Back in 2016, when Diane Dimond published in the Albuquerque Journal and in her syndicated column the results of her investigation of New Mexico’s Elder Guardianship program, said on HERE & THERE something we can never forget is — “We need a guardianship system.”
Let me put it more personally, old people like me need a guardianship system, for a lot of reasons, all of them having to do with the diminished capacities old age can impose. Sometimes our judgment can be impaired so we just can’t be trusted to make decisions in our own best interest. Sometimes old people can’t remember to take their medications, or they can’t take care of their personal hygiene, or properly feed themselves. That’s when a court can appoint a guardian to take care of them.
Usually, the guardian is a trusted family member or friend, but when there’s no one to play that role, the court appoints a licensed professional. Again, usually, that guardian and the judge that appoints him or her do a good job and really do protect the interests of a person in need. They’d better, because when things go wrong — misjudgments by the court or misbehavior by the guardian or the various sub-contractors working for them — the damage done to the client, the old person, can include denying them their basic rights, like these, listed on the website of the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse:
the right to contract, including the right to choose a lawyer;
the right to control their assets and make financial decisions;
the right to remain in their own home and protect it from sale;
the right to protect and enjoy their personal property;
the right to accept or refuse medical treatment, including psychotropic drugs;
the right to vote; to drive; to marry; and even to complain.
Some states have different rules. Some states, including New Mexico have been reforming their Guardianship rules, but they have not prevented hundreds of documented cases of abuse among a population a Senate committee estimated at 1.3 million isolated adults and their estimated holdings of $50 billion. Yes, guardianship
abuse is an affliction that most frequently targets the rich. Because guardianship is a for-profit profession.
Dillon Bergin is a staff reporter at Searchlight NM. He has written about immigration and migration, climate change, and food for the New Republic and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was a Fulbright Germany Journalism Fellow from 2019 to 2020.