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Pepper, 87, Asks U.S. Rules on Guardianships

September 25, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The oldest member of Congress, saying elderly Americans should have "the same protection a criminal is entitled to in court," called today for federal standards to protect senior citizens from unwarranted or abusive guardianships.

Rep. Claude Pepper, 87, chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging's health subcommittee, opened a hearing today on problems in guardianship procedures with a litany of state inadequacies--including the fact that advanced age is a cause for guardianship in 33 states.

"I wonder if they'll get me," Pepper said. "I'm 87. I have to be on the alert."

Under the procedures, which vary from state to state and sometimes from county to county, guardians are appointed to take control of the property and personal affairs of elderly people who are judged infirm or incompetent.

Pepper, a Florida Democrat, said only 14 states require that an allegedly incompetent person be informed of his or her legal rights; 8 states don't require that the person be told someone is petitioning to become his guardian; 15 states do not specify that an elderly person has the right to counsel; only 16 states require that the elderly person be present at the competency hearing, and only 12 states require medical evidence to back up a claim of incompetency.

Will Seek Uniformity

Pepper said he will work for uniform state laws or action by Congress to make sure the elderly are protected.

The Pepper hearing was called in large part because of a series of Associated Press stories this week on the troubled guardianship system. In 43% of the 2,200 cases studied by the AP, senior citizens were taken through court proceedings without an attorney representing them.

The AP estimates there are 300,000 to 400,000 elderly Americans under guardianship, according to testimony submitted by AP Managing Editor William E. Ahearn.

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