Advocates of the elderly who have been guardianized and their heirs are descending upon Washington, D.C. this week from July 29 to August 1 to attend the 8th Annual Whistleblower Summit.
At the summit, Billie Mintz, executive director of the documentary film, “The Guardians,” will lecture on a July 31 panel at the Hart Senate Office Building along with Social Scientist Terry Williams and Wayne McElrath, former director of investigations with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
A guardian is typically appointed by a probate court to oversee a younger adult with physical or developmental disabilities. However, elderly baby boomers and World War 2 generation parents who may or may not be experiencing cognitive decline and other disabilities are increasingly being guardianized to the chagrin of their family members who are beginning to speak out.
For example, after he was forced by a Lorain County probate court-appointed guardian in Ohio to divorce his wife, Dr. Mehdi Saghafi, 88, filed a lawsuit in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas against the guardian, 8 lawyers, a real estate developer and CPA who were directly or indirectly involved with the guardianship of his 85-year-old-wife Fourough.
“Defendants exploited and utilized the mental incompetence and incapacity of Mrs. Saghafi for their personal and economic gain, and to defraud Plaintiff of personal and marital assets,” wrote Dr. Saghafi’s attorney Charles Longo in his January 2019 complaint.
Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Spokesman Darren Toms declined to comment on the case.
Family members who oppose guardianship often object to not only court imposed divorce but also the denial of choice of meals, choice of health insurance, medical care and even choice of visits with adult children, spouses and grandchildren.
Claims of abuse of the elderly under probate guardianship programs garnered national attention last year when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act on Nov. 28, 2018.
“Combating guardianship abuse of seniors requires law enforcement and social service agencies at all levels of government to work together, and the Guardianship Accountability Act promotes this kind of collaboration,” said Senator Collins in a statement online.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. confirmed that the bill is pending and has not yet passed to the Senate floor.
However, advocates are wary of the proposed law.
“In my opinion, the Guardianship Accountability Act will do very little to stop systemic and individual guardianship abuses in the states,” said Tom Coleman, an attorney in California and founder of the Spectrum Institute and the Disability and Abuse Project.
“Yes, it will be nice to have some grants to give states an incentive to keep track of cases statewide in a database, but a state database is only a minor improvement. And a few of the other incentives are nice too, but badly insufficient to create meaningful reform.”
Counselor Coleman filed an amicus curiae brief, 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 case of conservatorship in the state is Britney Spears.
“Through this brief, I am attempting to educate the justices about how bad the system is,” said Coleman. “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.”
Juliette Fairley is an author, lecturer and TV host based in New York.
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