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Financial exploitation of the elderly on the rise nationwide


When elderly people develop dementia or other problems that make it hard for them to make legal decisions for themselves, Washington law provides for a relative or another person to serve as guardian for the elderly person. However, this power is often strictly limited. A developing story from another state helps illustrate why these limits may be necessary.

A woman in another state has been charged with felony theft from the many elderly clients she was supposed to be caring for through her company. An audit of a state program to aid disabled people led to charges that the woman had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from 600 individuals for whom she served as legal guardian through her company. Officials accuse the woman of setting up a complicated system of credit cards and bank accounts to conceal embezzlement from her clients.

Advocates for the disabled are asking the state to overhaul its guardianship program and provide more public oversight whenever someone seeks an intervention because of incapacity. They refer to the alleged situation uncovered by the audit as a "guardianship mill" that exists to exploit the vulnerable.

Many studies have shown that the financial exploitation of elderly people is on the rise nationwide. While it's sometimes frustrating for relatives to have to go through legal paperwork just to get power of attorney or to take care of their loved ones, it's important to remember that the regulations and restrictions on legal guardianships are necessary parts of the fight against these crimes.

Source: Nebraska Radio Network, "Advocacy group for disabled wants Unicameral to address guardianship issue," Brent Martin, Dec. 5, 2013

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