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The potential dangers of court-appointed guardianships

It seems as though comedians have taken an increasing large role in calling out issues that Americans need to know about. Whether you agree with a particular person's political opinions or not, it doesn't hurt to see if sometimes they might just be alerting you to something you need to hear about.

John Oliver does that regularly on his "Last Week Tonight" show on HBO. Just recently, he addressed a frightening reality for America's rapidly-increasing senior population (sometimes referred to as the "Silver Tsunami.") It involves court-assigned guardianships.

One of the many advantages of drawing up an estate plan is that you can detail who will be responsible for your finances, medical treatment and overall care if and when you become unable to care for yourself.

When people don't make those stipulations and don't have family members who are willing or able to assume the responsibility of looking out for the interests of an elderly, ill and/or disabled person, a judge can assign someone as a guardian. This could be someone completely unknown to the "ward" who's place under the guardian's care. Often, these guardians have responsibility for multiple wards.

These guardians are given access to people's bank accounts, medical records and more. Not surprisingly, this can go horribly wrong, as the "Last Week Tonight" episode showed. The guardians appointed by local and state courts don't have the necessary training to do their job. Not all guardians are trustworthy. Further, too many wards aren't properly monitored. One audit found that over 3,000 wards listed as being under court guardianships were dead.

No one wants a stranger deciding what's best for them or for a loved one. Even if you don't have someone in mind whom you feel comfortable appointing to a position of authority like an executor, trustee or guardian, a California estate planning attorney can help you develop an estate plan that will codify your wishes and can also help you look at options for people who can see that those wishes are carried out.

Source: TIME, "No Plans for Old Age? John Oliver Suggests Making Tom Hanks Your Legal Guardian on Last Week Tonight," Melissa Locker, June 04, 2018

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