The desperate battle of children for their elder custody
MISAPPROPRIATION. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would be concerned with what looks like a social and human drama. Parents are removed from benevolence of their children to be unfairly placed under guardianship to get their money withdrawn. A bill could be passed but families still have to wait.
When Mary Bush’s mother Genevieve Bush was guardianized by a Chester County Court in Pennsylvania, she never dreamed it would lead to restricted visits monitored by an Adult Protective Services supervisor and Sheriff.
$50 to visit her mother for one hour
To spend time with her 88 year old mother, who resides in a care center, the daughter must pay $50 and is only allowed one hour, once a month. Ms. Bush blames an allegedly defamatory letter issued by a Main Line Health Care physician, whom she’s never met.
"If not for that letter, I would not have lost all this time with her", said Miss Bush who cried during a phone interview with The Daily View.
"The state of failure to protect elderly"
Although reached by telephone, Main Line Health Care’s Director of Senior Services did not comment.
"This is typical of the state’s failure to protect the elderly", said John Holman, a Pennsylvania-based minister who advocates against elder isolation, abuse, cruelty and fraud.
$50 billion of the adult’s assets
Pennsylvania has 18,260 active guardianships, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), and the National Center for State Courts has ventured a guess that 1.3 million adults nationwide have a court appointed family or professional guardian who control some $50 billion of the adult’s assets.
"Evidence is mounting that state courts are essentially rubber stamping these petitions for guardianship and are not affording due process to the adults whose rights are targeted in these proceedings,” said Tom Coleman, a California based attorney, founder of the Spectrum Institute and producer of the documentary Pursuit of Justice.
Ignored by the authorities
Pursuit of Justice is a documentary film that advocates for reform of state guardianship and conservatorship systems. Its defenders expose injustices that systematically have been affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans of all ages. All rights reserved.
Once appointed a guardian, older adults can be denied the right to decide where to live, to vote, to choose medical care, health insurance and marital status, to handle finances, to hire a lawyer and even to have family and friends visit them.
Individuals like Mary Bush and Pastor Holman have complained but allege they’ve been ignored by the authorities in Pennsylvania.
52 Area Agencies on Aging targeted in Pennsylvania
"The Area Agency on Aging’s failure to conduct legitimate investigations of elder abuse is the first step to depriving the elderly of their civil rights and stealing their assets", said Pastor Holman who completed a Right to Know survey last year that targeted 52 Area Agencies on Aging in the state of Pennsylvania. He claims that only Potter County has written policy and procedures for conducting investigations into elder abuse complaints.
When asked about its procedures by The Daily View, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging said that when an allegation of abuse is called into the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), a Report of Need (RON) is taken.
A bill is pending with the Senate
"Each call is carefully reviewed and if the RON is appropriate for protective services to investigate, a thorough investigation is completed", said Rachel Wrigley, Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s deputy communications director.
But rumblings of elder abuse within probate guardianship programs have persisted so loudly that U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act (GAA). The bill is currently pending with the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. and, if enacted, promises to overhaul nationally the probate court process of guardianizing senior citizens.
People with disabilities
Advocates claim, however, that the proposed law doesn’t do enough to hold state courts accountable for alleged violations of Constitutional and federal law that occur to the elderly who may have disabilities, such as being blind or deaf.
"If Congress really wanted to create major change at the state level, it would fund the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against state guardianship systems that fail to give seniors and people with disabilities access to justice in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings,” Coleman told The Daily View. "With proper funding and a congressional mandate to investigate and litigate such ADA violations, the DOJ could use the new resources to put real pressure on the states to improve these legal proceedings."
The "Guardianship Tracking System"
Stacey Witalec, communications director with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said in a statement that judges, legislators, advocates, guardians, district attorneys and others have developed a blueprint of recommendations to address these challenges. Recommendations include establishing an Advisory Council on Elder Justice in the Courts.
