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NM guardianship reforms take effect

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Multiple state agencies on Friday outlined the more stringent reporting requirements and oversight mechanisms meant to improve a New Mexico guardianship system rocked by recent scandals.

The changes come courtesy of a new law that took effect July 1.

Senate Bill 19 was designed to prevent abuse and exploitation of thousands of incapacitated people in the state who are under court-ordered guardianship or conservatorship. Guardians make personal and health decisions for those they oversee. Conservators manage finances and sometimes property of those under their charge.

The legislation opens guardianship hearings to the public — previously the law required those to be closed unless the incapacitated person requested an open hearing. It also restricts guardians’ ability to ban family members from visiting their incapacitated loved ones.

Recent changes also mean guardians and conservators must keep the protected person’s financial records for seven years and comply with requirements of any audit of the person’s account, inventory, report or property; and they must submit additional information about the person’s finances and health to district courts, according to a news release.

In addition, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Office of the State Auditor will begin a pilot project to audit and review guardianship and conservatorship cases, the release said.

District courts can now refer conservatorship cases to the auditor’s office for review and evaluation of the person’s financial affairs. The auditor also can randomly conduct financial and compliance audits of guardians for those served by a publicly funded program through the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and Office of Guardianship.

“All three branches of government — Legislative, Executive and Judicial — came together and worked cooperatively on guardianship reforms to promote and protect the well-being of New Mexicans unable to manage their own affairs,” Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura said in a statement.

The Legislature allocated $1 million to the Administrative Office of the Courts for guardianship reform, and a steering committee representing all branches of government convened to help with the law’s implementation and make recommendations about how to use the money, the release said.

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