Guardianship abuse and potential safeguards

Oct 19, 2021 | By: Neil Lyons

Buzz Feed News recently released a scathing piece titled “Beyond Britney: Abuse, Exploitation, and Death Inside America’s Guardianship Industry.”

The piece is a three-part semi-deep dive into guardianship abuse throughout the country. (I encourage you to read the article yourself).

The authors of the piece cite egregious examples of abuse of individuals under guardianship. In turn, the authors use those examples to cast a broad conclusion about the guardianship system as a whole.

The examples cited could lead one to conclude that broad nationwide reforms are necessary. That discussion may take far longer than a typical blog post permits. However, I would like to highlight two specific claims made by the authors.

Guardian actions isolate wards from loved ones

People under guardianship — commonly referred to as wards — have been locked up and isolated from their families and friends, with guardians obtaining restraining orders to keep loved ones at bay. One professional guardian who concealed the whereabouts of a woman’s teenage son declared “I’m mom now”. She said she had no problem “taking the noose around” the mother’s “neck and tightening it” to keep them apart, a nurse alleged in court filings.

I have some experience with situations where guardians prevent family or friends from visiting the ward.

When I represent guardians, I have a standing rule when it comes to the abridgment of visitation: it is not appropriate to ban friends and family from visiting the ward unless there is good evidence the prohibited individual either exploited the ward or is attempting to actively exploit the ward.

However, I have seen several circumstances in my representation of family members where guardians have arbitrarily barred friends and family from visiting the ward.

Thankfully, those circumstances have been few and far between and were resolved by one of our probate judges in the 12th judicial circuit, who have little tolerance for capricious decision making.

Our circuit provides a further safeguard in the guise of guardianship monitors. The court tasks these individuals to “monitor” guardianships.

Guardians push for unwanted procedures

In many states, guardians can force wards to undergo invasive medical procedures including the implantation of contraceptive devices. Wards experienced permanent sterilization in several cases.

I discussed the topic of guardians forcing wards to undergo medical procedures such as the implantation of contraceptive devices in a previous post about Britney Spears. In that post, I opined that forcing Britney to wear an IUD was akin to forced sterilization.

In addition, I discussed how Florida’s guardianship law prohibits a guardian from subjecting a ward to such procedures without first providing sufficient due process.

My purpose in addressing those two specific issues is to state that there are safeguards in place. I encourage you to read the entire article, the link to which I provided above.