“Family protectors”, these people who become guardians of a vulnerable loved one

“Family protectors”, these people who become guardians of a vulnerable loved one

There was urgency. Our sister’s situation was deteriorating and we had to protect her,” says Valentine (1), aged 79. As the condition of her older sister, suffering from a neurodegenerative disease, worsened, Valentine and her younger sister opted for legal protection. “We embarked on this process without really knowing it, but we had to act quickly. Our sister was no longer able to manage her accounts. » In February 2022, they made a request following the official procedure and were named co-guardians of their eldest for a period of eight years.

This case is far from being an exception in France. Faced with the vulnerability of a loved one, recourse to a legal protection measure, the forms and duration of which vary, can be a solution. It allows the protected adult to be supported in the activities of their daily life. Old age, mental illness, psychological or psychiatric disorders, serious pathology, accident, so many reasons which lead to requesting its implementation for a person lacking autonomy (2). This is the recent case of Jean-Marie Le Pen, 95 years old, placed under legal protection regime and Alain Delon, 88 years old, under reinforced curatorship. In France, around a million people are under legal protection, half accompanied by a professional, the other by a relative. “Family protectors have often been helpful before. The transition is made out of necessity, because a judge must give authorization for them to take charge of administrative, property and legal matters. (of the protected middle finger, Editor’s note) », Explains Boris Lachaud, director of France Tutelle, a national association supporting caregivers and family protectors.

Significant, sometimes overwhelming responsibilities. “I happily take care of my sister, but this role is heavy and difficult,” confides Valentine. This requires hours of work and incurs costs. » Family protectors are in fact volunteers and therefore fulfill their commitments in their free time. Notifying administrations and institutions, drafting the annual management account to justify expenses, making requests to the judge for certain procedures… All these tasks represent at least 250 hours per year devoted to their missions, estimates the France Tutelle association. To which is added the weight of the mental load. “The leisure part of my life has been completely absorbed. And I think about it all the time,” confides Valentine, who doesn’t see herself continuing until she’s 87 and plans to call on a professional.

If the impact on daily life is inevitable, the situations are not always experienced as a burden. Like Alexandre (1), 66 years old, retired civil servant. He is the guardian of a member of his family, a “very psychologically fragile” woman from whom large sums of money were extorted by an Internet scammer. “It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it because I feel useful,” he confides. I bring a presence to an isolated person who unfortunately can no longer manage their daily life. » Having time and comfortable with accounts, Alexandre was the most available person in this relative's entourage to become her trustee. His role is far from being limited to that of accountant: “Over time, it became clear to me that it was better for this function to be carried out by a member of the family or a friend, because it is not just a matter of of a financial question. This also involves psychological support. » In certain cases, distribution is organized within the family itself.

Since their 30-year-old son, who has a mental disability, came of age, Élisabeth Bonneval-Lagarde and her husband have been the co-curators. “We share the daily life of our son who lives with us,” explains this 67-year-old retired mother. We take care of the administration and ensure that it has the necessary resources. » Their three other children, settled into their adult lives, have decided to take care of “his happiness”: his socialization and his outings. This strong family context facilitates support. But Élisabeth Bonneval-Lagarde, also vice-president of Papillons Blancs de Paris, an association which supports people with mental disabilities and their families, admits that cases can be more complex.

An information gap to fill

“We are thrown into the deep end without training,” she points out. Being a protector is not just about filling out paperwork, it is also about representing the interests and rights of the person. » For this former legal representative for the protection of adults, training should be systematically offered to any person exercising a protection measure, or even made compulsory. Information and support services for family guardians do exist, but “the judge forgets, every other time, to give the list to the parents who are left behind and then know neither their rights nor their duties, nor those of the person protected,” says Élisabeth Bonneval-Lagarde.

A lack of information that France Tutelle also highlights. “There is a real gray area on this subject,” insists Aurélia de la Malène, general director of the company Gay Lussac Gestion, one of the association’s patrons. Of the eleven million caregivers in France, some would benefit from knowing the legal protection measures. » Especially since in 2030, one in four workers in France will be a caregiver.

The opportunity to warn family protectors of the existence of a less visible but equally heavy burden: the pejorative connotation sometimes attached to this status. “The protective measure is too often looked upon in a negative light. While she is there above all to protect a person who has become vulnerable,” reports Isabelle, co-guardian since 2017 of her mother who suffers from neuro-cognitive disorders. The introduction of the measure was difficult to get the other members of the siblings to accept. Isabelle did not emerge “unscathed” and had the impression of being considered “the bad guy” by wanting to establish a framework that she considered necessary for her mother who had been the victim of abuse of weakness.

France Tutelle wants to put an end to this lack of recognition. In February, the association published a plea in favor of a tax status for families exercising a measure of judicial protection. Two solutions are put forward: a tax credit and a reduction in inheritance taxes. This symbolic advantage is a way of recognizing the work of these “guardian angels”, as the association describes them. “It costs them money, as well as their professional and intimate lives. Sometimes to the point of sacrifice, underlines Boris Lachaud. These people need to be recognized. »

1) The first name has been changed.

2) To be distinguished from judicial protection measures concerning minors.

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