Imagine a system of justice in this country that strips its citizens of their Constitutional rights, voids their existing legal documents, gives others the right to spend their money and sell their assets, isolates them, and has the ability to limit the time they can spend with their loved ones. While you may be thinking of the criminal justice system, the previous description refers to a parallel system that preys on the elderly and is determined to deem them unable to care for themselves. It is a system that allows those in control to take full advantage of their “wards of the state”legally and under the watchful eyes of judges. It is called guardianship.Guardianship exists in every state, and while it has gone under the radar for many decades, Dr. Sam Sugar’s new book, Guardianships and the Elderly, sheds light on this system, which enables those in-the-know to commit “the perfect crime.” Dr. Sugar, a licensed physician and president of the AmericansAgainstAbusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), as well as a victim of the system himself, has written a unique guide that can be used by anyone caught up in the world of guardianship.The book begins by looking at the history of guardianshipfrom ancient times till today. It then provides a clear overview of how this system is set up to workfrom the triggers that set it off to the different groups of people that make up the process: the judges, the guardians, and all their associates. The book goes on to detail the responsibilities given to these players and describes how easily they can manipulate the system to their own advantage. It also presents an accurate picture of just how difficult it is to free a family member from the system. There are things loved ones can do to fight the system, to be sure, but many obstacles and pitfalls await them in the battle. This book is meant to prepare the reader for these eventualities and includes a comprehensive glossary, a helpful resource section, and a number of documents that may prove useful in the pursuit of real justice.While the press has exposed some of the most heinous crimes committed by guardians, for the most part, those who know how to work the system continue to plunder their victims’ estates. Guardianships and the Elderly is designed to explain the guardianship process clearly and make the reader aware of the common violations carried out by court insiders and their affiliates. The information found in this book can serve as a powerful tool when it comes to uncovering their crimes.
|Publisher:||Square One Publishers|
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About the Author
Sam Sugar, MD, is a medical doctor and a founder and president of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), an organization designed to help expose the corruption of this nation’s guardianship systems. Dr. Sugar received his MD from the Abraham Lincoln College of Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He achieved certification as a specialist in internal medicine from the American Board of Internal Medicine and was distinguished as a fellow of the American College of Physicians. He has served as the director for managed care at Evanston/Northwestern Healthcare, and has taught at both Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the Chicago Medical School.In 2014, after experiencing the horrors of guardianship firsthand, Dr. Sugar and Ms. Lidya Abramovici, another victim of the system, teamed up to create the Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG). Currently, Dr. Sugar lives in Hollywood, Florida, with his wife, Judy.
Read an Excerpt
AcknowledgmentsExposing a monolithic scheme that exploits people just like you can be a very lonely undertaking. Writing a book like this is also a very personal experience. In my case, I was able to draw on the people and incredible stories I’ve been dealing with in my role as founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), as well as the advice of my parents. My experience in the practice of internal medicine for over forty-five years was instrumental in helping me understand the fallout, both physical and emotional, of being involved in this egregious “industry” of elder abuse.My parents survived the Holocaust, making me a second-generation Holocaust survivoran identity that I have only recently begun to embrace, but one that surely influenced my determination to expose this governmental scheme that destroys people and families. My parents taught me the nobility of fighting against all odds to survive. They insisted that their childrenmyself and my two brothers, David and Michaelalways comport themselves with integrity. Although my parents were not the beneficiaries of higher education, their strength of will and purpose made them seem far more noble to me than any of my very highly educated circle of friends and colleagues.Ibecame passionate about this subject and decided to write this book after having been exposed to the guardianship process through the experiences of a loved one. I witnessed how overwhelming the guardianship process can be and how seemingly impossible it is to prevent or stop. This ordeal introduced me to outrages that I have since seen repeated countless times in the American professional guardianship industry.I hope that through this book those suffering as a result of guardianship will derive some solace, and that this scheme will now become something other than a secret