States have been taking steps to address the issue of misuse of funds by persons acting as financial guardians for those unable to make their own financial decisions but the extent remains difficult to measure, according to a recent GAO report.

Such abuse is believed to be widespread and there will be potentially more as the population ages: In 2014 there were some 46 million persons aged 65 and over in the United States and that number is expected to rise to some 88 million in 2050. GAO cited its 2010 report reviewing 20 such cases finding that guardians had stolen or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million from their victims, many of whom were older adults.

But state courts, which order guardianship, lack even a good count on how many people are covered by such arrangements, it said.

Efforts to collect data and improve the process are only beginning to show results, said the report. One such effort is an HHS program to provide consistent and accurate national data, the National Adult Mistreatment Reporting System, which is moving forward after completing a pilot phase.

There are also state and local initiatives to capture complaint data and identify “red flags” such as unusually high guardian fees or expenses, it said.

“The federal government does not regulate or directly support guardianship, but federal agencies may provide indirect support to state guardianship programs by providing funding for efforts to share best practices and facilitate improved coordination, as well as by sharing information that state and local entities can use related to guardianship,” it added.