In Nevada, people facing guardianship are now given a court-appointed attorney who represents their interests before a judge. (AARP)
CARSON CITY, Nev. – After a rash of high-profile cases, a brand new hotline has just been established for Nevadans to report abuse or neglect by court-appointed guardians. The hotline is run by the Guardianship Compliance Office created by the state in January.
Jim Berchtold is directing attorney for the Guardianship Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, a group with seven attorneys who represent victims in court at no cost.
He says until now, it’s been too easy for predators to gain guardianship over unsuspecting people who couldn’t take care of themselves or might suffer from dementia.
"There were a number of issues that were coming to light – people who were being improperly placed under guardianship, people who were under guardianship and having their assets stolen, essentially, by private guardians, and just a general lack of oversight," Berchtold says.
The focus on guardianship abuse came in response to several highly-publicized cases, most notably that of April Parks, who ran a guardianship company and was indicted alongside several others, including a Las Vegas police officer, for fraudulently assuming guardianship over an elderly couple and stealing $700,000.
The hotline number is 833-421-7711.
People can find themselves stripped of their rights under the control of a court-appointed guardian who is a stranger to them, if they become incapacitated without a family member or friend having legal power of attorney, or if no one requests guardianship promptly. According to Berchtold, that can be avoided with proper planning.
"You can create powers of attorney not only for your healthcare, medical decisions but also for your finances," he explains. "You can create healthcare directives, trusts, so that your finances are protected and that your future care is provided for."
A 2010 federal report on guardianship abuse blamed the problem on courts that failed to properly screen potential guardians or ascertain the wishes of the person to be placed under supervision, or failed to locate family members.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service – NV