weapon unleashed on so many individuals and families.Early on, I developed a relationship with the late Latifa Ring, whose own personal experience with guardianship ultimately killed her with what I believe was a stress-induced malignancy. She was one of the first people to recognize the evil nature of guardianship and fought with every ounce of her being against it.Attorney Ken Ditkowsky, from my hometown of Chicago, is another advocate who continues to expose the evil that is abusive guardianship. His vast experience in the law has been of great assistance to me in understanding the nuts and bolts of what guardianship should be, as well as what it actually is.I met Lidya Abaramovici by accident and found that we had both suffered from the slings and arrows of guardianship. We developed a wonderful working relationship. Without her, none of the accomplishments of our group would have been possible. She is a dynamo and a true warrior for justice.Another warrior is Doug Franks, who spent every waking moment of his life fighting for the freedom of his mother, Ernestine, until her passing, and even since then. He endured threats of incarceration and enormous monetary sacrifice to let the world know what guardianship did to his mother and family. Driving around all of Florida with his “Free Ernestine” banner prominently displayed on his car probably brought more attention to this cause than anything else.Lynn and Alan Sayler have been unwavering supporters of our work. They are committed to seeing justice done for victims like Lynn’s mother, who died in guardianship.Attorney Greg Coleman, former president of the Florida Bar Association and a member of the Judicial Qualifications Committee, has been generous with his time and advice since the week he became president of the bar. He showed compassion and understanding of the issue and has always been a friend and a resource to me.John Pacenti, an extraordinary investigative reporter in Palm Beach, Florida, called me at the very beginning of my journey in guardianship and wanted a story from me about the subject. At the time, I was so terrified that I refused to speak to him or give him my full contact information. He persisted and, some time later, he and I began a collaboration that has spanned half a decade and resulted in the most striking exposés of the abject corruption in Palm Beach Circuit Court. John is a brave and courageous man who stands up for the truth and for people who have been so badly injured by the court corruption he writes about. I am honored to call him my friend.Attorney Michael Schlesinger of Miami, Florida, has allowed me to retain a little faith in the legal profession. He has done his best to help my family and the countless others who have been referred to him. His candor, professionalism, and diligence were exactly what we needed in a time of desperate legal peril, from which he helped us escape with his expertise in our appeal to the third District Court of Appeal in Miami.From the time I met her near Orlando, Florida, where we filmed our documentary Broken, Kelley Smoot Garrett has been a brave, wonderful, and dedicated colleague. Her energy, skill, and dedication are endless. Without her and her expertise in IT, our message would have reached far fewer people.A very special thank you to my great friend Jon Huntsman Sr., whose generosity and faith in me allowed for the creation of AAAPG and all it has accomplished.I want to thank Ally Cirruzzo and Michael Weatherhead, my editors, as well as Anthony Pomes, at Square One Publishers, for their tireless work on this project. Their patience and skills were the glue that held it all together.The victims of abusive guardianship who call us for help deserve recognition as well. I hope that over time, the number of victims, the number of guardianships, and the number of horrific stories will decrease.My wife Judy is a special woman. Her strength of character and love for me sustained me in times of trouble. Her courage and wisdom in the face of adversity has sustained me and given me hope. Without her love and support this book could never have been written. I love and treasure you, Judy. This book is in honor of you and in loving memory of Chayele.
Table of Contents
Part 1. The Basics1. What Is Guardianship?2. What Triggers Guardianships?3. The Equity Court Structure4. The People in the Guardianship Industry
Part 2. Where It All Goes Wrong5. Incapacity6. The Judges7. The Guardians8. Guardianship Tricks of the Trade9. The Lawyers & Probate Activities10. The Estate Liquidators11. The Money & Property Managers12. The Caregivers13. The Abridgment of a Ward’s Rights & Advance Directives14. Guardianship Abuse & Its Consequences
Part 3. Fighting the System15. Probate Traps & Tricks16. Preventing & Fighting Guardianship17. Alternative Dispute ResolutionConclusionGlossaryResourcesAbout the AuthorIndex
What People are Saying About This
"Dr. Sugar has provided an invaluable service to the public by writing Guardianships and the Elderly. As an elder law attorney, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is over the age of sixty, who has friends or relatives over the age of sixty, or who cares about seniors and the disabled. This book is well-written, easy to understand, and is an extremely informative work that will be an invaluable source of information for those who want to learn about the inner workings of guardianships and conservatorships." Cheryl Mitchell, Esq.
