The guardianship guide: How to protect your loved ones
State laws are designed to prevent predatory behavior.
It’s a nightmare scenario: A stranger knocks on the door and informs the resident, an elderly woman, that the court has appointed the visitor as her guardian.
The guardian tells the resident to pack her things immediately and whisks her off to an assisted living community. Family members try to step in, to no avail, as the guardian proceeds to sell the woman’s home and plunder her assets. And the most frightening part: It’s all legal.
That’s the opening scene of I Care a Lot, the Netflix movie starring Rosamund Pike, and shockingly, it mirrors the true story of a professional guardian named April Parks in Nevada. (The rest of the movie — involving Russian mobsters, a bag of stolen diamonds and multiple murders — is pure fiction.) Parks ripped off dozens of elderly people in Nevada; she’s now in prison.
If you saw the movie and you’re an older adult, you might wonder: Could this happen to me? If so, how can I protect myself?
First, some good news: Texas has protections in place that prevent the kind of predatory scenario that occurred in Nevada.
“That story is unrecognizable to those of us who practice guardianship in Texas,” says Terry W. Hammond, executive director of the Texas Guardianship Association, an organization of professional and family guardians. “Basic due process has been infused in the system in Texas. But that’s not to say the system is perfect. We still have some work to do to improve our guardianship process.”
Guardianship involves the legal process of removing the rights of a person who is incapacitated and can’t manage affairs because of illness, injury or disability. A guardian may be appointed by a court to manage the incapacitated person, the estate or both.
There are two types of guardians: a guardian of a person who makes medical, residential and similar decisions for that ward and a guardian of the estate who manages property on behalf of a ward.
“Getting guardianship is not an easy process in Texas,” says Hammond, an attorney. “Before an incapacitated person can be assigned a guardian, there must be a court hearing and medical evidence of incapacity. The person is served papers and is entitled to legal representation.” That process usually takes four to six months.
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