|Rita Denmark, 82, walking on the beach|
in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., in 2009.
For the past five years, Rita, a lifelong
Pennsylvanian, has been a
ward of a Florida guardian.
(Photo courtesy of Holly Peffer
for Public Source)
Things can get very ugly very quickly.
Holly Peffer had recently bought a new house in Derrick City, Pa., in 2007, when her life was upended.
"We bought a huge, beautiful, beautiful old home with several acres," Peffer said. She was preparing to care for her elderly mother, Rita Demark, who was in the early stages of dementia.
"She was physically very, very healthy," Peffer said. "She walked miles a day. But she had some memory issues. She couldn't remember what she had for lunch. She loved the outdoors and the four seasons in Pennsylvania. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania and domiciled here her entire life."
Peffer maintained contact with her sister, who sometimes cared for their mother, though according to Holly, her sister took liberties.
"My sister and my mother are very, very close, and my sister would never physically harm my mother, but as mom's memory had gotten worse, because my sister was having some financial, many financial difficulties, she was taking more and more and more from my mom," Peffer recalled. "You know, there were some checks missing, and very obvious forgeries for maybe a couple hundred dollars, there was one for $2,000."
A worker from the Department of Aging suggested that Peffer apply for guardianship over her mother to keep money from disappearing. That process involves a hearing before a judge. But when the day of the hearing came, Peffer got an urgent call from her mom's banker.
"She says, 'Holly, what the hell is going on?' I said 'I don't know, why, what are you talking about?'"
The bank had just received a fax that her power of attorney for her mother had been rescinded. The fax came from Holly's estranged brother in Florida. Her sister had whisked their mother down south and quickly petitioned so a professional guardian named Jetta Getty would control the mother's future. Peffer said the Florida court never asked whether Rita Denmark was even a Florida resident.
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Guardianship cases can turn into nightmares for wards and their families