Forcing Guardianships on the Elderly: Keeping the Sharks Away--They're Closer Than You Think
How Serious a Threat is Guardianship Abuse? Our Family's Experience
An alarming trend in Probate Courts across the United States has resulted in the loss of the Civil rights of hundreds of Americans who are over the age of sixty-five---and an even larger number may be affected if this practice continues. In an article entitled, “These Judges Are Forcing Elderly People into Guardianships and They Are Losing Their Civil Rights,” the author speaks to President Barak Obama and says, “My Fellow Americans and Baby Boomers, Wake up…or your life savings be taken from you with the swipe of a pen. How can that happen? Forced Guardianships…”
The December 14, 2008, CNN article continues, “These judges in the Probate Court in Dade County Florida, can and will rule you incapacitated, even though you are very competent, they will take away all of your Civil Rights and sign over every dime you have, into the hands of the attorneys and guardians. They will first freeze your assets, so you have no money to fight back and hire your own attorney, they will then strip you of your Civil Rights, and once you have no rights, the guardians and attorneys will start billing and billing fees…after they take all your cash assets, they will sell your home or do a reverse mortgage and steal the home.”
Multi-Millionaires Forced Into Guardianship
Even multi-millionaires Charles and Hilda Mason could not prevent the courts from taking everything they owned…On January 9, 2001, a court transcript states that a clearly competent Charles Mason testified before Judge Christian that he no longer wanted a Virginia attorney he had previously hired to take care of his business. The judge denied his request to fire the attorney. However, in less than three months, the judge declared Charles Mason incompetent after Mason had a severe reaction to a psychotropic cocktail given to him. Because of the drug, Mason was admitted to the psychiatric ward of Suburban Hospital. Although the judge refused to allow Mason to fire the attorney, he gave his OK to a settlement agreement that was allegedly signed by Charles Mason after he had been declared incompetent. This so-called settlement forbade Mason’s own wife from “interfering” with his care. Shortly before Mason’s death, one witness told The Washington Examiner, “He looks like a hobo.” Attorneys helped themselves to his assets, including his once-beautiful home. Episcopal Senior Ministries reported that “there appears to be no individual or group that is currently responsible for the cleaning/condition of the house.” Before he died, Mason was bound to a wheelchair and spent his last days in dirty clothing and worn out shoes (Estate of Denial, November 5, 2011).
Average Income Retirees Forced Into Guardianship
And if you’re a person of average means with little wealth, you are still not exempt from being a victim of such actions. A former D.C. Public Schools employee was forced into a guardianship after Maryland attorneys described her daily walk as “wandering.” She told reporters, “Some lawyers took all my money,” and added that she could not access her own Social Security benefits to buy herself an ice cream cone. Hundreds of such cases are documented by the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse. In most of these cases, family members are demonized and prevented from having any say in their loved ones’ care, while probate judges give total control to court-appointed guardians or conservators. After the predators have sucked the estate dry, the elderly person, who once had adequate resources, is thrown into the Medicaid system, and taxpayers foot the bill.
Closer to Home Than You Realize
You may be thinking, “That can’t happen where I live---that’s far away.” That is what I thought, too, until recently. In fact, as recently as a month ago, I would have labeled such articles as the product of alarmists who like to stir up controversy. Today, after seeing the effects of large doses of Norco mixed with Oxycontin on my 110 pound mother, I realized she was surrounded by “predators.” The target: approximately 300 acres of beautiful woods and farmland passed down from her grandfather shortly after the Civil War.
My Mother’s Story
My mother lives in a small town in southeast Alabama. In February 2013, she hired an attorney to complete an irrevocable trust for her estate, but he never completed the process. He insisted some land needed to be sold first, although he never looked at her bank statements. My mother’s monthly income is well above her living expenses. After a couple of months and no land sale, the attorney suggested a guardianship. We knew nothing of what was in store for our family nor did we have any idea of the stress or the danger our mother would endure because of our naivety.
Unaware of the storm brewing, one April morning 2013, I took my mother’s paperwork to a bookkeeper to have her tax return completed. This person would also pay the few monthly bills that were not taken out automatically. A few weeks later, the family learned that the bookkeeper (we’ll call her Mrs. X) had been indicted by a grand jury for allegedly taking money from her former place of employment. Now everyone knows an indictment is not a guilty verdict. The person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but my mother wasn’t comfortable with the situation and neither were we. To add to our concern, my mother’s attorney told us that he had no intention of telling my mother of Mrs. X’s indictment----he thought best for my mother to learn this information at the guardianship hearing--even though she was considering having this woman handle her bills and bank statements. My mother clearly did not want to retain Lawyer #1 under these circumstances, so she hired Lawyer #2.
Meanwhile, my mother wrote Mrs. X a sweet letter and asked for her to return all tax information, bills, and checkbooks. Days later, the materials had not been returned, and when questioned, Mrs. X said she had never received the note. My mother continued to attempt to get Mrs. X to return the paperwork. Mrs. X continued to offer various excuses for not returning the items. Almost a week had passed; my sister-in-law sent a text message to Mrs. X asking for the items to be returned without further delay. One week after sending Mrs. X the first note, Lawyer #2 informed my mother that Mrs. X’s husband had delivered the paperwork to the office of Lawyer #1.
