Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver Has Something to Say About Guardianships

September 10, 2018

Filed under: Caregiver Issues,Elder Abuse,Estate Planning — Alexis @ 1:14 PM

Have you seen his piece on guardianship?  It’s scary, they are extreme though not rare examples that he uses, and being John Oliver, the bit has its funny moments too.

As one of the spotlights, he tells the story of a couple who were put under guardianship, even though they perhaps were still competent (they certainly appear to be in the video), and then their guardian financially abused her power and basically ignored the couple’s everyday needs.  The couple ended up trapped in an assisted living and couldn’t get out, even though they had the mental and financial ability to leave, because a court had stripped them of the right to make their own decisions and manage their own money.  How did that happen?  He doesn’t give the back story, but in all likelihood, either they weren’t presenting well or they were difficult residents, so whomever was having a tough time with them is probably who brought the guardianship case to court, and a judge, assuming that all was in order, approved it.

Bottom line?  Don’t leave yourself in a position of ever needing a guardian!  In Massachusetts, we have two types of court-appointed fiduciaries:  a “guardian” handles your health care decisions, and a “conservator” manages your assets and finances.  (In the video, John Oliver refers to both of these as “guardians.”)  Why would a court appoint a guardian and/or conservator?  The vast majority of the time, it is because someone has become incompetent (typically due to dementia) AND never signed a durable power of attorney and health care proxy.

In a durable power of attorney, you name someone who you trust to handle your finances for you, should you reach a point where you are unable to do so.   (Technically, the POA springs to life immediately, but most agents understand not to use it until you need them to.)  In a health care proxy, you name someone who you trust to manage your health care if you reach a point where you can’t make or communicate your own health care decisions.  (The HCP springs to life only once a doctor certifies that you have reached that point.)

In both cases, the key is to name someone who you trust, and to name alternates as well.  If you don’t name alternates, and if your primary agent can’t serve when you need them to, then you are back in John Oliver’s video, where, should you become incompetent, or in some cases, if you are competent but a troublemaker, someone will go to court to have a guardian and conservator named over you.

If you would like help creating your durable power of attorney and health care proxy, please give us a call.