The perils of probate court
Once a person is served a petition by another (often a greedy son or daughter feeling entitlement to the elderly persons money/assets) more often than not end up in the hands of ...not the petitioners....but to another person who is picked by the courts and will stand to make enormous sums of money. It is almost impossible to EVER get away from the hands of these people and what we may consider as "due process" is obsolete. Anvanced Directives and Powers of Attornys documents in place can and will (generally) be revoked in ....for exapmple.... 4 minutes exparte.
Elder financial abuse has been around as long as older people have had money and property. Financial abuse, often accompanied by physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse remains a sad reality for many older citizens. Until recently, one particularly disturbing type of elder abuse has managed to remain a "dirty little secret" within local and national probate courts: Guardian and or conservator/fiduciary abuse.
Guardian and/or conservator abuse occurs when perpetrators use the system to drain the estates of vulnerable people in order to enrich their own lives. These unscrupulous individuals shield themselves behind the walls of the probate court, under the thinly veiled guise of protecting the elderly. Thousands of aging and/or otherwise vulnerable citizens undergo a particularly dehumanizing process as they are systematically stripped of their civil and constitutional rights via the probate or similar court system.
These perpetrators have learned to use the system supposedly intended to protect vulnerable citizens to dehumanize and destroy them instead.
One example of a commonly used method to initiate protective proceedings occurs when the impatient son or daughter of an aging person begins to worry about their inheritance. Simply put, they want their inheritance now, and if not now, they want to protect it from their parent(s) spending it on their own care (or otherwise).
With the assistance of an experienced Elder Law Attorney, one of the adult children files a petition in the Probate Court. In order for the petition to give the appearance of legitimacy, the petitioner must state reasons why he/she should be placed in the position of controlling their parent's money and decision-making ability, as well as why the petitioner's sibling(s) or other family members' opinions should not be considered if they object to the proceedings.
An elder law attorney will determine what is important to be included in the petition. The content of the petition need not be accurate or truthful, just compelling enough to cast suspicion and doubt on those the petitioner believes may attempt to thwart his/her attempt to gain exclusive control of his/her parent's assets.
Accomplishing this goal includes ruthless and malicious accusations regarding the unsuspecting family member(s) of outrageous acts of abuse/neglect against the prospective ward.
Allegations need no merit, can be extremely inflammatory and even damage the attacked persons reputation and/or career. A seasoned elder law attorney representing the petitioner understands what a horrific effect this can have on the individual as well as their children, however, stands to make thousands of dollars out of the prospective ward's estate; but only if the petition is granted.
Self-serving petitioners and their unprincipled attorneys clearly do not consider anyone else's lives as they wreak havoc in effort to assist the petitioner in taking control over the elderly person's estate. Accusing a protective family member of abusive or criminal behavior as well as being crazy, mentally ill, a thief and/or on drugs is simply a means to an end.
The probate court has no interest in due process, as do other courts within the judicial system. No forum is available to deny or dispute these allegations. These false and destructive allegations will become part of the permanent court records and will serve many purposes throughout the remainder of the prospective ward's life.
Once the petition is filed, the court assigns a "Visitor" to investigate the petitioner's allegations. The Visitor, an individual chosen by the Probate Court, is well connected in the tight circles of elder law professionals. Court Visitors receive assignments to assess situations brought to the courts' attention. Payment for the Visitor will be on the shoulders of the prospective ward; however, only if the court approves the petition.
Petitioners', along with their attorneys, depend on the information provided in the Visitors report to assist them as they maneuver their way closer to becoming the sole person legally allowed to handle the prospective ward's assets; along with full control over all personal, health and living decisions of the ward.
Similar to the petition, no substantiation of allegations need be addressed in the Visitors report; it is simply the words of the opportunistic family member in effort to discredit any objectors.
The Visitor's job does not include fact-finding or anything resembling a search for the truth. However, in support for the petitioner, the Visitor will make statements in his/her report corroborating the petitioner's allegations with no new information to disprove them.
As stated above, the Visitor has a financial interest in creating the conservatorship/guardianship and becomes a crucial person in the proceedings.
The petitioner, his/her attorney and the Visitor collaborate with one another in effort to establish the conservatorship/guardianship. Within the circles of elder law professionals, the Visitor's report maintains a crucial piece. Without the Visitor corroborating the petitioner's allegations, none of the professionals involved stand to make a profit.
