A Senate committee on Wednesday called for tougher state actions to curb elder financial abuse by guardians, at the same time a study by the General Accountability Office decried a lack of state monitoring of guardian abuse.

A study by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found guardians who turn bad to worse through abuse are alarmingly widespread. GAO investigators say that courts often let elder financial abuse go undetected.

Sen. Susan Collins, chair of the Special Committee on Aging, which held a hearing on the subject Wednesday, cited one case in her home state of Maine where an attorney bilked two elderly female clients out of nearly a half a million dollars over several years. Maine has the oldest median age of any state population in the nation.

The senator said much progress is being made in stopping such abuse, but much more needs be done.

A guardianship is created when a state court grants family members, professionals and government agencies control over an individual’s affairs when a person is ruled unable to make key decisions—such as financial ones.

Part of the problem for policy makers, the GAO said, is that good data doesn’t exist about the extent of the exploitation.

To attempt to fill the data void, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System early next year with information from state adult protective services agencies.

To curb guardian abuse, the GAO has called for courts to ensure on a case-by-case basis that a guardian is truly needed before appointing one.

The agency’s investigators also said judges should periodically re-examine whether a guardianship is even needed after a senior has sufficiently recovered from a disability.

“It can be difficult for an older adult with a guardian to
demonstrate that his or her capacity has been restored,” the study noted.

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