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« When a Family Matter Turns Into a Business | Main | Update From the Editor, Friday, Nov. 18 »

Editor responds

Greetings all:

     My name is Vernon Loeb. I'm the investigations editor, and the editor of the series, Guardians For Profit. Thank you all for responding, and adding your voice to this important topic. The reporters and I are still hard at work putting the finishing touches on Parts 3 and 4 of the series, so we haven't yet had a moment to catch our breath and begin responding to your questions, but we fully intend to. I hope in a day or two, we'll be able to respond to individual queries, and also give you some guidance about who to contact to bring about reforms that might help better protect the rights of the elderly. Thanks again for reading.

Comments

Catherine Grant Wieder

The series is important, but needs balance. Perhaps that will appear later. There are many cases where a professional fiduciary is the best solution to a truly desperate situation. It is a blessing to have good ones available, and a misery when you can't find one. Of course there should be better oversight, standards and regulation, as well as better oversight of the work of non-professional fiduciaries serving as conservators.

I think your treatment of Frumeh Labow was unfortunate; in my experience as an attorney in these cases, she is one of the principled, competent professionals I appreciate having in a case. She shouldn't be tarred with the same brush you use on those who abuse our elders. The facts that she has a staff and charges fees for her work, and is financially successful should not subject her to criticism. The fact that she doesn't take cases with small estates isn't cause for disdain. Were her fees reasonable? Did she do a good job? Were her actions lawful and ethical? Did the conservatee benefit from her work? These are appropriate questions I hope you will ask.

Catherine Grant Wieder
Attorney
Downey, CA

Randall Swanson

This is a difficult area of law as your excellent reporting shows. I have been involved with conservatorships and elder abuse litigation for several years now and have seen a wide range of judicial decisions, both good and bad. It seems most of the judicial staff, while extremely overworked cares about making the best decision with the information provided. The professionalism and competence of some of my collegues leaves something to be desired, as your article notes, often it is up to the attorneys and caregivers to diligently provide the court with the necessary information, and to make sure that they are "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" when caring for the "estate" and "person" of their wards while setting aside personal interests and bias.

Charlie Trie

Thanks for the series. Fiduciary Duty seems to be a very difficult concept for many, if not most folks who assign themselves social leadership roles.

Anecdotally, I had a recent occasion to contact the San Bernardino DA's Elder Abuse Unit to ask them for guidelines re: "What consititues Elder Abuse, and what are a health professional reporting obligations?" The answer I received is that there are no guidelines. There is no online site with written descriptions or FAQ's. If you think there's abuse, write it up; if not, not. Huh? I was troubled by the casual, almost antagonistic approach by staff. I was told that I could talk to a DA, but they were usually busy.

Perhaps these articles will light some fires. Thanks.

Renatta Buscaglia

Thanks so much for actually exposing corruption in an area which nobody seems to care. These elderly people are victims of greed and neglet. God bless all of you for making a better enviroment for these forgatten members of our society. Please continue to
do the great job you do no matter how much it may bother or annoy lawyers and business.

Charles M. Duggie Jr.

Your series seems to be exposing some real problems that need to be corrected. But you are not covering a related problem which I hope you will soon cover as well. This is in the area of family members as conservators.
My wife and I have loved each other for 25 years. We have been seperated by my step-son. He has been appointed as her conservator and keeps apart and out of comunication. He got a restraining order against me
through perjury, both his and that of another person.
My wife is handicapped. Again using perjury he arranged for the conservatorship. In both cases I had, for financial reasons, no lawyer. Don't mention
"free or pro bono" lawyers. I called over 30 with no results.
When we went to the conservatorship " hearing" I wasn't given an opportunity to speak. "Her" court ordered attorney was totally on my step-son's side. She wouldn't do anything about any of the problems I tried to tell her about.
Without letting me speak the judge sent us off to a mediation discussion, my step-son's lawyer, the lawyer for my wife, and me. It wasn't about compromises, it was about what my step-son wanted.
When we returned to court the judge asked if we had came to a compromise. The answer being no he granted conservatorship to my step-son.
His paperwork for the petition was riddled with lies. I tried to tell this lawyer but she didn't listen to me. Now he's keeping us apart.
He is using her isolation from me as an opportunity to get us divorced. In one of our last conversations my wife told me that her son wanted her to sign divorce papers. She said that he had even offered her money to sign. My wife told her cousin that she wanted
to talk to her lawyer but they won't let her call.
If I had a lawyer maybe that would have helped. I didn't have $600 to counter petition for conservatorship. I didn't have $150 to pay a police officer to come and testify about perjury. I sure didn't have money for a lawyer.
Do you know of any help I could get? We aren't old, I'm 58 and she is 55. We lived together, alone, for 15 years and I took good care of her. She is post-stroke and I'm disabled from an accident.
Thank you for listening
Charles Duggie

