Understanding Guardianship in New York State

When older adults become incapacitated and require caretakers to make major property and financial decisions for them, an Article 81 guardianship is often put in place.

Article 81 guardianships are emergency proceedings that provide certain safeguards for the older adult or ward such as a healthcare plan or property management plan by his or her guardian. Yet, while Article 81 guardianships are well-intentioned, the guardianship system is plagued by long delays and has little oversight, leaving a vulnerable population of older adults at further risk. In fact, in New York State, there was no consistent or reliable research data on guardianship proceedings.

To understand more about how the guardianship process works in New York State, the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging undertook a comprehensive and systematic review of over 2400 guardianship case files in 14 counties across New York State commenced between 2002 and 2012.

Our research showed that the majority of those under guardianship were adults 65 and older and with incomes of less than $20,000/year. Guardians were most often family and friends, though county and non-profit personnel also serve as guardians, as do private practice professional guardians and non-profits. We also found that, on average, it took 211 days for a guardian to be appointed even though the New York State guardianship statute says that it should only take 90 days. The review of guardian activities was also sub-optimal: it took an average of 210 days for courts to review activities reports filed by guardians, even though statute mandates examination of reports within 30 days.

Our hope is that this information will not only fill a deep void in existing knowledge about guardianships, but will also serve as a foundation for legislative and policy changes to improve the guardianship process and outcomes for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Brookdale’s guardianship research has been featured in the New York Times.