Expand use of adult guardianship system to protect elderly people

REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
The Diet building is pictured behind a road marking in Tokyo July 12, 2010.

It is crucial to increase the number of people using the adult guardianship system, so as to support elderly people with dementia and others who lack sufficient ability to make their own decisions.

The government intends to revise by the end of this fiscal year its basic plan to promote utilization of the adult guardianship system. It is hoped that the plan will be recalibrated from the beneficiaries’ point of view, to ensure it is widely employed.

The adult guardianship system is designed to allow guardians appointed by family courts to manage people’s savings, contract welfare services and handle other matters on their behalf.

In tandem with the nursing-care insurance system, the adult guardianship system was launched in fiscal 2000 not only to manage people’s assets but also to help them live in the way they desire. In 2016, lawmaker-initiated legislation to promote the use of the system was passed into law, and a five-year basic plan was also devised.

However, the number of people using the system still stands at only about 230,000, although there are estimated to be about 6 million elderly people with dementia in the nation. According to a public opinion survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, nearly 50% of respondents said they did not know about the system.

When revising the basic plan, the government is urged to further consider measures to strengthen the functions of municipal offices handling this system, and how guardians should be selected.

First of all, it is important for municipalities to cooperate with people such as lawyers and judicial scriveners to improve consultation services for residents. Currently, about 40% of municipalities said they have made arrangements to provide consultations at entities such as regional comprehensive support centers and social welfare councils.

In an interim report to revise the basic plan, a government panel of experts said there have been conspicuous delays in developing such a consultation system in towns and villages, and called on prefectural governments to extend support for these areas.

Tottori Prefecture has established a consultation system in all its municipalities. It provides subsidies to groups of lawyers and other entities to strengthen cooperation between these groups and small municipalities.

It is also hoped that the selection of a guardian will be reviewed in line with the system’s purpose of supporting wards’ daily lives.

Currently, people with professional expertise such as lawyers and judicial scriveners are often chosen as guardians. These professionals are suitable for careful asset management, but some people argue that they do not always respond sufficiently to the specific daily needs of the people being assisted, such as applying for nursing care services based on their condition.

It seems necessary to consider operating the system flexibly, for example, by allowing guardians to be changed from legal professionals to relatives in accordance with the living conditions of the people being helped.

It is conceivable that a legal professional could manage assets appropriately when expenses run up, such as when a person has to sell a residence in order to enter a nursing facility, after which point a family member or other individual could support the person’s daily needs.

What can be done to enhance elderly people’s quality of life while protecting their assets? It is imperative to exercise wisdom to that end as well as to improve the system.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 22, 2021.