ProPublica Illinois reporter Jody Cohen said she sifted through 1,800 probate petitions from 2018 and 2019, but more than 40 guardianship petitions stood out to her. They were formal petitions filed by lawyers on behalf of well-to-do parents who were, for example, doctors and real estate agents in suburbs like Buffalo Grove and Deerfield, giving up custody of their kids during their junior or senior year of high school.
"By obtaining legal guardianship, what that does in terms of financial aid, is it allows you to be able to file as an independent, meaning that you're not dependent on your parents for any sort of to pay for college, so in evaluating for financial aid, the university is evaluating based on only the student's income," Cohen said.
While the practice of doing this is a loophole, it is not illegal. But it sparks an ethical problem if financial aid is limited and takes away from a potential student with a real need.
Cohen said to close the gap, county judges can ask more questions about why a person might be filing for guardianship and using discretion on the ones they approve and the federal financial aid form could provide more language on what it means to be in a legal guardianship.