Editorial: Court makes right move in guardian system review

It’s encouraging to see the New Mexico Supreme Court recognizes the need to review the state’s troubled system designed to protect individuals deemed by the courts to be “incapacitated” and placed under court-appointed guardianship, conservatorship or both. Chief Justice Charles Daniels says he and the other four justices plan to appoint a commission to undertake a comprehensive study of the issue – including public hearings – that will inform the court of its findings.

The court announcement comes after the Journal published a series of articles highlighting the problems faced by some families and loved ones when someone says an elderly family member can no longer fend for themselves and becomes a ward of the court.

The Journal investigation found New Mexico lags behind other states that have instituted reforms to improve transparency in the mostly confidential system, as well as make guardians and conservators more accountable to the courts, including requiring certification or licensing.

The Journal has interviewed many family members who have had a loved one placed under guardianship or conservatorship; they have shared unsettling stories of how the system divided relatives, squandered finances and sometimes prevented them from spending time with their “incapacitated” parent. Although the current system has served many families well, these testimonies leave no doubt that improvements are direly needed.

Daniels says if improvements are warranted, the court could seek legislation; recommend executive agencies enact greater safeguards, or change court rules. Former state Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, who tried to pass a bill in 2016 to permit visitation by family members of a loved one under guardianship, said at the recent Journal forum “baby steps” might be needed to get the reform ball moving.

What the state Supreme Court has done is a giant leap in the right direction.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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