Once the Visitor submits his or her report, an emergency hearing is scheduled.
If the proposed ward objects to the petition the court may appoint the prospective ward his/her own counsel, generally moments prior to the emergency hearing.
Believing the judicial system will protect them, news of representation may allow the prospective ward and others' concerned a moment of much needed relief. Sadly, this relief proves nothing more than false hope.
The attorney appointed to represent the prospective ward, along with the petitioner's attorney and the visitor; maintain close relationships with one another.
Fees for the wards attorney come out of the prospective wards assets; and again, only if the petition is granted.
Once the emergency hearing commences, often ex parte and lasting just a few minutes, the fate of the prospective wards future is determined. The petition's approval, often rubber-stamped by the judge reigning over the probate court, seals the fate of the elderly person.
From this moment forward, the elderly person will be referred to as a "ward" or "protected person". Any ability to make decisions for themselves is removed.
Power of Attorney designations as well as Advanced Directives the now ward may have carefully designed years prior will be revoked during these few moments.
Generally, it is at this point, it will be also be determined that the original petitioner is unsuitable for the role of conservator and or guardian, resulting in the placement of a "professional" conservator and or guardian. It is in the best interest of the petitioner to remain in good standing with the attorneys and the newly appointed guardian/conservator, thus maintaining credibility with the judge, allowing him/her to be privy to information concerning the ward along with retaining his/her ability to be involved in decision-making decision making regarding the ward..
The guardians and/or conservators are no strangers to the other individuals involved in this brutal attack on another's civil liberties. Most of these professionals maintain close relationships with one another in effort to ensure the continuation of these moneymaking ventures.
Along with the attorneys, the Visitor, and guardian/conservators make a huge profit fleecing these vulnerable individuals, often billing the ward for vague and ambiguous services. Due to lack of accountably, it is common practice for the conservator/guardian to charge the ward exorbitant fees for services whether rendered or not.
"Once a person is placed into involuntary guardianship they will lose all of their civil rights and essentially face civil death. They cannot vote, marry, contract, divorce, decide where they live, what medical care they can get, what drugs they can take or refuse to take and even if or when they will die. All of these decisions will be assigned to a stranger who will make a hefty profit off the victim". (NOTEGA - Stop Elder Abuse and Guardianship Abuse. Retrieved from http://stopelderabuse.net/)
These cruel and predatory individuals that work in the field of elder law and elder care state they involve themselves in effort to protect the elderly, however, they will only consider involving themselves in cases, which the proposed wards assets are substantial enough to make it worth their while.
The financial piece of this abhorrent practice is inherent in establishing and maintaining the guardianship/conservatorship industry. Simply put, this atrocity could not exist without the most powerful and compelling piece... money.
Abuse of this nature remains shrewdly concealed from public view. Guardians and/or conservators businesses thrive under the ruse of "protecting" vulnerable citizens. Currently, news stories reporting this type of abuse flood the internet.
The only remedy available for the ward resides in the same court that allows this practice to flourish. Although judges have the legal and moral obligation to monitor the guardians/conservators, oversight is sketchy ... at best.
If questionable conduct is brought to the attention of the court, judges rarely take action against the abusers. The criminal justice system will not intervene on behalf of victims under "protective" orders leaving these victims with absolutely no recourse and no escape from the abusive conservator/guardian.
Individuals that objected to the petition will be treated like criminals and carefully watched by the guardian/conservator. The unsubstantiated allegations used to support the original petition will be held over the objecting persons head and reiterated to others by the guardian/conservator to maintain suspicion about their motives.
Information in the petition will be presented as factual from that point forward and used against them for the remainder of the wards life. Restrictions will be placed on the objector(s) often with the goal of keeping them away from the ward.
These allegations will be shared with the ward's physician(s), friends, neighbors, and any other persons involved in the wards life.
As assets drain quickly, guardians/conservators begin to prepare for the inevitable... running out of the wards money.
The issue of what occurs when wards resources deplete will be addressed in the next part of this series as well as information regarding 82 individuals, in the guardian and conservator business and their networking practices.
Valuable resources: National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA)
National Organization to End Guardian Abuse (NOTEGA)
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