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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Woman bilked of inheritance gets justice before she dies

When an elderly Minnesotan starts to face the typical physical problems associated with aging, they will probably first turn to close relatives for assistance. However, when there are no close relatives to help, sometimes people instead have to rely on banks, other lawyers and private individuals to serve as their guardian and protect their assets.

While no doubt most guardians take their obligations seriously and are honest people, unfortunately some people will use this opportunity to take advantage of a wealthy person and funnel their assets through a misuse of funds or excessive administrative fees, sometimes even leaving the person whom they were supposed to protect in poverty.

Such was the case of one woman from another state. Neither of her two children survived long enough to be able to take care of her, but when her husband died, he left her with over $1 million in assets.

Unfortunately, her court-appointed guardian, who was working for a fee, managed to drain all of these assets, leaving the woman virtually penniless by 2009. Although her family was able to help her leave a nursing home for those without funds, she still had to spend years trying to get some of her money back.

Indeed, some of the expenses of the woman's guardian or the guardian's attorney were suspicious. For example, they charged over $100 allegedly to reimburse the cost of the woman's batteries for her hearing aid. The woman also had to pay $50 an hour for the service of having her mail opened.

Initially, when the woman complained to the court overseeing her property, the judge allowed her guardian to continue to serve in that capacity and did not require the guardian to re-pay anything. After ongoing litigation, the woman did manage to settle her dispute and get some of her money back. Unfortunately, she died shortly thereafter.

This case illustrates that inherent danger of having to use a third-party guardian in a probate case. Sometimes, even family members or close friends also try to take advantage of a person whom they are supposed to protect. In such cases, the experience of a seasoned probate litigation attorney can prove valuable.

Source: The Arizona Republic, "Probate victim spoke softly but was heard," Laurie Roberts, May 7, 2014

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