Crist, Mace Introduce Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act

Washington, DC - U.S. Representatives Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) announce introduction of the bipartisan Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act, legislation that directs state courts to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) when a court-appointed guardian is removed for-cause, in order to block them from collecting Social Security benefits on behalf of the individual they have abused. This legislation was introduced following investigative reports revealing unscrupulous guardians who drain the assets of seniors in their care. The bill contains a new provision that would direct the Social Security Administration to report to Congress on the number of Social Security payments that are being diverted to non-family members as representative payees in order to help determine the number of Americans under guardianship – a statistic currently unknown.

Congressman Crist has been an ongoing advocate for guardianship and conservatorship reform to protect seniors and people with disabilities, having introduced two other bipartisan bills – the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation (FREE) Act and Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution Act (GAAP) Act with Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) – and co-led the Guardianship Accountability Act with Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

“If a guardian or conservator commits fraud or abuse against a senior or person with a disability, they should not be able to continue collecting those Social Security benefits,” said Rep. Crist. “Unfortunately, under the current system, Social Security and state courts that oversee guardianships and conservatorships aren't talking to one another. Our legislation would get everyone on the same page. This way, when a court finds that someone has been using guardianship to abuse a senior, the abuser won't get to keep collecting the senior's Social Security. As we did with the FREE Act and the Guardians Aren't Above Prosecution Act, the Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act is yet another commonsense step to protect seniors from unnecessary and abusive guardianships.”

Background on the Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act

As a general practice, if a state court determines that an individual lacks the capacity to make important decisions regarding their life and property, that court may appoint a guardian or conservator. The court may force the individual under guardianship to forfeit some or all of their decision-making powers, including the right to sign contracts, vote, marry or divorce, buy or sell real estate, decide where to live, or make decisions about their healthcare. As part of this arrangement, guardians are often given control of the  person under guardianship’s assets, including bank accounts, property, and pensions.

Separately, a guardian may be appointed as a ‘representative payee’ to manage federal benefits, like Social Security payments, received by individuals under their care. While the Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for overseeing representative payees, the state and local courts oversee the guardians themselves. Conceivably, there are instances, when a state has deemed a guardian unfit and removed the person under guardianship from the guardian’s care “with cause”, but that guardian could still be receiving their Social Security as a representative payee. In these cases, SSA would have no way of knowing that the state found the guardian unfit.

The Senior Guardianship Social Security Protection Act would increase communication between state courts who appoint/remove guardians and SSA's representative payee program. The bill would direct state courts to notify SSA upon removal of a guardian so that SSA can reassess the appropriateness of the former guardian remaining on as representative payee. The bill contains a new provision that would direct the Social Security Administration to report on the number of Social Security payments, broken down by state, that are being diverted to non-family members as representative payees to shine a light on the state of guardianships and conservatorships.

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