Saturday, July 17, 2010

CT Judicial Council Finds Probable Cause Against Probate Judge

A council investigating a complaint of professional or ethical misconduct by Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello has found probable cause and will hold a public hearing in September.

Samuel Manzo, an apparent heir to property left by Josephine Smoron, brought the action against Mecarriello.

Smoron died one year ago, leaving most of her 80-acre estate to Manzo in a 2004 will. But two months before she died, Meccariello approved a request by her former conservator to establish two trusts to hold all her assets.

The conservator, local attorney John T. Nugent, was named trustee. Nugent funded the trusts with Smoron's real estate and cash assets before Smoron died. According to court documents, the land was to go to three local churches, who would then sell it to local developer Carl Verderame for about $2 million.

Verderame needs the land for an access road to build a $118 million sports arena.

Full Article and Source:
Judicial Council Finds Probable Cause of Misconduct by Meccariello

See Also:
In Smoron Probate Case, Greed at Its Ugly Worse

Woman Pleads Guilty to Stealing from Aunt

In the middle of her trial on theft charges, a former Phoenixville woman pleaded guilty to having hoodwinked her aged aunt into taking out a mortgage on the home she had lived in for 50 years so the woman could finance a high-end life style.

Mary Ellen Ashton is accused of taking the $82,067 that her 81-year-old aunt had coming from a second mortgage on her 5th Avenue home in Phoenixville and spending it on herself, leaving her aunt, who was suffering from dementia at the time, in danger of losing the home her husband had bought for the couple in 1956.

Ashton had told her aunt, Margaret Voytowicz, that she would repay the money, which she needed for personal expenses, authorities said. But she never did. The house was foreclosed on and Voytowicz faced eviction until family members and attorneys stepped in and saved the home from being sold out from under her.

Voytowicz died in November 2008 after suffering a debilitating stroke. She was 84.

On Wednesday, Ashton pleaded guilty to charges of theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, and receiving stolen property. The plea ended her trial on those charges, which had begun in Judge William P. Mahon’s courtroom Monday.

Full Article and Source:
Phoenixville Woman Accused of Taking $82,067

What Price Can Be Placed on Betrayal of Trust?

Hey, it's just money...right? A story in today's Bonner County Daily Bee caught my attention and got my hackles up. Apparently, Elise Anne Davidson, of Spirit Lake, Idaho, has received no more than a "slap on the wrist" for her financial exploitation of an elderly man. You see, Ms. Davidson used a financial power of attorney to steal more than $4,000.00 from the victim while he was convalescing in a nursing home. She also apparently attempted to have the victim removed from the nursing home and placed in her care. The victim, who is unidentified in the story, was confined to a wheelchair and incapable of writing or speaking. Rightfully, Ms. Davidson was originally charged with a felony -- exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Unfortunately, through a plea agreement, she pled guilty to misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. She was also ordered to pay the nursing home $1,000.00 in funds which the facility was owed.

When you look at it, I suppose it is easy to say that stealing $4,000.00 should not equate with a stiffer sentence than Ms. Davidson received. This is not about the money, however. This is about the exploitation of the vulnerable adult who was the victim in this case. What price can be placed on the betrayal of trust?

Full Article and Source;
North Idaho Woman Receives and Unbeliebably Light Sentence in Exploitation Case

Friday, July 16, 2010

Danny Tate Continues Fight Against Probate Court's Assault on His Personal and Property Rights

Things have only seemed quiet with the probate abuse case of Nashville musician Danny Tate in which Tate's lifelong accumulation of assets has largely been wiped out during a 32-month "temporary" conservatorship (guardianship) initiated by his brother David, facilitated by attorney Paul T. Housch and sanctioned by Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Kennedy. But in the vein of things not being as they appear and courts not necessarily being about justice, the involved parties have been busy and a web site Nashville Criminals is documenting all the developments of this case which exemplifies questionable probate actions occurring throughout the U.S.

