Each Illinois elder abuse attorney at our firm knows that the specific challenges facing seniors in our community are significant. Those first learning about these issues often assume that references to “elder abuse” only refer to physical or sexual assault against these vulnerable community members. After all, the word “abuse” most often conjures images of actual assault. Yet, the issue is far more complex, and the most prominent mistreatment occurs in subtle ways.
One of the most common forms of abuse-and often the hardest to catch-involves friends and family members who gain control of a senior’s affairs and use it for their own financial gain. In these situations, the seniors not only have money slowly taken from them, but they usually face chronic neglect, with their basic needs not being met.
Guardianship issues are critical to elder abuse prevention efforts. Many of the most vulnerable seniors eventually become pawns in legal fights over relatives seeking to gain control over the individual’s affairs. Family feuds over guardianship of seniors are a growing problem everywhere. The elders caught in the middle are often the ones who suffer.
Of course ensuring that the individuals who will provide the best care actually receive guardianship is vital. Yet, it is difficult for courts to properly perform this function. A wide range of legal issues are in play, including many jurisdictional challenges which make these proceedings quite complicated. They have also led to a problem known as “granny snatching.”
When families feud over who should have guardianship rights, the fight often crosses over state lines with one family members “stealing” the guardianship rights while the elderly individual is out of the state.
A recent New Jersey Spotlight story discussed the problem. For example, one state may award guardianship of a senior to one of her daughters. If the mother visits a second daughter out-of-state, the second daughter can go to a court in the second state seeking to get the first guardianship order overturned. Jurisdictional rules vary from state to state, and complex legal fiascos are easily created.
In some cases the second state will overturn the original guardianship. Often the original state does not have the jurisdictional power to enforce the original ruling when the senior is not in the state. In these situations, the second daughter essentially is successful is “stealing” the senior away from the original guardian.
Our Chicago elder abuse attorneys remain saddened that so many seniors become pawns in family feuds. It is vital that all of these decisions be made by impartial observers seeking to identify the best interests of the seniors.
One possible solution is for more states to join a multi-state network that respects one another’s original guardianship rulings. Essentially the laws create a uniform system to determine which state has jurisdiction when disputes cross state boundaries. In most cases the senior’s “home” state would have original jurisdiction-where they have been physically present for at least six months. Illinois is one of a large group of states that have already passed this Uniform Guardianship Act.
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