What Is Guardianship? John Oliver Explains

On his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver provided a scary and funny explanation of how guardianship works, ending with a public service announcement by William Shatner, Lily Tomlin and others explaining steps you can take to avoid the guardianship. The video is embedded above.

The show focused on the abuses of a professional guardian in Las Vegas, April Parks, previously exposed in The New Yorker in the article, “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights.”

Oliver explained how guardianship takes away many rights of the incapacitated “ward,” who no longer has capacity to make decisions for him/herself, while often failing to provide oversight of the guardian, the person appointed by a court to handle personal and financial decisions for the ward.

Oliver explained how courts do not have the resources necessary to provide proper oversight. Only 12 states certify professional guardians. Even in those 12 states, however, as well as others, criminal background checks and credit histories on candidates for guardianship are not required, and the Social Security numbers of applicants for guardian are not validated, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

However, the reality is that guardianship and conservatorship actually work well in most cases for most incapacitated people. Family members who seek the legal authority needed through guardianships to make personal, financial and legal decisions for loved ones who have lost the capacity to do so themselves are usually successful and conduct themselves appropriately.

To avoid the need for guardianship and conservatorship, Oliver suggests that the best approach may be to execute durable powers of attorney and health care proxies ahead of time so you can choose who you would like to make personal and financial decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself due to physical disabilities or incapacity.

(Shout out and thank you to the law office of Margolis & Bloom, LLP who brought the John Oliver video on Guardianships to my attention.)  

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