Friday, May 30, 2008

Guardianships : A Most Lucrative Business ?

By Kevin Krause and Brandon Formby / The Dallas Morning News

By all accounts, the sisters in their 90s were no longer able to look after each other or their $824,000 joint estate.

Mildred Erle Veatch began to show senility and delirium in 2001. Her sister, Helen, was in worse condition and would die later that year.

Their doctor notified Denton County’s probate court that neither sister was able to manage their assets anymore. No other relatives existed to help.

Probate Court Judge Don Windle immediately placed both sisters under court-appointed guardianships, moved them to a Denton nursing home and restricted access to them. By early 2002, Veatch was rewriting her will — which had not been updated since 1960 — with the help of her court-appointed guardians and attorney.

When Erle, as she was known to friends, died this past summer at age 95, the rewritten will was opened and showed surprising contents. Among the 10 beneficiaries were:

* Judge Windle, who was to receive $50,000.

Beverly McClure
* Beverly McClure, the court-appointed guardian of Veatch and Windle’s ex-wife and court investigator, who was to receive $100,000

* Duane Coker, a court-appointed attorney who represented Mildred Veatch’s interests, who was to receive $50,000.

* and Roy Anderson, Windle’s friend, personal accountant and court-appointed guardian of the Veatch estate, who was to receive $50,000.

Another $120,000 was used to cover court fees Windle approved for the appointees and their lawyers during the five-year case.

Guardianship and probate experts say it’s unusual for a probate judge and court appointees to be written into a will during an active guardianship case.
Darlene Payne Smith, an experienced Houston probate attorney, said she isn’t aware of any legal prohibition against accepting the money unless undue influence was exerted to gain control of an estate. But that doesn’t mean someone in that situation should accept it, she said.

McClure and Coker did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

He and Anderson said that they didn’t do anything improper and were just trying to help Veatch.

In mid-September, Windle received a public reprimand from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for using his position to help McClure, who was then his wife, win a contract from Denton County to provide his court with volunteer guardians. It was the highest sanction against a judge the commission can issue.

Doctor’s warning

Neither sister had married, and both were childless. A court investigation found they had no known heirs.

In November 2001, a court-appointed psychiatrist warned of allowing Mildred Veatch to bestow gifts.

“I have some concern about her giving gifts to anyone currently helping her because of her lack of family and friends,” Dr. James Shupe wrote in his report.

He said in the report that he thought Veatch could write a will but that any “will or large gift” should be reviewed with her guardian.

In late December 2001, Windle signed an order declaring Veatch to be partially incapacitated and “incapable of managing her property and financial affairs.”

On the same day, her court-appointed attorney, Coker, reported that her condition had improved and that she wanted to write a will and should be “assisted in doing so without further delay.”

Less than two weeks later, arrangements were being made to rewrite the will.

Windle in January 2002 ordered that she “no longer have the right to make any gift of real or personal property” except for writing a will. His order said she could not exercise authority over her estate or hire anyone to assist her.

The court had prohibited Veatch from hiring her own attorney.

‘I was floored’

Windle said state law does not allow a court to prevent someone from writing or rewriting a will, regardless of the person’s mental state at the time.

But Banks was nevertheless cautious.

“Anytime that you’ve got someone who is elderly and have any reason to doubt their competence, you have to be more careful than you would be otherwise,” he said.

“We didn’t ask to be in the will,” said Anderson, who prior to Wednesday had declined comment to The News on the question of whether he would keep the money left to him. “It’s distressing to be in there because of the appearance it gives.”

Dr. Joseph Strittmatter, a veterinarian who lived across the street from the Veatch sisters. At the time, Strittmatter and his wife, a family practice physician, had known the sisters for four years and were friendly with them, seeing them once a week on average, he said.

Strittmatter said he met with McClure and Coker in 2001 and that they asked him and his wife to serve as Veatch’s guardian.

Court documents show Strittmatter filled out a four-page “guardian’s initial plan” that was filed in November 2001.

In Coker’s report the following month, he wrote that the Strittmatters “would be good candidates for the position.”

Strittmatter said he thought it was a done deal. Then, McClure informed him of a change of plans, he said, once she found out the size of the estate.

“She told us that Erle was very special and she wanted do it personally,” he said.

Terry Hammond, executive director of National Guardianship Association, said it’s unusual for a probate judge to appoint a court staff member as a guardian unless there aren’t any other suitable alternatives.

“It is generally presumed to be in best interest to appoint someone they know and are familiar with,” Hammond said.

But Strittmatter said Veatch complained to him that McClure would not allow her even a few dollars from her estate to buy gifts for the Strittmatters’ young daughter or others.

“She would complain about not having enough money,” Strittmatter said. “It would take her several tries to even get the money for a $10 book.”

Nine months after being written into Veatch’s new will, McClure filed a report saying Veatch “remains very vulnerable to others’ influence on her money.”

Paula Mixson, of the Texas Senior Advocacy Coalition and the National Committee for Prevention of Elder Abuse, said it would be a conflict of interest for guardians to inherit the ward’s estate.

“Anyone like that is vulnerable to undue influence, especially when isolated,” she said. “To me, it stinks to high heaven ethically.”

Ori posted on November 16, 2006 Abridged for E.A.

Entire story here=>>

Because of Kim's Letter " A Most Terrifying Story" and her reluctance to name the players we are printing the story about "Concerns Arise About Guardians" here.

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