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Casey Holds Hearing on Guardianships, Introduces Bill to Promote Alternative Options for Seniors, People with Disabilities, and their Families

There are approximately 1.3 million adult guardianships in the United States and an estimated $50 billion in assets under guardianship arrangements

Casey’s Guardianship Bill of Rights Act would create standards to protect the civil rights of people under guardianships and promote alternatives

Washington, D.C. - On Thursday, March 30, U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) held a hearing entitled, “Guardianship and Alternatives: Protection and Empowerment.” Guardianships are legal relationships created when a court determines that a person is incapable of making important decisions on their own. The majority of people in guardianships are seniors and people with disabilities. Many need permission to see a doctor, take or refuse medication, live in in their own homes, spend their own money, and even vote. They also face increased risk of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by unscrupulous guardians. The hearing examined these issues as well as alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision-making, a less restrictive model that appoints trusted advisors—such as friends, family, or professionals—to serve people who need support making decisions, rather than having choices made on their behalf.

Chairman Casey also introduced the Guardianship Bill of Rights Act, which would promote alternative arrangements to guardianships and create standards that would protect the civil rights of people living under guardianships. There is currently little consistency across the country regarding the rights of people who are being considered for guardianships—this legislation would establish a federal role in advocacy and protection efforts.

“More than a year after Britney Spears’ case brought guardianships into the national spotlight, there are still countless families across the Nation fighting against exploitative or abusive guardianships with little recourse. My legislation would address the Nation’s patchwork guardianship system and explore alternatives to guardianships to protect Americans’ civil rights while getting them the support they need,” said Chairman Casey.

In July 2021, Chairman Casey and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra requesting information on what data efforts are in place to determine the status of guardianships across the country and what efforts the Department was making to promote alternatives to guardianships. In 2018, Chairman Casey and then-Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) produced an Aging Committee report entitled “Ensuring Trust: Strengthening State Efforts to Overhaul the Guardianship Process and Protect Older Adults.” Its recommendations included increasing oversight of guardians, promoting alternatives to guardianships, restoring the civil rights of those living under a guardianship, and increasing data collection from the states.

In October 2021, Chairman Casey  introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act, which would provide accountability and oversight into guardianships, promote best practices, and provide funding and training to spot abuse. He also published an Op-Ed in BuzzFeed News about how Britney Spears’ conservatorship case helped shed light on broader issues surrounding guardianships and conservatorships for seniors and people with disabilities.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has identified incidents of fraud and exploitation by appointed guardians and lawyers charged with representing people with guardianship arrangements. Incidents of fraud include draining retirement funds of people under guardianship by their guardians, selling of assets such as homes by guardians, diverting trust funds to guardians, exorbitant fees charged by private guardians, lack of medical care for those under guardianships, and much more.

Chairman Casey invited Ryan King, a guardianship reform advocate, to testify at the hearing about his experience in a guardianship. He testified, “I didn’t like being under guardianship because I had to let the court know everything I did, like going to events, doctor appointments, and church. No one else in my family did that…[Quality Trust for Individuals with Disability] used Supportive Decision Making to show what I could do and all the people who help me. My family, my friends, and programs I am in are part of my team.

The Guardianship Bill of Rights Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators John Fetterman (D-PA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Read more about the Guardianship Bill of Rights Act here.