The Public Guardian’s Office receives referrals and investigates cases to determine whether a person is in need of a guardian, and whether the Public Guardian is appropriate to serve as guardian for the person, estate, or both. A guardian may be necessary where the adult is disabled, unable to protect himself or herself from neglect, exploitation, or abuse, and needs assistance with making personal and/or financial decisions. The Public Guardian Investigator will inquire whether the alleged disabled person has at least $25,000.00 in assets or equity in real property. Under the Probate Act, the Public Guardian’s Office may be appointed to act as guardian only in cases where the disabled person has at least $25,000.00 in assets. See 755 ILCS 5/13-5. If the individual does not meet the, minimum statutory financial requirement, the Public Guardian’s Office may consider accepting a case if it appears that the individual has a potential cause of action with a recovery in excess of $25,000.00. Cases where the person has assets below $25,000.00 should be referred to the Office of the State Guardian.
Reasons for a Referral
Disabled individuals including the elderly are often at risk for abuse or neglect by family members, non-related individuals, or institutions in their community. Referrals to the Public Guardian’s Office are usually for actual or potential risk of abuse, neglect, or undue influence. Abuse can be physical, psychological, sexual, or financial. Neglect can be by a caregiver or self-neglect.
Financial exploitation of the disabled, especially among the elderly, is a growing problem. There are two general categories of financial exploitation: theft of income and theft of assets. Theft of income is more common among adults who live independently in the community. Community-based examples include door-to-door scams for “home improvements,” double-billing for goods or services, and solicitation of donations for fraudulent charities. In contrast, theft of assets occurs on a much larger scale and may include tax manipulation, forcible transfer of property, professional investment swindles, identity theft, bank-employee fraud, or advance-fee fraud.
Perpetrators use a broad range of abuse tactics, such as deception, misinformation, intimidation, and withholding of information. Another area of growing concern is identity theft, which may occur anonymously or by a known associate who inappropriately uses the person’s identifying information.
Information Necessary for a Referral
Referring parties should provide Intake Investigators with any information about the alleged disabled person’s powers of attorney or any trusts. If the alleged disabled person has valid powers of attorney and the agent is appropriately acting and willing to continue to act for the person’s benefit, the Public Guardian’s Office will not pursue guardianship in Probate Court. If the alleged disabled person’s assets are all in a trust, that person will probably not be appropriate for the Public Guardian’s Office. If the referring party believes the powers of attorney or the trust were created at a time when the person might have been suffering from a disability, undue influence, or other possible exploitation, inform the Intake Investigator. If you are unsure whether someone should be referred to the Public Guardian’s Office, call the Public Guardian’s Office and an Intake Investigator will assist you.
Intake Investigators also review medical information to determine whether the alleged disabled individual needs a guardian. If the alleged disabled person has not been receiving medical care by a physician, then the referring party will be asked to provide an account of circumstances, observed behaviors, or other information that may support a disabling condition rendering the individual incapable of making personal or financial decisions.
In order for the Public Guardian’s Office to effectively investigate a case, the referring party should be prepared to provide as much factual information regarding the alleged disabled person as possible at the time of the referral call. Try to have available as much of the following information as possible about the alleged disabled person before you call:
- address of current residence
- date of birth
- social security number
- names and contact information for family members
- employment history
- religion, cultural background, primary language
- medical information, including name of treating physician
- banking and other financial information
- information regarding the alleged disabled person’s personal property, such as cars, pets, and items in the home
- information regarding any real property the person may own or owned
- Powers of Attorney for Health Care or Property, and any trusts
- any pending legal matters or court cases
- any other relevant information
Once the Intake Investigator receives the necessary information about an alleged disabled person, a Field Supervisor from the Public Guardian’s Office visits the alleged disabled person at his or her residence. The field supervisor speaks with the alleged disabled person and other individuals in the home, assesses the home environment, and then makes a recommendation regarding guardianship. If guardianship is appropriate, the field supervisor proposes a care plan for the alleged disabled individual. A psychiatrist may visit the individual, and complete a report that accompanies the Petition for Guardianship, if appropriate.
After the initial visits with the alleged disabled person, the Intake Department determines whether a guardianship petition should be filed and the type of guardianship appropriate to meet the needs of the alleged disabled person. This decision is based on statutory mandates and the unique circumstances of each person.
Filing a Petition
The Public Guardian’s Office serve as a guardian of last resort and will not file a petition for guardianship if there are family, friends, or other interested party who are willing, able, and appropriate to serve as guardian.
The Public Guardian’s Office also does not file petitions to nominate third parties to be guardian for a disabled adult. If you are someone who seeks to be appointed as guardian for an alleged disabled person, you must file a petition with the Probate Court. In order to serve as guardian, you must:
- be capable of providing an active and suitable program of guardianship for the disabled person,
- be at least 18 years old,
- be a resident of the United States,
- not be of unsound mind,
- not be an adjudged disabled person as defined in the Probate Act, and
- not have been convicted of a felony, unless the court finds appointment of the person convicted of a felony to be in the person’s best interests, and as part of the best interest determination the court has considered the nature of the offense, the date of offense, and the evidence of the proposed guardian’s rehabilitation. No person shall be appointed who has been convicted of a felony involving harm or threat to an elderly or disabled person, including a felony sexual offense.
The referring party may be required to file a petition for guardianship nominating the Office of the Public Guardian under certain circumstances. If you make a referral to the Public Guardian, the Intake Investigator will let you know if you need to file a petition to nominate the Public Guardian. The Public Guardian will file a guardianship petition in Probate Court to initiate the guardianship process where appropriate.
To refer a case to the Public Guardian’s Office, please call 312-603-0800 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and ask for the Intake Department.