Written Testimony of Latifa S. Ring (NOTEGA) to the Senate Special Committee on Aging for the record on recent Elder Abuse and Exploitation Hearing
March 15, 2011
Dear Chairman Kohl, Senator Corker and distinguished Committee members:
Thank you for holding the recent hearing “Justice for All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation” to address the crisis of elder abuse and financial exploitation of America’s elderly citizens and thank you for allowing Mickey Rooney to share his cry for an end to elder abuse with the committee and with the American Public.
“the moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of their life, the children, those who are in the twilight of their lives, the elderly and those who are in the shadows of life, the disabled the weak and the vulnerable. “
How will we be judged as a nation and as a government if we do not take the steps necessary to end this crime against America’s most vulnerable citizens?Elder abuse and financial exploitation of the elderly in our communities and when done by private citizens is being called a crime, yet quietly all across this nation elderly and disabled citizens are being abused and financially exploited under Adult Guardianships under the guise of protection and the color of law. In the courtrooms of our States, abuse and exploitation of vulnerable citizens is treated as if it is perfectly legal. Judges routinely rubber stamp exorbitant fees for services that do not benefit the wards resulting in financial exploitation of their estates. Family members and friends all over this country are crying out about the abuse and neglect of their loved ones in guardianship that they are powerless to protect yet it appears there is no one listening because there is a guardian and the court appointed them.
Under guardianships a person can lose all of their civil rights and their right to ask for protection under the law. Lives and assets can essentially be stolen. The perpetrators of financial exploitation and abuse in guardianships are getting bolder and often times elderly citizens with assets are targeted and adjudicated as incapacitated and placed under a guardianship or conservatorship just to give someone else control over an estate which they can then loot. Other times elderly citizens who are alleged to be incapacitated are placed into guardianships when they have family and friends who are willing and able to help them or when they only have a minor ailment; again only to give the perpetrators access to the estate. Many family members are tricked into believing that seeking guardianship will help to protect a loved one only to find themselves on the end of a never-ending onslaught of unproven allegations of wrong-doing delibe
rately launched to malign the family member and prevent them from being appointed as guardian. This tactic clears the list of available guardians and makes room for the perpetrators intent on looting the estate. When greed is the motivating factor in guardianships, the welfare of the ward takes a back seat and abuse of the wards is allowed by the guardians and other professionals more intent only on lining their pockets than caring for the vulnerable person. It seems that the “name of the game” in guardianships is to bill for as many services as possible as fast as possible knowing that the judge will routinely rubberstamp the fee applications. This routine approval occurs either because the judges are busy trying to clear an overloaded docket, they do not have time or resources to review the fee applications, they know the American Taxpayers will take care of the ward with Medicaid dollars or they want to make sure the guardians and attorneys (some of whom may have owe political favors to) get paid. It is just easier that way. Family members who complain may find themselves losing the right to visit their own loved ones or being told by the Court that they have no standing to speak on behalf of the ward that now has a guardian.
As I stated in my testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security, it is almost as if guardianships can be used as a form of identity theft. The guardian can execute any and all documents on behalf of the ward. This powerful position gives them unfettered access to the ward’s life and property. In the wrong hands this power can be and is enormously abused and can even be lethal to the vulnerable person. Without proper controls lives can be are being stolen.
When will our National Leaders finally address the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation of the Elderly that is occurring in Guardianships?
We have been calling for National Reforms to address Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation in guardianships since 2008 when our group the “National Elder Abuse and Guardianship Victims Taskforce for Change” submitted a platform proposal to End Elder Abuse and Guardianship Abuse for the senior’s plank of the DNC platform. Many other groups and citizens have also been calling for reform and since 2008 and we have continued our call for National reforms with online petitions and letters to our State and National leaders.
I could fill reams of papers with examples of abuse and exploitation in guardianships but will limit this to the summaries I have attached to this testimony as appendix (A) and the comments made as part of the petition attached as appendix (B). I simply ask the following questions:
- Why is it legal to abuse and rob the elderly in guardianships?
- Why is it legal to force an “alleged” incapacitated person into guardianship with an emergency or some other hearing without due process of the law where the ward is not present and/or not represented by counsel? Why are our constitutional due process rights under the 14th amendment not protected in guardianships?
- Why is it legal to isolate a ward, to over medicate, to chemically restrain, to sterilize and even authorize an early death through hospice in guardianships?
- Why do the advance directives of these dear elderly citizens appear to mean nothing? The designation of a pre-need guardian, a power of attorney or health care surrogate are routine ignored in the incapacity process.
- Why is it legal for one person (a judge) to give one human being to another private citizen (“the guardian”), then walk away, and let that person have their way with the incapacitated person and their estate?
- Why are there no jury trials?
