The Lead

Senate Judiciary Committee advances bill strengthening guardianship laws

By: - June 6, 2023 2:12 pm
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania lawmakers voted to strengthen the state’s guardianship laws, hoping to prevent exploitation when someone is legally appointed to make decisions on another’s behalf.

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted in favor of legislation — authored by Sens. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, and Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia — creating more checks and balances in the system, which has more than 19,000 active guardianships across the commonwealth.

“Guardianship can be an essential and effective means for safeguarding the interests of people who suffer some incapacity, impairing their ability to make responsible decisions for themselves,” Baker, who chairs the committee, said Tuesday. “Some weaknesses in the system have become apparent, and some sad cases of financial exploitation make reform of the system imperative. This bill will ensure greater accountability in our state’s guardianship system.”

The bill requires the courts to automatically appoint counsel to those going through the guardianship process who don’t already have an attorney and to consider less restrictive options before enacting guardianship. The bill also proposed training, screening, and certification for professional guardians.

Cases such as Britney Spears’s conservatorship have demonstrated how the court-appointed representative’s control strips someone’s ability to make decisions for themselves. Even the Netflix thriller “I Care A Lot” highlighted how the guardianship system can take advantage of older adults.

The legislation was drafted after Haywood’s neighbor, Mark Frisby, was taken advantage of by a guardian and was forced to sell his home in Montgomery County.

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