Guardianships (also called conservatorships) are legal instruments once largely associated with caring for minor children or perhaps the elderly, but as adult Americans of all ages are increasingly targeted for this status - sometimes under quite questionable circumstances - a closer look is needed at both this freedom-diverting tool and the probate courts in which these actions occur.
Probate courts are often seen as quiet, low-profile venues that perform administrative oversight when people die. The power of these courts is underestimated as they routinely control assets worth millions, even billions, of dollars. The Declaration of Independence proclaims individual’s endowment by our Creator “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” yet with the stroke of a pen, probate judges routinely strip adult Americans of these very rights.
Guardianships can be executed over a person, over their estate or both. Legal declarations of incapacitation or disability are a powerful tool of probate courts and appointed personnel. Anyone seeking to dispute such actions faces expensive, time-consuming court battles in an often biased system that values legal gamesmanship and cronyism, not right and wrong.
Complete disregard for a ward's wishes is easily accomplished and accepted under the guise of "acting in the ward's best interest." As guardianships provide much opportunity for exploitation, the administrative ease with which many are initiated is a concern as also is the minimal oversight that follows.
The power seated in a guardianship is massive yet one need not have massive wealth to be an appealing target for an abusive guardianship. The pursuit of assets is an obvious motivation for abusive guardianships. Wards without assets appear to have "headcount" value as participants to fill the rolls of taxpayer-funded programs. Similar stories across the country surface in which Adult Protective Services (APS) employees, professional guardians, other social workers to medical personnel responsible for evaluations (physical and psychological) and even proprietors of facilities that house incapacitated or disabled individuals involve themselves in some questionably motivated guardianship cases.
The true number of American adults under guardianships is unknown. According to the National Center for State Courts, an accurate count of open adult guardianship and conservatorship cases does not exist and collection of reliable data poses numerous problems. This also helps hide the use of guardianships for illicit purposes, but growing anecdotal evidence cannot be ignored.
Legal industry insiders who work the probate system rely on talking points that claim to protect incapacitated people and blame disgruntled family members for expensive litigation. They cite allegations of procedural improprieties as exaggerated even "willy-nilly" and claim the lucrative appointments of guardians, attorneys or even physicians are about proper representation, not exploitation.
Whether initiated by the government or an individual, something is wrong when a state-sanctioned racket hijacks its citizens personal liberty and property. It is equally wrong for parties controlling or associated with the guardianship process to establish what strongly appears to be a self-serving contrived system to facilitate financial gain through a "spend down" of private assets, indirect gain by adding wards to an institutional headcount eligible for taxpayer-financed services or a combination of both.
This tool of the probate court may have been conceived as a protective measure for society's most vulnerable, but today, its use for far darker purposes seem to be growing. This is no longer about what might happen to your grandmother - it's about what can happen to you.
Our goal is to advocate to promote the Quality of Life for Texas's most vulnerable population, the disabled and the elderly wards.
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