Financial misconduct by lawyers and others serving as guardians for incapacitated adults risks ruining public trust in the adult guardianship system just as the government is promoting it in response to the growing needs of the nation's rapidly aging population. Steps must be taken to stop the wrongdoing by people who are supposed to be helping those who have lost the ability to make decisions on their own due to such problems as dementia by managing their assets and signing contracts on their behalf.

Most of the reported cases involve the close relatives of incapacitated persons who are found to have abused their court-appointed position as guardian. But an increasing number of cases — although still relatively small — involve professionals such as lawyers, judicial scriveners and certified social workers.

Under the system that has been in place since 2000, adults who have lost their full ability to make decisions due to dementia and intellectual and mental disabilities — as well as their relatives and administrative officials — can file requests with the family court to select guardians to support them in managing their assets and signing contracts. Last year, there were a record 34,782 applications at family courts nationwide to use this system.