Who’s caring for mom? Elder guardianship becoming a big issue

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — As the American population ages, AARP says more people face the prospect of losing control of their lives to court-appointed guardians or guardianship agencies.

WGNO's Susan Roesgen has the story of a New Orleans man and his brother, fighting to regain the care of their 93-year-old mother.

"She was put in guardianship in 2012, and she doesn't understand why she was put in guardianship," Doug Franks said before the Flordia legislature. He lives in Atlanta, Ga., Doug's brother Charles lives in New Orleans.

Four years ago, they couldn't agree on who should take care of their mother, Ernestine, so a court ordered them to choose a guardian. They chose a company called Gulf Coast Caring Solutions.

Worst mistake of their lives

"She's a prisoner of her own home. She's not allowed any outside visitors," Charles Franks said. "For her to sit by herself, every day, by people she doesn't know — strangers ... It's very sad."

The guardianship agency allows Charles and Doug only one, 3-hour visit with their mother each week. Doug is allowed one, 15-minute phone call each day. The rest of the time, a sitter stays with Ernestine in her home — guarding the door.

Despite repeated requests for an interview, the owner of Gulf Coast Caring Solutions, Terry Bush, declined to be interviewed for this story.  She told WGNO she didn`t want to comment because the brothers are suing her company, to try to regain control of Ernestine`s care. In court documents, the company maintains that Doug and Charles upset their mother during visits and phone calls, and a judge has agreed.

Louisiana law is tougher 

As it is in Florida, Louisiana law leaves guardianship disputes in the hands of civil court judges. But Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino says Louisiana makes it hard for a guardian to take over.

“One that requires clear and convincing evidence that the person is incapable of handling their own affairs or their person within a reasoned, consistent manner,” Ciolino explained.

Still, he says as we all get older, guardianship will become a bigger business, and Ernestine Franks' sons say:  beware.

"I've been court-ordered not to post any pictures of my mother anymore. I've been told to be quiet.  But I'm not going to be because I can't be.  She's my mom, and she's the most important thing in my life.  And she will always be the most important person!"

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