New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - September 24, 1987, New Braunfels, Texas
Paoe4 Herald-Zeitung. New Braunfels, Texas Thursday, September 24,1987
Texas has three volunteer guardianship programs
This is the third of six installments by the Associated Press on guardianships, America's and Texas' method of ensuring the best interests of our elderly and infirmed. But the system has flaws. Today the Associated press looks at what it takes to declare someone incapable of handling their own affairs, a lack of safeguards in some programs and how Texans have promulgated three volunteer programs to remove some of the profit motive from guardianship.
By JENNIFER DIXON Associated Press Writer DALLAS (AP) — No one knew the bag lady who shuffled from garbage can to garbage can In downtown San Antonio actually was a retired school teacher who owned real estate across town, until her volunteer guardian began investigating.
“We got her medical care, good nutrition, sold some of her houses, fixed up one and got a live-in provider. And now she's a good lady.” says Pat Bohne, executive director of the Guardianship Advisory Board Inc of San Antonio.
The bag lady turned “good lady” is one of the lucky elderly Texans who live in a county where volunteers are trained to take on the complex requirements of being an incompetent’s guardian — from securing bond and passing court scrutiny to preparing annual accountings of a ward s estate — wilt 'o family members or friends are willing or available.
Only three Texas counties — Tarrant, Travis and Bexar — have volunteer guardianship programs. The state’s two largest cities, Houston and Dallas, have no organized means of appointing a guardian when an elderly incompetent has no one looking after his interests “Larger and larger numbers of people don’t have anyone to serve in that capacity.” said Rosemary Redmond, an attorney who is trying to organize a volunteer program in Dallas County Despite the growing need, the state does not have a public guardianship program and no state agency monitors guardianships, even though Texans over 85 make up the fastest growing age group in the nation, said John Willis, ombudsman for the Texas Department on Aging The Texas Department of Human Resources will intervene in cases of elderly abuse until a guardian is appointed, but otherwise avoids guar dianship cases because of possible conflicts of interest. said Kathy Cates, program specialist at the DHS in Austin The result is a patchwork of programs in some of the state’s 254 counties: a Tarrant County judge who “commandeered” young attorneys as guardians until a volunteer program was established in Fort Worth, a judge in Dallas County who keeps a
list of people willing to serve as a favor to her and the court, and countless judges who have no options at all. They can either appoint an attorney to serve — with the costs coming out of their budgets if the ward has no estate — or do nothing.
And senior citizens, because of age, infirmity and isolation, are prone to the kind of exploitation that a caring guardian can help prevent, attorneys and judges say.
“Ifs a tremendous unmet need throughout Texas, not only in metropolitan areas but in rural Texas as well,” Willis said "Non professional community groups are taking the leadership in developing guardianship programs.” he said “The state of Texas is not in a position of funding a public guardianship program. For the next IO years, we’re looking at ways of doing it informally, or with private means ”
The volunteer guardianship program in San Antonio, which was founded in March 1981 and now serves about 300 elderly people at a time, is the largest and oldest of the three in Texas Volunteer Guardians of Tarrant County, a program begun in Fort Worth in the fall of 1985. has a caseload of about two dozen wards, with another dozen on a waiting list.
Family Eldercare of Austin began its volunteer guardianship program in March and was serving nine people by late summer, with an anticipated caseload of at least 25. said program director Clairece Feagin. Of the nine people being served, five had guardians and four had representative payees, someone authorized to sign their Social Security checks
As word spreads about the program, the number of inquiries increases. Ms Feagin said “The more professionals learn of the service the more calls we’re getting from physicians, at tomeys. bankers, social workers There are an awful lot of people out there who can’t quite manage the money aspect.” she said “No one seems to know the number of people who need guardianship, but I do know the dif ference a volunteer guardian can make in a frail elderly person’s life. says Colleen Colton pro gram coordinator for the Tarrant Counts volunteers. “The appointment of a volunteer guar dian makes an enormous difference in tnt availably of medical care, the quality of living conditions and the preservation of assets One of the volunteer programs’ goals is to ap point a guardian who can supervise medical care meals, finances and other matters to enable an elderly person to stay at home rather than enter a nursing home Although the majority of the wards in the pro grams in Fort Worth and San Antonio have little
money, some have larger estates and are vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous family members or outsiders, the coordinators say.
