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Aging Commission discusses guardianship bill

Roswell Aging Commission member Chelsea Seaton, second from left, talks about some of her legal experiences with guardianships and conservatorships at a Thursday meeting of the advisory group. Sheriff Britt Snyder, left, gave information about protections against scams and efforts to reduce crime in the area. Other commission members shown are, from the left of Seaton, Lynne Ybarra, Bonnie Montgomery, Marifrank DaHarb and Renee Swickard. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A New Mexico Senate bill concerning guardianships could be a way to prevent some of the criminal abuses of fraud and theft by guardians of the elderly that have been reported statewide by the news media, according to some members of the Roswell Commission on Aging.

Senate Bill 19, the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act, sponsored by James P. White (R-Albuquerque) and Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque), would cover both minors and adults.

But people attending the Thursday meeting of the Commission on Aging at the Senior Circle on North Main Street focused on how the bill might protect the elderly from misuse of assets or harmful isolation from family and friends.

A series of articles appearing in the Albuquerque Journal in late 2016 described how some elderly in New Mexico had their finances drained by for-profit corporations appointed as guardians or conservators, with no interventions by family or others allowed when problems were suspected, and some court judges exercising little oversight over people given control of the elderly person’s care and finances.

Senate Bill 19 would adopt a national standard developed by the Uniform Law Commission regarding the appointment of guardians and conservators. Among the changes the bill would propose is opening court records to interested parties when questions arise about care or finances. Under current New Mexico law, many guardianship and conservatorship records are sealed from family members or others with questions.

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Commission member Chelsea Seaton, a lawyer whose practice includes elder law, said that she does not think the excesses discussed in articles or by commission members have occurred here.

“I have not seen those types of situations in Chaves County,” she said. “Our judges are excellent in that they do do their due diligence and hold people who are appointed to the highest standards. I am very pleased to say that I have not seen those situations in Chaves County.”

Ybarra said she knew that in prior years, there were reasons for concern regarding for-profit companies.

“I did work for one of those corporate guardians many years ago,” said commission member Lynne Ybarra. “And one of the problems was that, the way those codes were written for New Mexico, there was not that much financial review of what was going on. They were reviewing the agency’s finances, but they were not reviewing how they handled individual client’s finances.”

Also at the meeting, guest speaker Britt Snyder, Chaves County sheriff, talked about some topics of interest to the group, including avoiding scams and crime reduction efforts.

“You cannot believe the number of scammers that are out there who are trying to find ways to extract money from you,” Snyder said, “whether that is a phone scam or any number of things.”

He described a recent call he received from an elderly woman who was about to send money to a caller who had convinced her that he was her grandson and needed money to get out of jail. Snyder said he knew within moments of talking with her that the deal was a scam, but it took some time to convince the woman.

He urged people to talk with his office, the Roswell Police Department or bank officers before turning money over to people who cannot be positively identified as a trusted individual, especially if the request for money is coming over the phone or internet.

Snyder also told people that some types of crimes in areas over which his office has jurisdiction have decreased. He said his office’s coverage area does not include any municipalities and represents about 14,000 people out of the 65,000 living in the county.

“My crime numbers are down, so that is encouraging,” he said. “My larcenies are down. My burglaries are down, and actually by quite a bit over the last three years.”

Arrests for Driving While Intoxicated charges increased, he said, to 88 people in 2017.

He added that drug use and drug distribution is at the root of a great deal of crime in the area.

“That’s what drives most of our crimes, especially our violent crimes,” he said.

He described a program announced this week involving the Sheriff’s Office, the Roswell Police Department, the Roswell Fire Department and Recovery Services of New Mexico that has succeeded in reducing drug-related problems in other cities. The Roswell Angels Program will allow drug users to turn themselves in so that they can be entered into a treatment program rather than arrested.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.