Saturday, December 30th, 2017 at 12:05am
New Mexico’s secretive system under which the state handles daily living and financial decisions for hundreds of incapacitated people a year would undergo a radical transformation if recommendations unveiled by a state Supreme Court commission are adopted.
The commission’s final report of recommendations for an improved guardian/conservator system in New Mexico – released late Thursday – presents “critically important” changes to the structure and the practices that have been under study by the commission since April, stated the report.
The recommendations would require stricter accountability and oversight of guardians, including those professional for-profit firms that deduct their fees from the protected person’s assets.
The commission asks the Supreme Court, the state Legislature and the governor to work together to fund and implement four of its “highest priority” recommendations at the “earliest opportunity.”
Three recommendations would increase oversight by requiring state funding. That funding is estimated at a little less than $1 million, and would cover:
• A computerized system to automate the filing and monitoring of conservator reports;
• Hiring auditors to monitor conservatorships;
• Employing special masters to hear grievances of family members and others who currently have little voice and few options once a judge approves a third-party professional as guardian or conservator for an incapacitated loved one.
Many of those who are deemed incapacitated have dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or have mental illness or impairment.
The fourth “highest priority” recommendation calls for the passage of a new slate of model guardianship laws from the Chicago-based Uniform Law Commission, which has been studying reforms for several years. Those laws would provide more notice to family members about hearings and would increase access to court hearings and records. Currently, all guardianship and conservatorship hearings are closed to the public. The only public record available is a court docket sheet that lists the name of the protected person, the parties and filings in the case.
New Mexico Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, has prefiled a bill for the upcoming 30-day legislative session that would implement the model Uniform Law Commission guardianship laws.