Hubris.The word feels right in writing and talking about conservatorship drawbacks. Still, to be sure of its meaning I look it up in Webster’s Third International Dictionary. So, what does Webster’s say about hubris?
“(O)verweening pride or self-confidence: ARROGANCE…”
OK, that’s clear enough. What does it have to do with California conservatorships? It has to do with those who oppose conservatorship reform. To those who turn a blind eye to some of the glaring abuses in the system. And, the system is not unique to California; it is a national problem.
It’s worthwhile to see the work that some of our country’s leading guardianship and conservatorship critics and reformers are doing. So, let’s take a look at the advocacy efforts that Rick Black, Torri Black, Athena Roe and Dr. Sam Sugar are engaged in. Rick, Terri and Athena are directors of CEAR – the Center for Estate Administration Reform.
CEAR’s mission, as stated in its website, is clear:
“CEAR is a not-for-profit advocate with a mission to educate and seek justice for Americans when they are threatened by the growing problem of abusive probate, trust and guardianship fraud.
CEAR is positioned to be the national resource of information on legal community exploitation, and voice for the people in legislating state based and federal reforms to insure that each state can best protect the rights of all its citizens and their heirs.
CEAR’s objective is to become the front-line defense against the betrayal of our most vulnerable citizens, and a powerful force that investigates those who pervert the courts and exploit the law for their own gain.”
Dr. Sam Sugar’s non-profit group – Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianships (AAAPG) is focused on education, advocacy and legislation to prevent the exploitation of seniors.
Sam describes, in part, the impetus for his advocacy as fighting “a system of justice in this country that strips its citizens of their Constitutional rights, voids their existing legal documents, gives others the right to spend their money and sell their assets, isolates them, and has the ability to limit the time they can spend with their loved ones.”
The group strongly supports the U.S. Department of Justice “Elder Justice Initiative” that is focused on supporting and coordinating “the Department’s enforcement and programmatic efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation’s seniors.”
It’s clear that CEAR, Dr. Sam Sugar’s group and the U.S. Department of Justice are focused on protecting seniors.
They’re commitment to this is anything but hubris. A recent open letter from AAARP to Florida Governor, Ron De Santis, captures some of the major concerns about the current system of guardianships and conservatorships. While the letter references guardianships, a term used by most states, adult guardianships in California are referred to as conservatorships. I note that the language is strong because of some scandals in state courts, not California, have brought high scrutiny to a number of state guardianship courts.
“Waiting to catch guardianship abusers until their victims’ assets have been completely dissipated with no likelihood of restitution, waiting to catch elder abusers until after their victims have been destroyed by isolation and massive over medication, waiting until Wards are murdered by inappropriate DNR orders is hardly the best way to deal with court-approved criminality.
There are a number of red flags that reveal a very high probability of abuses in guardianship. Multiple informal and formal complaints from family members, invalidating valid advance directives, excessive litigation, failure to properly file required reports, repeatedly moving the ward to different locations to isolate them, suspicious lowball sales of the wards property, denigration of anyone who objects to the guardianship, guardians being awarded hundreds of wards—by a single judge– they could not possibly care for properly, examining committees consisting of only one physician for decades and stay away orders are all reliable indicators of ward and family exploitation and abuse.
I can only hope that the Governor and all elected officials will soon understand the urgent need for effective deterrents to prevent these abuses, like meaningful citizen oversight over the courts and JQC, rapid response teams of investigators from Law Enforcement who can quickly respond to reports of abuse, improved training and education for APS workers who now can sometimes actually generate abusive guardianships, prohibition of “bounties” and finder fees paid by court insiders to health care workers and others for referrals of new cases, assistance to pro se litigants who cannot afford to fight in court for their loved ones, criminal prosecution for crimes against the vulnerable and importantly, restitution (called surcharges) of monies improperly taken by the guardianship insiders and a long needed cap on legal fees.
The current probate equity court system is severely skewed to the industrial production of more and more guardianships.
It is a unique American tribunal in which an innocent ward is considered guilty of incapacity without any actual evidence until proven otherwise.
Once conscripted, death is the only escape from their life sentence for almost every ward.”
And, that is the end of Dr. Sugar’s letter. Dr. Sugar’s points are well worth contemplation. Taking away the freedom of an individual should be a last resort. Untold numbers of families have suffered when this is done. Addressing and reforming this system is a quest for justice.
And hats off to the thought leaders, government officials and family members working to shine on spotlight on guardianship and conservatorship abuses.