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Nevada Legislature looks to reform guardian program

Updated March 29, 2017 - 7:56 pm

CARSON CITY — Four measures aimed at implementing reforms to Nevada’s problem-plagued guardianship programs are intended to clarify “who is watching the guardians,” a Senate panel was told Wednesday.

Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the multiple bills are needed because there are “a lot of areas in need of repair.”

Four of the bills heard by the committee came from a Supreme Court commission appointed to review the guardianship process. A fifth measure sponsored by several lawmakers was also reviewed.

Hardesty said two other bills resulting from the work of the commission are awaiting consideration in the Assembly.

The proposals come amid a push for increased oversight and stricter rules in Nevada’s guardianship courts, which annually handle more than 3,000 cases across the state.

SUPREME COURT DIRECTIVE

The Nevada Supreme Court commissioned a panel to analyze issues in the guardianship courts after a Review-Journal report in 2015 detailed a lack of oversight that left wards vulnerable to fraud. Wards are people under guardianship who are deemed incapacitated unable to care for themselves.

Hardesty said the commission proposed 14 court rules for guardianship management, as well as 16 recommendations for changes to state law for the Legislature to consider.

Another recommendation is for the attorney general’s office to change its elder abuse investigation process from a civil review to a criminal action.

One of the most important measures is Senate Bill 168, which would establish a “Bill of Rights” for wards, who would become known as protected persons if another legislative measure wins approval.

Hardesty said there are 17 protections specified for wards in the measure to ensure they are treated with respect and dignity.

Another important measure, Senate Bill 433, would increase a fee on documents filed with a county recorder to fund legal aid services or legal counsel for indigent individuals who may need a guardian, Hardesty said. The fee would increase from $1 now to $4 under the proposal.

The vast majority of people in need of guardians are indigent, relying only on Social Security and Medicare, Hardesty said.

“We should not treat these people as second-class citizens,” he said.

Barbara Buckley, a former Assembly speaker who is now executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, cited a case where an elderly woman had a professional guardian appointed on her behalf, without any notice to the family. The woman’s house and its contents were sold without her say, Buckley said.

When the son living out of state sought to exert control over his mother’s finances, the guardian used the woman’s income to fight the son’s effort, Buckley said.

HELP FROM THE STATE

Buckley’s office got a boost last year when lawmakers approved $400,000 for help with guardianship cases from a settlement fund overseen by the attorney general’s office. Buckley said the funding has been used to hire two attorneys, and the office now has 100 pending cases. In a review of the first 19 cases, seven people were found not to have needed guardianship at all, she said.

Problems with guardianships continue, however. A Clark County grand jury indicted several individuals this month on felony charges stemming from multiple guardianship cases.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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