I’m going to let you in on a little secret; tell you one of my biggest fears. As an attorney who regularly appears in court, it’s certainly not public speaking. It isn’t spiders or airplane rides or needles, either. It’s not even that most common of fears, death. One idea that truly terrifies me is that, someday in the future, I might be all alone, advanced in age, and unable to competently handle my own affairs. That I will someday have to put enormous trust in someone else, possibly even a stranger, to make sure that I keep a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my pantry. If what I’m describing scares you, too, I can certainly relate.
My fear is occasionally stoked by terrible stories of tragedy in the news. One such story was that of Leonard Gunderson, who was found dead in his Reno apartment in 2008. Faced with deteriorating health and a severely diminished capacity to manage his own affairs, Mr. Gunderson had given power of attorney to one Sharnel Silvey, appointing her to be his legal guardian. Unfortunately, with effectively no court oversight, while Mr. Gunderson essentially starved to death in his own home, Ms. Silvey abandoned him, took all of his money, and spent it on luxuries for herself. She was eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
Mr. Gunderson’s story is indeed terrifying. However, his story — and others like it — prompted the Nevada Supreme Court to take action last year, specifically by creating the new Commission to Study the Administration of Guardianships in Nevada’s Courts. Chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Hardesty, the Commission’s stated objective is to, “review the processes for creating guardianships . . . , judicial training, and any resources available or needed to assist Nevada’s courts in administering guardianships.” Ultimately, the Commission seeks to write new guardianship rules for the state and to develop “a new model for Nevada guardianships.” They plan to act quickly, such that the tragedy that befell Leonard Gunderson and others will not be repeated.
Guardianships are an important tool in my family law and estate planning practice. Handled properly, a guardianship can be a very effective safeguard for an elder (or otherwise vulnerable person) against financial and physical ruin. I and my colleagues working in Nevada’s Family Courts welcome the Supreme Court’s new Guardianship Commission, and we look forward to learning about and implementing its recommendations. In the meantime, our office will continue to put all reasonable safeguards in place to ensure that our guardianship clients are adequately protected. If you have questions or concerns about Nevada guardianship, or if the thought of ending up like Mr. Gunderson has you — like me — losing sleep at night, I encourage you to give us a call.