Qualifications

The qualifications of guardians and conservators, or lack thereof, have been the subject of federal inquiries. For example, in 2010, at the request of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, the GAO investigated the financial exploitation, neglect and abuse of seniors in the guardianship system. GAO investigators focused on 20 cases in which guardians stole or improperly obtained assets from incapacitated victims. In the majority of these cases, the GAO found that the potential guardians were inadequately screened and there was insufficient oversight of guardians after appointment. Furthermore, the GAO, using fictitious identities, obtained guardianship certifications or met certification requirements in four separate states. None of the courts or certification organizations used by those states checked the credit history or validated the Social Security numbers of the fictitious applicants.

The qualifications of guardians and conservators are typically discussed in terms of professional and public guardians and family guardians. In an increasing number of states, professional and/or public guardians are required to be certified or licensed. The Center for Guardianship Certification encourages all professional guardians to be certified through its program and administers certification programs for California, Florida and Oregon. The Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), in The Demographic Imperative: Guardianships and Conservatorships, noted the increasing number of states that implemented regulations requiring the licensure or certification of guardians (Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington). While certification and licensure are positive trends, COSCA warns that "they do not eliminate the need to screen potential guardians adequately."

State Units Overseeing Certification or Licensing Programs

Qualifications for family members or friends who serve as guardians and conservators tend to be minimal. For example, the National Probate Court Standards (Standard 3.3.11) recommend that courts appoint a guardian or conservator "suitable and willing to serve…" The commentary encourages probate courts to consider the training, education and experience of potential guardians and conservators to determine if they can perform the necessary tasks. Generally, preference is given to any written designation of a prospective guardian or conservator made by the respondent while competent. The Standards encourage courts to seek a guardian or conservator with the least potential for a conflict of interest. State laws may further determine who is qualified or disqualified (such as a convicted felon) to serve as a guardian or conservator. Increasingly, the use of background checks, bonds and participation in educational programs are being considered by probate courts as a means to determine the qualifications of potential guardians and conservators.

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