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Editorial - Time to fix state's guardianship law

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office recently prosecuted a legal guardian, Terri Ann Hauge doing business as Estate Resources, Inc., who was suspended from the practice of law in Minnesota in 1995 for lying to clients and mishandling cases.

Because existing law does not require disclosure of professional licensing actions, Hauge was subsequently appointed to serve as a guardian for dozens of vulnerable adults.

That was bad news for them: A complaint filed by the Attorney General's Office and court documents alleged that:

• In one case involving a ward under her care who only received $650 in Social Security per month, Hauge drained $22,666 from his bank accounts over a seven month period, leaving him with $34.

After Hauge was removed as his guardian-conservator, county social services found that he was living in a squalid apartment with no edible food.

In another case, Hauge refused to provide food or money to a ward who had just been discharged from emergency medical care, instead leaving him alone in a motel in an unfamiliar town without any money for food.

In the same conservatorship case, Hauge failed to pay the ward's bills and bounced dozens of checks, resulting in daily calls to the ward and his family from creditors seeking payment.

Instead of paying the bills, Hauge drained $4,170 from the ward's bank account, leaving him with a negative balance of $31.

In yet another case, Hauge cashed in a life insurance policy that was supposed to be set aside for her ward's future burial services. In this same conservatorship, Hauge also drained $4,656 from the ward's bank account, leaving her with a negative balance of $144 when she was ultimately removed as the woman's guardian and conservator.

Hauge was convicted of perjury, felony theft by swindle, felony theft by false representation, and felony financial exploitation for swindling and financially exploiting vulnerable adults out of tens of thousands of dollars while appointed as their guardian.

Why do we bring her case up now? Because now is a good time to improve state law to better protect vulnerable adults in Minnesota.

Legislation is in the works by Rep. Debra Hilstrom, chair of the Minnesota House Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Ron Latz, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office supports the proposed legislation, which it says would improve Minnesota's background check process for guardians and conservators and provide stronger safeguards against financial exploitation by:

• Expanding background checks to include whether a guardian or conservator has ever been denied a professional license by the state related to the responsibilities of a fiduciary duty, or whether they've had a license conditioned, suspended or revoked.

• Requiring that guardians and conservators disclose additional information that may bear on their soundness as a guardian, including whether they have filed bankruptcy, been found civilly liable for fraud or misrepresentation, have outstanding civil monetary judgments against them, or have an order for protection or harassment restraining order issued against them.

• Providing that background checks be conducted every two years, instead of every five years as the law currently provides.

• Requiring that guardians disclose the above information, as well as any changes in their criminal history, within 30 days of the incident.