In Florida, seniors are valued members of our communities. Having chosen our beautiful state to live their golden years, they expect calm, relaxation and sunshine. But what is meant to be the reward for a lifetime of hard work can quickly turn into a nightmare if they are abused by guardianship.
Legitimate guardianships are established by state courts when it is determined that an individual is incapable of looking after their financial and personal affairs. The appointed guardian has extensive control over the person in their custody, including power of attorney, control of their bank accounts, property and assets, and the ability to make medical decisions. Unfortunately, these expanded responsibilities leave room for bad actors to take advantage of those they are in charge of – lining their pockets with the assets they were responsible for administering.
Like sharks hunting prey, unscrupulous guardians seek out vulnerable elderly people to isolate, abuse and defraud. What makes this problem particularly difficult to solve is the lack of control, transparency and accountability within state-administered guardianship systems. For example, we don’t even know how many Americans are under conservatorship, deprived of their personality or their ability to make critical decisions for themselves.
It is common practice that a person designated as a guardian of an elderly or disabled person by a state court is also designated as a beneficiary representative by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This means that the guardian receives and manages the social security benefits of the person they have been entrusted to care for.
Unfortunately, state courts and the SSA don’t always talk to each other. If a court revokes a guardian for abuse, fraud, or negligence, that guardian could still receive those Social Security checks in perpetuity. This is where the Guardianship of the Elderly Welfare Protection Act Between.
This legislation would require state courts to notify Social Security if a guardian has been removed for cause, giving SSA the ability to revoke the former guardian as a representative beneficiary. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time in Congress, it’s that agencies work best when they talk to each other. If you are not qualified to act as a guardian for a person, you are also not qualified to receive their social security benefits. It’s just common sense!
The bill also directs the SSA to report to Congress every two years on the number of Social Security payments diverted to non-family recipients, so we can finally begin to determine how many Americans are actually under guardianship.
To further combat guardianship fraud, I also introduced two bipartisan bills with Rep. Nancy MaceNancy MaceThe Hill’s Morning Report – Politics and mask politics are changing Republicans rejected by Trump in primaries still embrace him Venue, Mace calls on NIH to phase out animal testing MORE (RS.C.) — the Freedom and Freedom from Exploitation (FREE) Act give people under guardianship an escape route from abusive private guardians, as well as the Guardians Not Above Prosecution Act (GAAP) to specify that fraud committed under guardianship remains a fraud punishable by law. Additionally, I co-introduced the bipartisan Guardianship Liability Act with the representatives. Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoLieu, Mace call on NIH to phase out animal testing Protect seniors from fraud and guardianship abuse Florida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal aid to expand COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Fla.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellProtecting older adults from fraud and abuse in guardianship Nunes formally resigns bipartisan congressional lawmakers to launch new campaign on Violence Against Women Act MORE (D-Mich.) to implement additional guardianship system monitoring and data collection.
An opaque and irresponsible system that allows a fraudster to essentially imprison a human being with a continuous stream of income – whether it’s a social security check or, in Britney Spears’ case, record sales and world tours – invites the worst corruption and demands reform. This series of bills is an important start to protecting the elderly, people with disabilities and anyone else who finds themselves ensnared by abusive guardians or conservators.
charlie christCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristBritney Spears invited to Congress to discuss conservatories Poll: Rubio leads Demings by 7 points in Florida Florida Governor DeSantis leads Democratic challengers: Poll MORE represents the 13th district of Florida.