Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Guardianships Get a Safety Net

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Guardianships Get a Safety Net

Article excerpt

New Jersey needs to protect vulnerable adults better from being defrauded by their guardians, officials said Wednesday in announcing a plan to have volunteers monitor the records of the tens of thousands of elderly and disabled residents who are under court oversight.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said the state's judiciary will be putting out a call for attorneys, accountants, retired professionals and others to volunteer for a new guardianship monitoring program that will debut in Passaic County and spread statewide.

"We want people who can read and analyze simple financial reports," Rabner said.

The volunteers will be asked to pore over the annual reports filed in cases in which a guardian -- sometimes a relative or friend or sometimes an attorney or other professional -- has been appointed to manage the finances, medical care and housing choices of an incapacitated adult.

Those reports are kept in county surrogate offices, some of which do not have the staff to ensure the reports are even filed on time, much less reviewed, Rabner said.

"We know that monitoring practices vary throughout the state," said the chief justice, pointing out that some counties have until recently been relying on paper files rather than computerized records.

The volunteer initiative was triggered by a concern among judges that the swelling number of guardianships -- combined with shrunken budgets and staffs -- has left many of these cases untended. Unchecked, the abuse can continue for years. In 2009, Ridgewood attorney Steven T. Rondos pleaded guilty to improperly withdrawing $1.5 million from the guardianship accounts of two dozen clients between 2001 to 2008.

As examples of the kind of abuses that can occur, Rabner cited a 2004 case in which an Ocean County attorney stole a combined $2.6 million from 56 incapacitated clients under his guardianship and the 2008 case in which a Toms River minister who served as a social worker took $200,000 from 19 people under his watch. The chief justice said those abuses were uncovered because Ocean County has an accountant review guardianship case files. …

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