Published in Woonsocket Call on November 29, 2015
With the quick stroke of her pen, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed guardianship legislation into law during the 2015 legislative session that would help Rhode Islanders avoid costly and time-consuming red tape when exercising health care, financial and other legal responsibilities for their out-of-state, elderly loved ones. It takes effect on January 1, 2016.
Like motherhood and apple pie, the changes made to the State’s guardianship law had broad bipartisan support in the Rhode Island General Assembly. The House bill and a similar Senate companion measure (entitled the “Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act”) passed overwhelming by votes of 72-2 and 37 to 1, respectively.
Representative Robert E. Craven (D-North Kingstown) who Chairs the House Committee on Municipal Government, says his legislation (introduced with Representative Michael A. Morin (D-Woonsocket) simply helps to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. “When appointing guardians and instituting protective orders for adults, the law must be clear and concise to ensure someone’s rights are not violated while also keeping them safe,” he says, noting that the new law makes the rules and procedures very clear for this process and it will offer both the protected persons and petitioning guardians the legal causes and safeguards that are needed in such complex situation,” he said.
Fixes Jurisdictional Issues over Guardianship
According to Division of Elderly Affairs Director Charles J. Fogarty, the new law “provides consistency, reciprocity, and procedural efficiency in the best interest of seniors, creating a hospitable and healthy Rhode Island for our elders.”
Fogarty says that the new law would benefit caregivers in many way. It clarifies state jurisdiction issues and even facilitates the transfer of guardianship from one state or another. It also would enhance interstate recognition and enforcement of guardianship orders and simplifies communication and cooperation between courts.
Fogarty notes that Rhode Island’s new guardianship law is a law that 37 other states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have already enacted, allowing for cooperation on and simplification of inter-state issues. “It will be easier for out-of-state caregivers to focus on supporting their loved ones as opposed to becoming mired in current laws. This legislation ensures that seniors and caregivers don’t waste time and resources in cases involving simultaneous and conflicting jurisdiction,” he says.
“We are very pleased that our staff, our terrific State House advocacy volunteers and a strong network of partners worked hard together to ensure that Rhode Island became the 42nd jurisdiction to enact the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Now, Rhode Island joins the national effort that focuses on care, not courts, by removing the barriers that prevent caregivers from providing for their loved ones, regardless of where they live.”
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s recent report “Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update,” the number of caregivers in our state is 134,000. Their work has an economic value of $1.78 million. That, Connell said, is why AARP Rhode Island strongly supported the legislation and was joined by judges, lawyers and families throughout Rhode Island.
Many Benefits, No Cost to Rhode Island Taxpayers
Connell notes that when the uniform guardianship jurisdiction becomes law, it will carry no cost to taxpayers and makes no changes in the state’s substantive guardianship procedures. However, Rhode Islanders will benefit as it will save them time and money. In addition, they will be safeguarding the health and financial well-being of their loved ones.
“It may seem very technical,” Connell continued. “But the bottom line is easy to understand: We all recognize that we are a mobile society, and with that we need laws pertaining to caregivers and their families to reflect that reality. AARP strongly supports legislation that removes barriers that prevent guardians in Rhode Island from providing for their loved ones, regardless of where they live. “For Rhode Islanders, the uniform guardianship act is a step in the right direction to help protect the interests of vulnerable incapacitated adults who need guardians,” Connell said. “With this law, our guardianship system will function more efficiently, fairly, and cost-effectively.”
Court-appointed guardians step into the shoes of at-risk adults who can no longer make their own decisions, and make judgments about property, medical care, living arrangements, lifestyle and potentially all personal and financial issues. As a judicial proceeding, guardianship can be expensive, time-consuming and combative. It can remove fundamental individual rights. It can prevent or redress elder abuse – or can create an opportunity for exploitation or abuse of vulnerable adults.
This new uniform act addresses initial jurisdiction regarding a guardianship case; recognition of one state’s guardianship orders by another; and interstate transfers of guardianship cases when such transfers would benefit the incapacitated person.
Another key reason AARP strongly supported enactment stems from concern over elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. It will reduce the enticement of a vulnerable person to another state ― to gain control over assets. The law now will permit a court to consider which jurisdiction can best protect a person subject to abuse, and facilitate communication between courts in different jurisdictions about allegations of abuse.
Partners included the Uniform Law Commission. The Commission provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived, and well drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law. In addition, the Act has a broad range of support from organizations including the National College of Probate Judges, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, National Guardianship Association, Conference of Chief Justices and the Alzheimer’s Association.
With the graying of Rhode Island’s population commonsense laws like the “Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act” need to be enacted. Last session, state lawmakers worked together to pass this legislation that makes guardianship system more efficient, less time-consuming and costly for Rhode Island caregivers. At no cost to Ocean State taxpayers. Hopefully, best policy practices from across the nation can be brought to the Rhode General Assembly for full consideration. If it happened once it might just happen again.