Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pennsylvania Poised to Adopt Uniform Guardianship Jurisdiction Legislation


Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act

In the United States each state has developed its own distinct system of protecting adults who need the assistance of a guardian. The multiplicity of potential state jurisdictions means that confusing issues and conflicts frequently arise when an incapacitated person has some presence in more than one state. 

Consider the problems that can arise in the following "snowbird" situation. (This scenario is based on a number of problem situations described in a letter provided by the Alzheimer’s Associaton in support of Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act.)

Alice and Bob are an elderly couple who are residents of Pennsylvania, but they spend their winters at a rental apartment in Florida. Alice has Alzheimer’s disease, and Bob is her primary caregiver. In January, Bob unexpectedly passes away. When Steve, the couple’s son, arrives in Florida, he realizes that his mother is incapable of making her own decisions and needs to return with him to his home in Nebraska. Florida, Pennsylvania and Nebraska have not adopted any uniform laws for determining which state should deal with Alice’s need for a guardian. 

Steve decides to institute a guardianship proceeding in Florida. The Florida court claims it does not have jurisdiction because neither Alice nor Steve have their official residence in Florida. Steve next tries to file for guardianship in Nebraska, but the Nebraska court tells Steve that it does not have jurisdiction because Alice has never lived in Nebraska, and a Pennsylvania court must make the guardianship ruling. If these three states adopted a uniform set of laws which specified which state should have jurisdiction of Alice’s case, the Florida court initially could have communicated with the Pennsylvania court and directed Steve to the proper forum. 

The situation can be even more complicated, expensive, and destructive to a family when multiple children get involved.  If the siblings do not agree, lawsuits may be filed in multiple jurisdictions while allegations of “granny snatching” start flying.

There is a path to simplifying the multi-state issues that arise when an adult needs a guardian. The Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA) has been enacted in a majority of states (but not in Pennsylvania as of May 5, 2012). UAGPPJA addresses the many problems relating to multiple jurisdiction, transfer, and out of state recognition.  It establishes a roadmap for communication, uniformity and reciprocity between states. It includes a requirement to recognize guardianship decisions that occur in a different state and provides direction on how courts should handle guardianship cases that span state boundary lines. But it can only work when all the states involved have adopted the uniform law. 

Now Pennsylvania appears poised to enact UAGPPJA. House Bill 1720 will adopt the uniform jurisdiction law in Pennsylvania.  It passed the House by a unanimous vote (196-0) on October 26, 2011. The bill is now awaiting concurrence by the Pennsylvania Senate. 
   
House Bill 1720 of the PA version of the UAGPPJA is organized into five Subchapters:
·        Subchapter A (Sections 5901 to 5906) contains definitions and provisions designed to facilitate cooperation between courts in different states.
·        Subchapter B (Sections 5911 to 5919) is the heart of the Act. It lays out the rules for determining which court has jurisdiction to appoint a guardian. The goal is to clearly locate jurisdiction authority in one state alone except in cases of emergency or in situations where the individual owns property located in multiple states.
·        Subchapter C (Sections 5921 and 5922) specifies a procedure for transferring guardianship proceedings from one state to another.
·        Subchapter D (Sections 5031 and 5932) deals with enforcement of guardianship and protective orders issued in other states.
·        Subchapter E (Sections 5991 and 5992) contains boilerplate provisions which are typical of uniform laws.

HB 1720 is an example good government at work. Readers of this blog may wish to contact their state Senator to urge passage of this important legislation as soon as possible. You can find your Senator and learn how to contact him or her by clicking here.

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