Officials to study guardian system

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Court officials in Hollidaysburg have decided to study ways to monitor guardianships, thereby assuring that elderly residents or the disabled are not being abused, neglected or financially ruined by the people who are supposed to protect them.

The effort stems from a concern expressed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which earlier this year appointed an Elder Law Task Force. The task force was created by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille. Justice Debra Todd will chair the group.

In Blair County, the judges held a planning meeting for 2014 on Wednesday, and one of the points of discussion was how to better monitor guardianships. A guardian is a court-appointed individual who controls the finances and legal affairs of a person considered to be disabled or incapacitated.

According to Blair County Court Administrator Janice Meadows, a guardian is supposed to submit an annual report of his or her activities. It takes a lot of work to prepare the report, she said. But, she said, there is no system in place to determine if the annual report has been submitted to the office of the Blair County Prothonotary and Clerks of Courts or to review the report.

This is why Blair County officials, including President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva, Prothonotary Carol Newman and Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds Mary Ann Bennis, will be talking about ways to improve the system, Meadows said.

She gave an example of the questions that may arise. She said Blair is looking at possibly granting continuing legal education credits to attorneys who will monitor a case.

Guardianships are filed in Newman’s office.

Newman said nothing has been set up to track the guardianship cases – making sure the annual report has been completed and monitoring what may be happening in a particular case.

She called the situation right now “hit and miss.”

Right now, Blair is looking at how other counties monitor guardianships.

Dauphin County, for instance, has a system of training attorneys to serve as monitors for individual cases.

In that county, the monitor is not to act as the attorney for the incapacitated person or the guardian but can have access to confidential records “concerning the care and well-being and financial interests of the incapacitated person,” according to a description of the program prepared by the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last April became concerned about aging Pennsylvanians and such issues as guardianships, elder abuse and access to justice.

The Chief Justice pointed out that 2 million of the state’s residents are over 65, a number that is expected to grow in the next eight years.

The task force includes 38 experts in the area of elder law like judges, lawyers and social workers.

In a release from the Supreme Court, several instances of neglect and financial mismanagement were discussed.

One case cited by the Court was that of a Dauphin County man who stole $380,000 from his 89-year-old great aunt while serving as the person who was supposed to be protecting her.