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Estate planning now can prevent the need for conservatorship

It’s a terribly sad story. The Vocino case from New Jersey is an example of the many things that can do wrong when you attempt to gain conservatorship or guardianship over a loved one who opposes the move.

Here in Minnesota, conservatorship is a proceeding that appoints a person (a conservator) to make financial decisions on behalf of a person who is no longer able to make such decisions. Guardianship is the appointment of a person (a guardian) to make decisions about the person’s healthcare and wellbeing, such as where to live. In New Jersey, both proceedings are referred to as “guardianship.”

Ada Vocino came to the U.S. from Italy in 1945 as a war bride. She was a seamstress and then a homemaker when her only child Patricia was born. Her husband died in 1988 when Ada was 64.

Ada and her daughter began mingling their finances and affairs soon afterward. Ada cared for Patricia’s children while Patricia worked full time. She moved into a home that Patricia financed, then paid Patricia most of the money. Later, Patricia’s family had an apartment constructed for Ada at her home. Through verbal agreement, Ada repaid the cost.

Later, Ada appeared to be declining mentally. She spent time in hospitals and was at one time committed to a psychiatric hospital, where she was diagnosed with, among other things, “senile dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.” She was also making suicide threats.

Meanwhile, Patricia’s relationship with Ada began to erode. Patricia refers to “frequent temper tantrums and constant mistrust,” which could have been caused by the Alzheimer’s. In any case, Patricia felt she needed to take over Ada’s financial affairs and make medical decisions on her behalf. Unfortunately, without advance estate planning, the only option was guardianship proceedings, where Patricia would have to be declared “incompetent,” which means unable to manage her own affairs.

It’s a proceeding that anyone might resent, and Ada definitely did. She fought back with all her might.

Ultimately, pretty much everything that could go wrong did. Not only did the court find that Ada was competent, but it also ruled that Patricia had appropriated money that belonged to. She was ordered to repay $675,000. Her relationship with Ada was permanently destroyed. Several years later, Ada died, alone and despondent, weighing 70 pounds.

Sign a power of attorney and healthcare directive now

This situation was extraordinarily difficult, but any contested guardianship or conservatorship proceeding can be a heartbreaking challenge. To avoid one, you should make arrangements while you’re still clearly competent to do so. Talk to an estate planning lawyer about a power of attorney and healthcare directive.