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Bar News - July 18, 2008

Probate Court Forms Task Force on Professional Guardians Will Address Legal Issues of State’s Aging Population

The Administrative Judge of the New Hampshire Probate Court has formed a new Task Force on Professional Guardians, which will address the expected increase in demand for legal guardians for the elderly. The state’s baby-boomer generation is aging. Estimates are that the percentage of the state’s population over 65 is expected to double by the year 2030.

"We recognize the need to insure that the guardians serving this vulnerable population are held to high professional and ethical standards and that they have adequate education, training and experience," Administrative Judge David D. King said.

Currently in New Hampshire, more than 5,600 adults have guardians appointed and supervised by the probate courts. In approximately two-thirds of the cases, family members are appointed by the court to serve as guardians who have legal authority to make important decisions that an elderly relative is no longer able to make on his/her own, such as where to live or what medications to take. There are a growing number of cases, however, in which family members are unavailable or unwilling to serve as guardians, or are reluctant to do so because of the responsibilities involved, King said.

The task force, which will be chaired by retiring Hillsborough County Probate Court Judge Raymond A. Cloutier, will consider appropriate qualifications and training to certify professional guardians and will look at ways that the Probate Courts can better assist family members who have agreed to serve as guardians.

"As a court system, we need to prepare for this dramatic change in our state’s population and the demands that will come with it," Judge King said, "and we need to make more resources available to assist family guardians who have undertaken tremendous responsibility by becoming the guardian of a loved one."

The percentage of the New Hampshire population over 65 was 12.4 percent as of 2005, according to the state Office of Energy and Planning. With the aging of the baby-boomer generation (typically defined as those born between 1946 and the early 1960s), the increasing number of retirees moving to New Hampshire, and advances in medicine, this number is projected to grow to 14 percent of the total population in 2010 and will double in the following twenty years to reach 28 percent by 2030.

Two non-profit agencies, the Office of Public Guardian and Tri-County CAP Inc., Guardianship Services, also provide guardians in more than 1,300 additional cases in which no family member is available.

"We are fortunate to have two excellent agencies that serve a large number of clients, but their resources are often stretched too thin to take on more cases," Judge King said. As a result, there are a growing number of cases in which there are no family members available or willing to serve as guardians, and the agencies are unable to accept the appointment. With the expected increase in the volume of guardianship filings, the gap of cases in which there are no available guardians is only expected to widen, King said.

There are now only a handful of professional guardians in the state who can serve in limited cases, continued King. There is, however, little formal structure governing how these professional guardians are chosen and qualified. The task force will focus on the current and future needs for professional guardians and develop a formal structure by which professional guardians are chosen and qualified.

In addition to Judge Cloutier, who served for 27 years on the probate court, the task force members include Linda Mallon, director of the Office of Public Guardian and a member of the board of directors of the National Guardianship Association; Donna Keddy, executive director of Tri-County Cap; Ken Nielsen, an attorney at the state Department of Health and Human Services who works with families and guardianship agencies; Denise McNulla, who works as a private guardian; Patricia Quigley, who had a private probate law practice for 25 years before she was named staff attorney for the Probate Court; and Roberta Woods, a member of the research staff at Pierce Law Center who has been working with the probate court.

For further information on the Task Force on Professional Guardians, contact the Probate Court Administrative Office, at 603-271-7525.



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