Oregon law does not require any type of certification or licensure to become a “professional” guardian and/or conservator. The Guardian/Conservator Association of Oregon (GCA) website reports that certification in becoming a “Professional” Guardian and/or Fiduciary is on a voluntary basis. The GCA website does report, however, to become a Conservator and/or Guardian the applicant “must have backgrounds free of any criminal/personal/fiscal issues, or other issues that would give the court reason to question their ability or ethics”.
Following hundreds of allegations of abuse nationwide, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation into the practice of guardians and/or conservators. In 2010, the GAO submitted a report to the Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging. This report, Guardianships: Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors focused on 20 cases in which guardians stole or wrongly obtained assets from incapacitated victims.
In this document, the GAO report that guardians stole or otherwise inappropriately obtained $5.4 million in assets from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were seniors. In some cases, guardians also physically neglected and/or abused their wards. The guardians in these cases came from diverse professional backgrounds and were overseen by local courts.
The GAO reported concerns that courts fail to adequately screen the criminal and financial backgrounds of prospective conservators/guardians. In some cases, had the prospective guardians’ backgrounds been appropriately screened, the information found should have raised questions about their suitability to care for elderly and/or otherwise vulnerable individuals.
Additionally the GAO established that oversight for guardians/conservators by the court, following their appointment proved to be inadequate.
In effort to substantiate the allegations the GAO reviewed court records, questioned court officials, attorneys and victims as well as reviewed records from federal agencies.
Below are a few of the disturbing examples of abuse that were uncovered:
- In Iowa, a federal tax lien worth $25,783 had been filed against a prospective guardian, yet 5 years later, an Iowa court appointed him to serve as a guardian for an estate worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- In Washington State, a certified professional guardian failed to visit one of her wards for eight months. This individual passed a criminal background check, however, the court failed to run a credit check and it was later discovered she had $87,000 in federal and state tax liens placed on her.
- In Kansas a couple that ran an unlicensed group-home for mentally ill adults became the guardian of a 50-year-old female. According to court documents, the couple stole $250,000 from the woman.
In addition, they forced her and other residents to perform sexual acts on each other as part of their “therapy”. According to the report, they billed Medicare for the victims’ so called therapy.
The GAO reported the abuse had been going on for at least 20 years. The abuse was brought to light when children riding a school bus reported seeing naked people working on the couple’s farm. These two perpetrators were eventually adjudicated and are currently serving time in prison.
Guardian and conservator abuse takes many forms. Examples above represent only a few of the cases found. In Oregon, guardian and/or conservator abuse occurs frequently, yet until recently has been carefully kept out of the public eye.
Abuse of this nature is committed under a shroud of secrecy and could not exist without collaboration from those “in the know”. Guardians, conservators, elder law attorneys, Department of Human Services (DHS), Adult Protective Services (APS), physicians, caregivers, law enforcement and probate courts must work together to maintain this “dirty little secret”.
Consistent with sexual offending and other deviant offending behaviors two important pieces remain consistent: Secrets and lies.
Without secrets and lies abuses such as these could not continue.
Sometimes it does “take a village”.
The GCA of Oregon list 82 members; 32 of the members are certified. Attorney members comprise 15 of the 82 individuals in this association, with the remaining members neither being certified or belonging to a profession that has a governing body. Out of the 15 attorney members, the Oregon State Bar has disciplined at least two.
Elder law attorneys play multiple roles often with conflicting fiduciary interests. Continued referrals depend on consistent cooperation with one another. Unfortunately, generally not in the best interest of the wards involved.
Colleen Patterson, current President of the GCA board calls herself a professional conservator/fiduciary and guardian. She also has filed for bankruptcy as well as had a number of liens placed on her, both state and federal. One might surmise that she may not be an appropriate candidate for the job of managing vulnerable person’s assets or controlling all decisions for a ward, including where they will live and even when they will die.
Unfortunately, the probate courts in and around Portland Oregon do not appear to be concerned with this woman’s dark financial history.
Currently, members of the GCA have been spotlighted in news reports. A list of victim stories and those involved will be detailed in a separate article.
Portland Oregon: Guardian and conservator abuse
August 3, 2012