Nashville Criminals is a presentation of evidence by Ira Robbins, a Milwaukee-based investigative consultant, with nearly 50 years of investigative experience which includes working as a police officer, licensed private investigator and investigative consultant. Robbins provides documents alleging that David Tate used a fraudulent Durable General Power of Attorney to gain initial control of Danny Tate's finances which funded attorney Housch's October 2007 petitioning for the musician to be conserved.

Per the web site,

On October 19, 2007, David Tate filed a fraudulent PETITION FOR APPOINTMENT OF CONSERVATOR claiming Danny Tate was under the influence of drugs to such a point that immediate incarceration in the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital for at least 30 days was absolutely necessary. Thereafter, Danny was to be conveyed under guard with David, to Boston where he would remain in a drug facility for at least a year or two The claim of such a severe addiction was absolutely false. Although Danny had been using drugs, Vanderbilt Hospital determined that his addiction was not as severe as David had reported and released Danny after just 6 days.

For 32 months, Danny Tate simultaneously fought to regain control over not just substance abuse, but also his civil and property rights that some court observers believe were hijacked by the Tennessee probate court. Only when Tate’s current attorney, Michael Hoskins, filed an extraordinary relief application did the Middle Tennessee Court of Appeals reverse one of Judge Kennedy’s critical case rulings, an act described by Nashville Scene as “meaning the Probate Court had strayed so far from established legal procedure that an extraordinary judicial slap on the wrist was dealt to Kennedy. More remarkable still, Judge Frank Clement, the jurist who issued the Appeals Court decision, used to sit in Kennedy’s seat in Probate Court.”

This court ruling basically acknowledged the questionable process by which Tate was conserved and forced Judge Kennedy to allow a hearing that would make the 32-month "temporary" conservatorship permanent or else the status would be terminated. The ruling finally allowed Danny Tate his "day in court."

Throughout early 2010, the case began receiving increased public attention starting with the Nashville Scene article, continuing with a web site and a Friends for Danny Tate’s Defense Facebook page as well as an awareness concert which all combined to help generate respectable buzz within a variety of other media outlets.

A May 24 hearing took place in a courtroom that included Tate supporters and a local television camera crew. The hearing quickly evolved into what seemed a scripted media event with Danny Tate's release from the conservatorship put front and center for all (especially the cameras) to see. "They saved him" seemed a recurring theme used to justify the 32-month legal ordeal which now leaves Tate destitute.

The day's victory played well from a public relations standpoint and was likely hoped to appease the supporters on hand, but the day's real outcome became evident nearly three weeks later upon Judge Kennedy signing the hearing final order.

Rather than signing a final order submitted by Danny Tate attorney Michael Hoskins that reflected the May 24 ruling, Judge Kennedy instead opted for a Paul T. Housch-written statement that gave the now-terminated "temporary" conservatorship of David Tate functional control over his brother's assets through a 60-day "wind down" period. This translated practically into further depletion of Danny Tate's estate by the "temporary" conservator despite Tate's "rights" alleged to be restored. Judge Kennedy further demonstrated support of this course at a June 11 hearing.

This background brings us back to the Nashville Criminals site where Ira Robbins has documented irregularities of the process leading to Danny Tate's current situation and also has provided updates on recent activity. This includes his letter to the Tennessee Attorney General and Davidson County District Attorney. Robbins also has posted efforts to reach out to members of the Tate family, David Tate himself and even the attorney for the Signet, the company owned by David Tate's wife, as Elizabeth Tate and company could be parties in future litigation.

The site also gives information on the case of Robert Thurman, another individual under a similarly questionably conservatorship initiated by Housch and approved by Kennedy.

In a post entitled They Finally Got It All, Robbins displays Danny Tate's "Respondent's Motion to Proceed as a Poor Person on Appeal" in which he submits he has been "thoroughly impoverished as a result of this conservatorship action." And the conservatorship - temporary or otherwise - was theoretically to protect both the ward and his estate? That's why the site is called Nashville Criminals.

