Certified Guardian: How Guardians Are Paid
Certified guardian and family guardian are terms that continue to be in the news. A recent Netflix movie, “I Care a Lot” paints a nightmarish picture of the guardianship system in the United States. While guardianship abuse does happen, collusion between attorneys, healthcare providers, family members, and professional guardians to access the money elderly individuals can be prevented.
Common guardianship concerns are be related to financial matters, poor care, or interactions with interested parties including disgruntled family members. A common area of concern is professional fees and family members’ interest in the money of elderly parents.
Certified Guardian and Conservator Fees
Certified guardians and conservators are questioned about fees specific to efforts completed on behalf of their wards. In some situations, the variance may be attributed to certified versus non-certified professionals and adherence to standards of care. In other situations, fiduciaries participated in actions not beneficial to the ward due to a lack of knowledge of fiduciary responsibility or simple disregard.
Many times, questions about fees arise due to a lack of familiarity by the general public and some professionals about the existence of the National Guardianship Association and the Standards of Care. Since the fiduciary industry has been relatively unregulated specific to the roles of guardian and conservator, there has been little discussion of the qualifications and background of fiduciaries entering the profession.
Money is Cited as An Interest of Court-Appointed Guardians
While the general public and professionals including attorneys are very familiar with standards of the American Bar Association, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and similar associations, unfamiliarity exists about the National Guardianship Association. Absent of membership in the National Guardianship Association, and a commitment to the NGA Standards of Care, a guardian or conservator may take shortcuts, ignore care needs, and purposely charge low fees to obtain the reputation of being a more reasonable option.
While low fees may make family, awaiting their inheritance ecstatic, or may appeal to other interested parties, the ward may be at risk from short cuts specific to potential care needs and oversight. Attorney fees are fairly standard with higher fees attributed to more experienced or specialized attorneys. The time committed to an effort results in the final determination of fees.
It is understandable that some wards have limited or non-existent estates. These wards may be served by the office of public guardianship or a volunteer guardianship association. Conservators resign when funds run out. Guardians are committed for life. Rarely discussed is the number of pro-bono cases that many guardians carry because clients were accepted and funds ran out.
Certified Guardian Standards of Practice
The National Guardianship Association Standard 13 requires ongoing assessments of physical, social, psychological, direct service, health, and personal care needs as well as the need for evaluating and recommending additional services. Substantive communication is required with service providers.
Care planning and care conference meetings are required as well as receipt and review of care plans from all service providers. Regular examination of services, charts, notes, logs, and other documents is required. Adhering to the Standards may be time-consuming, resulting in greater total fees, depending on the situation and needs of the ward.
Dignity and Care Versus Preserving the Estate
Many of the activities to support the NGA Standards can be time-consuming when wards have complicated health conditions or a change in condition. For wards with stable health conditions and few needs, the time involved and the related billing are not as significant.
The challenge in life is that as we age, we do not become healthier or more able. Over time we experience greater health concerns, become increasingly frail, require more time and attention to receive good care.
The ward’s living environment contributes to time and fees. An individual living in a skilled nursing community where medical care is readily accessible and the client is in stable health may not require as much care oversight versus an individual in a rehabilitation situation as the result of a change in condition who expects to return to a prior living environment.
Wards living independently, depending on medical care needs, may require significant oversight. Each situation is different and should be outlined in the care plan with annual budget updates.
Upholding Guardianship Standards is Voluntary
Membership in the National Guardianship Association is for professional fiduciaries and family guardians seeking to voluntarily participate in providing higher standards of care. Continuing education is required as well as an agreement to support the care standards and ethics identified by the organization as beneficial. This is not to say that non-certified guardians or conservators are not equally qualified.
Membership in any organization is a choice based upon the personal goals of the company or the individual as is the pursuit of higher education, skills, and experience. There is a difference in the education and skills of an individual with a high school diploma versus an individual with a college or post-graduate degree.
Education is good—a combination of education experience is better. An educated individual without experience may still not perform to expectations. Book sense may not be practical sense. When choosing a professional fiduciary, a colleague, friend, or family member to act, these little differences can be life-affecting depending upon expectations.
In all guardianship situations, appropriate oversight is beneficial to make sure that the individual receives the best care possible. Family members interested in preserving the estate for their inheritance are likely not the best choice to be the guardian of a parent.
Interested in Learning More About Guardianship?
Family members interested in learning more about guardianship can take Pamela’s online course How to Get Guardianship of a Parent. Becoming more educated about guardianship can alleviate concerns in the news that frighten the elderly and family members about the guardianship process in the United States.
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