A guardianship or conservatorship are meant to protect vulnerable people, like the elderly, when they are unable to take care of themselves. A judge may deem it appropriate to put another person in charge of managing the details of that person’s life, like their financial affairs and important medical decisions. Typically this person is a loved one or other qualified individual. However, in some cases, others may attempt to take advantage of a guardianship role to exploit an elderly person financially.
Rebecca Fierle-Santoian, for example, was recently arrested in Florida on felony charges of elder abuse and neglect. Authorities began investigating her after a 74-year-old man died under her guardianship. Fierle had 450 guardianships under her control when she resigned amid these criminal allegations last summer.
The issue of predatory guardianships is so prevalent that even Netflix has made a dark thriller about it, called “I Care a Lot,” where a woman seizes control of an elderly woman’s life, taking her from her family. When asked to comment on the film, Sam Sugar, founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said, “What happens in these cases is litigate, isolate, take the estate, cremate. In other words the lawyers identify, or have identified for them, a potential victim, go to the judge and the judge starts the process of evaluating someone for incapacity. It’s all done in secret; no one shares any of the information.”
Even if the elderly victim has family, if the predator moves in quickly enough, they can strip the victim and their loved one of all their rights. Sugar continued, “The affected person or their family has little or sometimes no notice at all that this is happening and, by the time they’re aware of it, it’s too late to even hire a lawyer. The whole system is based on one thing only and that is a transfer of wealth. No one in the court system cares about the elderly person and if you try to fight that system, you will become bankrupt.”
How can I protect myself or my loved one from guardianship abuse?
Creating a durable power of attorney and estate plan can ensure that your loved one is taken care of from the start. You should also be aware of anyone trying to exploit you or your loved one for financial gain. MoneyGeek advises looking out for these red flags regarding dubious financial schemes aimed at older Americans:
- A financial adviser you have never met seeks you out to do business with you
- Retirement planners or advisers offer you a free lunch and consultation
- A person from your place of worship approaches you about a financial opportunity
- Someone wants to sell you an investment but says it’s too complicated to explain in detail
To put it simply, if something or someone sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Remember that a predator can be your loved one’s friend, relative, or even nursing home staff. Often, predatory guardians search for elderly victims with health issues, as it makes securing a court order easier. They can force an elderly person out of their home and into a nursing home, where they will have complete control over the person’s life. If this has happened to you, consult immediately with an attorney.
At McGowan, Hood & Felder, we represent the rights of vulnerable victims in South Carolina. Talk to us today about how we can help you and your loved one. To schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina attorneys, call 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood