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Local Spotlight: The dangers of guardianship programs

The new series from Unguarded from WLRN explores the sales of homes of 'incapacitated' people in South Florida to private companies. [Illustration by Camilla Kerwin]
The new series from Unguarded from WLRN explores the sales of homes of 'incapacitated' people in South Florida to private companies. [Illustration by Camilla Kerwin]

There are an estimated 1.5 million active adult guardianship cases across the country. It’s a massive industry, with guardians controlling an estimated $50 billion in assets.Advocates for guardianship reform say a lack of oversight leads to many reported instances of fraud and abuse.

Two new investigations from Bloomberg Law and WLRN News found guardianships can harm some of the most vulnerable members of society with little legal recourse. In South Florida, the GuardianshipProgram of Dade County sold at least a dozen homes of “incapacitated” people under their care to one Miami real estate company, Express Homes.

Those houses were often resold for hundreds of thousands dollars more than the purchase value. Carlos Morales is the owner of Express homes and his wife is Miami City attorney Victoria Méndez. The couple has claimed any allegations of impropriety are baseless. Miami-Dade County has asked the Guardianship program to temporarily halt the sale of any new homes while they investigate their real estate practices. 

The Bloomberg Law investigation underscores how essential rights of those in guardianship can be taken away, the vast amounts of money companies can gain from their clients, and the challenges of terminating a guardianship once it’s begun.

Sara Abbott said she dreamed of the day she would escape her guardianship. This week, a judge granted her wish. [Photo credit: Bloomberg Law Photojournalist]

Sara Abbott in Indiana was under guardianship for more than six years. A court appointed attorney took over as her guardian from her mother in 2021 and controlled all of the funds she received from social security. After years of fighting, she was able to terminate her guardianship last month. 

Last month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing focused on improving guardianships in response to the investigations.

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Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.
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