Just Part of the Cover-Up gives hint to potential concern on the part of the "temporary" conservator David Tate as he has now petitioned the court (and presumably continued inflating his destitute brother's legal bills) to have a series of depositions entered into evidence at the May 24 hearing removed. Here's how Ira Robbins describes it:

On June 29, 2010, Attorney Housch filed a Motion to hide evidence that incriminates him and his co-conspirators for their criminal conduct. The depositions of David Tate and Dr. William Kenner provide ample evidence of their criminal wrongdoing. Now, Attorney Housch has asked Judge Kennedy to strike their testimony from the record. Even though those depositions were not used in a trial, they still contain enough evidence to convict the parties, including Housch, of criminal conduct. No wonder he wants to get rid of them. And just who do you think will get the bill for this motion? You guessed it. Danny will.

A final posting Fair Warning is the most recent posting and says this:


The Nashville Criminals site counter lists more than 6,600 visitors in but a few short weeks. It's hard to imagine the extended Tate family or associated lawyers promoting the site. Danny Tate's friends undoubtedly are watching. Hopefully an assortment of law enforcement agencies are also viewing and absorbing the facts associated with this case.

If what has happened to Danny Tate is an example of the legal system operating properly, God help us all! If it is an example of abuse and corruption, many agencies have been served "fair warning" and their reputations are additionally now on the line. So the next logical question: anyone ready for action? The Friends of Danny Tate continue their call for justice.

Full Article and Source:
Nashville Musician Continues Fight on Probate Court's Assult on Personal, Property Rights

Editorial: MI State Legislature Should Support Bills Protecting Elderly

The Michigan Office of Services to the Aging is urging the Michigan Legislature to pass a package of bills geared toward protecting the state's older adults from financial abuse.

Representatives of OSA met last month with individual legislators and testified before the House Senior Health Security and Retirement House Committee in support of the bills.

The bills, HB 4619, 4622, 4623, 4625, 6252, 5187 and 5193, are actually part of an even longer list of legislation pending in both the House and Senate.

It's unfortunate that so many bills are needed to address the problem of elder abuse. But if that's what it takes to attack the problem, then so be it. It doesn't matter, in a sense, what the order is for passing these bills, but they should be approved by both the House and the Senate.

•Require training for financial institution staff on financial exploitation, how to spot suspicious activity and how to report suspicious activity when detected.

•Expand the definition of abuse of vulnerable adults to include financial exploitation.

•Require financial institutions to inform account holders and provide written disclosure of the rights of joint account holders so that those allowing access to their funds understand that joint account holders have the legal right to use the account and funds contained in it as if it is their own money.

•Require courts to consider appointment of a conservator if a person under a guardianship has assets of more than a certain limit ($10,000). This is to prevent potential financial exploitation through a guardianship.

Full Editorial and Source:
State Legislature Should Support Bills Protecting Elderly Residents

Family Tragedy May Lead to New Law on Student Loans

Most people who write their congressman get back a polite form letter.

But when the Bryski family of Marlton, N.J., contacted Rep. John Adler, D-N.J., last year with their story of tragedy, they got legislation drafted and introduced that, if enacted, would change the way millions of student loans are handled.

In 2004, Christopher Bryski was 23 and in college - a seemingly invulnerable varsity athlete - when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a freak accident; he spent two years in a persistent vegetative state before dying. As brutal as it was for the Bryskis to lose a son and brother in this way, the event triggered a financial nightmare for them.

Because his father, Joseph Bryski Sr., had co-signed Christopher's student loans with several banks, the family was on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars, obligations that had been buried in fine print. So even while medical bills accumulated as Christopher lay in limbo, the student loans came due and the interest rate increased. The Bryskis struggled to keep up.

"The process was horrible," said mother Diane Bryski.

Direct student loans from the federal government are forgiven if the borrower dies or becomes incapacitated, but so-called private loans from banks that millions of students carry usually are not. And because Christopher had not signed a power-of-attorney document, his parents and brothers had no legal standing to negotiate payment terms, nor could they access his bank accounts to help pay off his student debt, rent and credit card bills.

Full Article and Source:
Family's Tragedy May Lead to New Law on Student Loans

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Danny's Diary

As my story surfaces, it is quickly being recognized as one of the most unlawful and abusive conservatorships (guardianships) ever known.

