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Challenges of improving guardianship and conservatorships

When seniors in Massachusetts become too old to care for themselves, concerned parties may establish guardianships and conservatorships to protect them. The problem is that these well-meaning systems often cause more harm than good to unsuspecting seniors who may even welcome the additional assistance.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, illness and old age are two common reasons guardianships may be established. It is best used only as a last resort for people who can no longer care for themselves or make important decisions. In these instances, conservators or guardians take on the responsibility of seeing to the proper care and support of the individual.

Note, however, that when the interested party files a petition to the Superior Court, it is the court who ultimately appoints someone to care for the individual. At this point, the individual becomes a “legal ward” of the guardian, leading to the loss of many of their individual rights. This is precisely what makes guardianships so dangerous, especially for seniors who truly are incapable of protecting themselves from abuse, neglect or manipulation.

As Forbes has pointed out, often times these individuals no longer get to decide where to live, or even whether or not they can see family members or friends. Individuals may even lose access to their own spending money and cannot legally enter into any binding contract, not even marriage.

In the past few years, politicians and judges have stepped forward to advocate for reforms of these systems. Some states have even passed laws to provide greater protection to wards. However, due to the challenges of monitoring guardianships and conservatorships many cases of abuse continue to go unreported.

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