Senate Aging Committee Chair Calls for More Screening, Oversight of Guardians
Sen. Kohl releases GAO report showing need for strong screening of those making financial decisions for incapacitated
Aug. 11, 2011 – There is a greater need for screening and oversight of guardians appointed to make financial decisions
for senior citizens and other adults that are incapacitated – primarily on Social Security - says Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), Chairman of the
Senate Special Committee on Aging.
He released today a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found a need for stronger screening and oversight
of guardians appointed to make financial decisions for incapacitated adults.
In its report, GAO found that only 13 states require criminal background checks on all potential court-appointed
guardians, and that there are gaps in information sharing that can adversely affect incapacitated adults.
GAO recommends that the Social Security Administration (SSA) find ways to share information with state courts dealing
with the appointment of guardians for SSA beneficiaries. GAO also recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services consider
supporting promising court pilot programs that monitor guardians.
“The bottom line is that we need to ensure that the people being put in charge of someone else’s Social Security checks
are using the money appropriately,” said Kohl. “While I acknowledge that the Social Security Administration faces limitations, we must do more
to combat abuses in the system.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) joined Kohl in reacting to the report’s findings.
“As a former prosecutor, I believe we need tougher oversight to protect seniors from bad actors and ensure their
financial security,” said Klobuchar. “Our seniors deserve this common-sense accountability in our Social Security system.”
There are over 765,000 Social Security beneficiaries with a fiduciary or guardian.
A 2010 GAO
report identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the
District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010.
In reviewing 20 of those cases, GAO found that guardians, who sometimes represent multiple wards, stole or otherwise
improperly obtained $5.4 million in assets from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were seniors.
Part of the problem, according to national advocates for elder rights, is that courts often have difficulty obtaining
information that could enhance the ability to protect the interests of beneficiaries, particularly from the SSA. SSA asserts that the Privacy
Act and other considerations prevent the agency from sharing fiduciary information with state courts.
Earlier this year, Kohl introduced legislation to prevent elder abuse, including abuse perpetrated by fiduciaries and
guardians. The Elder Abuse Victims Act (S. 462) would establish an Office of Elder Justice within the Justice Department that would protect
seniors by strengthening law enforcement’s response to elder abuse. Additionally, the End Abuse in Later Life Act (S. 464) would enhance
direct services to older victims of abuse, including financial exploitation.
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