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In the U.S., there are certain legal systems in place designed to protect the best interests of vulnerable adults. In the event that such an adult—often an elderly person—develops a disability that restricts their ability to make reasonable decisions regarding their care or property, the court may decide to appoint a guardian to handle such decisions on their behalf.

In many cases, the guardian is a close family member. However, if no such person is available to take on this role, the court will appoint what is known as a “professional guardian” to carry out these duties.

When a professional guardian is appointed to you, you’re giving a stranger access to all of your most personal files. They can spend money from your bank accounts as they please—and they don’t need to answer to any regulatory authority.

Such a scenario is a recipe for disaster. Numerous elderly people around the country have been bled dry at the hands of unethical professional guardians.

How can I avoid this?

It’s important to decide how you want your care and your finances managed—in the event that you can’t manage them yourself. Talk to family and friends about your plan. Delegate a person you know and trust to serve as your healthcare representative. This person should be able to make decisions under a durable power of attorney, and it should be someone who’s comfortable making healthcare and financial decisions for you. Draft and sign a document expressly stating whom you select.

We’d all like to think that we’ll remain mentally and physically sound until the day we die. But you can’t predict the future. In the event that you can’t make decisions for yourself, having appointed a trusted person to represent your interests in advance will prevent the court from intervening and assigning one for you.