"Years ago when I began fighting for changes to the deplorable situation in the guardianship system for the elderly within Nevada, it began as a one-month editorial and grew into what is so far a four- year Odyssey. The battle raged on across our state from Clark County to the legislature in Northern Nevada, and our "rag-tag team" won many battles. Suddenly, we were not fighting alone as our goal came to spread the word across the United States . . . we heard about a man by the name of Dr. Sam Sugar, who has picked up the banner and marched on and leads the challenge for our most vulnerable. Hopefully, after reading his new book more people will know how not to fall victim to “Isolate . . . Medicate . . . Steal the Estate” . . . Vegas Voice-Elder Hub is proud to be part of Dr. Sam's efforts. Congratulations on your new book, Doc."
Introduction“We used to fear getting cancer,
now we fear guardianship even more.”
Family members of a victim of guardianship
We all pray for long life in hopes that our golden years will be spent in comfort, harmony, and peace, and that the assets, money, and property we have accumulated over our lifetimes will be distributed to or inherited by our loved ones as we wish and see fit. But in America, no matter how well you have planned, no matter how painstakingly your estate plan has been created, no matter how much you have or do not have, there lurks a serious, shadowy threat to every elderly citizen’s well-being and the execution of their end-of-life wishes.Worse, it is a threat that is rapidly growing throughout the country and leaving in its wake plundered estates, broken families, and the shattered lives of those who have been deemed “incapacitated.” This threat is called professional guardianship, and unfortunately, the quote above aptly represents the feelings of many of those who have experienced this all too powerful court-based process.There is a good chance that the average American has never heard of the legal process involved in imposing and carrying out guardianships. It is also likely that you equate the term “guardian” with the word “protector.” And as a legal process, without a clear understanding of what a guardianship actually entails, it would likely conjure up something designed to help people in needa process in which a court is able to see after the welfare of an individual.However, once a family becomes embroiled in the actual process of a professional guardianship, a true picture emerges of a process that would, in any other circumstance, be deemed illegal and certainly unconstitutional. While there are various types of legal guardianships, the ones we will focus on in the coming chapters are professional, forprofit guardianships (also known as conservatorships and simply referred to in this book as “guardianships”) in which a court hands over absolute control of the life of a person who has been procedurally and legally deemed incapable of adequately taking care of him or herselfand who has assets. These assets can include homes, savings and brokerage accounts, jewelry, and social security payments, as well as any property of value. The judges and courts that manage and implement this system as part of the judiciary in every state are governed by statutes and special court rules unique to each one. These rules, regulations, and standards are interpreted and administered under the direction of a specific kind of court and, in many cases, by specific judges. Generally, it is the state probate court that deals with adult guardianships.Although probate courts may be referred to by different names from state to state, their tasks remain essentially the same. These tasks include responding to and establishing the need for a guardianship to be put into place; selecting the guardian or guardians to oversee and manage the ward’s finances, living conditions, and healthcare; monitoring and/or setting fees and living expenses taken from the ward’s assets; monitoring the guardian’s duties and obligations; and ending the guardianship expediently based upon a legal proceeding or upon the death of the ward.On the face of it, a guardianship sounds reasonable. A ward, whom the courts deem as unable to take care of herself under this system, can be looked after through the care and guidance of a court-appointed professional guardian. Any costs involved would be paid for by simply withdrawing funds from the ward’s assets under the watchful eyes of the court administrators. The ward would be safe and protected from exploitation, abuse, and neglect, and her family relieved from the work of caring for an elderly person, all under the watchful supervision of a benevolent judge. Sounds good!Unfortunately, over the years, all across the country, the guardianship process has not only broken down, but has morphed into a dangerous system working above the law and in violation of the basic freedoms granted to each of us under the Constitution of the United States. It is yet another example of the veracity of the old adage, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”As you will see, these professional guardianships have become immensely profitable sources of income, not only for the guardians and the people they hire, but also for the lawyers and judges who oversee the process. The profit motive that now drives the professional guardianship system relegates actually providing care and support for an elderly person to a minor, trivial matter. So often, wards’ basic needs are of little concern to the busy guardian.Many wards are routinely handed off to inexperienced low-level caregivers, whom they depend on for their very existence. Amazingly, the ward’s family, who no longer have any control over her life, can only watch to see what living facility or nursing home she is placed in, who her doctors are, or which medications she is prescribed. Even if the ward has legally set forth her wishes for end-of-life care and inheritance distribution prior to the establishment of the guardianship, those documents are no longer enforceable under the rules of guardianship. For the families, it is a terrifying and helpless feelingmultiplied a thousand-fold for the helpless piece of property known as the ward.It may not seem like this could happen in the United States, but it goes on every day through the guardianship programs in place throughout the country. So why have you not heard of these abuses? The fact that you have not may very well be by design.The system is quite content to fly under the radar. And yes, every once in a while, you will read about a guardian who is convicted for embezzling very large amounts of money, like:
- Patience Bristol of Las Vegas, Nevada, a former professional guardian who is now in prison after pleading guilty to exploitation of a vulnerable person. She “tapped the accounts of her [four] wards to cover her sizable gambling debts and personal expenses,” totaling $495,000 in just one case.
