In the Adult Guardianship Division, the Cook County Public Guardian, Robert F. Harris, serves as the court-appointed guardian for individuals adjudicated disabled by a judge in the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Public Guardian can act as the legal guardian of a disabled person only by Probate Court appointment. The Public Guardian's authorities and responsibilities are bound by the Probate Act of 1975 and other relevant statutes. The Public Guardian may serve as guardian in the following capacities: Plenary or Limited Guardian of the Estate and Person, Plenary or Limited Guardian of the Estate only, Plenary or Limited Guardian of the Person only, or a combination of limited and plenary guardianship. Plenary guardianship gives full authorities and responsibilities to the Public Guardian to make decisions for the disabled person. Limited guardianship gives some authorities and responsibilities to the Public Guardian; and the disabled person retains some decision-making about his or her own person or estate. As guardian of the person, the Public Guardian is responsible for the personal well-being of the disabled person. As guardian of the estate, the Public Guardian is responsible for the disabled person's finances, legal matters, and personal and real property.
In certain situations, the Public Guardian may be appointed to serve as temporary guardian for an "alleged disabled person." An "alleged disabled person" is an individual who has not been adjudicated disabled by the Probate Court, but is a respondent to a pending Petition for Appointment of a Guardian for a Disabled Person. This means that the Public Guardian's Office or a third party has filed a petition alleging that the individual is disabled and a doctor's report accompanied the filing of the petition, but the Probate Court has not made a legal determination as to whether the respondent is disabled.
The Public Guardian’s Office serves as guardian for persons with disabilities age 18 or older. Currently, the Public Guardian serves as guardian for more than 800 individuals and manages more than $100 million in collective ward assets. The Public Guardian strives to maintain the maximum level of independence for his wards, about a third of whom live in their homes in the community with appropriate care. Approximately 80 cases are under investigation in the Intake Department every month. Approximately 70% of the disabled adults served by the Public Guardian's Office are over the age of 65. About 49% of disabled adults suffer from dementia, Alzheimer 's disease or other mental (organic) degenerative disease; 31% severe mental illness; 12% developmental disabilities; 3% traumatic brain injury; and 6% stroke-related brain damage, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, Asperger syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other disabling conditions.
Financial exploitation of the elderly and those with disabilities is a growing problem in our society, which is reflected in the Public Guardian’s cases. Approximately a third of all intake referrals involve financial exploitation. The Public Guardian has a special unit, known as the Financial Recovery Unit, that sues exploiters to recover stolen funds. This unit has been extremely successful, having recovered more than $33 million over the past eight years.
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