New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - September 25, 1987, New Braunfels, Texas
Herald-Ze/fung New Braunfels Texas Friday September 25 1987 Page 5Guardianships full of human drama
By PAUL RECER and JENNIFER DIXON Associated Press Writers
Elderly guardianship cases often pierce deeply to basic human emotions and lay bare long-simmering family disputes turning brother against brother, testing children’s love of parent, or exposing impulses of greed
Lawyers and judges say some families avoid filing for guardian ships because they simply don’t care or find it inconvenient Others become guardians and sacrifice greatly to protect their aged relatives And still others stay out of court through a sense of shame at having a family member ruled incompetent
‘There are a lot of situations where guardians are needed but the families are embarrassed to go into court said Thomas M Featherston dr a Baylor I niversit\ law professor
Relatives usually put more into a guardianship than they get out “ said Galveston Judge Jerome Jones
They ll usually try to keep care of their relatives often at great ex pense Blood is thicker than w ater '
Some of the more than 75 guardian ship file- studied by The Associated Press involved siblings squabbling about who was bes; qualified to care for the proposed ward and the fami ly dispute- said Galveston attorney Gladys Burwell cantic me--v
sometimes they come from feel ings that originated in their childhood Ms Burwell said
From interview - and file examination- here are some of the case- un covered bv Uh* AP
A '* year old McKinney woman wa- placed under a guardianship in * ollin t flinty based im a doctor s statement littered with mis-pelimg-and tv pus
The statement which did not ait d r e - s the woman - mental capacities said she had among other thing- “ischemu heart d«*-4 a-e ami s- beartv a tile in per form ndependent activities of daily living she must walk with the aid of a walker lier poor vi-am great.\ in terfers with her ability to function in dependently
Mthimgh the woman - estate at the time the guardianship was est abb c eil in Ite-t was valued at more than SlJun* tin* file ends after one ai counting
It w as mg clear lf the w ard w as still Alive or what happened to her estate
An «Ideriv man who owned —nrra. bouses suffered a stroke in san An Urn ii. and supped into a ion.a Within a matter of *x- tour people a brother a grand-m ami two friends
filed to tin i-tne guardians of the estate Maims ami counteri ;ain.-fiowed into th** file from .ill side-charging that other applicants were an i afli-r the moors While the court attempted to sort out the claims mot tbs passed and the properties wet *• unsupcrv lied
k mail) the < uurf named the gran f-m as guardian The ward died or y a few dav - later and the guar Gunship wa- dissolved ironuaiiv one of the unsuccessful guardian ap pin ants the brother rex rived the Whole estate through mheritam e
An elderly woman in Galveston no longer was able lo care fin herself amt moved into the borne of her un married daughter But the elderly woman s son visited and was disgust*-! with hi- sister s lack of housekis*ptng
The —*n filed -ult to become his mother s guardian and annoumisi hi- intention U» moi** her out of Um* home
In a hearing that tax ame a family blowdown in open court th** brot tier arui sister confronted each other over the care of th** mother
An attorney who represented the sister said it became obi urns the con filet sprang from anger and resent merits that started decades ago when th** sibling- were children
The mother forced to take sides asked to be left in her daughter's borne saying she was happy there even though th** house was often not clean or well managed
A probate judge listened to all the arguments ruled rn favor of the son and named him the guardian
The mother forced to leave the home w he re she wanted to live, wept as she left the courtroom
The half brother of a Brownsville man with diabetes who forgot to take hts insulin ami has a drinking pro blent was granted guardianship of the man and his ILki.UUU estate
A month later, the ward received a letter from his brother warning him against fleeing to Mexico or try ing to slip any of his possessions across the border The letter said the Mexican
ansulate had denied the ward a visa at the request of a Texas probate court official
t The guardian spent about $7.UUU during the eight month guardian ship, fixing up the ward's home and car, and paying for the ward s dental
work The ward died, and the guar dian. the man s sole survivor, in herded the estate
Hearing explores problems in guardianship system
A man moved to South Texas from Iowa early in the century , leaving all his relatives behind Over the next 50 years, he amassed a large fortune but still was without family in Texas When his health failed, two nephews and a niece who he had not seen in JO years came to visit They persuaded the man to go w ith them to Missouri
Once in Missouri, the nephews filed papers in court and were declare co-guardians of the man s estate Short Iv afterward, funds from the estate were being siphoned off to Missouri
A lawyer who had been th*1 man -friend for decades learned of th** situation and filed suit in a Texas court to block the guardians actions Since all of the man s property was outside of Missouri that court named an accountant to lie guardian of the estate
The Missouri nephew - continued to attempt to extract funds from the Te\a- properties but the accountant under court supervision, monitored the filings and released only funds needed for th** man s care
When the elderly man died th* guardian gave a final accounting and the court closed the o inch thick file The estate so well defended by the texas court passed into probate
WASHINGTON AP* The oldest member of Congress says he intends to press for federal standards to pro ted senior citizens from unwar ranted or abusive guardianships Rep Claude Pepper. 87, chairman of the House Select Committee on Ag mg subcommittee on health, schedu! ed a hearing today to examine pro blems in the guardianship sy stem ender that system, which varies from state to state and sometimes from county to county, guardians are appointed to take control of the pro perty and personal affairs of elderly people who are judged infirm or in competent Pepper I) Fla said in announcing the hearing that a -eries of Associated Press stories this week confirms subcommittee findings that
only about 50 percent of wards are present at their competency hearings and about the same percentage are not represented by attorneys at their hearings
Given the lack of safeguards and absence of uniform national regula tions, guardianship of the elderly in the Cmted States has become an abusive legal tool." Pepper said W e intend to press for federal standards which the states might adopt" to protect the elderly fine witness today was a subcom mittee investigator who sought guardianship of his fictitious aunt in a state court without posting bond. without an attorney and without the presence of the '‘aunt."
The process took one hour," Pepper said
John H Pickering, chairman of the American Bar Association's Commission on I^egal Problems of the Elderly, said in testimony prepared for the hearing that guardianship represents “a drastic loss of fundamental civil rights of the ward."
The system is plagued by "uneven legislation, lack of judicial awareness, inadequate funds and a failure of the public to understand what is occurring arid how to prevent
it through use of legal tools to preserve autonomy. " Pickering said "And the problem will only be accentuated as America ages
John Hartman of Detroit described in his prepared testimony how he was able to embezzle nearly $130,000 from his wards during eight years as public guardian in Bay City. Mich He is currently serving a five-year sentence
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