HARRISBURG – The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), held a joint public hearing with the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Judy Ward (R-30), on strengthening guardianship laws and preventing elder abuse in Pennsylvania.
When an adult of any age is deemed incapacitated by a court, a guardian may be appointed to become responsible for making certain decisions on their behalf, including financial, medical and personal matters.
“Our current court-appointed guardianship process in Pennsylvania needs to be improved,” Baker said. “We must ensure individuals requiring assistance are properly represented and have their rights safeguarded by properly certifying legal guardians, limiting the abuse of the system and enhancing our laws to protect the vulnerable.”
“Appointing a guardian for a person represents a serious step that must be taken with great caution and the utmost respect for the person’s basic rights,” Ward said. “This is an issue that can touch all Pennsylvanians. It’s important that we take a proactive approach and identify and address issues with our current system. With the information gleaned from this hearing, we can ensure that the Pennsylvania’s guardianship system meets the needs of our citizens in the 21st century.”
To strengthen the guardianship laws in Pennsylvania, Baker, along with Sen. Art Haywood (D-4), have recently introduced Senate Bill 506 to provide alternatives to appointed guardianships. The bill would require courts to automatically appoint counsel to individuals undergoing the guardianship process, consider other less restrictive alternatives before imposing a guardianship, and institute training and screening of professional guardians. This legislation originated from an unfortunate situation that occurred when Senator Haywood’s neighbor was taken advantage of by the unscrupulous practices of a professional guardian.
“While guardianship can be an appropriate tool to support some individuals who cannot make decisions themselves, it should be limited and used only as a last resort,” Baker said. “Alternatives to guardianship may prove equally effective at a substantially lower emotional and financial cost.”
“I am glad the Senate Judiciary and Aging and Youth Committees have taken a deeper look at guardianship issues. I am especially thankful to Chairwoman Baker, who has joined me in cosponsoring SB 506,” Haywood stated. “The bill adds important protections for vulnerable individuals from bad guardians, like those who stole from my neighbor, Mr. Frisby.”
During the hearing, testimony was given by professionals in the elder and disability law fields to provide input on the current flaws in Pennsylvania’s guardianship process. Panelists discussed how Pennsylvania is one of only eight states in the U.S. that does not automatically appoint counsel to represent alleged incapacitated persons, and highlighted the necessity for training and oversight of guardians to prevent waste, fraud and abuse.
“Unfortunately, cases where guardians have stolen or misused money belonging to the people they are legally charged with looking after are not uncommon,” Baker said. “We must have capable people step in and protect their financial interests.”
Senate Bill 506 has received bipartisan approval and is supported by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Disability Rights PA, and other advocacy groups because it helps prevent fraud, abuse, and exploitation, and increases representation.
CONTACT: Cara Laudenslager