Guardianship Case Hailed as Victory for Adults With Disabilities

Guardianship cases involve many different family dynamics. At the end of the day, however, the ultimate goal is to protect vulnerable persons and place them in the best possible care. A recent case in Virgina attracted attention because the court ruled in favor of a 29 year-old woman with Down syndrome, against the wishes of her mother.

The disabled woman had lived with a couple she considered to be friends. The couple afforded her the freedom to live an independent life. However, her mother and step-father recently removed her from her friends’ home, forcing her to live in various group homes. The young woman testified that her freedoms were taken away inside those homes. She was not allowed access to her cell phone or computer, among other essential elements of an independent life. However, the mother and step-father had temporary guardianship of the young woman. They legally were allowed to make decisions about her living arrangements.

The judge agreed that the disabled woman needed a guardian, however he said he was forced to take the woman’s wishes into account. Therefore, the judge granted temporary guardianship to the two friends who had allowed the young woman to live with them. Emphasizing her feelings, the young woman was quoted as saying, “I’m so happy to be going home today.”

Advocates for adults with disabilities applauded the judge’s decision.

Establishing guardianship can be necessary under a variety of circumstances. It can be also be a complicated process with weighty consequences for all parties involved. In fact, Texas has a entire body of law specifically for Guardianships. Ford+Bergner provides comprehensive services to our clients to help walk them through the process every step of the way. Contact us for a free consultation about your guardianship case.

Undue Influence on Wills

Following the death of a testator, wills may be contested for many reasons.  There may be a lack of clarity in the will, with some of the provisions vaguely defined.  The will may not cover all possible scenarios, such as the death of certain beneficiaries.  Furthermore, family members may feel that they’ve been treated unfairly, and in some cases they may suspect undue influence.

Undue influence is a serious matter, though it isn’t easy to prove.  In circumstances of undue influence, the testator is thought to have been excessively pressured, manipulated, or coerced in writing the will.  Typically, the will becomes skewed in favor of a certain person or people, at the expense of other beneficiaries.

What are some potential signs of undue influence?

Unusual behavior from the testator.  A recent example from the news is an heiress who, according to her relatives, abruptly cut off ties with various family members towards the end of her life, and strangely left two wills, written several weeks apart: one leaving her fortune mostly to family members, and the other cutting them out entirely and leaving a large portion of the money to an attorney, an accountant, and a charitable foundation run by both.  Relatives see this odd behavior as a sign of undue influence.

Vulnerability.  In a number of cases, the testator may rely on certain individuals for care; these individuals may use their power over the testator and their heavy involvement in the testator’s day-to-day life to exert undue influence on how the will is written.  The testator may be afraid of them in some way or unusually reluctant to refuse their wishes.  They may also isolate the testator from other people in various ways.

Issues of mental capacity.  Even if the testator isn’t officially mentally incapacitated, they may still be prone to forgetfulness or confusion, particularly if they’re more advanced in years.  These states of mind may be used to the advantage of certain individuals.

Motive.  The individuals thought to exert undue influence usually have some obvious motive and would benefit from changes to the will.

Sometimes cases of undue influence may seem obvious, but in fact it’s difficult to definitively prove in court.  There are many instances when testators choose of their own volition to leave most of their estate to a certain individual; other people, especially family members, may be upset as a result, and latch onto the idea that the testator couldn’t possibly have been acting of his or her free will.  To sort through a case that seems to involve undue influence, you would need the assistance of expert estate lawyers.

If you’re currently embroiled in a dispute involving suspicions of undue influence, contact us to discuss the case.  One piece of advice that we’ll leave you with now is to not wait until after the death of a testator.  If you feel as if a loved one may be facing pressure from someone in regards to the writing of a will, address the matter when they’re still alive.

Guardianship Litigation: Don’t Take Anything for Granted

A recent story about a woman who can no longer look after her husband highlights how nothing can be taken for granted in guardianship litigation.  The couple in the story have been married for close to 30 years, and while they’ve sometimes unconventionally lived in different residences, they were reportedly on good terms, with the wife taking care of her husband at the onset of his dementia.

After an argument one morning, he refused to see her any longer or accept her help.  Now he’s been assigned a professional guardian, and his wife is cut off from him; not only can’t she see him, she also doesn’t know what’s become of his finances, including his lifelong savings.  In her battle to obtain guardianship, she’s fought against a former son-in-law who also petitioned to be legal guardian.  The result is a mess that no one in the family expected.

What are some of the lessons that can be learned from this story?

Even if you’re a close family member, such as a wife or a child, you can’t assume that the courts will automatically favor you in matters of guardianship.  Your familial relationships may be strong and free of unusual conflict, but that still doesn’t guarantee you guardianship; it also doesn’t mean that one day you won’t be facing off with other family members or friends in a protracted legal battle.

It’s important to draw up all the necessary legal documents in advance, and not to wait until someone is already in a position to require guardianship, such as when they have dementia.  When it’s already gotten to that point, it’s much more difficult to determine an individual’s intentions and preferences; the individual is also more susceptible to getting influenced by other people.  Families really have to sit down and talk about guardianship issues beforehand.  Even then, disputes may sometimes arise later on, though they’re less likely to when the appropriate documents have already been agreed on.

You never really know what the courts will decide in a guardianship case.  If there are any doubts about the actions or motivations of people petitioning for guardianship, their case will weaken.  It’s best to have an experienced lawyer on your side who can strengthen your case and fight for a favorable outcome.  Contact us to advocate for you in the courts and fight for the best interests of your loved ones.