"Educational sessions for judges and court staff regarding how to identify and address elder abuse and exploitation have been offered regionally", Witalec told The Daily View." The AOPC has developed and is implementing the Guardianship Tracking System (GTS), which allows courts to enhance guardianship monitoring through a statewide uniform process."
A divorce initiated for a couple of 85 and 88 years old
In Ohio, the court appointed guardian initiated a divorce between a 85 years old mother, Fourough, and her 88 years old retired surgeon husband, Mehdi who married six decades ago. During their marriage, Dr. and Mrs. Saghafi reportedly amassed millions of dollars in assets / All rights reserved.
In neighboring Ohio, Jamsheed Saghafi learned first hand why critics are advocating for oversight of state guardianship programs. After his 85 years old mother, Fourough, was guardianized by a Lorain County Probate Court, the court appointed guardian initiated a divorce between his mother and 88 years old retired surgeon father, Mehdi, who had married six decades ago.
“She has been used as a vehicle to defraud the family’s estate while severe cognitive illness has left her vulnerable to personal and financial exploitation,” said Saghafi of his mother.
A "convicted felon" guardian
During his parent’s marriage, Dr. and Mrs. Saghafi reportedly amassed millions of dollars in assets and bore five children, two of whom have become licensed medical doctors, and yet neither Mrs. Saghafi’s physician sons nor physician husband were appointed guardian.
Instead, according to documents filed in court by Dr. Saghafi’s attorney Charles Longo, the guardian that the Honorable Lorain County Probate Judge James Walther appointed is "a convicted felon having plead guilty on or about May 16, 2018, to various crimes involving forgery and dishonesty."
"I am not able to comment"
The Honorable Judge Walther declined to comment.
"I am not able to comment at this time due to the pending nature of this matter", he said.
"Unless the Department of Justice, the Attorney Generals and Supreme Court Justices in each and every state forcefully intervene, unsuspecting families of aging boomers are at risk for being stripped of all their rights, isolated from friends and family, institutionalized and losing all their assets, their dignity and their very lives", said Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG) in Florida and author of the book Guardianships and the Elderly: The Perfect Crime.
"Devastating effect on older individuals"
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but nevertheless, change is afoot.
In Michigan, Attorney Bradley Geller filed a federal Qui Tam false claims complaint naming the Michigan Supreme Court, the Michigan Attorney General, each of the state's probate courts and all 300 of the state’s professional guardians as defendants.
“Michigan probate judges do not follow the law and they do not follow the law in very significant areas which has had a devastating effect on older individuals and individuals with disabilities who come before the probate court", Geller told The Daily View.
"No hearings or for three minutes"
“In some cases, they don’t hold hearings or the hearings last three minutes. It’s pretty shocking to think that in three minutes an individual can lose his or her right to control his or her medical care, money, property, who can visit and where to reside for the rest of his or her life where there’s often almost no evidence.”
The suit includes claims of Medicaid fraud, violation of due process and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
An Eldel Abuse Task Force created
Although the case has yet to be resolved and one issue is set for a July 31 hearing, Counselor Geller believes his lawsuit helped prompt the creation of an Elder Abuse Task Force by the Michigan Supreme Court and Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel, in March.
“The task force is looking at recommending several changes to the guardianship system as described on the website and the Chief Justice looks forward to the results of their analysis and taking any necessary steps to make sure vulnerable adults are protected", said Michigan Supreme Court Communications Officer John Nevin.
The example of superstar Britney Spears
In California, where guardianship is referred to as conservatorship, Counselor Coleman filed a brief with the California Supreme Court, asking the Court to require closer scrutiny by appellate courts when a conservatee alleges that an order establishing a conservatorship is not supported by clear and convincing evidence. A famous example of conservatorship in California is superstar Britney Spears.
"Through this brief, I am attempting to educate the justices about how bad the system is", Coleman said. "Once they become aware of this, we can come back to them again with a petition for specific administrative reforms that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to deliver.”
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