A volunteer guardian appointed to the case of a Tarrant County woman who was living like a pauper discovered the ward had up to $50,000 stowed in a variety of bank accounts. Ms. Colton said Another volunteer looking for a ward’s drivers license found 18 uncashed Social Security checks hidden in the woman’s house Tarrant County Probate Judge Pat Ferchill calls the Fort Worth program a godsend “We. as a nation, face a problem in finding guardians for certain mental incompetents, namely elderly, whose relatives live in distant states, are themselves incompetent or families sometimes turn their backs on that person ... Before the volunteer guardians, I had no alternative but to commandeer a young attorney,” Ferchill said The Tarrant County program has a waiting list, and the demand for guardians in Bexar County has continued to grow since the program’s beginn ings. Ms. Bohne said Yet locating volunteers is time-consuming “It s not easy finding volunteers, when you consider the duties, responsibilities.” said Jacqueline Delong, executive director of Family Eldercare in Austin The authority and responsibility are enormous and justifably so I would be suspicious if someone took it lightly ’ ’
Dallas County Probate Judge Nikki DeShazo said she has a list of people she calls on when an elderly incompetent has no one to serve as guar dian
“They do it as a favor to me and as a favor to the court Usa break even situation.” Ms DeShazo said
“A lot of people who do not have funds do not come to the attention of the court,” she said They have a lot of money and everyone wants to get into the picture, or they're just destitute and out on the streets ”
I>espite the fragmented approach to guardian ship in Texas Ms Bohne said she doesn’t favor a statewide approach * 'iou lose flexibility in a statewide program she said “It would not be as creative and not as flexible and would become a bureaucratic pro blem “
“There s no point in killing a fly w ith a cannon " said Ms Delong who favors a grassroots ap preach
Ferchill. however, believes a statewide pro gram is necessary “To wait for each county to come up with a volunteer program is not a practical solution he said "It’s not a satisfactory solution to what is go mg to be a statew ide and national problem
Covering 125 acres
Archeology report due Friday
‘Like a minor child’
It takes less than many think to declare someone incapable of handling their own affairs
By SARAH DUKE Staff Writer
Archeologists Wednesday took a look at the area where the Wal-Mart distribution center will be built in an effort to determine whether the site is historically or archeologically significant, city officials said The survey was ordered by a state agency Sept ll and is being funded by Wal-Mart, city officials said While the VV a1 Mart distribution center is part of a private business, New Braunfels Utilities expects to receive $30b,ooo in federal grant funds to pay for providing utilities to the center to be located near Kohlenberg Lane and Interstate 35 Archeologists began about 9 a rn. Wednesday, surveying the 125-acre area where the distribution center will be built, said Court Thieleman of the city manager's office The survey came as the result of a request by the Texas Historical Commission Curtis Tunnel!, executive director of the historical commission. notified the city that a survey should be taken and a report prepared ’ We didn t know it was going to be today until they started today.” Thieleman said about the Wednesday survey “The state is making us do a study on the whole tract even though the grant will just be used for the utilities." he said Even though the Wal Mart site is pnvate property, the survey is required because a federal grant will be used to provide utilities “The feds and the state - meaning the Housing and Urban Development agency and the Texas Department of Community Affairs — have ruled that the scope of the project involves both what is being built on private property and public right-of way.” Thieleman said The archeologists, who work for Espey Huston and Associates in Austin, were expected to have a written report of their findings complete by Friday The city will submit it to the historical commission for review by Monday. Thieleman said “Wal Mart is paying for the whole study,” he said adding that the survey will cost from $1.650 to $2,OOO Mark Denton of the Texas Antiquities Committee said this morning that once the survey is complete and results are compiled, his agency and the historical commission will have an opportunity to review them and comment The antiquities committee issued a permit for the survey, he said
“I have a feeling that the survey will be completed in a relatively short period of time and I think there s a low probability of finding
makes pictures worth a thousand words in the
significant archeological deposits in the 125-acre site There s a greater chance of there being significant deposits up higher where the water tank will be near Kohlenberg Lane),” Denton said He added that no one can be certain how significant the site is until the survey is com plete
The Texas Historical Commission and the antiquities committee will both review the report and will make comments, he said “If we say
