Guardianship, and abuse that may occur after its implementation, can affect people of all backgrounds and circumstances. Anyone, for instance, can suffer from decisions about medical care or living arrangements made by a guardian of the person who does not have their best interest in mind. And while wealthier individuals stand to lose more money or assets at the hands of an exploitative guardian of the estate, they are also more likely to have had the resources to engage in personal and estate planning earlier in their lives. Such advance planning can protect assets and often helps avoid guardianship down the line.
Furthermore, adults and families with greater resources who would like to litigate a guardianship matter can afford to hire attorneys in private practice. Recognizing the various challenges and barriers experienced by low-income individuals facing or under guardianship, and the paucity of free legal assistance in this arena, SLC launched a project called “Access to Justice in Guardianship” in October 2020 (made possible by funding from the Independence Foundation and pro bono assistance from Stephen A. Feldman of Feldman & Feldman). SLC’s mission is to pursue justice for older Pennsylvanians, especially the most vulnerable. Our diverse staff of over 40 attorneys and advocates
serves over 10,000 older adults each year in a wide variety of critical legal issues.
The purpose of the “Access to Justice in Guardianship” project is to advocate on behalf of low-income older adults who are facing guardianship proceedings or who are experiencing exploitation, neglect or other problems involving a court-appointed guardian. We provide full representation to older Philadelphians facing or subject to guardianship; we advise older Pennsylvanians with guardianship questions through the PA SeniorLAW Helpline (1-877-PA SR LAW); we advocate for legislative and policy changes to reform guardianship and improve access to justice for older adults; and we educate the community about guardianship and less-restrictive alternatives. With assistance from Penn Memory Center and other partners, SLC is now exploring how to expand supported decision-making—a practice increasingly used to avoid guardianship for “younger” adults with stable intellectual and developmental disabilities—to an older adult population that may experience progressive cognitive decline.
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