REGIONAL- When Bonnie Adams, of Eagles Nest, hired caregivers for her childless, elderly aunt who lived near Ely, she said she wished she had known more about the laws regarding legal guardianship …
REGIONAL- When Bonnie Adams, of Eagles Nest, hired caregivers for her childless, elderly aunt who lived near Ely, she said she wished she had known more about the laws regarding legal guardianship versus power of attorney. Adams gave her aunt’s new caregivers power of attorney, but soon discovered that in doing so, she had sharply limited her own rights and abilities to oversee the care of her aunt.
Adams made an unannounced visit to her aunt’s home one day, with a treat from Dairy Queen. That’s when the caregivers insisted that she was not allowed inside the house without their permission.
“They had power of attorney and kept throwing that in my face when I had questions,” Adams said. “It turns out the caregivers were not feeding her properly, were locking up her phone, and leaving her alone overnight without access to food or water,” Adams said. In addition, the caregivers were steadily depleting her aunt’s bank account. Adams said her aunt, who suffered from severe short-term memory issues, was unable to tell her about what was happening in her own home.
Eventually, her aunt’s bank notified social services, after becoming suspicious of weekly withdrawals in the thousands of dollars. At that point, Adams became her aunt’s legal guardian, something she wished she had become when her aunt first needed in-home care.
“Her house was stripped of everything, “Adams said. “They had even bought my aunt a $50,000 car that they were using.” Adams’ aunt had dementia and had not been able to drive in many years. In the end, the caregivers stole as much as a million dollars, and unsuccessfully tried to gain title to some of her aunt’s rural property.
The caregivers were charged with counts of theft and neglect but ended up with only a slap on the wrist. They were banned from being caregivers or working in the nursing profession for three years, according to Adams.
Her aunt is now deceased, but Adams hopes that their story will help others struggling to care for elderly relatives.
David Vukelich is Supervisor of Adult Protection Guardianship for St. Louis County, based out of Duluth. County officials work with approximately 10,000 people each year, about five percent of the county’s population. And while many of the adults they work with struggle with mental health or chemical dependency issues, many are vulnerable senior citizens.
The first step, Vukelich said, if someone suspects an elderly person is being abused or neglected is to contact adult abuse reporting hotlines (see below). While the county is only responsible for seniors are classified as vulnerable adults, help is available for any senior through a network of non-profit organizations, he said.
Vukelich stressed that relatives can become legal guardians while not taking on the caretaker role. In addition, a conservator can be appointed to deal with financial matters. Many families choose to designate one family member as legal guardian and another as conservator, he said.
There are several types of guardianship, some more limited than others.
“Guardianship is a court process,” he said. There are background checks and investigations by social services to make sure the person truly is in need of guardianship help, and that the guardian is fit to act in that role.
“Power of attorney is a simpler document,” he said. “And it can be rescinded at any time. It gives limited authority to do things like pay bills and work with medical providers.”
Vukelich said a recent change in Minnesota law gives financial institutions the ability to refer cases of suspected elder fraud to social services without having to worry about legal liability (as long as it is done in good faith).
County social workers investigate reports of maltreatment for those considered to be vulnerable adults.
A vulnerable adult is anyone 18 years or older who:
Lives in a facility such as a nursing home, assisted living, or adult foster care.
Receives licensed services in their home such as nursing visits.
Has a physical or mental dysfunction that impairs their ability to care for themselves, and protect themselves from maltreatment.
Physical Abuse: slapping, hitting, kicking, punching, pinching, etc
Sexual Abuse: inappropriate touching, fondling, forcible sex
Emotional Abuse: yelling, harassing, threatening, put-downs, name calling, isolation
Caregiver Neglect: a caregiver not supplying adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical services or supervision
Self-Neglect: a person living in uninhabitable conditions, not attending to medical needs, not taking medications, etc.
Financial Exploitation: spending a vulnerable adult’s funds without permission, taking their Social Security checks, abusing power of attorney, and not providing for a vulnerable adult’s needs.
The Minnesota Vulnerable Adults Act provides immunity from civil and criminal liability when a report is submitted in good faith. The identity of the reporter is always kept confidential.
If you suspect an emergency, dial 911
Volunteers of America Minnesota has recently set up a guardianship information line, 1-844-333-1748. Volunteers of America offers many services and will make referrals back to St. Louis County, if needed.
Minnesota Elder Justice Center now has a Guardianship Complaint Advocate. This may be helpful for people who need an advocate or just want to understand their rights while under guardianship. The current staff person is Cate Boyko and her number is 651-440-9310.
When a person is concerned that a vulnerable adult is not able to meet their own needs and/or being exploited or maltreated by someone, they should call the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center (MAARC), 1-844-880-1574.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch website: http://www.mncourts.gov/GetForms.aspx has all the required documents for people who are pursuing guardianship and/or conservatorship. Often- times people are able to navigate this system without assistance.
The Better Business Bureau has a “scam tracker” to help detect financial scams that may target vulnerable as well as independent adults. https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us.
St. Louis County Adult Services can be found online at https://www.stlouiscountymn.gov/departments-a-z/public-health-human-services/adult-services or by calling 218-726-2366. Crisis helpline is 218-288-2100