By Christine Montanti
What happens when a guardianship or health care surrogacy gets into the hands of a mentally or morally unfit family member or individual? It can be extremely dangerous to the elder which is exactly what I see happening in the case of my mother.
As seen in the Netflix thriller, I Care a Lot, starring Rosamund Pike who portrays Marla Grayson, an unscrupulous guardian, the cruelties that caregivers inflict on their wards is incomprehensible and have evolved into a real-life modern-day tragedy. In the movie, Grayson’s incestuous relationships with doctors, court appointed attorneys, long-term care facilities and probate judges enable her to legally abuse and financially exploit elders; unfortunately, this is happening in real life. In reality, guardianship abuse has existed for more than half a century and is currently a national epidemic. An article in the New Yorker in 2017 revealed an estimated 1.3 million elders in the United States are under the care of guardians who control about $273 billion in assets. What is even scarier is that a person doesn’t need any medical or financial credentials to become a guardian: they only have to take a few hours of a basic training course and a guardianship exam. Worse, a geriatric care manager does not even need a license or training!
Morally and mentally unfit guardians, health care surrogates and geriatric care managers are engaging in physical and emotional abuse against aging adults for the sole purpose of financially exploiting them and misappropriating their funds. Oftentimes, they will overmedicate the elder to make them appear sicker than they are just to gain total control of their money, and sadly in a number of instances, the elder dies due to the physical and mental abuse. Although not an elder, the recent case of Britney Spears has brought national attention to the problem of conservatorship abuse taking place in this country and which is growing.
When a dispute arises among family members, some courts will use “geriatric care managers” to protect the interests of the elder. It sounds pretty good, right? I also thought so in the very beginning; however, what I couldn’t possibly know is the degree to which the care manager could turn my mother’s life upside down! Remarkably, a number of these care managers gain unwarranted familiarity with judges that preside over these cases and are given a great deal of discretion. Essentially, they then have the ability to play God over the day-to-day decisions of the elder. They will align themselves with the family members who are in control of the aging adult’s money and will immediately take the side of the family member who has control of the trust, so they can excessively bill the trust in exchange for providing a favorable outcome in court.
It is painful for me to share my personal story about my mother Karilyn, but by sharing her story I can shed light on the nationwide epidemic facing my mother and countless others by unveiling the truth about guardianship abuse. Throughout my grueling three year long experience trying to advocate for my mother’s rights in Broward County, Florida Probate Court, my ability was repeatedly thwarted by three individuals appointed by the very judge entrusted to protect my mother’s interests, but who were instead engaging in abuse by keeping her locked up and isolated. When confronted, they collectively, proclaimed their own innocence and heroism and blamed any person who tried to protest their abusive actions. Although this matter was litigated in court, the court gave the geriatric care manager a blank check to do whatever she wanted. My mother’s court appointed attorney’s complete loyalty had been to the geriatric care manager, who he also represented despite the obvious conflict of interest.
What is heartbreaking about my mother’s story is that she was held in a jail-like atmosphere and essentially cut off from communication with the outside world. The abuse took place in two assisted living facilities in Broward County. She was isolated without any access
to a telephone, a computer and blocked from seeing her family and only grandchild. She was not allowed to receive calls, letters, packages, food delivery or permitted to go outside the facility, not even on her balcony. Virtually, all of her property and money was taken away from her. My mother was even forced to spend holidays and her birthday alone this year. Prisoners have more rights than she did!
What is even more outrageous is over the past year and a half my mother was overmedicated four separate times and suffered disabling symptoms while under the care and supervision of a health care surrogate, court appointed care manager and court appointed attorney and was denied her right to see her treating doctor. How could this happen when she had three individuals who were being paid from my mother’s own money, allegedly for the sole purpose of protecting her interests and ensuring her medical needs are being met? Never has my mother been overmedicated; not even when she was in charge of her own care. What is even more horrific is despite my mother’s repeated requests to go to the hospital and see her doctor for disabling symptoms, the court appointed individuals and my mother’s health care surrogate did everything in their power to prevent her from receiving necessary and urgent medical care. My mother’s freedom and basic liberties were stripped away leaving her isolated causing severe emotional distress and suffering. Due to this isolation, and blocking and denying her right to see doctors, she lost substantial weight (three clothing sizes) and looked as if she has aged twenty years in four months.
My mother has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to be heard before the court with respect to her own wishes and to have an evidentiary hearing to determine her capacity. Her numerous
requests to appear in court have been denied for over three years by the court and the same two attorneys’ who were appointed to protect her interests. Since she was deprived of the right to be heard, she has decided to speak out publicly for the first time to reveal intimate details of her guardianship-type captivity in the hopes that she will find justice not only for herself but for many other victims of guardianship abuse.
Initially, I believed that my mother’s victimization was just an isolated and tragic event. I could not fathom a judge would empower, and seemingly reward these individuals entrusted to protect her interests for engaging in this type of behavior.
As I continue to encounter endless roadblocks along the way while fighting for my mother in court, I have connected with numerous others whose loved ones share strikingly similar horror stories. After doing substantial research and speaking to countless advocates, attorneys, law enforcement officers and care givers in the elder care system, I realized this outrageous conduct is a common practice, and unbelievably, the practice against defenseless victims is always the same: to isolate, medicate and liquidate.
All elders should be treated with respect, kindness and compassion and live their golden years to the fullest as they rightfully deserve. Together we can advocate for new legislation in the elder care system. Let’s put an end to this abuse now and come together and create a movement. Join me on my personal journey to save my mother Karilyn by allowing her voice to be heard. My mother has filed several appeals seeking a reversal of the judge’s prior orders in this matter. She is hoping to overturn the court order which denies her request to restore her capacity. #FreeMom #standupforkarilyn