Garden City Park, NY: Though delivered with his usual Brit-voiced sardonic wit, the big story last night on comedian John Oliver's HBO show Last Week Tonight . . . was focused on the all-too-real problem of court-appointed "probate guardianships" for the elderly all over the United States.
The segment—which has also been talked about today by Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, and Rolling Stone, among others—explored in disturbing detail just how powerless our senior citizens truly are made while caught under the thumb of a corrupt court system; one that allows thousands of so-called "guardians" to go about stealing all manner of financial asset from them. One case in particular was discussed: the story of elderly Nevada couple Rudy and Rennie North, who found themselves suddenly assigned by court a guardian named April Parks. It turns out that Ms. Parks, who has since been arrested and faces over 200 felony charges for fraud and perjury, once had guardianship power over up to 800 court-declared elderly "wards" at the same time. And while it took nearly two years for Rudy and Rennie to break free of that guardianship nightmare with Ms. Parks, the fact of the matter is that the Norths have lost practically all of their hard-earned money in the process.
According to author Dr. Sam Sugar in his acclaimed new book Guardianships and the Elderly: The Perfect Crime (Square One, $19.95 USD / ISBN: 978-0-7570-0433-9), this kind of thing happens in America's court system each and every day—and though Dr. Sugar explains that it often goes unreported due either to fear or embarrassment, the reality is that there are more than one million cases of guardianship abuse taking place throughout the nation. As the co-founder and president of the non-profit advocacy group Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), Dr. Sugar maintains that the very best thing the elderly—and their families—can do is to keep open and healthy lines of communication open between everyone in the family, and to resolve any and all matters concerning elderly loved ones within the family and not within the courts.
As it happens, another of Square One's authors—legendary actor and improv genius Fred Willard—appeared at the end of Oliver's segment along with fellow older-age celebrity actors Lily Tomlin, Cloris Leachman, Rita Moreno, and William Shatner in an edited sequence about how viewers need to make any potential guardianship needs known to family and friends and to have those plans placed in writing above a formally witnessed and dated signature. During this time of great social disruption and financial crisis, making a decision early about how you want to be guided and looked after in your old age may be the most important investment you will ever make in your future.
UPDATE: Another story on guardianships appeared the morning of June 5 on the NY-centric website CityLimits.org, in which the frustrating story of Ms. Marian Kornicki (cousin to Square One's publisher, Rudy Shur) is shared in great detail. To see and share the story, click here.
Guardianships and the Elderly is available through Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.