For parts 1 and 2 go to https://aaapg.net/probate-tricks-of-the-trade-part-2/
no checks no balances
The unlimited latitude of State equity probate court judges is ultimately the source of the abuse that takes place in hotspot guardianships. This highlights the bizarre nature of equity courts in general which include not only probate but also family and divorce courts. Bankruptcy courts used to be part of this system but have been federalized in recent years.
Unlike the legal system with which most Americans seem to be familiar and comfortable, as is seen in civil and criminal courts, probate courts never have juries to ride roughshod over a robed rogue judge or lying lawyer. The rules of evidence which govern actions within other courts do not apply in probate equity courts. The rules of procedure need not apply in these courts either. These courts are exactly what the individual judge in each one decides they will be. The outcomes of these cases which often involve life or death and enormous amounts of money are decided by a single individual who, as has been mentioned previously, is intrinsically biased even with the best intentions to produce guardianships rather than prevent them. That individual is for all practical purposes a God in his own courtroom who is not significantly or meaningfully monitored or supervised, cannot be held accountable for his actions or mistakes, cannot be sued because of judicial immunity and for all practical purposes cannot be removed or sanctioned. The agencies designed to sanction judges have proven to be feckless and inconsequential and their record of incompetence and collusion speaks for itself. Despite thousands of complaints a year to the Florida judicial qualifications commission, the number of removals from the bench over the last two decades can be counted on one hand.
The judiciary is not the only government agency at fault.
We often hear from frustrated and angry family members who are interested in documenting the abuses they have suffered to present them to law enforcement at every level from the local sheriff or police officer all the way up to the Attorney General of the State. The sad reality is that law enforcement at every level has been trained to respond to such complaints by calling them civil matters to which they are prohibited from responding. Reports of abuses and exploitation of wards are greeted with the standard response of “this is a civil matter and you need to hire a lawyer”. And while there have been an occasional instances of law enforcement cracking down on a particularly egregious guardian like April parks in Nevada or Rebecca Fierle in Florida, those cases are the exceptions not the rule.
The people who should be taking reports of abuse and running with them are typically members of the legal fraternity and along the way have made close friendships with judges and other politicians. Prosecutorial discretion is their best friend. The court insiders make all the money in these guardianship hoaxes and there is really no way for law enforcement, prosecutors, investigatory agencies or politicians to profit, so there is no incentive for them to be motivated to investigate cases or agitate for change in attitudes or the law. All these complaints do is to potentially add to their workload so it is no surprise that complaints about probate abuse and exploitation fall on deaf ears unless the corrupt acts of the Guardian or others find their way to the press and embarrass law enforcement into action every once in a while.
It bears mention at this point that a number of agencies have made claims that all guardianship abuse comes at the hands of family members. It is true that on the basis of numbers alone, family guardians who do not have appropriate training, do not get paid for their work sometimes do terrible things. But the worst cases of abuse that we have seen are at the hands of professional guardians who may have as many as a thousand or more wards in their stable whereas the family Guardian only has one. It’s one thing to rip off your own family which is terrible enough but multiply that situation by a thousand or more per Guardian and you can get an idea of the impact of abusive professional guardianships on this country.
The number of state government agencies that have their finger in the guardianship pie numbers in the dozens. Each one carves out a niche of its authority and responsibility within the system and is totally deaf to complaints about any other part of the system. The net result of this situation is that people who have complaints about serious problems with guardianship court effectively have nowhere to complain. Despite the commissions, committees, investigations, exposés, legislation, judicial panels, news stories and advocates, only the Supreme Court in any given state meaningful changes in the way guardianships are treated. In 2018 the Florida Supreme Court did in extensive review of the current status of guardianships and came up with the legislative agenda that can be found at https://aaapg.net/florida-supreme-court-work-group-report-2018/. Suffice it to say that almost none of the recommendations that even the judges made were ever executed. In California major reform legislation was passed in 2006 but never funded.
The net result of fighting a guardianship is that you will wind up in poverty after spending all your own money and getting nowhere with six or seven successive feckless self serving lawyers. You will lose your inheritance as it will be chewed up by legal and Guardian fees as well as any other money that’s just outright disappeared. You will be excoriated, abused, humiliated, embarrassed, worn out, exhausted, depressed and totally consumed by a fight that you cannot win. It’s a fixed game. You will lose.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the clever lawyers and guardians on the inside have another tool with which to clobber you and that is an isolation order from the judge. By convincing the compliant judge that somehow you are a danger to your own relative or loved one, you can be prevented from ever seeing them again. If you try, you are likely to be arrested for trespassing or be slapped with a phony charge of resisting arrest. In fact your loved one may well be placed in a lockdown facility where they will never be allowed outside and certainly not allowed to see any visitor. They will eat only facility slop. They will get no exercise. They will never see the sun or vote. They will not be allowed to telephone anyone and their phones will be confiscated if they try. They will be told that you have abandoned them and no longer love them. Worst of all they will be horrifically over medicated with extremely powerful psychotropic medicines that will turn them into zombies within 48 hours. They will be kept on those medications and others including narcotics and sleeping pills and tranquilizers until the day they die and that day often turns out to be the day when all their money has been used up in legal fees and Guardian fees.
