A federal investigation into elder abuse has found that Probate Courts nationwide are failing to protect vulnerable adults from exploitation by the guardians appointed to look after their health and finances, reports the Arizona Republic. In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office reported instances of abuse in 45 states where courts failed to conduct background checks or monitor those it put in charge of an incapacitated adult. The probate system amounts to a “good old boy network” of courts and judges in some states, said the paper, which has reported in depth on problems in the Maricopa County Probate Court.
The GAO identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia over the past 15 years. Investigators focused on cases where a judge appointed a family member, agency or private business as a guardian. According to the GAO, guardians appointed and approved by courts in 20 cases stole $5.4 million in assets from 158 incapacitated adults. Investigators found the courts failed in three common areas: screening guardians for criminal convictions and significant financial problems; overseeing guardians once they are appointed, and communication between state courts and federal agencies.