Grantee uncovers problems with Mississippi’s system of conservatorships for the elderly and infirm

Opal Smith of Columbia, Mississippi, is picturing enjoying a glass of wine prior to being put under a conservatorship in 2013. Credit: Photo courtesy of Nancy DeVoe

Working from a tip from a couple fighting a conservatorship for their elderly relative in southeast Mississippi, reporter Jimmie E. Gates found systemic problems with the state’s system that allows non-related individuals to be appointed to make medical, financial and personal decisions for people who are elderly or disabled. Writing for the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting with support from the Fund, Gates found that judges approve conservatorships on the same day the petitions are filed, often without any input from the person involved and without testimony from experts who are supposed to evaluate the situation. Combing through court records, Gates tracked down cases of families whose relatives’ fates are in the hands of a Jackson lawyer dubbed “King of Conservatorships” in Jackson with over 100 conservatorships. Gates’ stories are running in Mississippi Today, as well as in in newspapers across the state.