Guardianship practice in Pennsylvania and particularly in Philadelphia is changing.
- Philadelphia Orphans’ Court’s appointment of a Guardianship Investigator;
- New PA Supreme Court Guardianship rules will soon be effective;
- A state-wide Guardianship Tracking System is being implemented;
- Philadelphia’s new Elder Justice and Civil Resource Center and Elder Access Committee chaired by Judge Woods-Skipper;
- The PA Supreme Court’s Office of Elder Justice in the Courts which implements recommendations of the Supreme Court’s Elder Justice Task Force.
These developments, among many others, demonstrate the dedication of our City and State to protecting Incapacitated People. Recent news coverage of Guardianship in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Reading Eagle, and other publications, have highlighted problems in the system. Changes to address those problems are now being implemented in some PA counties, including:
- State and federal criminal background checks;
- Certification of professional guardians (3 or more guardianships);
- Better training for the courts, attorneys representing alleged Incapacitated Persons, and lay guardians;
- On-line video training for lay guardians;
- Guardianship Bench book for judges.
These additions begin to set a clearer standard for who is qualified to serve as guardian and what is expected of a guardian.
However, these changes do not address one of the biggest problems: the shortage of qualified guardians. To fill the great need, the court seeks volunteer attorneys to act as guardian. Serving as guardian can be both rewarding and extremely challenging. Philadelphia lacks a robust pool of professional guardians, nonprofit guardian agencies, and adequate resources and support to allow family guardians to succeed. This shortage is a pressing issue posing the greatest risk to the most vulnerable Incapacitated People.
To implement the guardianship system envisioned in our legislation, we need support for professional and family guardians. A Guardianship Support agency could help family guardians to fulfill their fiduciary duties and also serve as guardian in cases where there is no other qualified person willing to serve.
The Legislature has codified the need for such an agency. 20 5551 Pa. C.S. states “there is a need for agencies to provide services…to serve as guardian when an individual is found to need a guardian and no other person is willing and qualified to serve and to provide services to courts, guardians and others”.
The Legislature has not provided funding for the creation of such an agency. Guardianship practice does not only affect the Incapacitated Person and their loved ones. Financial institutions, trust companies, nursing homes, and hospitals all have an interest in ensuring the guardianship system is functioning properly. These stakeholders working together can achieve their common goal.
Please come back to our blog to stay up to date on the changes occurring in guardianship practice.