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Bill against elder abuse introduced in Senate

A push to better protect seniors against abuse and fraud is now before the U.S. Senate. Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced a measure called the Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act. Estate planning attorneys in New Jersey and elsewhere likely are watching its progress.

The major provisions of the bill call for improving oversight of court-appointed guardians and conservators at the state and federal levels. Its introduction follows a 2010 report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) that highlighted hundreds of alleged cases of physical abuse, neglect and financial wrongdoing by guardians over the last 20 years. Cases were reported in 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 20 of the cases, guardians had improperly sapped 158 victims of nearly $5.5 million.

Under the new bill, states would get additional support to initiate programs to better watch long-term caregivers. State courts would also be required to review how guardians and conservators are appointed and come up with best practice standards. Another provision would establish an electronic filing system and pilot program for screening potential appointees who may have criminal backgrounds.

The chief sponsors of the bill are Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Klobuchar says that while she's sure most court-appointed guardians are professional and law-abiding, there is too much evidence of abuse to allow the issue to go unaddressed. She says guardians who abuse the power of their positions for their own gain, at the expense of those they are supposed to protect, need to be stopped.

Source: Reverse Mortgage Daily, "Senators Introduce Bill Cracking Down on Elder Abuse," Alyssa Gerace, Oct. 20, 2011

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