I use the word “known” for a reason. Very few stories ever surface and this is by design. Our corrupt probate system uses this law for all the wrong reasons and have “designed” the racket to cover up their dirty deeds.

My case may not be near as horrific as many, but it’s enough so to get the idea across to the public. If this has happened to me think of the stories that have never been heard; the elderly locked away and medicated while their estates are drained, lining the pockets of these bottom feeders; attorneys who usually couple probate law practice with personal injury. Need I say more?

Full Article and Source:
Free Danny Tate!!!

See Also:

Facebook: Justice for Danny Tate

Facebook: Friends for Danny Tate's Defense

Family Feud May Test Boundaries of Inheritance Law

Inside a quiet room on an upper floor of a glimmering glass office building in Trenton sits a seemingly ordinary stack of documents.

The papers summarize a bitter court fight.

But this is no routine legal tussle.

At issue is a tradition as basic to families as wedding rings and vacation photographs: Who ultimately has a right to an inheritance?

On one side stands the Cohen family of Hudson News fame, whose once-vibrant patriarch in Englewood is now rendered nearly immobile and virtually speechless by a degenerative neurological disorder.

On the other side is his former son-in-law, Ronald Perelman, a legendary corporate takeover billionaire and Revlon chairman with a take-no-prisoners reputation in his financial dealings. He's trying to convince a court to declare the elderly Cohen incapacitated.

Perelman says his daughter — Cohen's granddaughter — is entitled to half of the family's fortune, which has been estimated to be as much as $800 million by Fortune magazine. To get the money, Perelman wants to go where few court cases have ever ventured: He wants to rewrite the will of a man who isn't dead.

Perelman's lawsuit, which he filed as executor of the estate of his ex-wife, was dismissed a year ago by a Bergen County judge, who just last month sanctioned his lawyers for "overly aggressive" tactics and ruled that one of Perelman's central legal claims was "frivolous."

Perelman is appealing.

Where this case will lead is an open question. Already, this bitter conflict has touched on such issues as a family's right to privacy, its ability to protect its business interests, and broader ethical and legal questions about the rights of the disabled and elderly to make decisions in their wills.

Full Article and Source:
Kelly: Family Feud May Test Boundaries of Inheritance Law

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nursing Home Chain Loses Class Action Lawsuit Big

I guess there's probably a lot a screaming and yelling going on at the Skilled Healthcare Group (SKH) headquarters in California. Perhaps the anger derives from the miserable looking financial chart for the company showing a whopping 75% decline in price per share in one day!

Another portion of the companies anger is probably being misdirected at the lawyers who defended the company in a class action lawsuit brought against Skilled Healthcare based on systematic under-staffing at 22 nursing homes owned by the corporate giant. Really, the only people to blame are the managers in the company who intentionally chose to limit that staffing at their facilities.

After hearing months of evidence regarding staffing levels at the nursing homes operated by Skilled Healthcare, the jury awarded the maximum amount permissible under the California Health and Safety Code--- a whopping $671 million to the members of the class.

The massive jury award is hardly an arbitrary number. Rather, the compensatory damages were awarded based on a statutory violation of $500 per-patient per-day at the 22 subject facilities for not providing that state minimum staffing of 3.2 hours for each patient living at the nursing homes on a daily basis.

In addition to the compensatory damages, the lawsuit also seeks punitive damages against Skilled Healthcare. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer for their acts. The punitive aspect of the lawsuit will move forward in the coming weeks.

Full Article and Source:
Nursing Home Chain Hit With Landmark Verdict in Under-Staffing Class Action Lawsuit

Judge Refuses Patient's Right to Choose

Valley Hospital officials didn’t care that a patient refused life-saving dialysis: They weren't going to let her die. So they got a court order.

Five months later, she's alive and thriving.

The case resembles others in which a judge had to make a life-or-death decision whether or not to limit an individual's right of self-determination.

