An estimated 1.3 million adults are currently living under guardianship or conservatorship. Courts control roughly $50 billion of their assets.

An estimated 1.3 million adults are currently living under guardianship or conservatorship. Courts control roughly $50 billion of their assets.
Britney Spears' newly appointed lawyer Mathew Rosengart leaves the Stanley Mosk Courthouse following a hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. Spears was granted permission by a judge to hire a lawyer of her own choice. AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
  • US Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey asked for nationwide data on guardianships in early July.
  • A National Council on Disability report estimates there are 1.3 million active adult guardianships in the US.
  • Abuse by appointed guardians may include financial exploitation, neglect, and physical abuse.

In a July 1 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland, US Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey asked for comprehensive data on guardianships across the country.

Only a handful of states actually track and report "reasonably reliable" data on guardianships, also referred to as conservatorships in some states, and that data is often hard to sort through, draw conclusions from, or use to inform policy decisions, according to a 2018 National Council on Disability (NCD) report.

"There's no oversight and there really is no data. And if you think about how scary that is, you know, to have people who have no rights, they're in these guardianships that are potentially abusive, and there are no records being turned in, or they're not keeping track of the accounting," Marcia Southwick, director of the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse, told Insider. "You know, it's rife with problems and it's ripe for abuse."

One abusive guardian can wreak havoc for many families at once, Southwick told Insider. For example, in 2019, former Nevada guardian April Parks was sentenced to 16 to 40 years in prison for exploitation, theft, and perjury, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.

"She was not a guardian to me," said Barbara Ann Neely, one of the dozens of individuals in Parks' care, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. "She did not protect me. As each day passed, I felt like I was in a grave, buried alive."


Brenda Uekert, a senior research associate for the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), estimated that there are 1.3 million active adult guardianship or conservatorship cases and that courts oversee at least $50 billion of assets under adult conservatorships nationally, according to the NCD report.

In addition, the extent of elder abuse by guardians nationally is unknown due to limited data, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. Court officials from six selected states that the agency spoke with could not provide exact numbers of guardianships in their states and none consistently tracked the number of cases of elder abuse by guardians.

By 2034, older adults will outnumber children under the age of 18 for the first time in the US, according to Census Bureau projections. Coupled with the direct care workforce shortage, these factors could contribute to an increase in the number of court-appointed guardianships.

NCD cites several systemic problems embedded in courts' handling of guardianships, including a lack of information about alternatives, insufficient due process, and failure to monitor abuses.

"At the [guardianship] summit that I went to, the focus was really on also diverting it away from courts ... because they're overloaded with cases, courts can't handle them and that's the reason for the lack of oversight. It's not that all people are bad, it's that the system is so inefficient that it allows the bad people to get away with it," Southwick told Insider.


Britney Spears' conservatorship battle has exposed the public to the array of harmful acts that guardianship encompasses, including its most common form: financial exploitation.

"Ms. Spears' case has shined a light on longstanding concerns from advocates who have underscored the potential for financial and civil rights abuses of individuals placed under guardianship or conservatorship, typically older Americans and Americans with intellectual, developmental, and mental health disabilities," Warren and Casey said in their letter.