Researcher

The business of government is, Business. The very same people who hold our accounts have Judicial Immunity, and made themselves unaccountable. What is wrong with this picture? For other problems, see http://www.FamilyLawCourts.com/burton.html
and for what other states are doing to End the reign of bad judges, see http://www.FamilyLawCourts.com/judging.html

Joy Freeman

Can anyone PLEASE recommend a conservator recognized by the Santa Clara Court who is "pro family involvement vs isolation"- someone you would trust overseeing your mother's care.
I would appreciate any and all responses,
Joy Freeman

Suzanne Farrell

Please don't worry about responding to this comment. I just want to thank you for this series. My heart goes out to these poor victims and I am absolutely appalled and disgusted at the behavior of the courts in allowing these injustices. I am fed up with the whining about being overworked and unable to keep up with the cases, etc. Thank you so much for exposing this activity and I desperately hope that something is done to help these victims and that their victimizers are held accountable. GREAT JOB!!!

Peter Vincent

Thank you for this very illuminating series which I have been reading with considerable interest and some (hopefully far distant) trepidation having recently retired at the age of 55. I anticipate a long and active retirement, both physically and mentally, but of course there are no guarantees. With that in mind, my wife and I have already pursued the legal protections you outline under "Planning Ahead".

It appears one of the biggest problems with our faltering system is the availability of court resources to (a) assess need for and suitability of conservator appointments and (b) to staff the oversight and reporting on expenses and fees being charged to individual wards. The Swanson case is a classic -- noone ever looked.

This problem looks like a real opportunity for active seniors or near-seniors such as myself to make a useful contribution. Do you know if consideration has been given to utilizing competent volunteers for this work? As a retired Human Resources executive with a strong aptitude for numbers, a keen eye for detail, considerable energy and similar persistence I think this might be a good fit for me. I would need to be trained, tested and deputized, but not paid for my services. Those of my generation should identify fairly closely with the importance and value of the job and we would get quite a kick out of tracking down the occasional bad guy.

If you can point me in the right direction to pursue this, or better still if you have ideas on how to initiate a broad-based movement on this, I would be very interested to hear from you.
Yours sincerely,
Peter Vincent

Susan Jojola-Negron

This story is horrifying. However, there is an imbalance in the story, as it relates to Verlene Cameron and about who is actually responsible for the continued abuse.

I am a personal friend of Ms. Cameron and have been an unannounced visitor to both her private home and the board and care facility. If not for the compassion of Ms. Cameron and not financial gain, she would not have opened any of the homes and some of these men would be on the street. Stating that her board and care was run-down was an outright error and inflammatory journalism. I have been present to see her inneraction with her clients and they are in a far better place under her care, than they would be in a hospital, shelter, with relatives who really don't care or on the street. The homes are clean, well stocked and humane. Unless you have been in her position, to see the difficulty it is, taking care of mentally ill people on a daily basis, you cannot begin to understand her compassion about the issue and why she remains in that business.

The responsibile parties for the failure and the continued abuse are clearly Ms. Chavis, the Veterans Administration and the judicial system.

Nowhere in your story did you ask why the personnel from the VA or the probate court who continued to appoint Ms. Chavis have not been fired and ordered to pay their wages back during the period they confirmed Ms Chavis was a suitable conservator.

Those people were also paid to do a job; know the truth and verify the facts. They failed to do their job; protect those individuals who could not protect themselves. That is where true injustice also lies.

Phyllis C. Gallagher

While you are critical of conservators for profit, I think you should commend or at least mention the numberous people in California acting as PUBLIC guardians and conservators, employed by County government, who are not in it for the profit and who perform an important service for the elderly and incompetent. As a lawyer for one such county department, I have seen nothing but professionalism and care by persons serving as public guardians and conservators.

