Warning: This video contains explicit language that some viewers may find offensive.
The “Silver Tsunami” is coming. If you’re not prepared, everything your loved ones spent a lifetime working for could be swept away – just because you couldn’t make time for them and soon enough you learn that so-called trustworthy court-appointed guardians have been systematically ripping off your flesh and blood for years.
In his typically humorous and often profane way, HBO host John Oliver of Last Week Tonight took a critical look at the threat facing many of America’s aging seniors—the “Silver Tsunami”—65 and older, now constituting over 49 million Americans, who haven’t properly and legally detailed their financial plans for their retirement years.
What is a Guardian?
As a Maryland judge explains in Oliver’s program, “A Guardian is someone appointed by the court who act on behalf of an individual who is under a mental or physical disability and as a result, is unable to make responsible decisions about his or her care or property.”
How Can Guardianship Be Abused?
But the sad part of this is that a number of elderly people or couples live alone – and, if any of their concerned neighbor(s) suspect signs of dementia, they can petition the court, which might decide to appoint a guardian who will then take over the management of most aspects of the said elderly person or couple’s life. While such intervention works in most cases, when “guardianship goes wrong,” it can be a nightmare for those affected by it.
This nightmare scenario is best highlighted in Oliver’s example of Rudy and Rennie North, who were living together happily in Las Vegas when one day there was that proverbial knock on their door. It was from officers of the court, who gave the couple three options – “we call the police, we have you go to a psychiatric ward, or choice 3 an assisted living facility.” As Oliver explains it, “they were suddenly moved to a facility by a woman they had never met before, who was given control of them by a judge, who they had also never met and by the time they got out from under that Guardians control two years later, most of their money was gone.”
This is just one example, but it is estimated that there are approximately 1.3 million people under guardianship, which bestows a huge amount of power over people under a guardian’s care. They could make financial and health decisions, they can have access to everything from their wards’ bank accounts to health records, wards can lose a lot of their rights from being able to vote in elections to being able to get married. As one judge told Oliver, “Guardianship is a massive intrusion into a person’s life, they lose a lot of rights, in fact, they lose more rights than someone who goes to prison.”
While guardianship is the responsibility of state and local courts, everything about it from who becomes one, to who they oversee, to what they can charge is up to local judges, who may be elected and may have no legal training. Oliver offers the example of Texas, where “guardianship decisions are made by county judges and only 29 of the judges in those 211 counties are lawyers. The rest, as one judge put it, are farmers, car dealers and insurance salesmen, and those courts can be so overworked they do not have the resources to monitor cases properly. When Texas recently audited their Guardianship they found that over 3,000 wards had died without the court knowing!”
In response to Oliver’s sarcastic, yet significant piece on guardianship, estate planning attorney at Wade, Grimes, Friedman, Meinken & Leischner, Foster Friedman says, “Guardianship is an issue that should not be taken lightly. It involves complex financial, legal and medical considerations that could make a material difference to the quality of life involving near and dear ones in their sunset years.” The firm’s other estate planning attorney, Gretchyn Meinken, added, “We are grateful that Mr. Oliver, through his unique sense of humor, has shone a light on an issue that is going to impact a growing number of people in the approaching Silver Tsunami.”
When to Contact an Attorney
If you or someone you know has been adversely affected by this court-mandated ‘Guardian’s Knot,’ we can assist you in cutting it loose and reclaiming control of your loved one’s life. If you are interested in learning more about guardianship done right, click here or contact us.
About the Author
Foster Friedman is a partner at Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner PLLC, concentrating on planning and controversy matters involving estates and trusts. Friedman has been named 2021 Super Lawyer for Northern Virginia, a 2021 Best Lawyer in America by U.S. News & World Report, and AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell.