|Joan & Dan Pyle|
If every aging and unsettled family is unhappy in its own way, the twilight of Dan and Joan Pyle is especially daunting.
When the Pyles celebrate their 30th anniversary this summer at their Southeast Portland home, they will do so in the company of a court-ordered guardianship/conservatorship and its omnipresent caretakers.
They are under 24-hour guard. Their credit cards have been cancelled, their drivers' licenses removed. They are stressed and unhappy, so frustrated that when a neighbor, Peggy Gaston, received permission to take the Pyles out for dinner, Joan asked her to ditch the caregiver who was following them in another car. Gaston, quite cheerfully, did.
"We don't mean to sound melodramatic," Joan wrote in a recent email, "but you feel like jumping off of a bridge and ending the misery."
|Dan & Joan Pyle|
And the troubled witnesses peering through that window are sharply divided over whether the Pyles are so vulnerable – or so volatile – that they require the 24-hour supervision that costs them $369 each day.
The guardianship "isn't making them better," says Gaston, who met Dan and Joan before they married. "It's making them depressed. They're the generation that built this country. They worked hard all their lives, and they want to enjoy their retirement. And they're not able to make any decisions."
Dan Pyle is a former Portland longshoreman, dealing – court papers note – with Alzheimer's and congestive heart failure. Joan, his second wife, has long been his primary caretaker.
In 2011, Dan Pyle was hospitalized following a series of falls. "He had this huge wound on his leg that was getting infected," says Rob Pyle, Dan's oldest son. "They (doctors) took one look at him and immediately called Adult Protective Services."
When an investigator interviewed Rob and his sister, Darcy Steele, Rob says, "We told him that Joan loves my dad, but she can't take care of him. She can't stop him when he goes to fall. Their decisions together were not protecting my dad."
The state APS office agreed Dan had suffered neglect. The Pyles were in and out of assisted living and nursing facilities for the next two years while their children – from each of their first marriages – reviewed options.
Money was not an issue. As Orrin Onken, the Pyles' former attorney noted in a request for fees, "The Pyles are estimated to have a conservatorship estate of close to $1 million."
"Pop worked his butt off," says Ken Hieter, Joan's only son. "Mom invested it wisely."
But Joan was so obsessed with safeguarding those trusts, Rob Pyle says, that she added a provision saying the children would be disinherited "if we made any attempt to become guardians."
"All of the kids," Joan acknowledges, "were upset about that."
At wit's end, and concerned about Dan's safety, Hieter says he contacted Dady Blake, an elder-law attorney. She introduced him to Tiffany & O'Shea, a private fiduciary firm that provides guardian, conservator and estate services.
Dan was most in need of care. Joan, however, is the majority vote in the couple's decisions. They agreed to a guardianship, Joan says, because it allowed the Pyles to return to their home, which they did in July.
The honeymoon was brief. When Tiffany & O'Shea petitioned the Multnomah County probate court to extend the guardianship and conservatorship "for an indefinite duration," the Pyles objected.
The ensuing 10-month legal battle was revealing in a number of ways.
The Pyles quickly discovered they were paying the legal fees for both their attorneys and for the attorney – Dady Blake – representing Tiffany & O'Shea, the conservator controlling their finances.
As Melissa Starr, one of their former caregivers, put it, "Joan and Dan are paying the bill for their own demise. If that's not a story, nothing is."
What's more, Dan and Joan were footing the bill for a company that informed the court in its original petition for guardianship that the Pyles are unable to manage their finances and "unable to effectively process information to make decisions for their own safety, health and well being."
Including in the "factual information" he presents to support those conclusions about Joan Pyle, Michael O'Shea states (a) "A former avid reader, she no longer can read," and (b) "She is unable to write out numbers on a check correctly and can not balance a checkbook."
Read? "Of course she can read," Darcy Steele says. A year after O'Shea presented this "evidence," Joan read to me a stirring passage by Sydney Sheldon in her living room. She also nimbly filled out a check.
O'Shea did not respond to numerous requests for comment or clarification.
The hearing to terminate Tiffany & O'Shea as legal guardian and conservator for Joan Pyle was held Oct. 28 before Multnomah Circuit Judge Paula J. Kurshner. (Dan Pyle's request to end his protected status was withdrawn prior to the hearing.)
At the time, caregivers were spending nine hours each day with the Pyles. The two primary caregivers, Melissa Starr and Melissa Conlon, both testified on Joan's behalf, describing the couple's routine and defending their self-sufficiency.
"Joan is a bit delusional," Starr told me. "That doesn't mean she needs a guardian. This is called a difficult case is because they (the Pyles) object. And the reason they object is because they're not incapacitated."
The testimony that dominated the hearing, however, was provided by Polly Fisher, a court visitor. After several interviews, Fisher concluded that Joan's belief system "could be characterized as fixed, paranoid and delusional."
She further argued, "Joan Pyle is vulnerable undue influence and to fraud due to her inability to evaluate reality and her deficits in memory and judgment."
In her closing, Dady Blake insisted the caregivers' assessment of how well Dan and Joan get along actually argues for continuance of the present arrangement.
"It sounds like a lovely existence, quite frankly," Blake says.
Over Dan and Joan's objections, Kurshner ruled it shall endure.
"In March of this year, Mrs. Pyle, represented by counsel, stipulated that she was incapacitated," Kurshner said. "I have heard nothing to indicate anything has changed ...
"I'm glad they're back in the home. The care plan seems ideal for them. I use 'them' intentionally. This (Joan) is not someone I can look at in isolation ... They are together. That's not a fact I can ignore in totality. The care he gets is part of the care she gets."
How does Dan Pyle sum up what he heard in that decision? "Apparently, they think they own us."
In the aftermath of Kurshner's ruling, several things have happened.
Caregivers Melissa Starr and Melissa Conlon both say they were dismissed by Helena Lopes Culp, who runs the in-home care agency hired by Tiffany & O'Shea.
"When I called to tell her (Culp) I'd been subpoenaed to appear," Conlon says, "she told me, 'If you show up in court, your services will no longer be needed.' Quote, unquote."
Asked if that is true, Culp says, "They are contractors. They pick up hours, and there were no more hours."
The bills are coming due. Blake billed the protected couple's estate $19,845.99, Tiffany & O'Shea $13,651, and both of those demands – the most recent on file in a system, Blake says, where accounting is typically done on an annual basis – only cover fees and services through June 30. The Pyles' two attorneys, Onken and Cathryn Ruckle, charged the couple just under $33,000.
And the in-home care – Culp's caregivers are now at the house 24 hours each day – costs more than $11,000 per month, Dan and Joan say. (Continue reading)
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Steve Duin: The forlorn twilight of Dan and Joan Pyle