Saturday, April 5, 2008

Forced Guardianship

Because of a forced guardianship, my mother had to spend over four years in nursing homes against her will. It didn’t matter to the judge that Mom wanted to live with me. It didn’t matter that she was terrified and abused while in the nursing home. And it doesn’t matter now to the judge that my Mom needlessly suffered total loss of her sight due to nursing home neglect, among other atrocities.

She begged me to take her home but I was powerless to do so. The judge appointed my brother, an attorney apparently still in "good standing" although on psychiatric disability for at least 10 years, as guardian of the property. His illness and irrational behavior plagued my efforts to free Mom because the judge favored my brother over our mother’s best interest. And my Mother suffered for it.

The person the judge was supposed to be protecting was my Mother, not my brother.
Estela Torrent, Victim in Miami, Florida

Friday, April 4, 2008

Protecting the Elderly from Guardians

For those of us who have reached our so-called "golden years" or are rapidly approaching them, there is another scare on the horizon that rivals Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis – guardianship.

"When full guardianship is imposed, the elder no longer has the right to get married, vote in elections, enter into contracts, make medical decisions, manage finances, or buy and sell property. They can’t even make decisions on where they want to live. All these rights are taken away from the elder and vested in a surrogate decision maker, the guardian."

Too often the guardian is a stranger, a professional guardian who has targeted the elderly person as an easy opportunity to increase their own personal wealth.

Here’s how they do it:

They develop relationships with people who work in retirement homes, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, etc. who then point them to likely targets. If you or some friend or family member is targeted, the guardian gets his lawyer to file a "Petition to Determine Capacity" on the target. If the target has been ill, or on medications which affect thinking, or is forgetful, he or she is on the fast track to the guardianship depot. Court-appointed examiners who have never met the person are assigned to determine competency.

Once the target is found to be incompetent and a court-appointed guardian is assigned, the target loses all autonomy. Decisions pertaining to sale of assets, life styles and medical care — are made by a stranger who now owns the person being guarded.

A Government Accounting Office (GAO) study cited a few horrific examples of guardianship abuse:

* A guardian and an employee of the guardian’s law firm brought a nursing home resident in New York cake and flowers on her birthday and billed her $850 for the visit using hourly rates for legal services.

* A company in Michigan acting as guardian for more than 600 incapacitated people committed felonies against them, including selling one individual’s home to a relative of a company employee for $500.

* Rather than using electronic direct deposit, a guardian in New York City appointed to protect an incapacitated person regularly traveled to their branch bank in another borough to deposit her monthly $50 Social Security check, charging her $300 per deposit.

* A woman in the position of Public Fiduciary at the Gila County Public Fiduciary’s Office in Arizona served as guardian of incapacitated people and in that capacity embezzled and misused a total of at least $1.2 million of public funds.

* A guardian and representative payee for veterans pled guilty to four counts of misappropriation after a joint VA and SSA Office of Inspector General investigation substantiated allegations that he had embezzled over $400,000 from the veterans’ estates.

* A woman in Washington State established a nonprofit service organization that SSA designated as the representative payee for about 200 beneficiaries. One of her clients was a homeless man entitled to retroactive payment of benefits totaling about $15,000. She received the payment on his behalf, but used the money as her own, along with SSA [Social Security] benefits for others. She embezzled a total of approximately $107,000 of SSA benefits.

The GAO report stated that because there is no systematic monitoring of how well guardianships are managed, the full extent of the abuse is unknown.

No recommendations were made as to how to stop the abuse and no Congressional legislation has been enacted or is currently being considered to fix the problem.

Full article and source: Protecting the Elderly from 'Guardians' By Ken Concannon

Concannon is a freelance writer from Manassas. If you wish to share your experiences on this topic, he can be reached at

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Dirty Little Secret

Abuse of the elderly and disabled can have many faces. These vulnerable people have become the prey for a predatory and lucrative guardianship/ conservatorship industry.

In case after case, the ward's estate is pilfered by the guardian, while the ward is isolated in a nursing home against his/her will, not allowed contact by family members or friends, and eventually dies, bewildered and alone, all with the blessing of the court.

Instead of conserving the ward's assets, guardians and conservators line their own pockets with the ward's hard earned dollars under the guise of "protection."

A well-intended law's loopholes have been discovered, and are being taken advantage of, profiting the guardian instead of protecting the ward. And, it's not just private guardians that profit. Public Guardians can charge exorbitant fees, and far too often abuse their power as well.

Professional guardians and lawyers are becoming wealthy by abusing guardianship/ conservatorship laws. Far too often, the ward whom the laws were intended to protect loses everything he or she worked a lifetime to earn. Sadly, guardianship/ conservatorship has become a money making racket, all with the blessings of our justice system!

The courts do little, or nothing to discourage this behavior. In fact, it is perfectly legal. The courts are an integral part of the problem. The very place where we seek justice turns a deaf ear to the pleas of it's victims, enabling initially well-intentioned laws to become a travesty.

The "good ol' boys club" of the Probate Courts protect its members from interference with "business as usual." Too many times corruption has been uncovered, then dismissed, with no reprimand or a mere slap on the hand.

This dirty little secret of the Probate Courts is slowly being exposed, with the help of the National Association to STOP Guardian Abuse.

Think guardianship abuse could never affect you, or your loved ones? It can happen to anyone! Help warn our legislators that we will no longer stand for this exploitation of the vulnerable. Reform of this system is desperately needed.

Written by a NASGA member

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fox 5 Investigates: Guardian Abuse, Part 2

Mary Garofalo has a follow-up to her special investigation into guardians.

From anger to outrage: A recent Fox 5 investigation exposing allegations of guardian abuse generated quite the reaction from viewers across the country. It exposed how perfect strangers can take total control of your life, sell your home and spend your money and they wouldn't even have to ask you for permission. Mary Garofalo has this update to her investigation.

Source: My Fox New York

See also: Fox 5 Investigates: Guardian Abuse

Predatory Trust

Disabled elder names licensed Bank & Trust "Co-Trustee" of Predatory Trust

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office does not intervene to investigate possible abuses by attorneys and bankers. Illinois’ response to such concerns is “Hire an attorney.”

WWII veteran, Darrell La Bounty, with a mental health disability attempted to set aside a trust for the care of himself and his wife, who had early stage dementia. With assistance of a local attorney in his hometown of Decatur, Illinois, he prepared a trust document naming a licensed Bank & Trust, Soy Capital Bank & Trust, as Co-Trustee. Unknown to his immediate family until much later, the trust appears to be a well planned predatory trust designed to benefit attorneys and bankers. Mr. Paul La Bounty reports shock at the predatory nature of the document and he is seeking to determine the purpose of the document’s design. The only child of the La Bountys’ believes the document includes clauses which would cause any “person in their right mind” to hesitate before signing.

Since the title, 'Bank & Trust', inspires trust and the senior La Bounty used the bank for a majority of his lifetime, Paul La Bounty thought auditing safeguards would prevent financial abuses, however, he now has his doubts. Paul La Bounty states that while the trust was never ‘revoked’, one thing is clear: neither his father nor mother, Anna V. La Bounty, benefited from the trust or the testamentary trust left in his final will. Among the document’s provisions are clauses relating to the absolute power and immunity of the named Co-Trustee, Soy Capital Bank & Trust.

Article 5.5: Compensation. The trustee shall be entitled to reimbursement for expenses and to reasonable compensation.

Article 5.6: Determinations by Trustee. The trustee’s reasonable determination of any question of fact shall bind all persons.

Article 5.7: Third-Party Dealings. The trustee’s certification that the trustee is acting according to this instrument shall protect anyone dealing with the trustee. No one need see to the application of money paid or property delivered to the trustee.

Article 5.8: Exoneration of Trustee: Any individual trustee acting in good faith shall not be liable for any act or omission. No trustee shall be liable for any act or omission of another trustee.

Article 5.9: Bond. No Trustee need give bond or qualify before or account to any court.

Article 6.2.7: Delegation. To employ agents, attorneys, and proxies of all types (including any firm in which a relative of mine or his or her spouse is a partner, associate, or employee or is otherwise affiliated) and to delegate to them any powers the trustee considers desirable;

Article 6.2.8: Payment of Expenses and Taxes. To pay all expenses incurred in the administration of the trust and to pay all taxes imposed on the trust;

Article 6.2.11 Nominee Arrangements. To hold any asset in the name of the nominee, in bearer form or otherwise without disclosure of any fiduciary relationship;

The document had dictates naming residual heirs and distribution of household goods, however this clause allows the Co-Trustee the final decision making ability.

Article 2.1: Any decisions made in good faith by the trustee in distributing tangible personal property shall not be subject to review, and the trustee shall be held harmless from any cost or liability as to those decisions. I shall be deemed to have left only those written instruments that the trustee is able to find after reasonable inquiry within 60 days after my death.

