Dec 03, 2012 0 Share

The Guardians


Gavel with jar of coins emptied next to it.
iStockphoto

It’s not every morning that I am able to sit down and read the newspaper. On the days that I do, sometimes I find myself wishing I hadn’t because the news is so bleak. On the front page of Friday’s Washington Post was a story by Justin Jouvenal covering issues regarding oversight of guardians for the elderly and incapacitated. I follow eldercare issues closely, as I feel that they closely align with care issues for adults with ASD. Both the elder and the ASD populations face the issue of who will care for them when family members cannot. The Post article illustrated what can happen when a third-party caretaker is responsible for day-to-day household administration and also controls the finances.

After reading this article, I wished Friday hadn’t been a day I got around to reading the paper. The article illustrated in vivid detail the exorbitant fees legal firms charge their clients for which they are guardians. One family was charged $6,300 to prepare $1,800 of household items for auction. In another case, a ward the Post refers to as “mentally disabled” was charged $800 by his guardian for arranging his birthday party at Hooter’s. When the first family drew an investigation into unreasonable fees, the guardian firm in turn charged the family $975 for legal fees associated with their own defense.

The article pointed out that there is very little regulation, or even training, when it comes to third-party guardians for the elderly and incapacitated. This most vulnerable population is at great risk of being taken advantage of by the very entities assigned to protect them. I can’t help but think of a scenario where an adult with ASD loses her parents only to then be swindled by the guardian legal firm which her parents painstakingly selected for her as protection after they’re gone.

Now of course, there are some invaluable services guardians provide, and not all firms bill in the same manner, but to charge $125 an hour for personal services such as renewing dog licenses is unconscionable. And as the Post article points out, this is not an isolated incident of one firm’s unreasonable billing practices.

Parents seeking care for their adult children after they are unable to care for them themselves have their work cut out for them. And it’s pretty miserable work at that, so many parents may put off today what makes them uncomfortable to think about, especially when there are few clear solutions. I wish I had a recommendation list to offer, or even a good place to start. Perhaps just acknowledging the job needs to be done is a good start.

As Cameron approaches his 18th birthday, I was just trying to get my head around a different kind of guardianship issue. (As in to what extent I need to protect Cameron as an adult, and the processes by which to execute that protection.)  I now realize figuring out stuff as I go along will continue to happen as long as I am still going along.