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U.S. Senate panel to investigate guardianship program practices nationwide

Camila Kerwin
WLRN Investigation: Unguarded

A key U.S. Senate panel has scheduled a hearing later this month to investigate guardianship programs across the nation and their role in managing the lives of tens of thousands of individuals deemed by courts to be unable to take care of themselves.

The March 30 hearing by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging comes the same month that WLRN and Bloomberg Law published separate stories showing a lack of oversight and accountability in guardianships.

The Bloomberg Law investigation, In the Name of Protection, “explored the dark world of adult guardianships, where people placed under court-ordered control lose many of their rights while reporting to guardians rarely required to be formally trained or certified.”

The WLRN investigation found the Guardianship Program of Dade County, the biggest in Florida, sold 14 homes of those under its care to the same realty company, Express Homes, which sold three of the properties for profit within the same week — or even the same day. In two other instances, the properties were fixed up and sold within a year. The rest were sold more than a year later or are still owned by Express Homes.

The gains collected from those sales did not go towards the care of the program’s incapacitated clients.

Guardianship Program of Dade County Executive Director Carlos McDonald told WLRN that the nonprofit agency works with multiple realty companies to sell their wards’ properties, and does so with approval from the court.

Following WLRN’s investigation, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava directed the county administration to temporarily cease grant payments to the Guardianship Program and asked for an independent investigation of the agency’s sales of properties of its clients.

Advocates for the elderly and a former judge of guardianship cases told WLRN that the Guardianship Program of Dade County illustrates the lack of transparency of financial transactions and dire need statewide for more oversight of such agencies serving as public guardians.

The Guardianship Program, which is mostly funded by county and state taxpayers, takes responsibility for people who are declared "incapacitated" by the court system.

In some cases, the program sells the individual’s property so that the proceeds may go toward their care. County taxpayers, takes responsibility for people who are declared "incapacitated" by the court system. In some cases, the program sells the individual’s property so that the proceeds may go toward their care.

The Senate panel’s upcoming hearing in Washington, D.C., could lead to an overhaul of the guardianship programs nationwide, including Florida, and more oversight of its practices in caring for those deemed incapacitated.

“Guardianship is dangerous because of rampant guardianship overuse to abuse,” wrote Marian Kornicki, a New York woman who wrote to the Senate committee about her family’s horrific experience with the guardianship program in her state.

Kornicki later joined Victims and Families Harmed by Guardianship, whose mission is to protect older Americans and disabled individuals of all ages from exploitation by state probate guardianships.

Kornicki and other advocates had emailed the committee, urging it to hold hearings and citing the investigative stories by WLRN and Bloomberg Law.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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