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Judges must prevent guardianship abuse

Posted at 6:01 PM, Apr 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-01 22:04:00-04

Fists flew at today's Guardianship Reform Commission meeting, but not in the way you might think.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears watched as one judge got hot under the collar about how frighteningly easy it is to lose control of your money and freedom in a Clark County guardianship.

Nevada's top judge literally banged both fists on the table--demanding more. 

More scrutiny, more oversight and more questioning from the court about whether someone really needs a guardian.

Now, all it takes is a simple form, a few check marks in a few boxes, sometimes signed by a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant.

It doesn't even require a doctor. 

It's the paperwork presented by a proposed guardian telling the court you're incompetent and can no longer care for yourself or your money. 

That practice has resulted in what critics call fraudulent guardianships. 

And Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty says it's got to stop.

"In order to avoid the risk of abuse where guardians are appointed without greater information, the judge needs to be saying--and I think the commission needs to be recommending--that the judge must ask for more before the guardian is appointed."

That's just one of the many sweeping changes the commission is working on to overhaul Nevada's guardianship system. 

The driving force for that is what Contact 13 has been exposing about exploitation and lax oversight in our guardianship system. 

Today, commissioners learned more than half of the 3,800 active cases in Clark County are not compliant with state law--or haven't been reviewed for compliance. 

There are still 1,000 cases that need to be reviewed.

The Commission also learned that Family Court judges often were not reading reports or financial accountings in a timely fashion. Sometimes, those documents weren't reviewed at all.

Judge Cynthia Diane Steel says those reports will now be reviewed within one day of being filed to ensure cases don't fall out of compliance.

Another startling statistic, 85-percent of wards (people under guardianship) in Clark County don't have attorneys to represent them. Contrast that to the fact that nearly all professional guardians do have lawyers, and they're being paid with the wards' money.

Forty three percent of cases complained about are those involving professional guardians.

One thing the Commission began evaluating today is whether guardianships should be limited in scope so guardians don't systematically get complete and total control over every aspect of a person's life and estate.

There are an average of 66 new guardianship cases in Clark County every month--that's more than two people per day--meaning change can't come soon enough.