Al Jazeera tackles the thorny subject of legal guardianship
June 2, 2015 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Al-Jazeera has recently taken on the topic of legal guardianship, in which a US citizen deemed incompetent to manage their own finances becomes a "ward of the state." When judges can take away senior citizens' basic rights (aired 5/26/2015) tells the story of Dorothy Luck, and a related written piece dated 6/1/2015 gives a detailed account on the story of John Stout, a Texas minister who helped "send Bibles to the moon" was declared incompetent after trying to give away some of his land.

From the John Stout link, discussing another individual to endure questionable treatment under guardianship:
Once in a nursing home, Pritchett said no visitors were allowed unless Tighe’s guardian was there to supervise.

“I was going to visit her for Christmas. I was told by one of the guardians they were going to be with their own families and there was nobody to sit with her and supervise her,” Pritchett recalled. Even photographs with Tighe were prohibited, Pritchett added.

As Tighe’s health began failing over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend last year, Pritchett tried to pay a final visit.

“One of the guardians told me, 'We’re going to be closed on Monday,' so they made us wait. It was too late. She didn’t make it,” Pritchett said, fighting back tears.

A ward of the state of Texas, Tighe died alone at age 87.
posted by aydeejones (11 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Naturally this is a tricky subject and the state's ostensible purpose is to protect the elderly from exploitation and abuse. All of these stories in the FFP center around Texas. Whether that is intentional I do not know, but I could imagine it would be hard to provide sufficient resources to comfortably handle 1,300 wards of the state without a state individual income tax.
posted by aydeejones at 4:18 PM on June 2, 2015

I haven't watched this yet, and I know this is a different situation, but I want to say that guardianship has been a positive thing for us. My oldest son is severely intellectually disabled and will never be able to care for himself or manage his own affairs. My wife and I have had legal guardianship of him since he turned 18. Without it, the school system would exclude us from IEP meetings and make decisions for him that might not be in his best interests. The doctor's office would not be able to share any information with us. We would not be able to talk to the social security administration about his benefits. The list goes on.

There are always going to be cases where guardianship can be abused, but used correctly, it is an invaluable tool that allows us to lovingly manage the things that he can't manage for himself and advocate for him in ways that would be impossible otherwise. That being said, taking away someone's right to make decisions for themselves should never be done unless it's absolutely clear that they can't make meaningful decisions.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:04 PM on June 2, 2015 [18 favorites]

comfortably handle

That assumes that people involved want it to be comfortably handled. You shouldn't be comfortable on a handout! Welfare queens! Starve the beast!
posted by emptythought at 5:05 PM on June 2, 2015

I'm not sure what the legal distinction is between guardianship and conservatorship, but at least one well-known person has done pretty well under the latter.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:04 PM on June 2, 2015

I worked as an assistant to a Public Guardian, it is not a light thing to have a person placed under guardianship or conservatorship. My office was only brought in when no one could be found or the various parties were warring with each other causing the client to be caught in the middle. It usually took a Court hearing before the client was placed with us. Believe me, the State did not seek to be made Guardian or Conservator, we were called in. Sometimes it was until the various parties would settle on an agreement or more permanently, if there was no one or there was a record of abuse by the primary caregiver. Each state is different about process and procedure. I was with Alaska. For children it is usually the Guardian ad Litem while my office dealt with adult non-compis mentis or adult disabled who could not care for themselves.