“In a situation where the hospital's own psychiatrists disagreed as to [the patient’s] mental capacity,” wrote Superior Court Judge Ellen Koblitz out of Hackensack, The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood “sought the appointment of a special medical guardian to consent to life-saving dialysis treatment.”

Her doctor told the judge his patient was “was overridden with a fear of the dialysis machine, partially because, in her view, machines that duplicate bodily functions overly intrude into God's domain.”

Koblitz, in turn, determined the woman “was incompetent to refuse dialysis treatment because she denied that she would most likely die without dialysis.“

Full Article and Source:
Judge Refuses Woman's Bid for 'Death Over Dialysis'>

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Cases Against Public Administrator Lynn EnEarl

Advocates for the elderly are claiming that Public Administrator Lynn EnEarl's failure to file an inventory or provide annual reports on the status of her wards' welfare is a pattern for her nearly two dozen clients.

Three more cases brought to the attention of Douglas County District Court by Special Advocates for the Elderly are expected to be heard on Tuesday.

Last week, EnEarl relinquished her four-year guardianship over an 83-year-old Gardnerville woman, saying in court documents filed by her attorney Mike Rowe, that ward Sharon Hicks' clear desire to have another guardian prompted the move. Rowe objected to the accusations included in a July 1 petition filed by the advocates, and that EnEarl's willingness to transfer Hicks' guardianship was not an admission.

Douglas District Judge Michael Gibbons said he didn't understand why Public Administrator Lynn EnEarl and her attorney failed to file reports and an inventory required by law.

“It's a total surprise to me to find all this out,” Gibbons said. “I'm somewhat mystified as to how this happened.”

Special Advocate For the Elderly Coordinator John Giomi, who sought removal of EnEarl as Hicks' guardian, told Gibbons that EnEarl failed to file an annual accounting, a report on Hicks' welfare or to perform her other duties as required by law.

In a July 1 filing, Giomi said Hicks was transferred to Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation Center without any clothing or her belongings.

Special Advocate Dana Jantos called Hicks' questions about what happened to her property heartbreaking.

“Mrs. Hicks has an excellent memory,” she said. “She has asked about her belongings many times.”

EnEarl told Gibbons she didn't find any family photos or valuables when she entered the apartment.

“Even people who are incompetent have a right to have their property,” he said. “Not everything has to be disposed of. If they have jewelry and things just put them in a bag and give it to them. People are still going to want their things for some reason.”

Gibbons said the advocates are there to work with the public administrator.

“Despite the conflict here, all three of the people are here to help,” he said. “In the long run I think you'll find the SAFEs will help you.”

Gibbons did not approve the accounting submitted by EnEarl and Rowe. He asked them to supplement the inventory they submitted with more information.

“You have submitted an accounting, but it's not complete,” he said.

Full Article and Source:
More Public Administrator Cases Coming to Court

See Also:
Documents Produced

Update on L'Oreal Case

It’s been more than 18 months since the daughter of France’s richest woman sued to protect her from a man described as a “dandy” who had received more than $1 billion (U.S. value) in gifts from the owner of cosmetic giant L’Oreal.

The daughter of 87-year-old Liliane Bettencourt sued Francois-Marie Banier, a 63-year old (male) celebrity photographer who reportedly has befriended Johnny Depp, Salvador Dali and others. Banier claims the lavish gifts of cash and art masterpieces were given to him by Bettencourt when she was mentally competent as a thank-you for his years of friendship and help as an advisor.

Bettencourt’s daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, was permitted to sue Banier criminally last year. This means that if she wins her lawsuit, Banier will not only have to return the money, but also face jail time. The case was set for trial late last week.

There was already plenty of intrigue surrounding the famous fortune fight over the person who ranks as number 20 on Forbes’ annual list of richest people. (Bettencourt has a reported net worth of $20 billion.) But, to make it more interesting, the trial was postponed indefinitely because of new evidence.

What evidence you ask? Bettencourt’s butler had been sneaking a tape recorder into the room with her when he served refreshments. With this recorder, he obtained hours of audiotape from secret meetings between Bettencourt and her advisors.

Full Article and Source:
Trial Over L'Oreal Heiress Sparks French Political Scandal

Police Badge Aids Con

The con man had a persuasive story -- they often do -- but he also had a police badge.

It was enough to convince a Minneapolis woman that he was genuine, so when he told her there was counterfeit money in her bank accounts that should be withdrawn, she complied.

The woman, 82, visited two banks on Friday and withdrew $28,000, police said. She then handed it over to the man with the badge. The problem: There was no such police investigation and no such officer; the badge was fake.

The alarming theft could be the second large haul for the fake cop in the past few weeks.

Full Article and Source:
Fake Badge Used to Bilk EDderly Out of Thousands: Believing They Were Assisting a Police Investigation, an 82-Year-Old Minneapolis Woman Gave Up $28,000 and a 94-Year-Old Richfield Woman Lost Nearly $10,000.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Texas Senate Jurisprudence Commitee Hearing Update

During a four-hour hearing last month in Austin, a few Texas senators listened to more than 20 people talk about problems in the state's guardianship system.

Some speakers complained that it is too political, with probate judges favoring certain attorneys for appointments on cases.

Others were angered that the probate code allows for ex parte hearings that, in emergency circumstances, enable judges to remove guardians without notice.

And several speakers accused state and local agencies of not seeking less restrictive alternatives, as required by law, before recommending guardianship.

The Senate Jurisprudence Committee is studying the effectiveness of the guardianship program implemented by the Department of Aging and Disability Services and Adult Protective Services and whether clients and their assets are being adequately protected.

The speakers included parents, former guardians, judges, advocates, court personnel and state officials -- all of whom had differing opinions and separate agendas.

And while criticism of APS and DADS dominated much of the hearing, many speakers voiced their concerns about various probate courts, including in Denton and Tarrant counties.

At least three Tarrant County families complained that Probate Judge Pat Ferchill removed them as their loved ones' guardians in ex parte hearings after receiving information that they were causing problems, were not cooperating or were not providing appropriate care.

"This should never happen -- family members and friends are removed, and no one is ever notified?" said Sharon Richardson, whose guardianship over her mother was stripped. "These ex parte hearings need to stop."

Full Article and Source:
Texas Senators Hear Complaints About Guardianship System

See Also:
Notes From Texas Public Hearing: State Senate Committee on Jurispudence

Volunteers Help Fill Gap as More Indigent People Require Legal Guardians

A silver dog tag hangs around the neck of the 57-year-old Air Force veteran, just in case.

Just in case he gets lost at Walmart, wanders away from his assisted-living facility or simply gets confused.

The tag lists his name and the cellphone number of his volunteer guardian, Eddie Carroll -- the only person who regularly visits him.

"Eddie is basically my only contact with the outside world," the veteran said.

Personal tragedy, alcohol abuse and a series of strokes have robbed the man of his short-term memory.

Because he no longer has any friends or relatives who are willing or suitable to look after him, a Tarrant County probate judge appointed Guardianship Services Inc., a Fort Worth-based nonprofit organization, his official guardian several years ago.

Carroll, a volunteer for the organization, was asked to help look after the man, an opportunity Carroll gladly accepted, partly because he's also a veteran.

"I happen to think he is a very neat guy," Carroll said. "His needs, wants and desires are not great. The things he likes to do, we do."

The man, who is not being identified because he is a ward, is among more than 2,400 Tarrant County residents being cared for by court-appointed guardians because they are physically or mentally incapable of making decisions about their personal, medical or financial affairs.

In most cases, Tarrant County's two probate judges appoint spouses, relatives or friends as the legal guardian, but an increasing number of people in need are on their own.

In those cases, the judges appoint Guardianship Services Inc.; the Department of Aging and Disability Services; or private, professional guardians to manage their lives and make crucial decisions.

"We are called upon to help protect people for a lot of different reasons," said Judge Steve King, who presides over Probate Court No. 1. "They may be totally functioning except they can't say 'no' to a con man or they can't say 'no' to their youngest child. They literally have to be protected from themselves." While no single agency keeps statistics on the total number of wards in Texas, state and local officials say there has been a surge in cases the past several years. Experts attribute the increase to people living longer, the prevalence of Alzheimer's and related dementia disorders, and people's reluctance to care for incapacitated loved ones.

