AAAPG Statement for Opening Florida Wings Meeting
“we used to fear getting cancer, now we fear guardianship even more”
Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, an all-volunteer national advocacy organization headquartered in Florida with affiliates in over 40 states is pleased to represent the interests and concerns of over 500 self-identified victims of adult professional guardianship abuse at this venue.
Since its inception our group has worked to diligently to fulfill our mission of educate, advocate and legislate.
The stated purpose of this WINGS group is
“to identify strengths and weaknesses in the state’s current system of adult guardianship and less restrictive decision-making options, and to serve as an ongoing consulting mechanism to enhance the quality of care and quality of life of adults in are potentially in the guardianship and alternatives system”.
While those goals sound like a simple research paper assignment, this group is going to deal with life and death in a very real sense. For wards in Florida, professional guardianships rarely end in anything other than horrific suffering and death. This group will either save lives or fail to.
Why is this situation so dire? Whose fault is this?
We wish to make it clear at the outset that, in our considered opinion with over 300 man years of experience in this field, the systematic abuses we have uncovered repeatedly in Florida’s guardianship industry will not be remedied, improved or even impacted by the work of this group and the quality of care and quality of life of adults in or potentially in the guardianship and “alternative systems” will not improve unless and until there is a resolute recognition among all “stakeholders” that the incredible volume of professional guardianship abuses evident in this State occur directly as a result of the greatest weakness in this “system”, namely Judicially directed and abetted bias against and abuse of vulnerable individuals and families in Florida courtrooms for the primary benefit of court insiders and downstream vendors in search of renewable sources of wealth extraction.
The insiders (lawyers, court examiners, professional guardians, court personnel) and downstream profiteers (real estate brokers, healthcare facilities, used car salesman, appraisers, pharma, trust companies and so many more) work the system flawlessly and pervert it to their will in countless ways including but not limited to:
• routine intentional abrogation of valid advance directives expressly created and intended to prevent guardianships but instead ignored or destroyed in court so as not to impede the rush to establish another lucrative case for wealth extraction by court insiders
• overt judicial cronyism biased in favor of court insiders and against pro se and opposing litigants and interested parties
• failure to obey or even recognize clearly stated Florida statutes, old and new
• routine denial of due process and other constitutional rights
• failure to properly notice next of kin, no real representation for the proposed wards, no hearings prior to signing a temporary guardianship order, nearly automatic transition from ETG to plenary permanent guardianship
• unconstitutional ex parte isolation orders against vulnerable adults and their families
• utter and abject failure to monitor the guardianships these judges create
• failure to enforce clear-cut reporting requirements for professional guardians
• routine approval of massive court insiders’ submitted bills when they are clearly not in the best interests of the Ward and so clearly fraudulent
• instant unquestioning acceptance of hearsay and overt falsehoods from court insiders
• unexplained alteration of court records and evidence
• routine sequestration of court records to prevent investigations, journalists and advocates from access thereby hiding abuses
• the routine and unnecessary creation of over 7000 new Florida guardianships per year added to the over 55,000 guardianships already existing in the state.
• probate attorneys hired by adult children colluding with the court and contributing to the ward’s neglect
• abject neglect of medical and dental care of the ward by court insiders who have no medical training
• looting of retirement benefits and social security that should be used for the welfare of the ward but instead are used to pay guardian and legal fees
• and so much more
The unprecedented latitude given administrative law judges allows them to be gods in their courtrooms, with no oversight, no monitoring and nowhere to complain (The JQC’s record speaks for itself). It allows what should be a simple and inexpensive administrative hearing process to turn into endless litigation, elder abuse and exploitation and a massively profitable honey pot of low hanging riches for the court insiders.
While it is appropriate to consider the deficiencies and problems with many aspects of guardianship qualifications, licensure, training, monitoring and supervision, correcting these obvious flaws will not prevent abusive guardianships. While it would be wonderful to curtail the egregious predatory behavior of lawyers in probate cases, that would require the removal of their profit motive—something that will never happen. This group needs to focus on the victims of elder abuse and exploitation.
The most important stakeholders in the guardianship process are the Ward and their family, and their voices must be heard in this venue because they are not heard in probate courts. Despite the ever-increasing number of egregious abuse cases reported in the lay press, media and on social media, the Florida judiciary has developed a peculiar blindness to the obvious exploitation that occurs in probate courtrooms across the state. Guardians and lawyers act as though they own the wards and that’s because they do. With no one looking over their shoulder as the judges are sworn to do, it is no surprise that victims all across the state recognize the all too familiar phrase ” litigate, medicate, berate family, isolate and take the estate”.
