Congress Seeks Guardianship Oversight

American flag waving with the Capitol Hill in the background

In an effort to target guardianship abuses, a bill is under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives called the “Guardianship Accountability Act.” Introduced last summer by Democratic Representative Darren Soto, the bill (H.R. 4174) seeks to help states improve guardianship oversight and data collection by designating a National Online Resource Center on Guardianship; authorizing grants for the purpose of developing State Guardianship Databases; and establishing procedures for sharing background check information related to appointed guardians with other jurisdictions. Sponsored by representatives from both parties, the bill is currently in committee. The proposed legislation is ambitious, but if passed it would go a long way to safeguard and protect the vulnerable.

The Bill’s Findings

The bill sets forth a number of findings concerning the current status of guardianship law and regulation in this country. Noting that an estimated 1.3 million adults and approximately $50 billion in assets are under the care of guardians in the United States, the bill goes on to state:

  • Most guardians are selfless, dedicated individuals who play an important role in safeguarding individuals in need of support. However, unscrupulous guardians acting with little oversight have used guardianship proceedings to obtain control of individuals in need of support.
  • Once a guardianship is imposed, there are often few safeguards in place to protect against individuals who choose to abuse the system and few states are able to report accurate or detailed guardianship data.
  • A full guardianship order may remove more rights than necessary and may not be the best means of providing support and protection to an individual. If individuals subject to guardianship regain capacity, all or some rights should be quickly and efficiently restored.
  • States should encourage courts to use alternatives to guardianship through state statutes, including the adoption of the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act, to ensure better protections and control for individuals being considered for guardianship and those pursuing a restoration of their rights.
  • A national resource center on guardianship is needed to collect and publish information for the benefit of courts, policy makers, individuals subject to guardianship, guardians, community organizations, and other stakeholders.

National Online Resource Center on Guardianship

The bill proposes that the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (which was established under the Social Security Act) set up a National Online Resource Center on Guardianship (the “Center”). The Center would collect and publish information for use by individuals subject to guardianship, guardians, courts, state and local governments, and community organizations. The Center would also:

  • post model standards, best practices, and guidelines for the appointment and regulation of guardianship cases;
  • promote the use of less restrictive alternatives to guardianship and the restoration of rights of individuals subject to guardianship;
  • annually compile and publish a summary of recently conducted research on guardianship systems, including information from agencies across the government;
  • collect data from states regarding, among other things, the number of individuals subject to guardianship, the duration of the guardianships, and the amount of financial assets under guardianship;
  • maintain a public, national database on state laws regarding guardianship and less restrictive alternatives to guardianship;
  • identify issues relating to guardianship and provide and publish annual recommendations to states and Congress to address identified problems; and
  • Compile and publish training materials for court-appointed guardians related to duties and obligations, as well as ways in which to effectively support individuals subject to guardianship.

State Guardianship Databases

The proposed legislation seeks to amend the Social Security Act to ensure that funds are available for: the creation of state databases to collect information about the number and characteristics of guardianship arrangements, guardians, and individuals subject go guardianship; the use of trained court visitors to improve court administration of guardianship arrangements; and methods for collecting, storing, and making available to the appropriate individuals, organizations, and entities information on prospective, current, and previously appointed guardians.

Guardianship Oversight in Oregon

Oregon has already taken important steps toward improved guardianship oversight. Currently, Oregon law requires guardians to file a yearly report with the court describing how the protected person is doing, how the guardianship powers have been used during the year, and whether or not the guardianship should be continued. Oregon was also one of the first states to have a statewide prosecutor devoted entirely to elder abuse.

How We Can Help

If you need assistance becoming a guardian for a loved one, we welcome you to contact Litowich Law. Based in Salem, we serve clients throughout Oregon and are dedicated to helping to protect you and your family now and for the future.

Categories: Guardianship