Full Aritcle and Source:
Volunteers Help Fill Gap as More Indigent People Require Legal Guardians

A Good Guardianship

Jennifer Nikirk was six months pregnant and on her way home from her teaching job in Bridgeport when the wreck happened.

She remembers none of it, or the months that followed.

But her parents and sister will never forget: The trauma doctors. The three-month coma. The waiting and praying.

On April 25, 2008, Nikirk, then 34, gave birth to her son, Dylan. Less than a week later, the single mother began to emerge from her coma.

Don Nikirk and his wife, Phyllis, had been trying in vain to handle their daughter's personal, medical and financial business since her wreck on Jan. 29, 2008. But because they hadn't been given power of attorney or been appointed her guardian, their hands were tied, even though she suffered a severe brain injury and was incapacitated.

Seeing no other option, Don Nikirk contacted an attorney to work toward being appointed her guardian, a process he quickly discovered was serious and complicated.

"Guardianship is the last resort," said attorney Jeff Arnier, who is the court investigator in Tarrant County Probate Court No. 2. "It is the most restrictive thing. You are going to strip away their civil rights. And you become married to the court."

On May 16, 2008, Probate Judge Pat Ferchill appointed Don Nikirk as his daughter's guardian, giving him full authority over her estate and person.

After the hearing, Ferchill's staff gave Don Nikirk an orientation and handbook on guardianship, outlining what was expected of him. Among other things, he was required to file an annual report, document every penny he spent of his daughter's money and be subjected to court oversight.

"The court clerk handed me this three-ring binder chock-full of information, and I looked at it and thought, 'Good God, what have I gotten into?'" Don Nikirk said. "Then it dawned on me what was going on. I didn't realize it put the person under the protection of the state."

Full Article and Source:
Tarrant County Woman Regains Control of Her Life

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Arrested During Peoria Nursing Home Check

Two people were arrested on outstanding warrants as part of a statewide check to see if nursing homes are complying with state regulations.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Sharon Health Care Willows, 3520 N. Rochelle Lane, appeared to be largely in compliance, but her team of local and state authorities did find five people who had warrants. Two of them were Frank Risavy, 54, who was wanted on a misdemeanor assault charge, and Melinda Wiegand, 52, who was wanted on a charge of retail theft, also a misdemeanor.

"When we are in the position of putting our grandparents into a nursing home, we want to know they will be safe," Madigan said at a news conference in Peoria after the early morning check at the nursing home.

She said people must thoroughly check out a nursing home: "Do their research" before moving a loved one there by meeting with the staff, touring the facility and go online to see if there are any reports about the nursing home.

Three others found to have warrants weren't arrested either because of bad health or because their warrants were issued in a county that was too far away for them to be taken there. The charges against those people weren't known.

Nursing homes, Madigan said, are required to get background check on their residents as well as their staff members, but warrants often don't show up on such a check or a person could pick up a warrant after moving in. That wasn't case in Peoria, as the two people arrested were picked up on warrants from 2008 and 2007, respectively. Statewide, 19 people, including the two in Peoria, were arrested.

Full Article and Source:
Two Arrested During Peoria Nursing Home Check

Sometimes a Conservator can be a Good Thing!

The thought of having a conservator appointed for a parent or relative - even a friend or neighbor - is something we all seem to loath. It has all sorts of negative connotations, including the fact that a conserved individual will be paraded through the probate courts with psychiatric and medical evaluations open for all to see. But, most of all, it's the loss of dignity that results when the state declares an individual incapable - and takes away his or her right to vote, or marry, or divorce, or write a check, or pay a bill, or make any other meaningful decisions. It's a position that no one wants to come to in this life.

