Elder law and estate planning attorneys H. Kennard Bennett and Sara McClammer thought there had to be a better way.
The founding partners at Bennett & McClammer LLP in Indianapolis have experience serving as court-appointed guardians as well as having been given power of attorney and named a personal representative of an estate. But doing the work as individuals, they realized, was not the most efficient and effective model.
They thought an interdisciplinary approach that would enlist a team of professionals would offer comprehensive care and service to the clients. Led by an attorney, the team members could include a nurse practitioner, financial planner and social worker.
After about a year of thinking and planning, Bennett and McClammer launched Scout Guardianship Services Inc. in December 2015. This for-profit business can function as either a guardian, attorney in fact or health care representative for adults who want and have the financial assets to pay for these services.
Starting the new company, the pair of attorneys created a solution to fit a growing demand in the market. They drew upon their legal expertise in the field of guardianships and became a little entrepreneurial in figuring out how they could adjust to provide a needed service.
McClammer said the idea for Scout was born of “Ken and I talking and brainstorming and thinking there’s just got to be a better way.”
Namely, Scout and the team approach were implemented to ensure continuity of service to the client. The company also wanted to provide a high level of care at the lowest price possible.
Pointing the aging of the population, Bennett believes his business will have a steady flow of clients although he is not certain how big the company will become.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to make a living doing Scout alone,” he said, before adding, “but ask us next year.”
Copying the nonprofit model
Scout is based on a nonprofit guardianship services model where the company or organization is actually the entity that is appointed by the court.
Bennett and McClammer are then given letters of incumbency to allow them to perform as a guardian. They are then both able to make decisions on behalf of the client. If one is on vacation or in a hearing, the other will be available to respond to a call from the nursing home or hospital.
For attorneys and others who are appointed as guardians, the duties can be exhausting. Bennett, who is also executive director of the nonprofit Center for At-Risk Elders Inc., explained an individual serving as a guardian can become overwhelmed with the details. Everything from making sure the insurance forms are filed to getting the elderly adult’s lawn mowed can distract the guardian from paying attention to the quality of their parent’s or sibling’s life.
The team approach helps keep the focus on making sure the client has some level of independence and is getting good care. Bennett and McClammer can bring in other professionals, such as nurses and social workers, who can assess the situation, review the medical records and offer advice for moving forward.
Delegating non-legal tasks to staff members keeps the cost of services low. Bennett used the example of a client losing a cellphone. Instead of paying the higher rate for having the attorney go to the store, get a new phone and sign a new service plan, the cheaper option is to send an administrative assistant.
Scout has divided its offerings into two divisions — Pathfinder Guardian Services which provides services as a court-appointed guardian for incapacitated adults, and Cavalry Advocacy Services which offers health care representative and power of attorney services.
Cavalry operates under a “springing” power of attorney that only takes effect when the physician certifies the client is incapable of managing his or her own affairs.
Currently, Scout has 11 clients, six are Pathfinder clients and five are utilizing the Cavalry services.
Part of the solution
Through his volunteer work helping REAL Services in South Bend with its adult guardianship program, Paul Crowley of Butler & Crowley has seen the need for these kinds of services.
However, he said he had concerns about conflicts of interest that can arise when attorneys take over the decision-making for their clients.
Crowley’s unease extends to for-profit guardianship services. But he said these businesses could have a role in addressing the demand for these types of services. He is not familiar with Scout and does not know Bennett and McClammer, but speaking about such companies in general, he said, “I pray they are successful. …We certainly need them but I’m not about to give them the benefit of the doubt; I’ll just offer the tip of my hat.”
Bennett acknowledged a for-profit guardianship company handling clients’ money could raise concerns. The issue is even discussed on the Scout website with the company maintaining it has established specific protocols and has outside auditors review the financial accountings. “It’s all about trust and integrity,” Bennett said.
Like Crowley, Gail Rothrock, chief strategy officer for Families First, does not see the need for assistance waning and believes for-profit guardianship services can help address the demand. The different solutions offered by for-profit, nonprofit and volunteer organizations are helpful because there is not one answer.
“I certainly think there’s a place for (for-profit providers),” Rothrock said. “People are out there with assets who need a trustworthy guardian, and they don’t have family who are able or willing to provide that care.”•