Guardianship abuse is in both national and local news lately. While many guardians are performing a great service, some are abusing their power, especially when it comes to wealthy seniors.
Maxwell: Within a couple of weeks we weren’t able to see her.
Murphy: Today, Maxwell’s memories are buried in piles of paperwork. These pages tell a story of love and loss…
Maxwell: All visitations for Geraldine Strege has ceased…
Murphy: And a legal system, Maxwell believes stole her mother.
Maxwell: This is the United States of America? This is what’s going on in our courtrooms? And to just take her out of our lives and put all these restrictions on us, and for my mother it was like she was in prison.
Murphy: Geraldine Strege has passed away, but Teresa Maxwell is determined to tell her story, a story that begins here.
Maxwell: My mom and dad both served in World War II. My mom was a nurse on the navy ships. The greatest generation that built this country.
Murphy: Melvin and Geraldine Strege raised 12 children. Geraldine worked as a nurse, but still found time to give back.
Maxwell: She helped us raise our kids. She was a perfect angel, a perfect citizen.
Murphy: And throughout Teresa’s life…she and her mother remained close.
Maxwell: She was always there for me.
Murphy: Strege had been windowed for years but she maintained a healthy lifestyle. Even at the age of 86, she was still going strong.
Maxwell: She’s at this beautiful assisted living place where she can work out, swim, order her breakfast, lunch and dinner off a menu.
Murphy: But Strege’s life was about to change…
Maxwell: One of my sisters filed a petition to the court
Murphy: A conflict over her financial affairs erupted among her children. One of them, who lived out of state, decided Strege needed a certified public guardian.
Maxwell: She had hired an attorney, to file the petition. Next thing I knew there was a court date set in 3 or 4 weeks after she’s gotten these papers.
Murphy: Even though Strege stated in her declaration to the court that she didn’t need or want a guardian, eventually the court did appoint one.
Maxwell: And then all of a sudden when the guardian takes over in less than three weeks she had a hand-written note that all visitations are ceased.
Murphy: Next, Geraldine phone was disconnected. Before long, Maxwell was completely cut out of her mother’s life.
Maxwell: No phone, no way to communicate with the outside world. All her friend she’d known for 40, 60 years were out of her life, couldn’t come see her. Within a week, seven days or so, they moved my mother and they were moving her to an undisclosed location. So that was that. We had no idea where our mother was.
Murphy: When Maxwell did locate her mother, the restrictions continued.
Maxwell: So they sent my mother over to a lock-down facility. We asked to go see our mother, the guardian would not allow us to see our mother. Couldn’t see her grandkids. She had 12 grandchildren. None of them could see her.
Murphy: According to Maxwell, visitation was permitted after she took a mandatory class on eldercare. Several weeks later, she finally saw her mother.
Maxwell: And what she looked like before and the first time we went to see her was night and day. She was at the state where her head was down, she was very medicated. Her face looked totally different.
Murphy: With no legal right to intervene on her mother’s behalf, Maxwell could only document her decline.
Maxwell: With about six month of being in this new nursing home, she had broken her wrist, she’s been in and out of the hospital several times. She had black eyes. Her legs were swollen. No human being should have to go through what my mother went through. Nobody deserves this at all.
Murphy: Geraldine Strege’s guardian declined our request for an on-camera interview, but we spoke with Shirley Bondon, director of the certified professional guardianship board.
Shirley Bondon: Guardianship is like any profession. You have good guardians and not so good guardians.
Murphy: To become a certified professional guardian, there are certain requirements.
Bondon: You have to have certain educational requirements, there’s a background check, there’s a credit report check and some experience requirements.
Murphy: Guardians are appointed by a court, in cases where the judge determines that a vulnerable individual needs protection. The guardian is responsible for the care, custody and control of that person. Bonbon says, a wide variety of people need guardians.
Bondon: The elderly who have dementia. They’re starting to have problems. They can’t manage their financial affairs. Persons with developmental disabilities sometimes need guardians. And individual who have mental illness. I think guardians do an excellent job. They try to do the right thing.
Murphy; But if they do the wrong thing, and a complaint is filed, it can take years to resolve.
Bondon: It may take two or three years to decertify someone because they have due process rights and when I say due process they have a right to a hearing, they have a right to an appeal, and all that takes time.
Murphy: Bondon could not comment on Strege’s guardian, who is still certified, but she admits the system is not perfect.
Bondon: Sometimes guardian can overstep, they all try to do a good job, b ut sometimes they can make mistakes.
Murphy: And it’s those mistakes that are getting lawmaker’s attention.
Senator Steve Conway: An issue that deeply concerns me is when a guardian makes a decision to isolate a parent from their family.
Murphy: Senator Steve Conway is sponsoring a bill that addresses the complaint procedure regarding legal guardianship of a vulnerable adult.
Conway: The Strege case indicated to me that is a guardian can take a mother in this case and make a decision to move her into a different setting and then deny children access to that parent, there’s something wrong with that picture. We need a place where these families can go to challenge these decisions and question the guardian.
Murphy: Geraldine Strege received a full military burial next to her husband. Teresa Maxwell’s own battle to care for her mother still weighs heavily upon this table…and on her grief.
Maxwell: She was just there for me whenever I needed her she was there for me. So when I saw her and she needed me, I wasn’t able to help her. That’s’ the hardest part, to this day that will haunt me.