Plundering Grandma’s Estate Via Court Ordered Guardianships

Note: This is the last of three columns on this topic…

Would you hire someone to manage your personal affairs and finances who charged $50,599.18 in just three months?

What if they charged $1560.00 to make two phone calls to your son to discuss, “Dates for (a) Christmas” visit with you. Or if you got a bill for more than $1,000 from this person explaining, it was because their, “Computer emails appear(ed) to be breached …(and) extensive work (was) done on my phone and computer as a result.” They charged you for calls to their IT department and to an attorney they consulted.

And what if this same person refused to communicate with two of your three children even when you were rushed to the hospital? And when they placed a couple of phone calls 3 days later to see how you were doing you were charged another $990.00?

Winstanley Family

Betty with children, Liz and David Fighting to Move Mom Closer -courtesy of family

Is there any part of this that sounds reasonable?

This is the reality facing a woman I wrote about earlier this year.

Widow Betty Winstanley, 94, who is under a disputed court-ordered guardianship and lives in the Masonic Village Retirement Home in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania . She is forced to pay her court-appointed guardian for the expenses I just described (and many more) because Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court Judge Jay J. Hoberg says she must.

Judge Hoberg Ruled Betty is "Totally Incompetent" & Appointed Guardian

Judge Hoberg Ruled Betty is “Totally Incompetent” & Appointed Guardian

After a perfunctory hearing in July 2014, just three weeks after her husband of 72 years died and during which Betty said not one word, (she attended without her hearing aids) Judge Hoberg declared the very articulate and quick-witted Winstanley was “totally incapacitated.”

Hoberg appointed a guardian from a for-profit conglomerate to take complete control of Betty’s life including when her children can visit, where she can go and disbursement of all her assets. Betty is concerned that her estate will quickly be emptied and there will be nothing left to leave her heirs.

“If I was so demented, as they say, these things wouldn’t bother me,” Winstanley told me in her cut-to-the-chase, common sense fashion.

The first guardian appointed to Betty charged $125 an hour. The new one charges $300 and now she’s petitioned to sell the Winstanley home in Somerset, Pennsylvania and liquidate two investment accounts so she can pay Betty’s bills, including the $50,599.18 she says is due to her. Even though this guardian has had control since December 2015 Betty’s monthly expenses at Masonic Village haven’t been paid for months and she now owes back payments of $34,217.22. In addition, thousands more are owed to the attorney the guardian consults.

David Winstanley Wants Mom to Move to Maryland

David Winstanley Wants Mom To Be Able To Move to Maryland Near Him

Since first writing about the growing problem of unwarranted court-ordered elder guardianships I have been deluged with horror stories from across the country. Wanting to understand the process better I recently attended one of Mrs. Winstanley’s hearings.

At issue the day I visited court was a motion by the guardian to subpoena Betty’s cell phone records. The guardian wanted the contents of all incoming and outgoing telephone calls, texts and voice mail messages to determine if Betty’s son, David, had “communicate(d) with his mother in an abusive and/or threatening manner.”

Back in 2014, David, frustrated with his mother’s new guardianship situation had ranted a bit and left some unpleasant messages but there have been no complaints against him since he was accused of “upsetting” his mother. Still, the hunt for conflict continues – at $300+ an hour.

An invasion of Betty’s privacy, you say? Yes, I thought so too and I wanted to see just how many civil rights a ward of the court loses after being declared “totally incompetent.”

I never got the chance. Judge Hoberg booted me from the courtroom along with two other journalists interested in Betty’s plight. His reason for closing the hearing to outside scrutiny? He wanted to protect “the ward’s” privacy! How ironic.

The judge ultimately ruled the guardian could only ask the phone company if any numbers had been blocked on Betty’s phone. Son Richard, who initiated the guardianship and has long been at odds with his brother, David, had complained he had been blocked from contacting his mother. David, the actual owner of the phone, denies such action.

Betty Just Wants to Move Closer to Family - Why Can't She?

Betty Just Wants to Move Closer to Family – Why Can’t She?

For almost two years now Judge Hoberg has refused to look past the sibling sniping and rule on Betty’s simple request to move to a retirement home closer to son, David, and daughter, Liz, in Annapolis, Maryland. After all, Betty argues, they are the children who come to visit her most often and she has other family in Maryland as well.

“I have no family near here,” Betty told me. “I just want to be near my family, is that too much to ask?”

But understand:  To let Betty leave the state would be to deprive Pennsylvania of the money the guardian, her staff, Masonic Village and several others will make if Betty stays put. Because money is the great motivator in these cases I am not hopeful the judge will look past the ill-fitting “incapacitated” label he slapped on Betty and grant this elderly woman’s last wish to move.

The system has become a mockery of the laws designed to protect and defend our elderly. I write about it because it’s likely happening where you live too.





  1. Diane Dimond on May 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Reader writes:

    “Diane, your story about Plundering Grandma’s Estate is happening right now to my mom, Bernadette Slee. the judge declared her incapacitated and everything was decided behind closed doors by judge Milliron in Blair County. My dad had died they were married almost 68 years . My daughter and sister had caused all of this by stealing power of attorney, putting mom in three different nursing homes and not informing me of anything, and the story goes on. They also live out of state and i live in Altoona and mom lives in Bellwood, Pa. Mom has been pleading with me and my son Bob to help her and we just don’t know where to turn. Her court appointed guardian Attorney Jim Mcgough does not approve her money and will not allow her to even get her hair done. We don’t even know how much money she is paying these people and there is also a banker involved. If there is any way you can help us to help my mom please contact me because this is just evil that a judge and attorneys can get away with this. The story is so long i cannot begin to write it or it would be a book. My mom will be 92 this month and is now living in her home but isn’t permitted to have any cash and is given gift cards to get groceries. My daughter and sister also stole almost $40,000 from mom that we have proof of and nothing happened to them. PLEASE, if there is any way you can help us we would appreciate it. Thank you.”

  2. Diane Dimond on May 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Facebook Friend Robert McLaughlin writes:

    “I would rather slave away on a farm from 8am to 10pm than take part in any “Zombie Apocalypse” program (they all know about that too). And if you wouldn’t, then I feel sorry for you because this life is short and you will pay for it in the next world. MARK MY WORDS.”

  3. Diane Dimond on May 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Facebook Friend Stacy Brown writes:

    “This is more than outrageous. It’s criminal.”

  4. Diane Dimond on May 12, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Facebook Friend Lisa Moore writes:

    “This is sickening. How is this even legal? All of it?”

    • Diane Dimond on May 12, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      DD replies:

      Lisa, the short answer is: there’s no law against it.

      The longer explanation is: there are laws on the books to rightfully assist the elderly and infirm. But over the years those laws, in my opinion, have been so bastardized that nearly every older person that comes before the court is declared “incapacitated.” Even if they simply have a little trouble keeping their checkbook, or grocery shopping, or remembering the neighbors name.
      It seems that many judges don’t take the time to figure out exactly what grandma or grandpa needs help with… They simply slap on the general term, “incapacitated” and appoint a guardian to take over all aspects of the older persons life. In my opinion, it is a shameful practice. And it’s happening all across the United States. We need new laws to insure dignity and peace of mind for the elderly in their final years.

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