Elder Guardianships – A Shameful American “Racket”

Note: This is the first of three columns on this topic which were originally published in Feb-April  2016

She is a well-spoken, elegant and wealthy 94-year-old widow. And as Betty Winstanley told me from her room at the Masonic Village Retirement facility in Elizabethtown, PA, “I feel like I am in prison. My life is a living hell.”

Welcome to America’s twisted world of court appointed guardianships for the elderly.

Quick backstory: Betty and her husband, Robert, were married for 72 years. They had three children, Richard, David and Betsy. For nearly 7 years the couple occupied a “lovely” independent living apartment at Masonic Village retirement home in Elizabethtown, PA.

Betty Winstanley Doesn’t Sound Incompetent

In early 2014, Betty, who uses a rolling walker to get around, says she felt faint and seeing no staff nearby lowered herself to the ground.

“They said I fell,” she told me. “But that is a bad, bad word around here. Once you fall they decide you aren’t capable of taking care of yourself anymore.”

Betty was sent to the medical section of the compound for rehabilitation after a small fracture was found.

Robert, a doctor of ophthalmology with a keen interest in aerospace medicine, took ill shortly after and was also transferred to the medical unit. Betty stayed with him but longed to return to their apartment.

“They wouldn’t let me,” Betty said. Labeled as a resident who could no longer live independently Betty was transferred to a smaller room where nurses could keep better track of her. Sadly, on June 26, 2014, Robert died of heart failure.

Within three weeks, the eldest Winstanley son, Richard, was in court claiming his mother needed a guardian to make decisions for her. Betty believes Richard was angry because she had recently moved to transfer her power of attorney away from him to her other two children.

At this most important initial hearing Betty was without her hearing aids as the home had collected them “for cleaning” and had not returned them. Still deep in grief, Betty was unable to understand the proceeding and her court appointed lawyer never told her she had the right to speak before the judge made a decision.

On July 17, 2014, Common Pleas Judge Jay J. Hoberg of Lancaster County, PA heard testimony from one doctor and one nurse from Masonic Village and declared Betty was, “a totally incapacitated person.” This, despite the fact that two independent neuro-psychologists who had tested Betty declared she was of sound mind. Depressed? Understandably, yes. Affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s? No.

Those conclusions didn’t seem to matter. Betty was appointed a guardian (two, in fact) and immediately felt cut off from the rest of the world. Her family visits were curbed, her check book taken and she was restricted from leaving the Masonic Village campus. The guardian, Patricia Maisano, did not even allow an outside Christmas visit.

“They make me feel like a piece of protoplasm on a deserted island,” Betty told me. “I just want to move to an assisted living home in Annapolis, Maryland so I can be near David and Betsy. I have no family around here except Richard who rarely comes to visit.”

Interestingly, Betty has not been allowed to pay for her own lawyer from her $1.9 million estate. Her son David, a flight attendant, told the court he has spent his life’s savings trying to help his mother escape the grasp of a legal system that is supposed to help the elderly.

Groups fighting to change contested guardianship laws call the system, “A nationwide racket,” wherein an all-powerful judge appoints a guardian who in turn can hire a local attorney, any number of merchants and service people and, as in Betty’s case, the elder has no idea how their money is being spent. Betty only knows that her monthly apartment cost was about $3,300 and now she’s charged $8500 for her smaller, skilled nursing care room.

In the words of Dr. Sam Sugar, an elder advocate in Florida, “The mantra of the guardianship program is: litigate, medicate and take the estate.”

Dr. Sam Sugar Fights For Elder Rights in Florida

Betty’s case and while there is much more to her story — including brothers who no longer speak and the prolonged focus in court on son David who, reportedly, upset Betty in the past by yelling in frustration at his mother’s situation – there is really only one important takeaway.

Betty wants to leave the place where her husband died and live closer to her family in Maryland. The reason she can’t move? Pennsylvania won’t let her go, despite a state law that says a guardian must take into account what the ward wants. Judge Hoberg, the ultimate arbiter, has allowed Betty’s limbo to drag on for 18 months.

