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Money February 2018

Dollar Sense

Don’t Wait for the State to Choose Your Life for You: When a Guardian Becomes the Victimizer

By Teresa Ambord

 “I can’t imagine a class of people more susceptible to criminals than wards of a court,” Clark County, Nevada District Attorney, Steve Wolson

If you’re approaching your golden years, give some thought to who will take care of you if you can’t take care of yourself. Change happens suddenly sometimes, and even a person who seems in good health today could need a great deal of help tomorrow. While there’s time, make arrangements for your care. Otherwise, if you’re rendered unable to live on your own, you could be made a ward of your state and be appointed a guardian by a court that may or may not care about you.


What Would That Mean?

Many guardians, public or private, are wonderful people who truly care about the people they serve. That’s the key. Good guardians “serve” those in their care. They are entrusted with fiduciary responsibility, which means the highest standard of care, acting only in the best interest of their clients (wards) and without any conflicts of interest.

Sadly, in some states, it’s very easy to become a guardian, in spite of the enormous responsibility it involves. In states where the senior population is heavy, one guardian may be in charge of hundreds of people. Take a look at what happened to one Nevada couple that was shoe-horned into the care of an unscrupulous guardian.


“A Private Professional Guardian”

n a recent exposé that ran in New Yorker magazine, the author – Rachel Aviv – details the case of April Parks, the proprietor of a Nevada-based company which she called A Private ProfessionalGuardian. It didn’t take long for Parks to become a favorite of at least one court in the Las Vegas area, where there are more seniors in need than there are qualified guardians. Always willing to take on more and more clients, Parks became the go-to guardian, until she ended up with power over the lives and assets of more than 400 clients in her care.

At least she did, until in early 2017, when she was indicted on 270 charges of abuse. She and her husband, who worked for her, are now in prison. \


fter her extensive research into the guardianship industry, author Aviv reached this conclusion: “Guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent — and reap a profit from it.” That hardly sounds like someone acting in the best interest of clients.

Aviv tells the true story of an elderly couple in their mid-70s who lived independently, in an “active adult” community in Las Vega, Nevada. A nurse visited five times a week to help with
certain chores. And their daughter lived nearby and was in almost daily contact with them.

Then one day, a stocky woman named April Parks showed up at their door, backed up by three colleagues, and announced the couple was being removed from their home. “Go and gather your things,” she told them. Based on one minor report from an employee at the couples’ doctors’ office, the couple was deemed to be unfit to live independently, and they without notice, they were made temporary wards of the court. And what if they didn’t cooperate? In that case, said Parks, the police would be called.

Afraid and crying, they cooperated. No effort was made to notify the couple’s daughter, who, when she discovered that her parents were missing, had to go in search of them.

It turned out they were put into a care facility. Once the daughter discovered what happened she began the long process of finding out why. She was told there was no recourse, but continued to fight. In the meantime, Parks sold the couples’ home and belongings, and had the money from the sale put into an account under her control. When the money began to run low, she moved the couple into a lower-cost facility.

After a lengthy and expensive fight, the couple was removed from Parks’ care and was allowed to move into their daughter’s too-small home. By that time, their money was depleted and both of them had deteriorated health. But at least they were no longer wards of the state and a highly abuse guardianship system.

This was just one of the horror stories suffered by people entrusted to Parks, and Parks is just one guardian among many of the bad ones.


Could this Happen to You?

The National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA) is pushing for reform, calling the guardian system “a growing menace which feeds on greed.” NASGA President, Elaine Renoire reports that most courts are not requiring guardians to be accountable for their actions.

Private guardians are allowed to charge “reasonable” fees for services, but there’s no standard definition of what is reasonable. In Nevada, where April Parks operated, guardians are supposed to file annual reports with the court detailing how the wards’ money was spent, but according to the Las Vegas Journal Review, that doesn’t always get done and if they are filed, they may not be checked for accuracy.


If Your Loved Ones Need a Guardian

Again, keep in mind, most guardians take their fiduciary duties seriously and genuinely care for their wards. If your elderly loved ones are in the care of a guardian and you can’t fill that role, do some thorough checking. Demand regular reports and access to your loved ones. If something strikes you as odd and you can’t get satisfactory answers from the guardian or the court that oversees guardians in your area, go outside the system for help. Don’t delay, as time may be critical.   One place to seek help  is the National Adult Protective Service Association at Or call them at (202)370-6292.  

Want to read more about the April Parks case and how she was stopped? Here’s the story, plus several more from a group called Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship:


How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones?

Eric Goldberg, a certified elder law attorney and cofounder of the Goldberg Law Group told the Huffington Post that to protect yourself and your loved ones you should:

  • Execute a comprehensive power of attorney that allows you to choose who someone who will manage your money if you cannot, and become your guardian if necessary. This person can be a lawyer if you don’t have a suitable alternative.
  • Also execute a comprehensive health care power of attorney, which allows yrepresentative to make health care decisions if you cannot.
  • Review the documents often. Is your chosen representative still able? Has he or she suffered financial setbacks (such as filing bankruptcy) or been involved in a divorce, illegal activity, or some has your relationship changed in a way that makes you less confident? Is your representative still of an age that he or she can act on your behalf?
  • Submit these documents to the appropriate parties while you can. Ask your bank, for example, if the POA is properly executed and will take effect as planned. Your bank may have a proprietary POA. Also check with your doctor and local hospital to make sure the POA and medical directives are appropriate.
  • Every few years, do the POAs again. This is important because in some financial institutions, a POA can become stale. Newer documents have a better chance of being
  • Keep your original POAs in a fireproof safe. Also have electronic copies and give your attorney copies.


When a Family Member Is the Guardian, Trust but Verify

Suppose your loved one isn’t a ward of the court, but is dependent on a family member  who serves as guardian. You should be able to assume that this is a safer solution. But according to the National Council on Aging, in cases of elder abuse, 60% of the abusers are family members, and of those, two-thirds are the adult children or spouse of the victim.    

In my family, we’re still dealing with the fallout from this kind of abuse. In a nutshell, when a close relative became permanently debilitated, one of her daughters immediately said she was in charge and would handle the finances, pay the bills, and manage the bank account. That was a relief, particularly because that daughter had the time to deal with these issues.

At least, it was a relief until several months later when that daughter showed up at my door with a box of her mother’s unpaid bills, late notices, and NSF charges for bounced checks.  Her only comment was “I wash my hands of this stuff.”

Soon I discovered why she gave up control. Her mother’s long-term care bill was due in two days, and the bank account was almost empty.  Bank statements revealed numerous large, unexplained withdrawals of cash, plus Amazon purchases charged to the account.  As I sorted through the mess, with no help from the mess-maker, her mother made it clear that she was not going to hold her daughter accountable. That’s common. So in this case, there were no legal repercussions. (Just so you know, the social workers at the long-term care facility told me this is considered elder abuse, and if her mother had cooperated, there would have been serious repercussions.)

Instead, I got power of attorney and blocked the daughter’s access to her mother’s money. That may be your only recourse. But also, if you have a family member serving as a guardian, set up an accountability plan, for the protection of all parties, including the guardian.  In our case, I keep my relative’s son apprised of any financial transactions, and give him the right to see all accounting records at any time. Sometimes, that’s all you can do… trust, but verify, on a regular basis.


Teresa Ambord calls herself a recovering accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, surrounded by her small dog posse.

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