This lengthy report by Robin Fields, Evelyn Larrubia and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers, details various cases of elderly abuse by men and women who are known as Conservators in California.
The following extract from the report gives statistics regarding the granting of emergency conservatorship:
More than half of all conservatorships filed by professionals in Southern California between 1997 and 2003 were granted by the courts on an emergency basis, often bypassing initial assessments by court investigators and other safeguards designed to protect wards’ rights. In all, there were 1,160 emergency appointments:
- Granted without notice to senior or family: 56%
- Granted before an attorney appointed: 64%
- Granted before court investigator’s report: 92%
It is through the method of going to court to seek emergency appointments that the unscrupulous amongst the men and women who act as guardians to California’s vulnerable elderly adults manage to get a foothold and to “legally” steal the wealth of the people who have become trapped within the system.
The report details several cases where the elderly person does not require a guardian or conservator at all, however, the way in which this vile system has been working the unscrupulous, such as Melodie Scott, hear of a case through the nursing homes, hostels or hospitals and they work swiftly by seeking an emergency appointment as conservator.
Conservatorship began as a way to help families protect their enfeebled relatives from predators and self-neglect. Instead of protecting some of the most vulnerable adults, those who are elderly and are on the brink of such conditions as Alzheimer’s or even Parkinson’s Disease end up in the hands of what can only be described as unscrupulous predators who have learned how to manipulate the statutes in their favour as they go about fleecing the victim and enriching themselves.
The Times examined the work of California’s professional conservators, reviewing more than 2,400 cases, including every one they handled in Southern California between 1997 and 2003. Among the findings:
• Seniors lose their independence with stunning swiftness. More than 500 were entrusted to for-profit conservators without their consent at hearings that lasted minutes. Retired candy company owner Donald Van Ness, 85, did not know what had happened to him until he tried to pay for lunch at a San Diego-area restaurant and was told his credit card had been canceled.
Some conservators misuse their near-parental power over fragile adults, ignoring their needs and isolating them from loved ones. One withheld the allowance that a disabled man relied on for food, leaving him to survive on handouts from a church. Another abruptly moved a 95-year-old woman to a care home and for a month refused to tell her daughter where she was.
• In the most egregious cases, conservators plunder seniors’ estates. One took 88-year-old Thelma Larabee’s savings to pay his taxes and invest in a friend’s restaurant. Helen Smith’s conservator secretly sold Smith’s house at a discount — to herself. The conservator’s daughter later resold it for triple the price.
•More commonly, conservators run up their fees in ways large and small, eating into seniors’ assets. A conservator charged a Los Angeles woman $170 in fees to have an employee bring her $49.93 worth of groceries. Palm Springs widow Mary Edelman kept paying from beyond the grave: Her conservators charged her estate $1,700 for attending her burial.
Once in conservators’ grasp, it is difficult — and expensive — for seniors to get out. Courts typically compel them to pay not only their own legal fees, but those of their unwanted guardians as well. In the 15 months it took Theresa Herrera’s grandson to unseat her conservator, almost half of the 92-year-old’s $265,000 estate had been exhausted.
To be continued.