The legal concept of guardianship exists in Delaware to solve the problem created by an incapacitated person who can no longer oversee personal affairs. The incapacitation could occur through illness, injury or advanced age. A court may appoint an individual or an institution to assume guardianship of a person. However, the system has few safeguards against abuse. People placed under guardianship essentially lose all rights. If guardians steal their funds, sell their assets or place them in undesirable housing, they face an uphill battle reversing their status or changing guardians.
Lack of court resources
Guardianships start with a petitioner approaching a court and asking to reassign control of a person’s affairs. A petitioner may be a loved one, a hospital or a nursing home. Judges often make their decisions based on little information except what the petitioner provides. After courts issue guardianships, they typically lack the resources to monitor what happens. As a result, abuse goes undetected.
High danger of abuse
With little to no official oversight, guardians largely have a free hand to do what they want with wards and their finances. Although statistics are incomplete, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in 2010 detailing hundreds of cases of physical neglect and financial abuse. The agency documented losses by wards of $5.4 million during a 20-year period.
Relatives of a vulnerable individual sometimes launch legal battles to determine who gains guardianship. Concerned relatives might argue that another person petitioning for guardianship is untrustworthy.
Although a portion of guardians unfortunately abuse their positions, the majority of them are caring family members who step in when it becomes necessary. Legal guidance during such a time may help a person understand the responsibilities of the position.