To clarify, as a conservator you deal with finance decisions and issues while a guardianship encompasses finance and all other life-related issues, including medical.
posted by jadepearl at 6:06 PM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sending Bibles to the moon interests me. Since the number of moon men is unknown (the moon could be hollow and contain multitudes) it would be prudent to send a large number of Bibles to the moon. In fact, if you have a Bible, it only makes sense to help the heathen, sinning moon men (betcha the sex is wild inside the moon) by sending them the Holy Bible. Please donate your Bible today to help the moon men! Special "moon men" receptacles have been placed prominently throughout all cities. They are cannisters that are filled with various sorts of recycling material like newspapers or cans (for cushioning) into which you should place your Bible. Old family editions especially welcomed!
posted by telstar at 6:07 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

An ancestor of mine was declared incompetent in Houston in the 40s or 50s. The court documents claim he had no living descendants, though I know for a fact he had several adult children and dozens of grandchildren, some of whom were of age, and he had been in contact with them (and had legal dealings with them) in the years immediately preceding his guardianship. He was in fact likely not incompetent, but he was foreign and didn't speak English well.
His guardianship went to a law firm run by a crony of the judge on the case, which then stripped his estate of its assets and deprived his children of their inheritance. Apparently the same thing happened to lots of other vulnerable elderly folks at the time. The law firm ended up with lots of real estate in developing sections of Houston in compensation for its trouble. Helluva racket if you've got a judge in your pocket.
posted by katemonster at 6:40 PM on June 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've read of a number of Texas cases where the guardianship seems iffy at best with the state. It always seems to happen to elderly wealthy people who are stripped of their assets and left to die alone in a dismal prison of a nursing home.
posted by dejah420 at 7:00 PM on June 2, 2015

Yeah, it was a shocker to me to see how guardianship functioned in other states. There is a lot of hella sketchy behaviour and the elderly are extremely vulnerable. The part that surprised me was how a law firm or even a bank can be appointed with little oversight. The role of my office was specific, be an aggressive advocate for the client and that included negotiating their debts, medication and co-dependents. I had the good fortune to be with a Public Guardian who recognized the conflict of the state wanting to be thrifty but the needs of the client. My boss, Bill, would totally work the system so clients could qualify for long -term care, including setting up trusts to shield their assets. No tax break was left unturned, no wheeling and dealing not contemplated to give a client the best quality of life possible and if that meant getting them sex toys in the old folks home so they could take care of the "needs" then so be it.

I cannot stress this enough, you are never too young to set up your living trusts, let your wishes be known and get with a good estate attorney. I live in a state that is fairly well run, but I would never be naive enough to trust any bank or real estate agent. I have personally witnessed a real estate agent targeting the elderly to be removed from their homes or having things condemned to get the house on market.

If you live in state where "starving the beast" is a model for government then you better get your life in order because that particular state will not have the necessary resources to be effective and aggressive advocates due to staffing and resources.
posted by jadepearl at 8:15 PM on June 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

I know a guy who went awol from his senior year in college to get out from under his parents. They came to town and found him and ended up with a guardianship. Things normalized, but then decades later his wife was making some trouble about an inheritance, and they somehow resurrected the guardianship and got an order of protection against her being in contact with him to separate them, and quash the inheritance controversy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:38 PM on June 2, 2015

Yes, what a prickly subject... not to mention nauseating, infuriating and terrifying. Guardianship is a good concept on paper that can go so wrong when used for evil.

In my younger years, when I was whirling from my lowest and most vulnerable point, my parents tried to get me declared legally incompetent using their hand-selected shrink so that they could obtain guardianship. Their goal was complete control of the inheritance my Grandfather granted me. I would not have been allowed to fly from my birth state where I was visiting parents at the time to the state I actually rented in and call my home. They would have also wanted to keep me on antipsychotics for the rest of my life -- not because I needed them, but because then I wouldn't object to having my independent personhood completely destroyed.

They even used as ammunition the fact that I was raped (while wildly distorting the time and place thereof) in the legal paperwork as a strike against my mental capability. Can you fucking imagine? Sane people don't let rape happen to them. /s

I am so very thankful every time I am reminded of that awful ordeal that the judge threw it out, I have to suppress a pang of panic at the life I'd be tapped in had he not. I'm much happier and MUCH MORE financially successful, stable and healthy nearly three thousand miles from those people. I can only imagine what it's like to have that kind of evil as members of the state.
posted by equestrian at 2:25 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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