Another effective trick of the court insiders regards their fees. If anyone objects to their fees they have the ability to recruit another member of their incestuous fraternity to testify before the judge that there fees are very reasonable. In addition unlike any other lawyers probate lawyers have the ability to accumulate their fees for as long as they want and in fact they can submit their fees at any time that pleases them. These fees are never included in the budget that is mandatory for guardians to prepare and submit to the court. While a monthly budget for a ward might be a few hundred dollars for gum and candy and magazines plus food and shelter, during that same month Guardian and legal fees could be $20-$25,000 and no one would know about it except the court insiders, until they submit their bills when they amazingly add up to exactly the amount of money that is left in the estate after the sale of all property! The Ward is then forced to become an impoverished ward of the state where we as taxpayers pay for their upkeep for the rest of their life.
One of the reasons that probate court insiders feel so confident about never being called to account is that holding them accountable for their misdeeds is essentially impossible. Once rulings in probate court are handed down, other than to file an expensive and often futile appeal to a District Court of Appeal, monitoring of the guardianship by the court actually consists entirely of paper-based reports handed in intermittently if at all by the court insiders. The rest is delegated to bureaucrats and political types who are loathe to contradict what a judge has already ruled to be acceptable. There are a large number of state agencies and a few federal agencies which could, if they were interested or motivated, easily put the hammer down on the probate insider miscreants and predators. The array of agencies, commissions, committees and officials come from all aspects of government including law enforcement, the judiciary, the legislature and the executive branch— every branch of government. But as advocates have learned over the decades, these agencies have as their primary interest the maintenance of the status quo rather than adherence to the laws by which the rest of us must live.
As if that weren’t bad enough, towards the end of a guardianship while the poor unfortunate ward is being isolated over medicated and tied down, locked up, never let outside in the sun, fed nursing home slop and repeatedly told that they have been abandoned by their loved ones, the predators who have seized everything of value from the estate of the ward now want to turn it into cash. Items of great personal and sentimental value that cannot immediately be monetized are simply discarded. Precious family photos, mementos, and personal items are either trashed or in a most cynical manner put up for bidding by the family members for whom these items are priceless. This is another time-tested way to extort the family and line the pockets of the court insiders. Other items of value including everything from automobiles to silverware to lawnmowers to stamp collections to clothing are sold for pennies on the dollar for profit to an entire network of pawnshops, antique stores, used car salesmen and auction houses. Strawman sales of valuable real estate generate huge profits that go unreported to the judge and the IRS. Some very clever Guardian attorneys purchase a deeply discounted piece of real estate from the ward’s estate for pennies on the dollar and then turn around and donate that real estate to a charitable organization such as the church or one of its agencies. In return the attorney gets a letter of donation that values the house at full market value for a massive tax deduction for the lawyer which is many times the amount of money the lawyer laid out for the discounted purchase of the home.
The driving force for all of these nefarious activities is profit. That’s why they are called for-profit Professional guardianships. Even after the ward succumbs to the abuse and the guardianship is supposed to be over and the billing is supposed to have stopped, predator guardians and their lawyers prolong the agony for the family by intentionally stalling and constantly delaying the final disposition of the estate. These delays which often last for years allow for more stage litigation and of course for massive hours of overbilling and double billing. It is amazing to see the excuses that are given to claim that more legal work needs to be done for the benefit of the ward after they are dead. One reason they can get away with this is that over the years of a guardianship judges are shuffled in an out-of-court and in some cases we have seen as many as half a dozen judges rule over a guardianship in which the ward lasted only a couple of years but the case went on for as long as seven or eight or even 10 years. Each new judge lacks the context of the case from its beginning and rules on what the slick lawyers place in front of him or her and they almost always get what they want.
While some guardianships do what they’re supposed to do which is to give assistance to those who may need it, far too many guardianships and in particular those given to professional for-profit predatory guardians and their lawyers in hotspot courts across the nation have perfected a scheme by which they litigate, isolate, over medicate and take the estate of unsuspecting seniors as they destroy families and fortunes with dirty tricks, legal chicanery, staged litigation and outright lies. Knowing some of these tricks of the trade– and this article only scratches the surface of the pitfalls, traps and tricks that occur on a regular basis in probate courts– may help you someday to understand that they may be used against you.