Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Day , Another Victim ? Protecting Estates from Guardians/Conservators

Submitted by Rudy Bush

The Colorado judiciary is reviewing a flawed probate system to recommend changes to the Colorado Assembly By Jennifer Gilbert write the author

The Colorado State Judiciary is reviewing its protective proceedings, and the Silvia Tessadri case is a big reason why.

The judiciary realized the current system to protect elderly, infirmed and other members of society within the guardianship, trustee and conservator purview is flawed.

Although no names were mentioned in a 2006 audit prepared by Clifton Gunderson LLC, Tessadri's case figured prominently in the review of the current system. Tessadri, 83, was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by a court-ordered evaluation in 2002.Tessadri's guardian Ann Grasee recognized the case when she read the report, and she said it grossly overstated her fees.

When she entered the care of Grasee by court order in 2003, Tessadri had an estate valued at more than $500,000 as well as a home and trust. Grasee charges $100 per hour for her care, a standard fee for guardian ad litems in Colorado.Tessadri's son, Rudy Bush, 59; said Grasee and conservator, Michael Beutz, have spent the $500,000 and are now listing his mother's house on the market.

Bush lived with his mother in the $180,000 Lakewood house until the court ordered he move from the premise. Now, the property is being rented under lease until a buyer can be found.Beutz and Grasee said the profits from the sale would be used to care for Tessadri, whose estate is now nearly bankrupt.

"When it was determined there was no belief she would ever return home, it squanders an estate asset to have it empty," Beutz said. "The trust (managed by Wells Fargo) wished to sell the house and received a court order to do so."Bush said his mother should never have been put into guardianship or moved from her house into a care facility.

"A woman who had a half-million dollar estate and a house is now broke," Bush said. "It's the saddest thing I've ever heard.

.... Bush is allowed to see his mother, but she said he must give notice so it can be supervised.Although she would not specify why Tessadri was unlikely to return home due to privacy concerns, she did say there were many reasons for people to remain in a care facility."If they are on medications and have demonstrated they are not able to maintain themselves on medication or take them as prescribed, that would be a reason for assisted living," Grasee said. "They may need help changing clothes, keeping up hygiene and eating well."Beutz said the Tessadri estate has been liquidated so quickly because of legal proceedings brought by Bush and Tessadri. The court banned Bush from bringing further legal action, but each time the case is reviewed in court, the estate pays for Tessadri's lawyer, Beutz's lawyer, Beutz's fee, Grasee's fee, Grasee's lawyer and any other professional services.

"The Tessadri case is unusual, abnormal, extraordinary, out of the norm in a significant way," Beutz said. "In my view, Rudy's pursuit of this or encouragement of Silvia to pursue this has cost her an extraordinary amount of money. This isn't only a consumption of money and a consumption of resources; this sucks the life out of a person."Tessadri said she did wish to return to her house and live with her son, but Grasee said Tessadri had told her differently in many instances.Bush continues to try to get his mother re-evaluated, a request denied by the court, and have her removed from the probate system."They're keeping her from an evaluation, keeping me away from her, keeping everybody away from her," Bush said.Cases similar to Tessadri's led to a judicial task force public hearing on Sept. 28 to receive information from lawyers, judges and other involved parties on the best way to improve the system.

Among the options offered by the judicial protective proceedings task force are better streamlining of reporting and court filing fees. The task force also recommended better oversight of guardians and conservators.At present, guardians and conservators are required to present documentation for all expenses, but there is no general overview of the system.

The judiciary does not know how many people are in the care of guardians or how much money is in the probate system at any point in time."The current system is egregiously unfair, unjust and greed-driven," elder care activist Bob Barry said at the public hearing. "It's evil, and it's perpetuated on the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society."The task force will present its findings and suggestions for legislation to the Colorado General Assembly early next year.

Article abridged for E.A.

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