Volunteer advocates to help incapacitated individuals with money management

Elderly or incapacitated adults no longer able to look after their own finances will soon have advocates to look after them.

An agreement to initially create 35 volunteer advocates to oversee the financial interests of incapacitated individuals was signed Monday by the Bartholomew County commissioners.

According to the agreement, which expires Dec. 31, the Indiana Office of Court Services agrees to pay up to $50,000 to Thrive Alliance, a combination of the Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana, Inc. and Housing Partnerships, Inc.

In exchange, the Columbus-based agency will be responsible for vetting, screening, training and supervising volunteer financial guardians, as well as for maintaining court-required progress and accounting reports.

Persons incapable of caring for themselves financially includes those with a neuro-developmental disorder, mental illness, dementia or stroke, the agreement states.

The program is structurally comparable to Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), trained individuals who speak up for the best interests of children within the judicial system, Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton said.

All tasks performed by Thrive Alliance will be overseen by Bartholomew County Adult Court Services. If a problem arises from a decision or action taken by a volunteer advocate, the court can remove their financial guardianship, Worton said.

With a staff of five, Adult Court Services also provides services to Bartholomew, Brown, Jennings, Decatur and Jackson counties.

When Worton first spoke on this proposal to the commissioners in December, he was joined by Lori Bland, Thrive Alliance Guardian Program manager.

Now that baby boomers are increasingly retiring, the number of incapacitated adults is expected to grow larger than it ever has been in the past, Bland told the commissioners.

There are already as many as 400 incapacitated adults within the region that have no one else able or willing to assist them with their finances, Bland said.

Until now, only one couple — Bartholomew County Adult Protective Services employees John and Brenda Defler — have been available to advocate for those hundreds of incapacitated adults, the judge said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’ve needed this program for years,” John Defler said during a follow-up interview.

Besides retiring baby boomers, there has also been a noticeable increase in the number of adults with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia, he said.

Since it’s been more than 40 years since Indiana moved away from institutionalization, there are also many incapacitated adults cared for by the parents their entire lives who now suddenly find themselves alone, Defler said.

His department works with other organizations, such as Centerstone Behavioral Health, to place those persons into extended-care facilities, supportive living quarters or group homes, Defler said.

Based on his own experiences, Defler anticipates most volunteers recruited by Thrive Alliance will be recent retirees.

Not only does that group have more time and expertise, but they also have empathy for people in need, he said.

“They know they could be that person tomorrow,” Defler said. “Whether it’s a stroke or an accident, we are all vulnerable and there are no guarantees.”

The agreement can be terminated by mutual consent, or if funding is no longer available.

The commissioners are serving as a pass-through entity for the exchange of funds, as no local tax dollars will be spent for these services, commissioner Rick Flohr said.

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Volunteer applications for Thrive Alliance, including those for the guardian program, are available online at thrive-alliance.org.

For more information, contact program manager Lori Bland at 812-372-6918, ext. 2785.