Podcast: Families ripped apart by guardianship disputes

Former Florida guardian Rebecca Fierle was arrested last year and charged with aggravated abuse of an elderly person after she signed a do not resuscitate order on behalf of a 75-year-old man in her care — against his will — and he died when his feeding tube was capped.

That’s just one of the dark stories you’ll find if you start researching guardianship disputes around the nation.

I’ve spent the past couple of months working on a podcast about guardianship cases for AARP’s The Perfect Scam podcast. It’s a heartbreaking topic, full of raw emotion, and attacks on vulnerable people, families torn apart by this difficult phase of life. It’s also a complex tale, but I hope we’ve told it well, and I hope you’ll give this week’s episode a listen. Click on the image below to reach AARP’s podcast page, or find The Perfect Scam wherever you listen to podcasts. A brief transcript excerpt follows the link.


It’s one of the most heartbreaking realities of life; people get to a point when they can’t make decisions for themselves about their money, about their own health, and about where they live. Legal authority is granted to someone else. A court-appointed guardian is named to make these decisions. About 1.3 million people in the US are currently guardianship: 85% of them over 65. Guardianship is a process that involves families, lawyers, guardians, healthcare providers, and state courts. It’s an awesome responsibility with the goal of looking after the person’s best interests. It’s not always easy for a judge to decide what’s in the best interest of a vulnerable adult or who is best to make decisions for them. More often than not, a judge will appoint a family member, however, sometimes a judge may appoint a professional guardian, especially if there is family conflict or no family or friends are available or willing to serve as the guardian.

As you can imagine, these cases can be complicated and extremely emotional, and they have sometimes served as an unfortunate way for bad actors to take advantage of vulnerable adults.

00:04:39] (news clip) “Now to a news alert out of Marion County. A former Florida guardian at the center of a statewide scandal faces aggravated abuse and elderly neglect charges. Investigators say Rebecca Fierle signed a “Do No Resuscitate” order for a 75-year-old. His name’s Stephen Stryker, against his own wishes. Stryker died…”

“Susan and William Harris were caught in Oklahoma after fleeing New Mexico and failing to show up for sentencing in what’s known as the Ayudando Guardian’s case. The two stole 11 million dollars from those under the guardianship’s care. Susan Harris…”

“Four people are facing more than 250 felony charges for crimes against the elderly. Well they’re taking plea deals. And their conviction’s bringing to an end what Chief Investigator Darcy Spears started nearly four years ago. The most significant guardianship exploitation case in Nevada…”

“Lawyers with the District Attorney’s Office spelled out what they could prove if this case did go to trial, including multiple billing scams, charging for unneeded services, and…”

“Paul Donesdorf ran the nonprofit trust for 10 years. In February, he pleaded guilty to stealing nearly 7 million dollars from DSLM accounts. He was sentenced to…”

(Click here to listen to the podcast)

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About Bob Sullivan 1638 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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