Orphans’ Court seeking extra ‘eyes and ears’

County’s Volunteer Guardianship Program looking for participants

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Diane P. Mulhearn (left), the Volunteer Guardianship Program coordinator, and Nancy Breuer, Assistant Orphans’ Court Administrator, review files for the program.

Diane P. Mulhearn (left), the Volunteer Guardianship Program coordinator, and Nancy Breuer, Assistant Orphans’ Court Administrator, review files for the program.

A few years back, a Chester County woman’s drug-addicted son, who had been appointed his mother’s guardian, began stealing the ailing woman’s money and leaving care-taking duties to his aunt. Thanks to the county’s Volunteer Guardianship Program, the thievery was short-lived.

For the past 19 years, Chester County has operated a respected program that serves as a gentle watchdog over the guardians, who are appointed when someone’s physical or mental disabilities prevent their self-sufficiency. Frequently, guardianships involve the elderly, and most operate with few problems.

But, in the instances when improprieties occur, court officials say that volunteers in the program provide a valuable role, serving as “the eyes and ears of the court by visiting individuals under guardianship” to chat and check on their well-being. Sometimes a few friendly questions can determine whether a guardianship is functioning properly, court officials say.

“The court appoints a guardian for an individual determined by the court to be ‘incapacitated’ within the meaning of the law,” said Chester County Court Judge Katherine Platt, who oversees the Orphans’ Court and its guardianships.  “The standard for that determination is whether the individual’s ability to receive and evaluate information and communicate decisions is impaired to such a significant extent that he or she is unable to manage his or her financial resources, or meet essential requirements for physical health and safety.”

The visits by volunteers assist the court in maintaining some continuing contact with the incapacitated person and his or her guardian and offer the volunteer a chance to provide worthwhile community service – an opportunity the county is hoping will attract more volunteers. At the moment, the county has 535 active guardianships, a number that is increasing, said Diane P. Mulhearn, the Guardianship Program coordinator.

Anyone interested in becoming part of the Orphans’ Court guardian program is invited to take part in a training session that will be held on Tuesday, April 8, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Chester County Justice Center. For more information about the program or to request an application for the upcoming training, please contact Mulhearn at 610-344-5212 or email dmulhearn@chesco.org.

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Tags: Chester County Court, Chester County Court Judge Katherine Platt, Orphans' Court, Volunteer Guardianship Program

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