Paul La Bounty states that he reported files missing when he entered his parent’s home to prepare for his father’s funeral. These files included tax returns, banking documentation, wills and trusts, life insurance policies, (which were included in the trust), and a large CD of 100,000 which his father had shown him five weeks earlier.

Article 2.2: Gifts of Remaining Tangible Personal Property. I give all tangible property not otherwise effectively disposed of to my spouse, if my spouse survives me, or if my spouse does not survive me, then to my son. If he shall not survive me, then in shares of equal value to my grandchildren who survive me (to the exclusion of the descendants of any child who does not survive me), to be divided among them as they agree, or, if they cannot agree within 60 days after my death, as the trustee determines.

Paul La Bounty tells that he was forced to auction household goods to create an “estate in his father’s name”. He complains of being cited for “taking” the possessions left to his Mother who in turn left all the household goods to him. The Co-Trustee serving as financial guardian “made the decision”.

The clause on “accountings” intentionally avoids accounting to immediate family members, those who would be protective of the senior La Bounty.

Article 5.1: Accountings. Commencing May 1 of the year after my death, and not less than annually thereafter, the trustee shall send a written account of all trust receipts, disbursements, and transactions and the property comprising the trust to Donna K. Counterman, and Madeline Brooks, and any other person whose name appears in this document requests an accounting.

Since at that time, attorneys denied the existence of such a trust, it was impossible to request accountings. Paul La Bounty stresses that inquiries to his second attorney who wrote the trust were ignored. Marilyn Brooks, a cousin of Paul’s states she did not receive an accounting. ‘Madeline Brooks’ is non-existent, which is an additional clue that the senior La Bounty did not understand the document’s content.

Paul La Bounty and other residual heirs express concern that the guardianship accounting provided by Soy Capital Bank & Trust did not reflect all assets. A review of the trust documentation raises concern and brings the question of how vulnerable elders are protected against financial abuse by attorneys and bankers. Contact with the Illinois Attorney General’s office prompted a phone call La Bounty’s residence. Paul La Bounty recalls the office responded to the effect that “the office doesn’t handle individual cases.” Their recommendation was, “Hire an attorney”. He states the Illinois State Police Crimes Against Seniors investigator responded by suggesting, “Maybe your Dad gave it away”. The La Bountys question if this type of response to queries regarding missing funds and possible elder abuse, indicates that it is ‘open season’ for financial abuse by attorneys and bankers.

Paul La Bounty and other residual heirs are asking for a “discovery” on both his father’s estate EIN# and the missing trust EIN# which is clearly allowed by Illinois Probate Code in the cases of disabled elders. He states it is not easy to achieve in a court dominated by professional relationships. While the La Bountys are in a state of shock regarding the apparent ease of possible abuse, the difficulty involved in addressing the issue is more distressing. Paul, as a result of this experience, cautions people considering a living trust. He asks, “Who has the best knowledge and ability to abuse funds? Attorneys and bankers have the advantage.” He states the nature of his father’s trust speaks for itself. Attempts to interest state bureaucracies and legislators to review the problem have not been successful, however the family members continue their efforts.

Interested Parties may contact:
Paul La Bounty
Only child and Executor of Anna V. La Bounty Estate
(970) 330-6790

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Judge Windle Caught

"Judge Windle, you bring shame on Denton County and the judicial system of our state." Source: Who's Playin

See also: Denton County Judge and Guardian

Monday, March 31, 2008

Denver Probate Lawyer

Denver probate lawyer Susan Haines has lost her license to practice for taking $70,000 from a client's estate and then lying under oath about it. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld Haines' disbarment and ordered her to pay back $65,000.

"Haines by deceit and fraud seized the opportunity to pay herself a large amount of money without her client's authorization," the court ruled.

The court said it agreed with a hearing board finding that "Haines engaged in a course of conduct that constituted knowing misappropriation of estate funds and lied under oath in the hearing board's proceeding."

Haines was involved as a lawyer or guardian ad litem in several of the cases the Rocky Mountain News wrote about in its 2001 series, The Probate Pit, which examined questionable practices by court-appointed guardians, conservators and lawyers that drain estates of the elderly.

Source: Denver probate lawyer loses license

Gordon Wolfe charged an elderly woman $28,949 for 22 months of service, fees that another court appointee considered excessive, as mentioned in The Probate Pit

Gordon Wolfe is registered with Center for Guardianship Certification