The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-3 on Thursday to advance bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) to protect seniors and persons with disabilities from neglect and financial exploitation by improving oversight and accountability for court-appointed guardians and conservators.
"When we entrust the interests of our most vulnerable seniors to guardians and conservators, we need to be sure that trust is well placed," Senator Coons said. "There is no doubt that most court-appointed guardians are professional, diligent and respectful, but we cannot turn a blind eye to mounting reports about those who would take advantage of this trust for their own financial gain. This legislation will help increase accountability and oversight of those we trust with this important responsibility. I was proud that the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted the bill this week, and hope it will get a vote of the full Senate soon."
The Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act, which was introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), would provide support to states to implement programs to increase oversight of guardians and conservators. Specifically, the bill provides funding for state courts to assess the handling of proceedings relating to guardian and conservators, and then make the necessary improvements to their practices. The bill sets aside a portion of the funding for states seeking to implement or improve systems for conducting background checks on potential guardians and conservators. It also authorizes state courts to implement an electronic filing system in order to better monitor and audit conservatorships and guardianships.
A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010. The report reviewed 20 of these cases and found that guardians had stolen, or otherwise improperly obtained, $5.4 million from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were older adults.