Senate Bill 506 – now Act 61 of 2023 – marks a significant stride in protecting vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation within the guardianship system. Currently, Pennsylvania has more than 19,000 active guardianships. While many serve their intended purpose, some result in devastating abuse and exploitation. Recent trends indicate an alarming increase in the frequency of guardianship appointments.
“Guardianship is a meaningful way to provide protection and assistance for individuals no longer capable of handling their financial, legal and treatment circumstances. However, we have been alerted to cases where individuals have been victimized by guardians who are not properly trained or operating under sufficient supervision. Such fraud cannot be tolerated,” Baker said. “In other cases, full guardianship has been awarded when a lesser arrangement better serves the needs of the individual. This bill strengthens requirements, procedure and accountability to reduce the potential of fraud and allow for options other than full guardianship when circumstances warrant a lesser surrender of control.”
The key provisions championed by Baker and Haywood include:
- The automatic appointment of counsel.
- Exploration of alternatives to guardianship.
- Measures to prevent prolonged stays in the system amid changing circumstances.
In addition, it also mandates training and screening for professional guardianships, enhancing the review process for current cases to ensure the utmost dignity for those under guardianship.
Baker and Haywood believe this legislation will significantly contribute to preventing fraud, abuse and exploitation within the guardianship system while increasing representation for vulnerable individuals.
“Act 61 of 2023 adds essential protection for vulnerable individuals from bad guardians, like those who stole from my neighbor, Mr. Frisby,” says Haywood. “The criminal exploitation of Mr. Frisby by his guardian forced him to sell a property he owned. Sadly, it was too late to help him when I found out about this.”
“I first introduced this legislation in 2017, in partnership with then-Senator Stuart Greenleaf; and since, I have continued to fight for people like Mr. Frisby who are subject to legal guardianship,” Haywood continued. “With collaboration and support from Sen. Baker, I am proud to see this bi-partisan legislation has passed with unanimous consent out of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and was immediately signed into law by Gov. Shapiro.”
The legislative milestone builds on the groundwork laid by the late Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, with Baker and Haywood introducing legislation to move the issue forward. Numerous organizations offered input and assistance in advancing the measure including the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Disability Rights PA, AARP, Community Legal Services, Pennsylvania Bar Association, and Pennsylvania Elder Law Attorneys, SeniorLAW Center, Disability Rights Pennsylvania, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of Elders, Achevia, and the Philadelphia Bar Association.
“Sens. Baker and Haywood should be commended for the recent passage of Senate Bill 506, which brings Pennsylvania guardianship standards and requirements into the 21st century.” said Paul Stengle, Arc Alliance CEO, Certified National Guardian and National Guardianship Association Board Member. “It will help protect persons who are under guardianship from abusive neglect. We are looking forward to working with both legislators in the future.”
Jen Wilson (Baker)
Wallace Weaver (Haywood)