By: Melody Lynch
Per AARP, an estimated 1.3 million
American adults are under guardianship, with approximately 85% being over age
65. In the wake of revelations that professional guardian, Rebecca
Fierle, signed Do Not Resuscitate orders for a plethora of elderly wards in her
care without knowledge or approval by family members, you may be wondering how
to protect your family in the event that guardianship is necessary or
The first tip is that FAMILY IS
BEST. Rebecca Fierle aside, there are dedicated and wonderful
professional guardians who serve an important function in the guardianship
system. However, wherever possible, select a family member to serve as
guardian. Two family members can also be appointed as co-guardians to
ease the burden on any one family member. Family members have intimate
knowledge of the ward’s likes, dislikes, preferences, and medical history that
can be critically important in the long-run.
The second tip is to BE
REPRESENTED. The Court will appoint a lawyer for the ward.
However, you can (and should) hire your own lawyer to participate in the
process and to keep the family involved in making decisions that are truly in
the best interest of the ward. Court appointed lawyers are not
compensated unless a guardianship is established. This is not always in
the best interest of the ward but you need a lawyer to participate and seek less
restrictive means where appropriate. This leads me to my third and most
BE AN ADVOCATE
. Whether through your lawyer or
individually, effective communication and active participation is necessary to
protect your loved one. Do not sit on the sidelines and assume that the
professional guardian or family guardian has everything handled properly.
Seek out copies of relevant records and ask questions. As we’ve learned
from the Rebecca Fierle scandal, your active participation could be a matter of
life or death for your loved one. While the investigation is ongoing in
the Fierle matter, the media has reported that the Attorney General is
investigating Medicare fraud and financial exploitation. The cremated
remains of 9 wards were found in Ms. Fierle’s office by local law enforcement
and conflicts of interest between a local hospital and an examining committee
member charged with determining whether a person lacks capacity and requires
guardianship in the first place abound. Stay vigilant and part of the
process to ensure the safety of your elderly family member.
This article is informational only. You should consult an attorney before acting or failing to act. The law may change rapidly and no warranty is given. LOWNDES DISCLAIMS ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES AND WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTY OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. ALL ARTICLES ARE PROVIDED AS IS AND WITH ALL FAULTS. Consult a Lowndes attorney if you wish to establish an attorney/client relationship.