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Financial misconduct by legal professionals acting as guardians hits record high

Kyodo

The number of cases of financial misconduct by legal professionals serving as guardians for people suffering dementia or intellectual disabilities hit an all-time high of 37 in 2015, a Supreme Court survey obtained by Kyodo News showed Wednesday.

Financial damage totaled some ¥110 million in 2015, signaling the need for a crackdown on such misconduct as the aging nation increasingly relies on adult guardianships to care for the more than 4 million people with dementia.

But the number of misconduct cases involving all types of guardians, including family members, fell from a year earlier. It was the first such fall since June 2010, when the top court began keeping track of such incidents. The survey is based on reports from family courts nationwide.

The number of cases involving all guardians stood at 311 in 2011. It rose to 831 in 2014 before dropping to 521 in 2015. With respect to incidents involving specialists, such as lawyers, judicial scriveners and social workers, the figures were six in 2011, 22 in 2014 and 37 in 2015.

The survey also showed more specialists now serving as guardians. The proportion of specialists exceeded 50 percent in 2012 for the first time, and rose to nearly 65 percent in 2014.

The current guardianship system was launched in 2000 to support adults who lack the capacity to make complex decisions, such as on the handling of their savings or contracts to enter nursing homes.

Earlier this month, the Diet enacted a law to encourage the use of the system after the government found that relatively few people have legal guardians, even though there are such high numbers of dementia sufferers.

The law also aims to strengthen oversight of family courts and other bodies to prevent fraud by guardians. In some cases, embezzled money was used to bet on horse racing or to buy luxury products.

As part of efforts to tackle embezzlement by guardians, a system was launched in 2012 in which people can place their money in trust banks to prevent their guardians from withdrawing it without specific instructions from family courts.