- Why are these wards of the State in guardianships not being protected by the State… are they not wards of the State?
- Why is it that when someone allegedly steals from an elderly or vulnerable person that the alleged victim can be sent into a guardianship instead of the crime being investigated by the criminal justice system and adult protective services? The victim is forced to pay for the crime in a probate court instead of it being handled by the criminal justice system where the victim doesn’t have to foot the bill to get justice? Furthermore, rarely are the allegations of wrong doing that create the need for guardianship ever proven in these guardianship cases. Instead, they are being used as an excuse to take over the life of the person and their property. Why do the American Rules of Civil Discovery not apply to Guardianship Proceeding?
- Why do we need to have emergency hearings for guardianships when adult protective services should be able to do their job and protect the vulnerable alleged incapacitated person until they can be afforded due process?
- Why is it legal to bill tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to a ward for services that do not benefit them in breach of any fiduciary duty and yet it is not called a crime, it is called protection of the ward ?
- Why is it legal for a guardian to deny visitation to a ward, to allow them to be isolated from their community and their loved ones ?
All over this country, people are outraged by what they are seeing done to their loved ones in guardianships. Many families are torn apart and many are secondary victims who suffer from the horrific abuse of not being able to visit their loved ones, not being able to protect them and sometimes not even being notified of a loved one’s death so they can attend their funeral.
There is nothing new about guardianship abuse to report. It is the same broken system with the same crimes that have gone on for over 30 years since the Claude Pepper days when the late Congressman submitted the “1989 Guardianship Rights Act” that clearly stated that the 14th amendment rights of the elderly in guardianship were being violated. Three GAO reports have been issued since 2004 that all spell out the problems in guardianships. Numerous Media outlets have reported horrifying cases of abuse and exploitation. Agencies have reported the problem. This committee has held several hearing including one in 2006 and the record reflects the enormous problem our seniors are facing. In May 2010, I testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security about this problem. I stand by my stated belief that without real and meaningful reforms, guardianships can and will continue to be used to steal lives and assets under what I can only equate to a legalized form of identity theft. Attached to this written testimony is a petition signed by close to 1200 people calling for National Reforms to End Elder Abuse and Guardianship Abuse. This petition can also be viewed online atwww.endguardianshipabuse.org . I respectfully request that this petition be put on the record with this written testimony.
Members of the committee, it is time for action on guardianship abuse and it is time to recognize that elder abuse and financial exploitation in and under a guardianship or conservatorship is no less a crime that it is when the perpetrator is a family member or nursing home in the community. In fact, elder abuse and exploitation of the incapacitated person is the worst form of abuse as it is perpetrated against the most vulnerable of our society, the victims who have had their voice stripped of them and who are powerless to report the crime.
The federal government and your Senate Special Committee on Aging should take an interest in ending the abuse and exploitation in guardianship. They should take an interest because of the cost to the taxpayers in State Medicaid and matching federal Medicaid dollars, because of the 14th amendment rights that are violated in guardianships and because elder abuse and financial exploitation is a crime even if done under the guise of protection and under the color of law.
I close by echoing the request made by Mickey Rooney that you PLEASE STOP ELDER ABUSE and STOP IT NOW … not only in the communities, not only in a private homes, not only in our nursing homes but also when it is perpetrated under guardianships and conservatorships through our courts.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to submit this testimony and I hope the committee will consider having a separate hearing on the problems with guardianships and respectfully request we be permitted to have a member of our organization testify and provide more additional information on this problem. I also ask that the committee please take a serious look at the problems raised in the GAO report issued in 2010 and invite victims and family members to come to Washington and share their stories so the committee can understand what is really happening on the ground. They can bring the perspective of the victims have been stripped of their voice to speak, they are the constituents of the members of this committee and they are the eyewitnesses to this terrible silent crime of elder abuse and exploitation that is being perpetrated under the guise of protection.
Posted on November 15, 2011, in Adult Protective Services, Elder Abuse, Elder Law & Finances, Exploitation, Guardianship, Guardianship Abuse, Guardianships & Conservatorships, National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, NOTEGA, Probate Court, Senior Issues, United States, Ward and tagged 1989 Guardianship Rights Act, Adult Protective Services, Agency on Aging, Elder Abuse, Elder Law & Finances, Exploitation, Financial Abuse of Elderly, financial exploitation, Guardianship, Guardianship Abuse, Guardianships & Conservatorships, Herb Kohl, Hubert Humphrey, Latifa Ring, Legal guardian, Making a Difference, Mickey Rooney, NASGA, National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse, National Organization to End Guardianship Abuse, neglect, NOTEGA, old age, Probate Court, Senate Special Committee on Aging, Senior Issues, United States, United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, Ward, Washington DC. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.