CARSON CITY — The Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday heard two bills aimed at reforming Nevada’s guardianship system.
Senate Bill 360 puts tougher penalties in place for guardians who abuse and neglect elderly and vulnerable wards in their care. The bill allows prison sentences of up to 20 years for such cases. The current maximum is six years in prison.
Senate Bill 433 puts a mechanism in place to ensure a protected person can communicate with family and friends. Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty told lawmakers that the state’s guardianship commission had found protected people were often restricted in that regard.
“It starts with the presumption that guardians will not restrict someone from communication,” he said.
Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, told lawmakers that checks and balances are needed. She shared a story about a woman under the care of a guardian who was put into a group home, isolated from family, as her belongings were sold.
“The guardian acted like God, destroying this person’s life,” she said.
The Assembly panel also heard testimony that included support from Catherine Falk, the daughter of actor Peter Falk.
She told the committee of a lengthy legal battle to see her father, who was suffering from dementia, after her stepmother wouldn’t allow visits. Falk died in 2011 and was buried without his two daughters being notified; they found out through media reports. She now advocates for guardianship laws through the Catherine Falk Organization.
“We feel if a guardian is restricting visits unfairly or without real reason other than personal animosity towards the family or simply for convenience, the court should know about it by requiring real proof that isolation is necessary,” Falk said.
The committee did not act Monday on the bills, which have both passed the Senate unanimously.
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Protections for wards
Rights for those under guardians in the “Wards’ Bill of Rights” of Senate Bill 360:
■ Notice of all guardianship proceedings.
■ A copy of documents in guardianship proceedings.
■ A family member, interested party or medical provider can speak on behalf of a ward.
■ Participate in developing a plan for your care and managing assets and personal property.
■ Remain as independent as possible.
■ Be treated fairly by guardian.