Monthly case histories about the real guardianship experience
Harry T. Hackney,  Area VII Director
Harry T. Hackney
How I Became Involved in Guardianship

About sixteen years ago, I was renting office space from another lawyer here in town who had done some guardianships. He asked me to help him with a case that involved a young lady in her 20's with a frontal lobe injury, resulting in a lack of executive function including poor impulse control. She would run around with the wrong guys and was not able to manage her actions well. Her older sister was concerned for her safety and well-being. She wanted to step in and have legal control to help. We were able to get the older sister appointed as guardian.

As an attorney with a lot of litigation experience, I saw that people in similar situations needed somebody to fight for them and that my trial skills were applicable to guardianship cases, too. Because of my background in litigation, I developed a reputation for being someone you'd want on your side in a courtroom. I started to get calls from other lawyers and professional guardians when they faced tough cases.

Needless to say, assisting people in a crisis like this has been an extremely satisfying part of my practice.
When the Vultures Swoop In

In the early 2000's I represented an only child in a guardianship case. He had  a colorful history as both a drag queen in San Francisco and a piano player for a big band. In contrast, his father lived a quiet, unassuming life thousands of miles away in a Florida mobile home park with an old Buick as transportation.

Naturally, the son assumed that his father had no money. A caretaker four decades younger than the father discovered that wasn't so. Lo and behold, he was worth one million dollars! The father had continuously invested in General Electric stock throughout his retirement, while obviously spending very little. 

One day the caretaker brought the father to an attorney's office, claimed that he (the father) was her husband, and that he wanted to leave everything to her.  But the attorney was suspicious, first seeing the age disparity and noticing that she was doing all the talking. The lawyer then asked her to leave the room so he could speak to her "husband" alone since he was the client.

Attorney: "How do you feel about leaving everything to her, your wife?"

Client: "My wife? She's dead!"

Attorney: "The lady you are with, she says she is your wife."

Client: "I don't know who she is but she sure is nice, isn't she?"

The lawyer immediately realized his client was incompetent and successfully arranged for a professional guardian to be appointed. The professional guardian secured the assets, stopping the caretaker in her tracks.

The older man passed away a few months later.  His health had been failing, and when you start to fail, you weaken and can develop dementia. That's when the vultures swoop in. It's also when the guardians can enter the picture and set things straight.

This case is a prime example of that. If not for the guardian, the caretaker would have gotten everything because the son thought his father was penniless. The son never would have known what happened. If the caretaker had told him that his father died and was penniless, the son would have believed it and never questioned it. After all, his father lived like a pauper, not a millionaire.
What question do I get asked the most?

"How long will it take and what is it going to cost?"

There isn't an easy answer to that compound question. Some of the answer depends on the court's schedule as far as how long. But a lot of the answers to both questions depend on whether the guardianship will be contested. If the person is clearly incapacitated and no one contests the guardianship, then it takes a few months from initiation to the filing of the Annual Plan and Initial Inventory. After that, things settle down. Cost also depends on whether there is a fight. It is a lot less expensive if there is no ongoing court battle. The sky is the limit if there is a fight.
What is a good tip for those selecting a guardian?
Light Bulb

Interview the prospective professional guardians. You want to look for someone that is a good fit with your incapacitated loved one. Things will go much more smoothly if your loved one trusts and comes to rely upon their guardian. Maybe your mom would react well to an older man with an authoritarian air? That same guardian might butt heads with your dad, but maybe your dad has always been a sucker for nice ladies so a younger female guardian might get him to do anything to please her. Maybe your mom would come to regard a lady close to her own age as a friend and confidant. Different horses for different courses.

- Harry

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