Adult Guardianship System: Improve Ease of Use to Ensure Peace of Mind

Amid the growing number of elderly people with dementia, a system to support the management of their assets and their daily lives is increasingly important. The current system, which has been criticized as difficult to utilize, should be revised so that it can be used with peace of mind.

A subcommittee of the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council has begun discussions to review the adult guardianship system. This system is designed to allow guardians appointed by family courts to engage in such actions as managing deposits and savings, disposing of real estate and concluding various contracts on behalf of persons with dementia, intellectual disabilities and other forms of impaired judgment.

The adult guardianship system and the nursing care insurance system were introduced in 2000 and were expected to serve as dual wheels supporting the nation’s aging society. But although the number of dementia patients is estimated to have increased to 6 million, only about 250,000 people use the system.

It is thought that Japan’s society will continue to gray and the number of dementia patients is expected to grow further. The adult guardianship system must be reviewed urgently to expand its utilization.

One reason for the sluggish growth in the number of users is the difficulty of utilizing the system.

The current system operates on the premise that guardians will take care of elderly persons with dementia for the rest of their lives. So even if the disposal of their real estate and other support activities have been finished, guardians cannot be relieved from their post until the elderly persons die. It is also difficult for guardians to be replaced in the course of their service.

In many cases, lawyers, judicial scriveners and other experts are chosen as guardians, and they are being paid tens of thousands of yen per month. Such experts may be suitable for managing finances, but they may not be the best choice when it comes to ascertaining elderly persons’ living situation and providing appropriate support.

The topics to be discussed by the Legislative Council are likely to include revising the system so that a guardianship can be ended when the guardians are no longer necessary.

Dementia patients’ symptoms change with their age and living environment. It is desirable to make the system flexible. For example, when careful nursing care is needed, it should be made possible to hire welfare personnel as guardians.

Another issue is the shortage of people who wish to be guardians. Many elderly people are unable to receive support because they have no relatives or their relatives live far away. To improve this situation, it also may be necessary to make use of “citizen guardians.”

Citizens who have received training are registered with local governments, and family courts select them as guardians. If elderly people’s neighbors become guardians, it is possible that such guardians will take warm care of elderly people through such means as checking on their living conditions in the course of conversation when they hand over living expenses.

However, court-appointed citizen guardians account for less than 1% of all guardians. This is partly attributed to the fact that family courts give priority to lawyers, other experts or relatives in the selection process. It is hoped that local governments will take the lead in increasing the level of trust in citizen guardians.

There have also been cases of guardians misappropriating the assets of elderly people with dementia. How to eliminate unscrupulous guardians is also an important issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 10, 2024)