Recommendations for Ohio's guardianship system
Standards to help courts monitor the program
When someone is too mentally impaired to take proper care of himself or herself, a probate court can appoint a guardian to direct the legal, financial and personal matters of that person, who is deemed "incompetent." Once appointed, a guardian is accountable to the court for providing care and management of the ward's affairs. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found allegations of abuse by legal guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia. In 20 cases studied by the office in which criminal or civil penalties resulted, investigators found that guardians stole at least $5.4 million in assets from 158 victims, the report said.
In some instances, these same guardians abused or physically neglected the people they were supposed to help and protect. In a recent Ohio case, an attorney who had been appointed by the Franklin County Probate Court as the guardian of an 86-year-old Columbus woman was convicted of making more than $20,000 in unauthorized withdrawals from the woman's bank account.
Approximately 60,000 applications for guardianship are filed in Ohio every year, and nearly two-thirds of those are for adults. A survey of Ohio's 88 probate courts found wide diversity in how the courts monitor the well-being of their wards and the actions of the guardians. The probate courts want to do a better job monitoring guardianships, but they lack the resources to hire additional staff or buy additional technology.
The Ohio Supreme Court is considering a proposal to establish statewide certification and standards of conduct for guardians. A subcommittee of the Court's Advisory Committee on Children, Families and the Courts has worked on three major areas of adult guardianship: standards and certification, monitoring protocols and needs assessment and data collection. The subcommittee recommended gathering data to understand Ohio's current guardianship system in detail. A subcommittee workgroup wrote standards for professional guardians, including frequency of guardian visits, decision-making and conflicts of interest.
The monitoring protocols workgroup developed a bench card to help probate courts monitor guardianships, and is developing a series of questions for adult wards regarding their experience with their guardians, such as how often the guardian visits, whether he has enough and appropriate clothing and whether his needs are being met. The workgroup also recommended gathering state and national information on monitoring active guardianships and identifying preferred protocols to replicate, especially those that do not require additional financial resources. The workgroup will publish a summary of the best models and provide it to judges handling probate work.
The data collection workgroup developed a form for probate courts to use to report statistics about guardianships in their jurisdiction. Currently, probate courts report to the Supreme Court the number of new guardianship cases filed and cases closed during the year. However, the number of ongoing guardianship cases is not accounted for in any database. The workgroup identified a minimum data collection set, which would help to appropriately plan and fund support services for guardians and wards, as well as allowing projections of the future need for guardians.
After considering the committee's recommendations, the Supreme Court will determine the best course of action for implementation, most likely legislation to change state statutes, rules of superintendence or both.
If you or someone close to you needs information about how to protect and help someone, call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678. Also, ask friends and family members for the name of an attorney who is knowledgeable about probate matters. ProSeniors provides free legal information, advice and referral for Ohio residents age 60 and older.
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