“I’ve watched my client decline during this prolonged fight…. she is like a flower who’s dying on the vine.” There is an appeal pending but that will take months to be heard.

This is what happens in America when the kids can’t – or won’t – agree on what’s best for Mom. Shameful, on many levels.

Note: photos courtesy of Winstanley family and Dr. Sugar.

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  1. Saeeda Ramirez on October 11, 2023 at 12:48 pm

    This Guardiansip Racket really starts from the Crooked Evil Doctors because that’s the first thing the judge ask for in all these thousands of cases, “”The “”Doctors Report Lying”” Claiming people are Incompetent”” and that’s where the Greedy Predatorian Guardians get the medicines to keep the Vulnerable Drugged up in the Nursing Homes Isolated from their families and friends.
    That is how the horrible Guardian, April Parks in Las Vegas committed her deadly Schemes for years with the help of her “Doctors” who wrote out reports claiming the Vulnerable Elderly were Incompetent/Incapacitated, then she had her Crooked Lawyer, Noel Palmer Simpson, (supposed to be the voice for the Vulnerable Ward just like the Court Appointed Attorney, who is really against the Ward and 100% for the Guardian), file some false statements in the court. She had nearly 200 Vulnerable Wards Isolated and thrown in Nursing home facilities with her deadly schemes all because “”The “Doctor” wrote out letters that Deemed them Incompetent”” and she took it to the Judge and even get some of her buddies in the DSHS/APS to say they visited the Vulnerables and they said they just Love it in the Nursing home facility sharing a room with strangers and at the same time they are keeping the Vulnerables Isolated and can’t even see or talk to their family and friends. Then in many cases Judge just listens to the crooks and ignors the family even when you have proof/Evidence and just signs off on it and the Vulnerables Rights as a Human being is Stripped away from them and they just sit in a Nursing home facility dwindling away Isolated, Scared, Depressed, and Lonely kept hostage away from their families and friends.

    That is exactly what they’re doing to my 72 year old Veteran brother with the help of the Veteran Administration. “”THIS HOW THEY THANK HIM FOR HIS SERVICE””

    I try to make it short as possible:
    My brother always had his apartment and did well, then suddenly around December 30, 2021. the conservator and her buddy social worker claim something happened,took him out of his apartment, to the hospital for 4 months, then to a Nursing home, then back in the hospital for another 3 months, then to the Mukuhi Adult Nursing home in Kenmore, WA, since February 2023, and ever since then, John has constantly told us, his whole family how much he hates living there. Our sister and myself went to see him on Monday, May 29, 2023, he told as to pkease get him out and let’s go home to our Mother in Las Vegas, we arrived at Las Vegas Airport around 10 pm, went home, was Reunited with our Mother, for those 8 hours, John was so Happy! The next morning, Tuesday, May 30, 2023, John said he’s an Old man now, tired of being alone with no family and wants to live the rest of his life with our 96 year old Mother.
    We 3, went to a Veteran’s regional office to get the papers together so get everything transferred from Seattle. He Rescinded the Power of Attorney from 8/2011 from Stacy
    Wikle and Notarized and signed a new one stating he wants to live here in Las Vegas. Around 1030am, we 3, went to The Veterans Administration Hospital to get John’s medicine at 6900 N. Pecos Rd., N. Las Vegas, NV. 89086. They kept him there. John asked me to stay with him, I stayed in a let out chair overnight. We made plans to be a family together again. Then, the next morning, Wednesday, May 31, 2023, around 10:30am two unfriendly nurses came in, told me I have to leave and cannot John cannot see his Mother and sisters again and took all his Rights away from him and even took the phone out of the room stopping him from having any communication and held him there at that Veteran Administration Hospital against his will at 6900 N. Pecos Rd, North Las Vegas. NV. 89086 from May 30. 2023 till in June 2023.

    Carole S. Fisher submitted her Declaration to the King County Superior Court stating that John H. Liggins was “”TORTURED ALL OVER”” in Nevada in June 2023.
    What did the Veteran Administration Hospital do to our brother…

    Please help Expose this Corruption Railroading my brother. Feel free to call, text email me anytime.

    Thank you kindly,
    Saeeda Ramirez

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