A guardian, conservator, or other-termed fiduciary, often an attorney, is appointed by the court when certain elders (and others) are incapable of caring for themselves and/or their property, and they need protection. But who protects these elders when the fiduciaries are the ones taking advantage?
Certainly, not all fiduciaries take advantage, and LPR applauds those who discharge their duties with honesty and integrity. But instances of fiduciaries taking advantage is more prevalent than one would think. In those instances, the fiduciaries’ access is largely unchecked, and in too many cases, sanctioned by the court.
The case of Marie Long of Arizona is a classic example. Mrs. Long’s plight was investigated and reported by Laurie Roberts of azcentral.com in a December 17, 2013 post titled, “Widow ‘protected’ into the poorhouse gets some of her money back (finally).” According to the post, Mrs. Long was widowed in 2003 and at the time was worth $1.3 million. In 2005, she suffered a stroke, and a subsequent family dispute over her care brought her before the Maricopa County Probate Court. The court-appointed fiduciary and the lawyers billed Mrs. Long more than $1 million. The court approved the billings. Within a matter of a few years, Mrs. Long was in a nursing home that accepts welfare residents.
When attorneys who volunteered their time to help Mrs. Long challenged the billings, the court “lambasted” them, calling their challenges to the billings “venomous” and charging that the attacks forced the fiduciaries and lawyers to defend themselves . . . with Mrs. Long’s money.
Ms. Roberts’ investigative reporting uncovered that the court had sent advance copies of its rulings to the court-appointed attorneys. And, while the Arizona Court of Appeals found that the lower court acted unethically and deemed what happened to Mrs. Long “inexcusable,” it did not fix what happened to her. Rather, Mrs. Long received a small settlement.
Sadly, Mrs. Long’s story is not novel. Elders under the eyes of the court are often taken advantage of, and when the courts appoint fiduciaries from their approved lists, there is often a tendency to give them leeway and even protect them, at the expense of the elder.
When society’s most vulnerable gets taken advantage of, the system allowing the abuse needs to be reformed. LPR applauds Ms. Roberts for shining a light on this abuse. Hopefully this is a wakeup call for the probate courts and the fiduciaries. After all, those tasked with protecting the elderly should not take advantage of them, and those tasked with overseeing the fiduciaries should not sanction their mistreatment of the elderly.