Our AAAPG national surveys indicate that approximately 7% of all adult professional guardianships are abusive and fraudulent. The amount of money extracted in these guardianships in the state of Florida alone is approximately $2 billion annually. Whether the estate pays for one unnecessary hearing or is completely fleeced in incessant litigation, far too often adult guardianships are used as weapon to financially exploit. While there are “good” guardianships, even one fraudulent one is one too many and there are many, many thousands.
Nationally, The National Center for State Courts reports that 1.3 million American adults were under guardianship in 2016 and 176,000 new persons were added to the rolls. The Federal Reserve and Metropolitan Life reported in 2015 that the average 75-year-old has a net worth of $300,000. Using these estimates substantiates that nearly $300 billion in assets are controlled by guardians and approximately $50 billion in new assets are obtained each year. The numbers are growing 10-15% per annum due to the aging baby boomer generation and the growth in dementia related diseases. Guardianship in the U.S. is BIG business and those who sponsor fraudulent guardianships know it quite well.
This Florida WINGS group, as has been the case with other state WINGS, will no doubt hear from those who make their money in this industry that while there may be some bad apples, some outliers, some exceptional cases, that professional guardianship isn’t all that bad and is an important and necessary government function. One group of court insiders will blame another faction of court insiders for any “minor” deficiencies in the system. The professional guardians will tell you that everything they do is legal because it’s all done by court order and they have a duty to repel onerous family members who are dangerous and evil. The predatory lawyers in the system will tell you that it is their job to forcefully advocate for the Guardian who hired them and that they are required by law to do their utmost to protect that Guardian not matter how much of the Ward’s money it takes. The court examiners who get as much as $400 per ward they render incapacitated will tell you there is not enough time to do exhaustive and meaningful exams so they just adjudicate on instinct. Everyone will tell you they’re doing what’s in the best interest of the Ward. The judges will tell you that they monitor themselves just fine and are doing everything by the book. They will tell you if you want things to get better tell the legislature to give the judiciary more money.
We beg to differ.
While the court insiders claim a moral high ground, every victimized family immediately recognizes the blatant conflicts of interest working in favor of all court insiders who are handsomely and automatically paid by the ward’s estate to insure a guardianship is swiftly initiated and nearly impossible to escape. Professional Guardianships are in every court insider’s best financial interests. Given that fact, less restrictive alternatives like supported decision-making are almost never even a consideration. There is just too much easy money to be made.
None of the horrific abuses by the system insiders we have documented so often at www.aaapg.net –the isolation, family destruction, intentional overmedication, phony appraisals, disappearing inventory, missing funds, straw man sales of property, and the sadistic abuse of desperate family members would be remotely possible without the active participation of probate judges. We believe that the only independent branch of government called the judiciary must be purged of the malfeasance and overt corruption that has become commonplace (yet taboo to criticize for fear of retribution) in probate courts across the state. Until then, groups like this WINGS will never succeed in their mission to improve the lot of those already in and those doomed to enter the guardianship system we call wards. Until the judiciary regains and earns the confidence of the people, its actions will continue to be nothing short of illegitimate and the people of Florida will continue to be at great risk.
This is not a new problem. In 2003 the Florida Supreme Court Convened a Committee on Guardianship Monitoring
much as it has convened a Court’s administration working group on guardianship this year and has spearheaded the effort to obtain an ABA grant to create this WINGS. Despite these actions and despite several consecutive years of important legislative changes to Statute 744, the crisis in professional Florida guardianship has worsened, many wards have died unnecessarily, numerous wards have been disappeared and many families have been forever destroyed as vast fortunes have been redirected into the pockets of court insiders.
Professional Guardianship is about money—only about money; and the only people who seem to profit from it are the wealth extracting professional court insiders. The more our Florida population ages, the worse it will get. Changing the laws has not worked. Laws mean nothing if they not enforced and to date Florida law enforcement has been complicit in looking the other way rather than turn on their brother lawyers.
Something must be done. You must do it.
The mission of this group should not be to tinker with a massively distorted and broken system that will resist being fixed by this group or any other group, but it should be to find ways to quickly and dramatically reduce the number of new professional guardianships or better yet, to eliminate them altogether and/or to urgently find ways to prevent them in the first place.
Professional Guardianship in Florida is often a horrific death sentence for innocent citizens whose only crime was ageing in Florida. WINGS need to change that, or it will share in the blame for perpetuating a perverse and corrupt affront to the most vulnerable among us.
Thank you for allowing us to present this position paper.
Sam J Sugar MD