John Oliver Explains Guardianship and How to Avoid It from Austin Estate Planning Lawyer Liz Nielsen


On his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver recently provided a scary, funny, and occasionally explicit explanation of how guardianship works.  The video is embedded above, and we encourage you to watch it (as long as there aren’t any children around!).

What is a Guardian?

As explained in the video, a guardian is someone appointed by a court to act on behalf of an individual who is under a mental or physical disability and as a result is unable to make responsible decisions about his or her care or property.  Any concerned person can petition the court to appoint a guardian.  The guardian could be a family member or, in some cases, a private professional guardian.

An estimated 1.3 million people are currently under guardianship.  If a court determines an individual is incapacitated, that person can lose many of their rights, from the right to vote in elections to the right to drive.

Guardianship Abuses

The show focused on the abuses of a professional guardian in Las Vegas, who was exposed in a recent New Yorkers article, “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights.”  Oliver explained that April Parks had over 100 wards under her supervision, some days billed over 100 hours, and stored the remains of her wards who had passed away in a storage facility. Parks was eventually arrested.

Oliver also explained how courts do not have the resources necessary to provide proper oversight. For example, he explained that in Texas, guardianship cases are often heard by county judges, who are elected and may have no legal training.  When Texas recently audited their guardianship cases, they found that over 3000 wards had died without the court knowing.

How to Avoid Guardianship

While guardianship often protects people who are incapacitated, this video highlights some of the things that can go wrong.  Oliver explained that the best way to avoid the need for a guardianship is to have honest conversations with your family about how you want yourself and your finances to be taken care of before the need arises.

In a star-studded Public Service Announcement by William Shatner, Lily Tomlin, and others, the show explains that the best approach may be to execute durable powers of attorney and health care proxies ahead of time so you can choose people you trust to make personal and financial decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself due to physical disabilities or incapacity.

With proper planning, guardianship can often be avoided.  If you would like to learn more about guardianship and how you can set up your own incapacity plan, please contact our office today.

Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area.  For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.