But, despite all the negative aspects of being conserved, there are times when the appointment of a conservator is actually a good thing. Consider the case of Jane Wiederhold, a Barkhamstead, Connecticut, widow who was left an estate worth roughly $12 million by her husband, John Wiederhold. The Wiederholds had no children and the closest relatives lived out of state. At the time of her husband's death in January of 1998, Jane Wiederhold showed signs of dementia and the inability to manage her finances. A friend of the family reportedly stated to the police that she was unable to write a check to pay for her husband's funeral and she couldn't remember how to spell her name.

Prior to his death, John Wiederhold had an attorney, Peter K. Sivaslian, from Torrington, Connecticut. Immediately after John Wiederhold's death, Attorney Sivaslian started settling John Wiederhold's estate. He also began to assist Jane Wiederhold with her personal finances. Within three months after her husband's death, it is alleged that Attorney Sivaslian started purchasing bearer bonds and stock from the money in the Wiederholds' accounts, the bulk of which were later traced into accounts held by Sivaslian and his wife, Lillian Sivaslian, according to a warrant served on Attorney Sivaslian by Connecticut state police. The warrant charged Attorney Sivalslian with two counts of first-degree larceny and two counts of second-degree larceny. It is alleged that Attorney Sivaslian stole as much as $4.8 million from Jane Wiederhold over several years, although the actual loss is somewhat less because some of the stocks and bonds have been recovered. He also charged a fee of $2,000 a month to handle Jane Wiederhold's financial affairs, and he paid himself $200,000 to settle John Wiederhold's estate.

The situtation didn't come to light until three years after her husband's death, when Jane Wiederhold told her nephew that Attorney Sivaslian had not provided any accountings of her finances and she suspected that half her money was gone. The nephew said he would look into it.

Despite the concern of friends and the funeral home director, no one seemed to do anything to protect Mrs. Wiederhold or her money until the nephew got involved. "No one suspected an attorney would commit any wrongdoing, her relatives, friends and home assistants reported to police," according to an article published by the Register Citizan. Apparently, a medical examiner had recommended in 2001 that Mrs. Wiederhold be placed in conservatorship, but Attorney Sivaslian delayed filing the application until 2002 - more than five years after her husband's death.

This is a case where everyone in contact with Mrs. Wiederhold may have wondered what was going on, but no one felt they had the right to inquire - at least not until the nephew got involved.

That wouldn't have been the case if a conservatorship application had been filed with the probate court as soon as Mrs. Wiederhold lost her husband. That's when Mrs. Wiederhold was most vulnerable and in need of supervision with adequate checks and balances in place to insure that her best interests were taken care of. A conservatorship proceeding would have given her that support system. It would have appointed someone to take care of her personal and financial needs. It would have required that an initial inventory of her assets be prepared and filed with the court. It would have also required that an accounting of her finances be filed every three years - more often if requested by the probate court judge.

While we all loath the thought of a loved one being conserved, it's important to recognize that the probate court system in every state is designed to protect vulnerable individuals who can no longer care for themselves. Yes, there are alternatives that are available if the necessary steps are taken at the appropriate times. But, once the signs of dementia or other debilitating conditions become apparent, then the best option is to seek the protection of the probate courts. The Jane Wiederhold story is a tragic example of what could happen if you don't.

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Sometimes a Conservator can be a Good Thing!

Woman Charged With Three Felonies

A 43-year-old Willmar woman made her first appearance Thursday on three felony charges for allegedly taking $1,710 from a vulnerable woman whom she befriended by helping with household chores.

Kristi Friese faces charges for financial transaction card fraud and financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult in Kandiyohi County District Court. She was released on her personal recognizance and ordered to have no contact with the woman or her guardian.

Her next appearance is July 19.

According to the complaint, a woman contacted Willmar police May 24 and reported a large amount of money was missing from her relative’s bank account. The woman had been appointed as guardian over the woman, who is a vulnerable adult. Records showed a total of $1,710 in withdrawals from automatic teller machines at several locations in Willmar. The transactions had occurred between May 10 and 19. The guardian had suspected Friese because she had come to the woman’s home to do clean up work.

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Woman Charged With Taking Money From Vulnerable Adult