Commission To Investigate Elder Guardianship

RENO, NV - If we are lucky we hope to live a long life. But there is a chance you may run into health problems and need help. That's where hopefully someone trusted can come in and assist with your personal welfare as well as take care managing your finances. That doesn't always happen. Nevada's Supreme Court hopes by examining the guardianship system in our state, improvements can be made with more accountability.

In 2008 in a Reno apartment complex, Reno police found 70-year-old Leonard Gunderson dead.

“He looked like a prisoner of war when he was dead, just skin and bones," says Roy Stralla, Washoe County Deputy District Attorney

Stralla says the investigation led to 43-year-old Sharnel Silvey, to whom Gunderson signed over power of attorney.

"That was the biggest mistake he could make because, basically, she took all of his money. She was supposed to take care of him. She let him die on his couch in his apartment in his own feces,” says Stralla.

He says when Silvey found Gunderson dead, she cleared the remaining money out of his bank account she had not yet spent-- went to a spa, shopping spree, and paid off her car.

The judge ordered her to serve up to five years in prison.

"That case was one of the most satisfying I've had as a prosecutor in my 20 years. Because I think in her own mind, she believed she didn't do anything wrong. And the jury disagreed with that,” says Stralla.

Gunderson's power of attorney was handled privately. Most guardian-type cases are handled this way and unfortunately while the Silvey case is extreme, there can be abuse. That's even if the guardianship is handled and overseen by courts.

Judges decide if a person is appropriate for such a task; systems are set up to account for money and the ultimate care of the elderly person. But in Clark County, so-called guardians for hire have skirted the court system, gained control of homes and all of the possessions, leaving family members out of any decision making.

How big a problem is this statewide? Are judges adequately trained in this area? What will guardianship case loads be in the future?

That's what Chief Justice James Hardesty intends to find out with the Supreme Court Guardianship Commission.

“The statues are actually pretty effective in our state. They provide effective accountability. But is the system making those participants in this process accountable?” says Hardesty

Hardesty may appoint up to 20 members from the public and private guardianship system. Public hearings will also be scheduled.
Commission findings should be released by the end of December 2015.