The next hurdle was to revoke the Power of Attorney that Mrs. X had talked my mother into signing. We got the revocation notarized, but not before someone filed for my mother to have a competency testing. With no notice, the owner of the assisted living facility told my mother that she was under a court order to have competency testing with a local doctor. My mother told us later that she had angrily told the doctor, “I know who is behind this.” She answered a few questions and demanded to be taken back to her facility.
A few days later, my son and I were with my mother on an outing. We noticed that mother’s speech was slurred. She also had difficulty standing, and her sentences trailed off in mid-sentence. After a quick family conference by phone, everyone suggested that she go home with me for observation. I went into the assisted living facility to pick up a few overnight items as I had many times in the past. The employee on duty told me she had to get permission from the manager before my mother could leave. We waited while she dialed the manager’s number, and an intense conversation followed, mostly questions with the employee answering. More questions, and then the employee explained that “Mrs. J” had to call the owner before giving permission for my mother to leave with me. The questioning involved much discussion between employee and Mrs. J, waiting while Mrs. J called the owner, and then got back to the employee. The discussion, which revolved around my mother’s medicine, went on for some time until it became apparent that the owner and Mrs. J did not want my mother to leave. And if she left, they definitely did not want her medicine to go with her. During the conversation, I looked over the employee’s shoulder and saw the word Ocycontin10 mg, twice daily and what appeared to be an increased dosage of NORCO. Frightened, I discussed my concerns with my mother and she agreed. She said, “My head has felt funny, and I didn’t know why.” Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. As I got into my car, the employee said that she needed to give my mother’s medicine before she left. The employee told us again, “Mr. Y, the owner,. says your mother cannot take any of her medicine with her, and she has to be back here by 9:00 tomorrow morning.”
“I have to give her medicine now,” she said.
“Sure, I replied,” she can take her medicine----but not the Oxycontin.” As I drove away from the assisted living facility, I knew I couldn’t turn back. I took my mother to a large medical facility out of town for a complete physical and mental evaluation. The results astounded both of us. She did not return to the assisted living facility. When she was not back by 9:00 the next morning, the owner of the assisted living went to the sheriff’s office and asked them to try to get my mother back. She is grateful to be with family and out of danger.
My brother demanded that Lawyer #1 present a request to cancel the guardianship hearing for my mother. Lawyer #2 advised my mother not to get rid of Lawyer #1 but to allow the two lawyers to work together. Apparently, they do work well together, but my mother, with the family’s full approval, agreed she should dismiss Lawyer #2.
As for her checkbook and her finances----several creditors told us that Mrs. X repeatedly informed them that my mother didn’t have enough money to pay her bills. However, the balance in her checkbook when we finally regained possession of her financial papers was several times her monthly income---more than enough to pay her bills. The message was always the same from Mrs. X---my mother needed to sell the land her grandfather left the family over 150 years ago in order to pay her bills.
Signing While Drugged
The Probate Court continues to refuse to give my mother or me copies of the court documents that have been filed. During the weeks that my mother was on the large doses of narcotics, I learned that Lawyer #000 took several papers into her room, which she signed for Lawyer #000, and the assisted living owner witnessed. When I told my mother about Lawyer #000 and the papers, she was horrified----she remembers nothing of his visit because of the large doses of medicine being given to her. At this writing, my mother has given a notarized request to Lawyer #000 asking that she be given a copy of everything she has signed. My mother has not received a response from him. She also sent a notarized request to the Probate Court, requesting a copy of everything that has been filed in 2013 with her name anywhere on the document. The Probate Court continues to deny our request for copies. Today, we sent a letter and email to the Judicial Inquiry Commission in Montgomery asking that they investigate my mother’s case.
As for my mother’s mental state, she has no difficulty remembering anything except what happened during those days she was taking the large doses of narcotics. A hair analysis confirmed both the NORCO and the Oxycontin. She has no desire to return to a place she once called home. Her physical strength has returned, and she doesn’t speak with slurred speech now. She is enjoying reading a new Danielle Steel novel that I downloaded with Kindle on my laptop.
But one thing’s for sure----an awareness of the dangers facing the elderly is essential---for everyone. Even those who live in small friendly towns are not exempt. The town where all this is happening is quite small. Everyone should be on the alert to the ways that all of our rights can be taken away from us. As the old saying goes, hindsight is never less than 20-20, and I see my own shortcomings and failures more than ever. We made a lot of mistakes that cost my mother pain. Most of all, she experienced hurt from people she thought were her friends, people she trusted. The misplaced trust could have cost her life.
At my mother’s insistence and after several communications with Lawyer #1 and Lawyer #2, the hearing was finally cancelled. My mother plans to complete the trust, which she initiated over seven months ago. But the battle is not over. We have reason to believe the predators have not given up. Several medical persons have examined my mother and have declared her to be quite competent to make her decisions, but the family is expecting the predators to challenge her ability to make her own decisions regarding the finalizing of the trust, a process she began over seven months ago.
Most of all, not only has my family realized that people who surrounded my mother wished ill for her----not because they disliked her----but because they were greedy.
Vice-President Hubert Humphrey once said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
Our country isn’t headed in the direction of moral responsibility right now. Let’s hope it can turn around soon.