- April Parks, also of Las Vegas, a professional guardian whose criminal sentence is pending after an $8.5 million-dollar civil judgment.
- Paul Donisthorpe of New Mexico, who was convicted after stealing millions of dollars from the elderly and disabled through his trust company, Desert State Life Management. He was sentenced to eight to twelve years in prison and must pay over $4 million in restitution to the victims of his crimes.
But even that is only a blip in an endlessly large ocean of casht that court insiders extract every year with no fear. They know how to play the system, and lawyers especially are not very worried about being prosecuted because they are “legally” working within a system ripe for abuse. A judge’s signature makes everything and anything they do “legal.”On the other hand, if you are familiar with the injustices of guardianship, you and your family may already be one of the thousands of people entangled in this unfair system. And the likelihood of being involved in a guardianship is increasing daily. Ten thousand baby boomers a day are turning sixty-five years of age. Projections based on demographics alone predict an enormous increase in the number of individuals with dementia or other forms of incapacity who will be trapped in involuntary guardianship over the next five to ten years. As many as one million new American wards have been created in the last decade alone.I am a guardianship family survivor, a board-certified specialist in Internal Medicine, an advocate for the elderly, and a certified guardianship examining committee member. I have witnessed firsthand and studied in depth the many glaring flaws in the way allegedly incapacitated individuals are treated in this bewildering court-based system of intrusion into the personal lives of innocent citizens.As founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, I have had the opportunity to attain an in-depth insider’s knowledge that, through the countless personal stories of our subscribers, paints a terribly disturbing picture of American guardianship so vividly. By telling those stories and the lessons learned from them, the average citizen can better understand what is, by design, an incomprehensible system so powerful as to rule over life and death.Guardianships and the Elderly is the result of the combined efforts of myself and my dedicated colleagues to make this information public and accessible.WHAT’S IN THIS BOOKThe information you will find in this book is designed to provide a clear picture of how this system works and how it does not. You will be introduced to two very different perspectives of modern-day guardianship in the United States.First, to understand guardianship and how it has evolved, you will learn details about what guardianship statutes were intended to accomplishthe way the system is supposed to work. But from a second, very real life perspective, you will learn how this complex and sometimes brutal system actually does work. The discrepancies between these two perspectives are glaring.We will examine the critical differences between the types of courts that function as courts of equity, rather than courts of law. This critical distinction is what allows probate courts to function without juries and without any oversight or discipline. These courts and the judges who rule them are fully responsible for monitoring and disciplining guardians they appoint, but as you will see, there are innumerable conflicts of interest that impede the ability of the court to perform its work properly.Next, we will explore the reality that guardians across the country are not licensed or meaningfully supervised in any way, and more importantly, often have little or no formal training, education, or background in the complex task of taking total responsibility for the life of the ward assigned to them. We will examine the guardian’s roles and see how they are trained, supervised, and disciplined.Then we will delve into the world of guardianship attorneys and understand how their connections to guardians and judges allow them to reap rewards for the mountains of paperwork they create, which do far more to protect the guardians than the innocent, vulnerable individuals. We will analyze the guardianship industry court insiders and their numerous downstream stakeholders, and why they are able to so greatly profit from the assets of wards.You will learn what happens when anyone, including family members and even lawyers with years of experience, attempts to protest against seizure of civil rights and assets by the judges in charge. You will also discover some of the most common traps in the legal maze that disadvantage the uninitiated.Finally, I will present critical tips to prevent abusive guardianships and suggestions for how to effectively rescue a ward trapped in one.And much more.This information is critical to every member of your familybecause this guardianship catastrophe could easily happen to you. I offer this book to shed light on this powerful industry, so that potential wards and their loved ones can be better educated and prepared to protect their loved ones and even prevent an unnecessary guardianship from ever taking place.So let’s begin to understand how this all came to be.