When Guardianship Litigation Becomes Inevitable

It is a common misconception that guardianship litigation only affects young children whose parents died and did not leave detailed, legally binding instructions about the care of the progeny. Modern day guardianship cases now also affect adults who become disabled, the elderly who become unable to care for themselves or direct their own affairs, and adults with diminished capacity. You may be engaged in the care of a friend or family member right now who falls into one of these categories.

Get a Trusted Adviser on Your Side

Intense emotions make guardianship litigation difficult for everyone involved. When you have progressed to the point of litigation, it is clear that you and a group of other adults strongly disagree about the future care of a person requiring protection and supervision. In some cases, it may be even the prospective ward who opposes your interest in taking on guardianship duties. It is here that the right advice from seasoned litigators in the field can make a big difference. Charting a course and sticking to it is easier when trusted advisers help you see the big picture.

Understand the Challenges

If you are applying for guardianship of another, your fitness to serve in this capacity may be put into question. A prospective ward may ask the court to appoint someone else. Conversely, other adults who are willing to take on the guardianship role will actively seek to discredit you and ask that they be appointed as guardians instead of you. Protect your interests early on in the process by hiring a seasoned attorney who specializes in this aspect of probate litigation.

Work through the Process of Litigation and Beyond

In addition to the court filing, be prepared to deal with court-appointed officials who must take an interest in the proper representation of the prospective ward’s interests. It is not enough to merely win the case. Texas’ Probate Code is quite clear in its instructions on the proper conduct of an appointed guardian. Know what the law expects from you to prevent a recurrence of the litigation by another party who was not successful in the current suit.

Since Texas law allows “any interested person” to participate in a guardianship litigation process, you need to have a legal advisor with strong litigation skills on your side. The attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP have this experience and are ready to review your case. Contact us today for assistance with this emotionally charged litigation.

Estate Planning Steps to Take When Your Child is Going Off to College

The start of summer is an exciting time, especially for children graduating from high school and going off to college. Through their childhood you no doubt took steps to ensure they would be taken care of if anything happened to you. However, now there are different steps to take to ensure they are taken care of if anything happens to them. What if your child is in an accident and unable to make medical decisions? A couple of simple estate planning tools can help make that situation much less frustrating and stressful.

A Legal Adult

As hard as it is for parents to admit sometimes, their child is considered a legal adult when he or she turns 18. While law enforcement usually seeks to contact the next of kin if an accident occurs, hospitals are not required to ask your permission prior to performing surgery or other medical treatments. In fact, medical professionals are not required to even share information about your child’s condition.

What To Do

Before heading off to school, your young adult can complete two simple documents, a health care directive and a HIPPA Authorization Form. A health care directive is a document outlining specific instructions about medical care. It details procedures you approve of and those you do not. Additionally, it allows you to appoint a health care surrogate or agent, a person that is authorized to make medical decisions for you. Having your child appoint you will give you the legal right to make medical decisions when they are not able to do so. The HIPPA form simply names you as someone who has permission to receive information about their medical condition.

Regardless of your age, having a healthcare directive is an important step to ensuring that your wishes are carried out if you are unable to communicate at the time of an accident. Ford+Bergner LLP is there to assist your family through life’s transitions. Let us help with all your estate planning needs. Contact us for practical advice tailored to fit your family’s circumstances.

Secretary of State Seward’s Heir Fights to block Sale of Artwork

A fight is brewing between the Seward House Historic Museum and Ray Messenger, great-great-grandson of William Seward.  William Seward served as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, as well as Governor of the State of New York, before retiring to his mansion in upstate New York.

During Seward’s life he accumulated thousands of items, including books, furniture and artwork.  One of the pieces, Thomas Cole’s Portage Falls on the Genesee, is a seven by five foot painting given to then Governor Seward which has been a centerpiece of the home for over 150 years.  The painting appraised in 2007 at over $20 million, five times the combined value of the rest of the Seward Estate.

The Seward House Historic Museum controls the estate and wants to sell the artifact claiming the Museum is simply not equipped to house such a priceless piece of art.  However, the Seward heirs believe the painting is the centerpiece of the house and is a symbol of William Seward’s great work.  Messenger is set to take the matter to Court in hopes they will allow him to be Appointed as administrator and block the sale of the painting.

If you find yourself engaged in a family dispute involving estate and trusts matters, contact the experienced attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP for assistance today.

Can a Death Certificate Be Changed?

A potential client called asking how to change his recently deceased wife’s death certificate.  He had been told by the department of vital statistics that he would need a Court Order to do this.  The man and his wife had been separated for a few months before her untimely death, but were not yet legally divorced.  However, this did not prevent the wife’s sister from reporting her as single on the death certificate.  As crazy as it sounds, this happens more often than many would believe.  

The process to correct this error is not a simple one.  The Court Order that the Department of Vital Statistics was referring to is called a Judgment Declaring Heirship.  This Judgment is a Court Order that declares the legal heirs of the decedent.  This includes the Decedent’s marital status.  

In order to complete this process, an Application must be filed with the Court.  Then, the Court will appoint an independent attorney to conduct an investigation of the decedent’s marital and family history.  Finally, a hearing is held.  During this hearing, the Applicant must secure testimony from two disinterested witnesses –  people who will not inherit from the Estate – to prove up the Application.

This process is complex and requires the assistance of an experienced attorney.  If you have questions regarding heirship issues, contact Ford + Bergner LLP today.