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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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State Guardianship: Prison or Protection?

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The Houston Press has run a series of articles on the case of Margie Hill, whose experience illustrates the difficulties and dangers of the state’s efforts to grapple with the issue of a growing population of elderly poor. The government program designed to help elderly folks like Margie instead became her own worst nightmare.

Late last year, Harris County officials mistakenly deemed Hill abandoned at a local hospital and forcibly made her a ward of the county, then opposed family and friends who came forward to care for her.

Luckily for Hill, she had the backing of Houston’s prominent Liddell family, which formerly employed her as its housekeeper. Patriarch Frank Liddell is a partner at corporate law firm Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP.

If not for her well-connected benefactors, Hill almost certainly would have spent the rest of her life in Lexington Place Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, a dreary and unsafe facility along Houston’s North Loop.

From Todd Spivak’s Articles for the Houston Press: Taking Care, Previous Stories on Margie Hill

Issues of Capacity, Best Interests Easier in Theory than in Practice

The purpose of guardianship programs like the one that intervened in Margie’s case is to manage the affairs of adults who are incapacitated. The growing population of elderly brings a growing population without any other recourse. For these, guardianship is the last resort for both the ward and the state. It’s a relationship meant to exist ‘only to the extent necessary to promote and protect the well being of the person,’ but it’s clear the lines differentiating someone who belongs in the guardianship system from one who doesn’t aren’t clear enough to those managing the system. Once in, the system isn’t flexible enough to let them out.

Further Research on Capacity and Guardianship: Gallery & Kierney, Representing a client with diminished capacity: Where the law stands and where it needs to go; Knauer, Nancy, Defining Capacity: The Competing Interests of Autonomy and Need (See Part III on reforms ‘to preserve individual autonomy: state guardianship laws [reflecting] a distrust of the supposedly benevolent exercise of the state’s parens patraie authority and seek to restrain state power.); Doron, Israel, Elder Guardianship Kaleidoscope – A Comparative Perspective, Barry Yeoman, Stolen Lives.

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