Robin Westmiller

This article only scratches the surface on the nightmare of financial elder abuse especially in the area of conservators. I've spent the past year in three different states and two different time zones at the cost to my family of over $225,000.00 and which nearly killed both my parents. The Florida "guardians" who were recommended by the Florida State Department of Child and Family Services cashed in my father's life insurance, liquidated all his life savings and tried to hide him from his family for over 3 months. The real "crime" is that the attorney who represented the guardian serves as the VICE PRESIDENT of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ELDER LAW ATTORNEYS! The anger and frustration continues daily. They are still holding my father's remaining assets in a Florida bank in spite of a COURT order on Oct 11, 2005 to return what he has left. I have the documents and all of the outragious bills which the Florida judge rubber stamped OK even though there were countless questionable items, but without the money to hire expert witness and a high power attorney, our family was left almost bankrupt. With our aging population, this problem will only grow worse. I thank you for your informative article, but I see very little results in the HELP area for victims and their families.

Raven West
aka Robin C. Westmiller

christopher hogan

Your recent seies of articles is excellent. The reality is that it is almost impossible for a person to secure their future wishes. Despite having excellent legal advice and following all four steps outlined in Planning Ahead, powewr of attorney, advanced health care directive, designate a conservator and a revocable trust I have still spent a large amount of her money keeping her out of the clutches of the professional conservator Sarah Kerley slammed in the article.
Part of the problem arose from her court appointed attorney who is incredibly lazy and always took the path of least resistance, completly ignoring all of my mother's advance planning.
I am fortunate that my mother is quite wealthy and I have the funds to oppose but why should I have to spend the time, money and energy?

Connie Missimer

Thanks for this great series! I add my plea to that of Mr. Duggie that you go on to cover abuse that goes on by a family member. I've heard so many stories about this, e.g., the sudden grab by a son who is the trustee to get the entire inheritance when the parent is too deep in their clutches to act otherwise.

So please do go on to cover abuse within families!

Gail Mynatt

My father, 76, came out from Arizona to take his brother home to Arizona so he can be around his family. My father cannot understand why he is not allowed to get my Uncle out of the home, Emmanual in Glendora. It is our understanding that the courts have not appointed anyone over my uncle and no one signed him in the home. According to everyone I have spoke to, they are holding him illegally. They told us we were not allowed to visit him after my father went in and found that he had six stiches over his right eye and a huge black eye under those stiches. My uncle said someone hit him - they said he fell. Then they informed us that none of the family is allowed in to see him. My uncle was picked up by the Riverside Police in Pedley California with a significant amount of cash, but not that much was turned into the facility. My father found my uncle in the hospital and informed them that he would be back the next day to pick him up. My uncle was moved to a home first thing the next morning. We have made more calls than I care to think about. No one can find where this home has a right to hold him. I called the Ombudsman and they went out. Then I called the Public Guardian and they called the home. We have since been called by the home and told that they have no problem with visitations. My father had a stroke a year ago and these people treated him like poop! Rude and horrible. I just need to know how to get my uncle out of this home and around the family.