there s nothing of significance there that will be the end of it Or if we say there are some fairly interesting thing* there but they don ? justify a dig that will be the end of it Or it might be the case where we ll say Yes. this is a fairly significant site here ' and then recommend that a more substantial study be made Denton said Thieleman said the city will not be required to complete a survey within the right-of way near Interstate ta
because the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation already had a projec t planned for the* same site anil the historical commis sion agreed with the highway depart men! that the projec t would not af len t Hie historical or archeological significance of the area Espey Huston archeologists were not available for comment as of presstime
TYLER, Texas (AP) - A urologist’s statement helped con vince a judge a Tyler woman should be declared incompetent, and a second doctor’s statement also backed up claims by the woman's brother in law that she was incapable of handling her affairs and needed a guar dian
But in case after case across Texas, particularly in rural counties. a probate judge is likely to declare an elderly person incompetent based solely on the claims of whoever is seeking to become a guardian, a five month investigation by The Associated Press found The judges ruling establishing most guardianships strips the ward of most adult privileges to marry or divorce, to decide where to live to buy or sell land, to approve medical treatment or to invest money Most people who serve as guardians con trol all the w ard s assets A ward becomes “like a minor child with no legal status to enter into the transactions most of us take for granted " says Tom Featherston a law professor at Bay lor University who heads a committee of the State Bar of Texas study ing the state * guardianship laws The Associated Press examined more than 75 files concerning elderly wards in courthouses acres* Texas and found that, in almost half guar dianships were established without medical statements of any kind And in the majority of the < a*e* surveyeii in rural areas elderly pe<> pie were declared incompetent without representation Probate judges in Dallas County routinely appoint an attomev to represent a proposed want in penna nent guardianship case* but the practice optional untier the law i* rare or non-existent in the *mal!er counties
Petitions filed in Dallas and some of the other larger counties *uch as Tarrant invariably include a medical doctor’s statement A survey of nine guardianship case* opened in Dallas County in 19H found all petitions contained medu .ti statements and six of *even Tarrant County cases included doctor * statements The seventh Involved a veteran, and the incompetency pet! Hon contained statements from a rating commute*- of a \eterans Ad ministration Hospital .owl a \ A at tomes
But in 30 files surveved randomly in six rural counties <»nly three w ards had court appointed attornev«, ail in smith i ounty In those same JO files only nine contained a medical doctor s statement I >ne con lamed a psychologist * ev aluation Texas probate colk* »!<*** not require exjtert testimony to establish a permanent adult guardianship Featherston said
The judge has the option of appoin ting an attorney to represent the pro posed ward in those proceedings A physician’s statement, based on an exam within 90 days of the court hearing, is required in limited guar dianships. which grant the guardian only restricted powers The only requirement to prove in competence in permanent guardianships is that the petitioner statisfy the court that the proposed ward isn't capable of handling his affairs or making decisions on his own behalf Featherston said “In most situations, it works fine ’ Featherston said “In most situa tions. a guardian is really needed and it 1 the law just tries to expedite it and keep down the costs for the tam!
Iv Sure there are cases where the system is abused Texas law gives preference to spouses and the next nearest of kin but also allow* banks attorneys volunteers and friends not disqualified by a variety of reasons to serve A guardian cannot be a minor someone whose conduct is notorious Iv bad. an incompetent someone involved in a lawsuit that may affect the proposed ward someone in debt od to the proposed ward or sa moo ne with a claim on the proposed ward s estate or properly
Court officials say finding a ward for someone with an estate tsn t the problem it s finding someone to represent an elderly person with neither as*et* nor family
A majority of ca*es surveyed by the AP found family members sen* mg a* guardians with a few wards represented by bank* or a longtime friend
In Gregg County in November 1980 an Oklahoma woman was appointed guardian of a Longview residents $163 oho ate wittXHit a medic**; statement and despite the fact that the petition did not state ber relation ship to the proposed ward who had a son li\ mg in Dallas The guardian resigned in June 1983 and was replaced by the cashier of Kilgore First National Hank In Octotwr 1983 the judge approved a IJ ,|* expenditure for the son to buy a i ar so tie could travel from Dalla* to Longv sew to visit his mother who wa* in a nursing home. In Ju;v 19H4 th*- sol was authorize to buy another t ar for $4 jl*> and another $4 ii* wa* authorized for < af repairs and insurance the following Seplemt<**r \noth**r t ar purl hast- of $4 wa* audio* /rd sn October I
Nighing lr. the f; .* mdu ated the court question*- ! the frequent v of the car purchase*
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