RENO, NV – We’ve all heard about elder abuse, but what about elder exploitation? That’s where a family member, acquaintance, or professional takes advantage of a senior’s finances. It’s becoming a big problem as our senior population grows. Sometime such crimes can even happen under the most controlled environments—under the watchful eye of the courts.
By all accounts Angela Dottei was a responsible person. A former employee with Washoe county as a legal guardian, she was authorized by the family court to administrate the estates of seniors who could no longer take care of their own affairs.
Legal guardianship is a serious matter, as it takes all legal rights away from the ward.
“We are rendering that wonderful member of our community civily impotent. That person no longer has the ability to transact for herself financially, make medical decisions for herself, even vote,” says Washoe County Chief Judge David Hardy.
Hardy was presiding in the family court when Dottie was appointed as a guardian. When there is no family member or intimate available or capable of becoming a legal guardian, a judge may hand the task over to a county guardian trained in such matters. Dottei was even certified.
She later decided to become a private guardian and set up a business called Assurity Guardian Services on Terminal Way.
As a private guardian she was tasked with the same responsibilities and received payment for her services through the ward’s estate. As a requirement, legal guardians file financial reports annually with the court to show where the ward’s finances are going. But back in 2007 the family court was alerted Dottei’s financial reports had unexplained transactions.
As it turned out she was using the money to gamble, and according to a grand jury indictment, she failed to alert the authorities to her ward who had died, yet she continued to spend the estate’s money.
“Addictions, some mental health issues–had these been known, that person probably wouldn’t have been appointed, and had a career as a private professional guardian,” says Hardy
Dottei was sentenced to six to 20 years on five counts of embezzlement of the elderly. But her case was a wakeup call the Washoe family court.
Judge Hardy says in family court, there is one judge who oversees all legal guardianships. A Washoe County Legal services representative is assigned to the ward during court proceedings, with the legal guardian also in attendance. And no longer can a guardian freely take funds from the ward’s estate–legitimate charges or not.
“We are identifying what do you need? Is it $75,000, is it $100,000? We block the rest, it is not available,” says Hardy.
Hardy says the system is not perfect but with more intensified oversight on these cases he hopes an Angela Dottei case will be one for the history books.
The Nevada Supreme Court is now examining the legal guardianship laws and policies here in Nevada. A committee with all parties represented has been set up. A second of six committees meetings took place Monday August 17th in Carson City.
In the end recommendations could be made for new court policies statewide or proposed laws.