elderly guardianship, finding help for caregivers

Elderly Guardianship for Financial Security

Too often, I have heard about elderly people with dementia who have had their homes taken by taxing authorities, whose bank accounts have been closed by the bank, and who have been financially exploited by scammers.  These people with dementia were unsuspecting, unaware of their finances, and unable to respond adequately to warning letters or communications.  Often, they simply don’t recognize any warning signs, and they don’t realize their own precarious financial condition.  Rich or poor, they are unaware and unprepared for the consequences of doing nothing about a problem they don’t even see.  They need elderly guardianship.

The Problem

The person with dementia cannot comprehend the instructions on letters from banks or taxing agencies or government agencies. They don’t understand bank statements or warning letters about being overdrawn or late. They may not be able to distinguish the letters sent by legitimate local government agencies from the junk mail in the mailbox.  In addition, they might not be able to adequately hear instructions over the telephone, or even work their own telephone. They may lack transportation to go to the bank, the tax office, or the utility billing office, so they have no way to get help in person.

These people may lack education about taxes, credit cards, loans, and scams, or they certainly lack the cognitive ability to understand and act to correct the situation. And, over time, their situation builds up to a home being lost to unpaid taxes, a bank account being closed, a credit history ruined, or the water or electricity being turned off at home. There are consequences when nothing is done.  Those consequences can be harsh.

Searching for Answers

That’s why a caregiver, a family member, or a trusted friend who will take the time to oversee the elder’s financial situation is so needed.  What the elder who has diminished cognitive abilities needs is a guardian. Guardianship is a legal term.  When a physical or mental disability leaves a person incapacitated , a “guardian” can be legally appointed to handle the person’s care and affairs. The legal term for the adult under guardianship is “ward.” Guardianships are limited as much as is reasonable in order to allow wards to exercise as much control over their lives as possible. Wards are allowed to do as much of their own caregiving as is physically and mentally possible, and to communicate their own wishes and desires about their lives.

Legal Responsibility

Guardians are legally given only those powers necessary to accomplish for the ward what the ward cannot accomplish independently.  Guardians act only when necessary to make decisions and give consent to things that the wards are not capable of doing on their own. This is the limit of their duties.

Strategy for Monitoring Elderly

Guardianship is covered by state law, and those laws differ from state to state. An elder law or family law attorney would be able to advise you about the law in your state. Usually, the job of elderly guardianship falls to a family member, and the elder can choose the person who serves as that guardian. The guardian must be 18 years old or more, and cannot have a felony record.    A court can make the choice of guardian based on a will or a durable power of attorney document if such exists.  A court will usually appoint a family member in absence of such documents.

To find out more about  elderly guardianship and to find a list of attorneys to consult in your state, see the website FindLaw.

You Can Help

So many financial mishaps of elderly people with dementia or diminished cognitive abilities could have been prevented, if only someone had paid attention and recognized their need for help with financial issues like bill-paying and taxes.   Scammers and exploiters can easily pick up on the signs of an elderly person’s confusion and helplessness when they face financial decisions.  Will you?

As a family member or caregiver, take the responsibility of looking over your elderly loved one’s finances with their permission for their own protection. Guardianship may be the best role for you to protect your loved one legally in regard to finances and other important decisions.

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