NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Richard Lambie has been a professional guardian in California for 18 years, managing 45 elderly wards and their trusts. His clients typically come through referrals from attorneys.

“There is an underserved elderly population who have no family support system, either by choice or due to their own unique circumstance,” said Lambie.

Save Cash on Payments! Compare Low-Interest Credit Cards Now

Yet despite the growing demand for guardianship, families need to be wary of elder abuse, especially with regard to financial matters such as inheritance decisions. That's why families who secure guardians for their elderly relatives need to be sure the guardians are, like Lambie, associated with an accredited organization.

Lambie is one of some 600 guardians in California alone who are members of the state’s Professional Fiduciary Association of California, managing more than $8 billion in assets.

View Today's Highest Savings Account Rates

“We can only discipline guardians who are certified through our organization,” said Denise Calabrese, executive director with the Center for Guardianship Certification (CGC). “If they are not certified by CGC, we advise the complainant to go through the court system or the state’s guardianship office if one exists.”

CGC had 1,616 certificants nationally as of September 2014, but not all states require certification.

Minimum eligibility requirements for certification include possessing a GED or being a high school graduate; being at least 21 years of age, completing coursework approved by CGC; undergoing a criminal background check; and obtaining a degree, certification or license in a field related to guardianship, such as law, accounting, social work, medical or financial planning. Acceptable certificates include certified financial planner, certified public accounting and certified social work case manager.

Families who use an accredited guardian are also in greater control of the expense for these caretakers and financial fiduciaries. “In most states, guardian fees are approved by the court,” said Kim Grier, president with the National Guardianship Association in Atlanta. “Professional guardians can get paid from the estate of the individual they have been appointed to and public guardians are paid through public funds.”

As for pay, professional guardians typically command an hourly rate of $25 to $200 or more depending on the circumstances while public guardians who work for an agency receive a salary.

The Importance of a Reliable Steward

A guardian makes financial, medical and quality of life decisions for their elderly wards, and when there’s a complaint about the decisions he makes, Lambie says he is in constant communication with family members. If needed, he turns to an attorney for intervention.

“There is a need for more guardians, conservators, trustees and agents partly due to the dramatic increase in the population of seniors and partly due to the loss of traditional family units for support as well as the desire of these Boomers to remove the burden from family members in order to ensure that their wishes are carried out with minimal family strife,” Lambie told MainStreet.

That's especially necessary with longer life spans and thus added cases of mental incompetence with regard to money: Age Wave and Merrill Lynch found that some 78% of Boomers worry that Alzheimer’s will cause them to be a burden on family compared to only 50% who fear becoming isolated from family.

“There will always be a need for guardians, but it should only be for those persons who are truly incompetent, and that’s what guardianship law was created for in the first place,” said Elaine Renoire, president of the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse in Indiana.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet