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In many cases, guardians meet a need

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Professionals who are regular participants in New Mexico’s guardian/ conservator court system say they are a necessary part of protecting the rights of the elderly from unscrupulous or abusive relatives and outsiders.

To be certain, there are many elderly people who are unable to fend for themselves, have no close relatives and need a court-appointed guardian relationship.

Ruth Pregenzer, whose law firm deals extensively with elder issues, told the Journal, “Guardian and conservatorships have grown up to meet a need,” a reference to the aging baby boomer generation. “We’re not living anymore in a society where families take care of each other,” she said. “Oftentimes, families are all over the country.”

There are many kind and trustworthy lawyers, guardians, conservators and caretakers who operate with compassion and good intentions within New Mexico’s elder care system. In addition, cases involving elders often include courtroom discussion of their mental competence and medical conditions that must, under law, be kept confidential.

As for some families’ contention that there is a cottage industry of for-profit professionals who control much of the business within a tightknit group, Nancy Oriola, CEO of elder care firm Decades LLC, told the Journal, “I believe that the professionals who refer Decades make a conscious effort to not engage in the activity you describe.”

“We rotate the work of all professionals we hire — be it attorneys, Realtors, caregiving agencies, estate liquidators, etc.,” she said.

According to a 2013 task force report prepared for the New Mexico Senate, there could be as many as 10,000 guardianships and conservatorships active in the state courts.

During an interview in her chambers recently, 2nd Judicial District Judge Shannon Bacon indicated the number is much higher now.

Referring to the 10 civil court judges who handle those cases in Albuquerque, Bacon said, “Eight of the 10 have over 1,000 (total) cases each.”

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