Senior woman sitting at table, using laptop, worried expression
(Credit: Frank Van Delft / Getty Images)
Senior woman sitting at table, using laptop, worried expression
(Credit: Frank Van Delft / Getty Images)

Members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Thursday heard the case of an assisted living resident whose guardian reportedly withheld almost $100,000 from the facility and her caregivers despite, according to her daughter, “more than adequate funds available.”

That daughter is Tina Paone, PhD, a university professor and a licensed professional counselor who was a witness at a committee hearing titled “Guardianship and Alternatives: Protection and Empowerment.” Her testimony came as the committee’s leader introduced a new bill aimed at improving the guardianship system.

Paone said her mother’s guardian failed to pay long-term care bills “more than half the time,” but such nonpayment was only one negative part of her family’s experience with the guardianship system, which began in 2015 when her mother had a stroke. Over the next few years, Paone said, she saw guardianship responsibilities taken away from her and her brother and given to someone who admitted having no experience working with large estates; her mother being subjected to an expensive, unnecessary evaluation that was charged to her estate; her mother’s second-largest asset, her home, not being protected; and the selling of her mother’s business, “eliminating half of the monthly income she relied on for her care,” among other issues.

“Since her stroke, this situation has cost my mom more than $116,000. This is money that could have been spent on her care but instead went to fund a system that seems driven to pay professional guardians, attorneys and others motivated by greed and power,” Paone said. “My situation is not isolated.”

Saying her mother’s case remains unresolved, Paone called on the senators to “create change.”

“You have the ability to implement meaningful reform,” she continued. “From my perspective, we need federal standards that regulate the appointment and oversight of judges, court appointed attorneys and court-appointed guardians. Additionally, families like mine must have a recourse to prevent devastating medical and financial exploitation.”

Bill focuses on alternatives

A bill introduced Thursday by Senate Aging Committee Chair Bob Casey (D-PA), the Guardianship Bill of Rights Act, “would address the nation’s patchwork guardianship system and explore alternatives to guardianships to protect Americans’ civil rights while getting them the support they need,” Casey said.

Specifically, the act would create the Guardianship and Other Protective Arrangements and Supported Decision Making Council, a national body charged with promoting less restrictive arrangements for people living under or being considered for guardianships.

“Alternative arrangements, such as supported decision-making, can provide people with the support they need to make the decisions for themselves with the support of a team,” Casey said.

The council would be charged with:

  • Creating recommended practices for assisting someone out of a guardianship, averting placement in a guardianship, and modifying guardianships;
  • Examining and making suggestions on how to interrupt the “guardianship pipeline” of healthcare and education professionals who make referrals suggesting guardianships for older adults and others; and
  • Collecting data on guardianship practices at the national and state level.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), also would provide funding for states to have protection and advocacy agencies focused on the rights of people being considered for and living under guardianships. The network of state agencies would be built on the existing network of protection and advocacy agencies authorized by the Developmental Disabilities Act of 2000.   

Approximately 1.3 million adults currently are under guardianships in the United States, and an estimated $50 billion in assets are under guardianship arrangements, according to Casey.