a shift as soon as you go into care of one kind or another. You become a cog in an industrial take-care-of-old-people system, a cog whose anger or rebellion will automatically be interpreted - even by the nicest people - as a sign of decline that doesn't have to be taken seriously and maybe requires some medication to help calm you down. More than once, I had to remind doctors and nurses that a patient has the right to refuse treatment and to be listened to respectfully. I got the feeling that they only listened because it was me saying it, and not an "uncooperative" elderly patient. No doesn't always mean no when they're old and you're a doctor or nurse or nursing home administrator.

I've become increasingly convinced that my mother's approach - and the approach of some of her older sisters - to stay independent until I die, even if it's trying to stay independent that kills me, is the better way to go.
posted by clawsoon at 5:05 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]

Wards of the State: A Study of Public Guardianship (full pdf), a 2005 study co-authored by Pamela Teaster, the researcher quoted in the article had this distressing tidbit in their "Overview of Adult Guardianship"
In 1986, the Associated Press undertook a year long investigation of adult guardianship in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that included an examination of more than 2,200 randomly selected guardianship court files, as well as multiple interviews with a range of informants. The result was a six-part national series released in September 1987, Guardians of the Elderly: An Ailing System, that decried a troubled system that declared elders as “Legally Dead.” … It denounced “a dangerously burdened and troubled system that regularly puts elderly lives in the hands of others with little or no evidence of necessity, then fails to guard against abuse, theft and neglect.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:06 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

Also Wards of the State: A Study of Public Guardianship (full pdf) focused on public guardianship by government entities, not the private guardianship industry that April Parks is a stunning example of.

Most wards of public guardians are low-income people (youth, adults and seniors). There is a lot of interesting info on various public guardianship systems and the study includes recommendations for improvement.

For example, Cook County (IL) Office of Public Guardian “serves approximately 650 older wards and 12,000 children. Approximately 40% of the adult OPG wards are living in the community, and 25% had been exploited prior to being served by the program. Cook County OPG petitions to become guardian, and has filed a number of critical lawsuits to protect the interests of wards.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:06 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

I just read this and came to the blue to see if it was posted yet. I am livid, simply livid, and I don't use the phraseology of bygone days lightly. If these people don't get jail, they should get punched by random passersby at least once, every time they leave the house.
posted by rhizome at 5:33 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

Or enabled by it.

Right, but I just meant taken away and shot
posted by knoyers at 5:49 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

It's nice that in the end the system seems to have caught up with April Parks but what about the doctors who wrote opinions to order, or the judges who rubber-stamped Parks and Shafer's requests for years, or the health care facility administrators who established mutually beneficial arrangements with the abusive guardians?
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:23 PM on October 3 [14 favorites]

Imagine having no family/children and dealing with these predators? It's evil, and it must be stopped.
posted by Beholder at 6:27 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

They're gong after Parks, but what about Shafer? It sounds like he's going to get away with this.
posted by Hactar at 6:40 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

I'm not clear why these people aren't on trial for kidnappjng, it sounds like that to me. Disappearing people, even if it is into a system?
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 6:55 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

Not how I expected Satan to look. She looks like Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Coocoo's Nest!
posted by Oyéah at 6:59 PM on October 3

I don't understand how or why this system was set up in the first place. A private citizen can't, for example, decide that a parent is incompetent and go to court take their minor children away. Lawmakers would never vote for that (well, this is 2017, so I'll say most lawmakers). Why would they vote for this? Is there some legit purpose to private guardianship that I'm not seeing? I can understand if the state would use private contractors but I can't understand why private citizens can initiate the guardianship process.
posted by AFABulous at 9:34 PM on October 3

This system was reformed in the UK several years ago (2000 in Scotland, 2005 in England and Wales), so that this particular situation with Guardianship could not occur. However, this seems to have had the effect that exploitation has moved to Power of Attorney. It becomes much more redolent of other forms of elder abuse - gain the trust of the person, get them to give you more and more control, and then take their money/property. People with early stages of dementia are particularly vulnerable - they may be really quite impaired in decision-making ability, but still able to present a good enough front that a solicitor wouldn't be suspicious about them having the competency to sign a POA.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:03 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

Imagine having no family/children and dealing with these predators? I

It doesn't seem like having family/children helped any of the victims much
posted by thelonius at 4:22 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

The article upset me so much I couldn't finish it but my main thought (apart from how horrifying it was) is that this journo has just alerted every unscrupulous person out there that this can be done. They even mention how easy it is to become a guardian, you just do a course. Then there's a blueprint about how to scour records to find wealthy elderly people. Clutch your parents tight, people. They're coming for them.
posted by Jubey at 5:59 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

I can understand if the state would use private contractors but I can't understand why private citizens can initiate the guardianship process.

I don't work directly in guardianship, but I represent client with mental illness in eviction cases so I've had some clients who got/needed guardians. I suspect the idea behind allowing a private party to initiate a case like this is to cast a wide net to protect people with severely diminished capacity, and with proper safeguards it wouldn't necessarily be a problem. The article mentions that nursing homes and hospitals sometimes bring guardianship cases. That is certainly subject to abuse (because nursing homes are frequently horrible), but if you have an isolated person who genuinely can't care for themselves and no family or friends to initiate the case, it's better to have a private entity able to do it than no entity. My legal services office has also brought one or two guardianship cases (which we have a policy of not doing--those cases were extreme exceptions).

Of course, there is also the government, but talk to anyone who's dealt with Adult Protective Services in NYC (and probably anywhere) and you'll hear how frequently they don't do anything for people who clearly need it. It's incredible to me that there was no right to counsel in Nevada proceedings until the new law that goes into place next year. Having an appointed attorney is not enough to stop abuses (because of the problems inherent in any system of appointed counsel), but I don't think something as flagrant as the scheme described in the article would have gone on as long as it did in a system where every alleged incapacitated person had a lawyer. Even so, NY's guardianship statute is great on paper, but it's underfunded. Court oversight of guardians once they're appointed is minimal to nonexistent. There are definitely abuses here (although to my knowledge it's more often neglect of poor people who have community guardians).
posted by Mavri at 6:15 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]

I suspect that there's a correlation here between the number of senior citizens who move to states like Nevada, the resulting conservative politics and general distrust of government, and the resulting rise of private businesses that take over functions formerly handled by the government, with minimal oversight. I wonder how things are in Arizona and Florida.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:23 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

The problem here lies with the corrupt nature of state legislatures. Shafer himself brags that he wrote the very laws that enable him. State legislatures are easily bought and easy to corrupt. They are the ones who created this system, and they were directed to do so by the very predators who make money off it.

My skin crawled the moment I read that April Parks' personalized license plate said "CRTGRDN"
posted by deanc at 8:37 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]

Move one letter and it looks like it stands for "Cretin Greed"
posted by AFABulous at 8:49 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]

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