We interrupt the sad story of Marie Long – where fully a dozen lawyers were in court this week , gearing up to fight the old lady's attempt to get some of her money back – to bring you the tale of another person protected by probate court.
This one, an 81-year-old man who is on the hook for $500,000 in legal fees – more than half of that for a lawyer who spent most of his time fighting the old guy's wishes.
Some of you may recall R.B. Sleeth, whose battle with his son over his desire to marry his girlfriend ate up more than a year of his life, including 10 weeks in a lockdown Alzheimer's unit -- never mind that he didn't have Alzheimer's.
R.B.'s battle began in December 2007, when his son Mark stopped his wedding to Marge Foley and petitioned to become his father's guardian and conservator. Mark contended that Marge, then 73, was a gold digger and that his father had long ago asked Mark to assume control should he become mentally incapacitated.
Marge and R.B. battled Mark through 2008, culminating in R.B.'s 10-week stay in a lockdown unit. Marge claimed that R.B. was being overmedicated and that Mark was trying to cut her out of R.B.'s life, against his wishes. Mark claimed that Marge was freeloading and taking advantage of his father's fragile condition.
In December 2008, Commissioner Richard Nothwehr sided with Mark, lauding his “love and affection for R.B.” but removed him as guardian anyway, saying that keeping R.B. and Marge apart wasn't in R.B.'s best interest. Mark retained control of his father's finances.
In February 2009, Jane Anne Geisler, an independent guardian, was brought in and R.B. was weaned from an array of medications, including a powerful anti-psychotic. One month later, he was sprung from assisted living, married Marge and returned to his Paradise Valley home to find the house a mess, his utilities cut off due to non payment of bills and his $1.4 million net worth reduced to “virtually zero,” court records say.
In October, the guardianship was terminated as doctors pronounced R.B. “mentally and physically stable”. It seems R.B. never had dementia, just an overabundance of medication.
By then, court records show that Mark had already relinquished control of R.B.'s money amid discoveries that the older man had a stack of unpaid bills and his long-term care insurance had lapsed. One of the conditions of Mark's stepping aside: no talking to the media (read: me) about what was going on.
I understand why, especially after seeing some of the 2008 and 2009 e-mails that have recently come to light in court records.
The nasty ones from Mark about how he despised his father – not exactly the picture of “love and affection for R.B”, as described by Commissioner Nothwehr.
And the ones from Scott Ferris, the attorney for Mark while he was R.B.'s guardian, trustee and conservator. I particularly like the one Ferris sent to Mark and others the day after I wrote about R.B.'s plight in December 2008 – a few weeks before Mark was removed as guardian.
“After considerable thought yesterday and today, I am more convinced that the best approach to the current financial circumstances is to liquidate everything in the Conservatorship and the Trust irrespective of the status of the current market for any asset,” Ferris wrote. “Use such proceeds to pay all Estate expenses and reimbursement, with the remainder … for all future expenses related to R.B. – period. If that means he is insolvent and must apply to ALTCS, it's not like you did not warn of such circumstances …”
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$500,000 Later, an Old Man Wins His Freedom From Probate