bill snyder

Your recent series “Gardians for Profit” is an unfair representation on all conservators and case managers. While there are some, if not many, that are abusive and destructive, likewise there are some, and probably many, that are there to help those that have needs of protection.
You cite many examples in your articles, and quotes of statements made, however you don’t paint the entire or an accurate picture for those reading the articles. You take statements out of context and portray what you want, good, bad, or indifferent. What you don’t say is how enormous the number of people that need someone to watch over and care for them, but don’t have anyone to trust or rely on. Many of those people don’t understand they don’t have the capacity to do it for themselves any more, and are easily influenced by both those portraying to be friends, and by family. Many times a court decides a family is squabbling so much, the individual is at risk and appoints a private conservator. Many times those conservators take the cases pro-bono.
Our government agencies attempt to provide the same needed services. Any given Public Guardian case manager will have hundreds of cases to manage, and the individuals are lucky to get an hour a year of contact, while private conservators and case managers at some companies, see their clients monthly for multiple hours as needed, ensuring their needs are being met, that any placement outside their home is appropriate and best for their situation. These private conservators and case managers are responsible for seeing medical issues are diagnosed, treated, and followed up.
You have talked about how much is spent with caregivers in a person’s home or living situation. The numbers appear large, because this is paying for 24 hour care, 7 days a week. Caregivers are needed because clients can be at risk of falls, ineffective eating habits, needing to take regular medications, medical appointments, insomnia and walking at nite and becoming lost. All these type issue can and do exist, yet the individuals many times are in denial or don’t have a clue. No caregiver is getting rich on their wages for these activities; yet they are a very important part of our economy and infrastructure. The conservator is not taking, or at least they should not, any percentage of these wages. While this cost of caregivers is great and it does diminish any funds available, a good conservator and case manager will ensure that the individual is placed while funds exist such that when they are depleted, the individual will continue to be taken care of at their current placement. This comes from relationships made with case managers and care facilities. This becomes pro-bono on the care facility at this point. If much of this was not provided through conservators and case managers, an individual might give away their money and assets to strangers and family members in greedy actions. Then the individual could be on the street with absolutely nothing and another client for our Public Guardian.
Good conservators and their case managers are there first, to help someone who needs it when they are discovered, whether referred by Adult Protective Services, a Physician, Attorney, or friend and neighbor. They don’t go door to door looking for someone to control and steal from.
Secondly they are in business to make a profit, and provide a service to both the individuals and to society in general. The courts see each and every conservatorship case, and judge the given situations and ‘track record’ of companies or individuals. To help combat abuses, the court also has to ‘review’ and ‘approve’ expenditures and costs in providing this care or service. Conservators have to annually present documentation and records to the court for their perusal, and when requested to give testimony by case managers, explaining what might appear unusual. Payments are only approved by the court annually and for expenses the court deems reasonable and appropriate. The conservator has representation by independent attorney as well.
The squalor, debris, and filth some people live in defies logic or understanding. When a case manager must investigate financial records or look for lost or hidden assets, this environment must be carefully examined, usually at the health risk of the investigator. A conservator takes a case ‘for life’, meaning they will represent and conserve for the individual as long as they live. What toll can you imagine a case manager or caregiver goes though when their charges die? These individuals have become like family, and the loss is the same. It is not just a business, but a dedication to a service many of our culture do not want to see. How many of our parents have been abandoned by children, or such fighting among the next of kin that a conservatorship is needed.
I write this as a spouse of a very dedicated case manager for a conservator. She spends 24 hours a day, 7days a week working directly or on call. I’ve actually been somewhat improperly jealous and annoyed of time spent for ‘work’, yet for the hundreds of hours she works every month I know her clients are receiving the love and care we all want and would expect. Likewise I know she does not bill time for a significant portion of those monthly hours. She does this because she cares very much about people’s quality of life and to help get the best of everything the client needs. And sadly I’ve also seen her grieve for literally hundreds of her clients, and it is very difficult on each passing.
Please make a meaningful part of your series, or an editorial, describing those conservators and case managers that are dedicated to the individual because that’s what the individuals deserve.

Erica Roach

I am a CPA who just started my business. Wanted to know if you could give me some contact information on how to apply as a conservator or fiduciary to the courts or to the VA to be approved.

Thank you

Theo Halladay

I hav a suggestion to make that would giv sum releef to conservators, caretakers & the elderly in their charge.

Cittys [I use reformd spelling] should be required to reserve sum space for rest homes alongside citty parks. Isolation and loneliness leeds to depression and intractable behavior in menny of the patients. They get tired of woching TV, and they stay much happier wen they can woch livving beings - adults, children, dogs - passing in frunt of them. A rocking chare with a vew of a park and its inhabitants keeps them happy.

We reesently delt with a man named Milo who livd heer temporarily, then later died. His conservator was one of my tenants. Milo was restless, didnt want to woch TV, liked being drivven around to ware sumthing was going on. I hav spoken to elderly folks who had the privilege of livving next to a park, & they hav told me they enjoyd woching the peeceful activity a lot mor than they did endlessly woching TV.

U kno it was the custom in small-town America in the past for the old folks to sit on the frunt porch, woching or chatting with passers-by. I see no reeson wy a good portion of the bildings around public parks should not be reserved for rest homes &/or livving acomodations for the elderly.

Anuther point about Milo: Wen he died, his conservator wanted him to hav burial and a plot in the Serbian cemetery. But Milo's stepson sed cremation was good enuf. The conservator ended up paying out of his own pocket, with help from anuther frend, for burial, with plot & tombstone...and the conservator is not eeven a rellativ, only a frend.

The conservator had only a very short time legaly in wich to aply for munny from the alowance for burial wen Milo died. Since he was a few days late aplying, no munny at all was made avalable for burial; all funds wer cut off. Can the time period be extended a bit after deth, since the conservator may be very bisy contacting rellativs & making uther arangements - single-handedly? Thanks for yor good project - Theo Halladay

Glenn Holland

Excellent and disturbing series.

I echo the thoughts by Peter Vincent. As a retiree and current L.A. County volunteer at Rancho Los Amigos, I too would be interested in volunteering in this area.

As I understand it, part of the problem is staff workload. I'd be willing to do some of the grunt work of putting the numbers and documents together to help assure proper accountability.

If you could put me in touch with somebody in the Downey/Norwalk area, it would be much appreciated.

