If you are caring for an elderly family member who is no longer able to manage his or her own affairs, you may need to consider establishing legal guardianship. A guardian is a person who is appointed by the court as a representative to make decisions on behalf of a person who is found to be incapacitated, known as the ward. In Ohio, guardians are appointed by the probate court, which transfers responsibility for managing ward’s finances, living arrangements, and medical decisions to the guardian.
Ideally, the guardian is a responsible person who has their ward’s best interests in mind. Unfortunately, the elderly and other incapacitated individuals are easy prey for unscrupulous individuals. In a recent series of articles, the Columbus Dispatch revealed numerous abuses in what many feel is a broken system. The crux of the problem, they contend, lies in a lack of oversight and accountability:
“This system, which is supposed to look out for the health and well-being of the elderly, the mentally disabled and children, is directed by probate judges in 88 counties. And for lack of detailed guidelines from the state, the counties have 88 different ways of overseeing guardians and their wards.”
For example, guardians in Ohio are not required to visit their wards. While some counties do have mandatory monthly visits, nearly 80 percent do not. The Dispatch also reports that 90 percent of counties do not require prospective guardians to undergo a credit check and 61 percent appoint guardians without even a basic criminal background check.
More than 65,000 Ohioans have been declared incompetent by a judge, and many of those are elderly. As baby boomers age, the number of adult guardianships is expected to soar – flooding an already overburdened court system with even more cases.
The good news is that if you plan ahead, you can generally avoid court appointed guardianship. Taking the time today to meet with an experienced probate attorney will allow you to sign durable powers of attorney for finances and health care, naming the individual you wish to manage your affairs.
“Elderly, mentally ill and children trapped in broken court system” by Lucas Sullivan, Jill Riepenhoff, Mike Wagner & Josh Jarman, The Columbus Dispatch, May 18, 2014.