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Elder abuse

A state Supreme Court panel moved closer last week to proposing a series of reforms designed to protect vulnerable seniors from predators masquerading as their protectors. Meanwhile, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt announced the formation of a task force to coordinate law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute such cases.

Both are welcome developments.

The moves stem in part from a Review-Journal series highlighting dysfunction in Clark County’s guardianship system, which exists to safeguard the assets of senior citizens whom courts have determined can no longer manage their own affairs. In some cases, however, those appointed to look after the financial assets of the infirm or incapacitated used their access to raid bank accounts, sell property or otherwise drain the resources of the person they were charged with sheltering.

Even more distressing, many of these so-called guardians are family members.

Such cases are difficult to prosecute because the victims are often intimidated into silence or unable to cooperate with the authorities.

The attorney general’s announcement on Thursday included the creation of a fraud investigator in his office to work with local law enforcement agencies on matters involving elder exploitation. The move is intended to prod police and prosecutors to take these cases more seriously – which they should. It’s of little solace to victims whether the criminals who robbed them used a gun or a power of attorney. It might also be useful for the judicial system to more vigorously monitor these guardians.

A day after Mr. Laxalt’s announcement, the Nevada Supreme Court commission studying the guardianship issue heard from District Court Judge Cynthia Dianne Steele, who revealed that about half of the 3,800 cases currently in the system were out of compliance with state law. Many either lacked an initial inventory of assets – making it impossible to determine if any shenanigans had occurred – or were missing annual reports required by the state.

Judge Steele noted that new software in place will flag files that lack the required paperwork, a development that should help as long as those in the system follow through on the information. Encouraging such due diligence should be high on the list of the commission’s recommendations.

And so should the issue of legal representation. Judge Steele informed the panel that 85 percent of seniors in the Clark County guardianship program were not represented by an attorney during the process. That’s too high. Ensuring that incapacitated seniors have a lawyer in these cases might help discourage illegal activity and increase the odds that any suspicious actions will come to light.

There’s a not-so-special place reserved for those who prey on physically or mentally vulnerable seniors. Last week’s developments move us closer to ensuring that such stone-hearted souls end up there.

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