An Indiana woman whose journey through adult guardianship was dogged by judicial scrutiny, steep legal fees and a profound sense of powerlessness has gotten her wish: freedom from the system.
More than six years after a judge put her under guardianship, Sara Abbott, 27, was formally removed from her arrangement Thursday—without a hearing—by a new judge overseeing her case.
“It’s finally done,” Abbott said. “It’s going to give me a lot more positive outlook on things. I couldn’t believe it really. I expected another possible big battle.”
Abbott’s experience was profiled as part of a Bloomberg Law investigation of the restrictive world of adult guardianships, In the Name of Protection, published earlier this month.
Read more: Peter Max’s Bare Ledgers Show Guardianships Drain Even the Rich
After Abbott was diagnosed with autism at age 20, professionals suggested her mother, Diana, put her under guardianship. The two live alone in Salem, Indiana.
But when Diana became her daughter’s guardian, she was given no formal training on the paperwork required. The guardianship petition had been approved without a hearing in August 2016, records show. Diana didn’t know, she said, she was supposed to file biennial reports documenting Sara’s care and finances.
In 2021, the presiding judge removed Diana and appointed a local lawyer as a temporary guardian. That guardian questioned the mother’s spending on everything from a used car to a new roof; the judge directed Diana to reimburse her daughter’s account more than $11,000. The two argued the spending benefited both of them because the roof keeps them safe and Diana provided all transportation for Sara, who doesn’t drive.
As the temporary guardian was questioning the family’s spending, she filed bills that, in one eight-month period, totaled 91% of Sara’s total income. Sara said she felt voiceless, requiring permission, for instance, to get her bank statements or host a yard sale to raise money. Ultimately her mother, who previously injured her back, had to return to work.
Sara’s lawyers, Justin Schrock and Amy Semones, filed a petition this week to formally end the guardianship. They said Sara demonstrated independence and doesn’t need a guardian. Sara’s new guardian, Loren Pilcher, also supported ending the guardianship.
Read more: Guardians’ Dark Side: Lax Rules Open the Vulnerable to Abuse
A hearing on the petition had been scheduled for Friday. But on Thursday, Special Judge Susan Orth issued a three-page ruling freeing Sara.
Orth also ruled that Diana no longer has to reimburse Sara for spending that benefited them both. “At Sara’s request, Diana is hereby relieved of any responsibility to reimburse Sara’s estate for expenditures made as her former legal guardian and representative payee that have previously been questioned in this matter,” the judge wrote.
“I’m ecstatic,” Diana said. “She has her independence and everything and I thought all along I didn’t owe anything.”
Both said more needs to be done to ensure others aren’t ensnared in unnecessary guardianships. “I honestly think the system is broken,” Diana said. “They need to have somebody explain things. What guardianship is and what it entails.”
But on Thursday, they focused on the ruling Sara called “amazing.”
Diana asked her daughter how she wanted to celebrate.
“Mom, I want Kentucky Fried Chicken today,” Sara replied.
“And that’s what we got,” said Diana.
To contact the reporter on this story:
To contact the editors responsible for this story: