A couple of weeks ago the Los Angeles Times ran a story entitled "Guardians for Profit" that made my 82-year-old father shiver in fear. When I read it, I was at first horrified, and then, furious. This series of articles, the result of collaborative efforts of several journalists and researchers, detailed the neglect, abuse and outright theft perpetrated by so-called professional conservators, on the very individuals they are supposed to protect -- the elderly, infirm, and often senile.
The true horror of this story is that in some bizarre mismanagement of rules and regulations, our own courts have somehow been given the right to appoint a conservator to a senior citizen without his or her consent, without the senior citizen's lawyer, and often without consulting family members. That court-appointed conservator -- who may very well have researched the financial holdings of the potential client in advance, and in fact, recommended him or herself as the conservator, can then dictate all facets of the senior's life, including whom they see, what they eat, what medicines they take, where they live, the management of the individual's finances, and the disposition of their personal property -- often to the personal gain of the conservator him/herself. This is what made me furious. This legal loophole, this sanctioned, systematic betrayal of some of our oldest and most fragile citizens is, to put it succinctly, an outrage.
What may have begun with the lofty ideal of providing end-of-life care to infirm and lonely senior citizens has somehow evolved into a burgeoning, predominantly unregulated business that allows unscrupulous and untrained individuals to "neglect and isolate their clients, and plunder their assets."
I am sure many individuals acting as conservators are sincere, honest, and protective of their vulnerable clients. However, the abuses in this business are clearly rampant, and oversight is slipshod at best. Though there have been reform efforts over the years in response to the many embezzlement scandals and filed abuse complaints, the track record of actually getting legislation passed and activated in our state has been dismal.
I am a member of the baby-boomer group -- and we are on the cusp of becoming the largest "gray" cohort ever to live on the planet. And by the way, this translates to millions of seniors with the potential to be taken advantage of. If we don't want to suffer a similar fate as those unfortunate individuals highlighted in this series of articles, we'd better protect ourselves now.
Some protective steps suggested in the article included establishing a durable power of attorney -- which designates someone to manage your finances, an advance healthcare directive (which authorizes a friend or family member to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so), an advance nomination (which designates a person of your choice to act as conservator if a court ever deems one necessary), and setting up a revocable, or living trust, which establishes an individual of your choice to manage your assets and affairs outside of the court's jurisdiction. If you want to see more details, check out the actual article, then run out and make sure your parents, as well as yourselves, are protected.
My mom and dad will never have to worry about this issue because they (and we, their family) have taken precautions to protect their retirement nest-egg, and to provide them with a loving, nurturing environment for this final phase of their lives -- without an outsider, a stranger, coming in and mucking it up. After reading about this unconscionable violation of unsuspecting senior citizens' civil rights, you can bet that I am taking preemptive precautions for my own future as well.