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Who is the best conservator and guardian for your loved one?

What happens when an elderly loved one needs someone to handle his or her financial affairs as a conservator? What if they also need someone to take charge of their day-to-day welfare as a legal guardian? Is it better to have a family member of a professional handle the job?

It depends. There are some very good professionals out there who can assist family members with their elderly loved ones by either handling the conservatorship or guardianship entirely or by just advising the family members who are willing to take on the jobs. A competent professional can often ease family tensions -- especially if there are allegations of elder abuse or financial manipulation. Professionals can often resolve a lot of issues when family members can't agree on how to handle a senior's affairs by providing unbiased guidance.

However, there are also a number of court-appointed conservators and guardians who view their jobs as nothing more than an opportunity to make a lot of money -- and they don't care that they're doing it at the expense of the people they are supposed to protect from such abuses.

According to a review performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2010, some conservators and guardians who make their living that way end up abusing, neglecting and outright stealing from their clients. After examining just 20 cases of conservators and guardians who handled multiple wards, the GAO determined that the court-appointed representatives illegally obtained around $5.4 million from a total of 158 victims.

Experts say that the problem of financial exploitation and abuse of incapacitated seniors is getting worse. America's aging baby boomer generation is in more need than ever of representation -- and the courts are appointing representatives without in-depth investigations. The rules in place designed to stop abuses of the system are hardly foolproof.

So, what's the best thing for your loved one? Consider working with an elder law attorney you can trust to find the right person for the conservatorship or guardianship position. That way, you won't be relying on the court to pick the right person.

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