Thank You,
Glenn Holland

Bob N

Great job on exposing a corrupt system of care whose charge is the most vulnerable members of our communities. With the continuing explosion of the elderly population in the coming decade, there needs to be greater public oversight of both government and non-profit agencies whose stated goal is the protection of vulnerable populations, including the mentally disabled and children. While many agencies' missions appear laudable, and many professionals have the best intentions, lack of proper governance in a resource-poor environment invites abuse at all levels. The need for reform goes far beyond a rogue individual or agency. It is symptomatic of a culture of profiteering minus accountability, a culture where we can capitalize on sentiment without delivering proper care, where we can conceal and deceive with relative impunity, and where the media is often silent, uncritical, or complicit in allowing such abuses and dysfunctions to continue below the radar. Your courage and rigor in doing this report deserves a Pulitzer.

Mary Lou Dudley

I am so very glad you are writing about the elder abuse. It is not just in conservatorships, it is also the family that steals the money. My sister's son and wife moved into the home of my sister 2 hours after her husband died and could no longer protect her . She had beginning alzheimers and so they had her sign everything over to them. They sold her home, took all of her money, and had her social security and retirement checks sent to them. My sister was placed in a home only because she had purchased long term (for 3 years) insurance. Her son and daughter in law do not visit her, or take her to doctors, or celebrate holidays with her. I buy her clothes (I am not rich) and keep in contact with her.
I would like to know how the son got away with taking her $4 million without paying any income tax!! Her son stated to me that he hates his mother and never wants to see her again. He brags to everyone that his wife and her very nasty grown children will never have to work a day in their life. ONe of those children told me they took all of my sister's money and it was their money now!!
I cannot legally do anything. I wrote my state assemblywoman, Carol Liu, about the elder abuse. She stated that she would do nothing about it.

John Kramer

From the first paragraph, my thoughts went to disgust then to rage, feeling the deep violation of the victims here. We teach our children to respect our elders, this si some way to show it. I personally know and respect the work of very competent, trustworthy court appointed conservators and gladly refer them to my clients including my own parents. The atrocities represented here show what pure greed can do to a person, all for the mighty buck. Its disgusting. The volunteer in me wants to reach out and help. My time and efforts would be well served helping these innocent victims and was hoping the articles would tell me how to do that. Thank you for providing me with a vehicle to share my thoughts.

Joanne Kang

Thank you for such an enlightening series.
Apart from the irresponsible and unethical conservators, what really chilled my blood was that anyone can start the process of placing one under a conservator. In Ms. Jones' case cited in the article, a casual acquaintance got the ball rolling with a phone call. It is scary to think that one's control over one's life can be taken away so easily. I hope the legislators take note and take steps to correct the situation.

Danielle Avidan

I'm a relatively healthy senior but already worried about what will happen to me when I'm no longer able to take care of myself. I have no immediate family but 3 step children who either do not have time, and one of them doesn't particularly like me!. I have a family trust and everything that they will inherit is specifified very clearly. What I am concerned about, though, is my personal property/belongings which are listed in a separate 'schedule'. I'm uncertain they will take the time to dispose of it according to my wishes and have to admit that it won't be easy. I'd like to find an ethical person/company who would take over in my stead and make decisions with the two step children about health issues, disposition of personal property, etc..I'm sure you can sense my uneasiness and I thank you for responding to my query by email.
Regards

Theresa Larkin

Wonderful, disturbing, and vital series of articles on a difficult subject of elder decline, social isolation, careless government, and conservators who fail to fulfil the critical responsibilities of their job.

My father is 79 and is terminally ill...still physically vital and intellectually alert but aware of his own imminent decline; Social Security is withholding for four months his small monthly payments due to some administrative error that took place years ago. This absence of payments is happening over the holdidays!

I find this to be an outrage.

He is, through his own volition, fighting this 'error' administratively...correctly, and thusfar has had no response from the reporting agency responsible for the four month deduction.

This situation has saddened me by the lack of accountability and outright inhumanity of a government that allows seniors to go without the fundamental necessities.

Can you consider a series of articles on the various ways elders can be stranded by the government and by the lack of compassion of our low-context culture?

Elders who have no family have no way to fight back any kind of city, county, state, or federal 'error'. Even with loving family members commuicated daily things can happen.

Many elders want to maintain their autonomy and self-sovereignty as long as they possibly can. So, even without knowing it, family and friends who care can end up 'neglecting' an elder family member who has taken a fall or had a stroke--a family member may not know it until it is too late.

Thank you for the series!

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