GUEST COMMENTARY / JUN. 4, 2021
Only a Sick Society Would Tolerate Legalized Abuse of Vulnerable Citizens
By Kimberly Guilfoyle
I’ve seen plenty of disturbing things happen during the time I’ve spent in and around politics and the legal system. Few are as disturbing or heartbreaking as the rampant scourge of guardianship and conservatorship abuse.
It’s not a red state or a blue state problem. Nor is it unique to any one region of the country. From coast to coast, elderly, infirm, and otherwise vulnerable Americans are effectively being imprisoned, isolated, and swindled by people who are supposed to be looking out for their best interests. Worst of all, it’s happening under the direct auspices of the legal system, which is supposedly set up with the express purpose of protecting the vulnerable.
The people who are victimized by this process typically lack the ability to defend themselves, either because of advanced age or mental deficiency. In some cases, the mere perception that someone suffers from a mental deficiency is enough for the courts to deny them control over their own lives and disregard their most fervent wishes.
In theory, guardianship is a compassionate process designed to make sure that a responsible person is looking after people who are incapable of looking after themselves. In practice, however, guardianship is often exploited by unscrupulous characters who go to great lengths to take advantage of their wards. In some of the most heart-wrenching instances, guardians severely restrict access to friends and loved ones, depriving their wards of their greatest joys in life for no apparent reason other than to prevent friends and family from interfering in the guardian’s decision making.
In my home state of Florida, Jan Garwood described being “kidnapped and forced into a locked facility” by a “fraudulent guardian.” She only managed to escape after being trapped in an assisted living facility for three years thanks to a smuggled cell phone and a secret Facebook page.
In neighboring Alabama, the family of deceased heiress and philanthropist Joann Bashinsky is still fighting a legal battle with her court-appointed guardian over five months after her death. It’s difficult to fathom why Judge Lee Tucker, who has jurisdiction in the case, hasn’t dismissed it by now — after all, the person supposedly in need of the court’s “protection” is no longer alive. In this case and so many others, based on my years as a prosecutor, something certainly doesn’t smell right.
Fortunately, increased public awareness of guardianship abuse seems to be making a difference. The issue is receiving attention from popular culture in the form of the “Free Brittany” movement and the popular Netflix movie “I Care A Lot,” and as more people are becoming aware of the problem, politicians are taking notice.
In my former home state of California, lawmakers are considering reforms designed to enhance scrutiny and oversight of guardians, as well as create guardrails to protect people from being unfairly deemed mentally unfit to manage their own health and finances.
The guardianship process is supposed to help and protect vulnerable people who lack the ability to care for themselves. All too often, it is abused as a legalized way to pillage their estates while cutting them off from the outside world — including their own friends and family.
No human institution can ever be perfect, but a compassionate society cannot allow the legal system to be used for such abominable ends. Guardianship abuse must be stopped so that the process can be returned to its original compassionate purpose.
Kimberly Guilfoyle is a national political and media strategist who served as the National Chair of Trump Victory Finance Committee and Senior Advisor to Donald J Trump for President, Inc. Prior to joining the Trump campaign in 2019, she was a television host on Fox News Channel.