Contested Guardianship Sparks Multistate Feud in Federal Court

The worst matrimonial cases often involve bitter custody disputes which may involve not only domestic violence but also child-snatching as well. As nasty as some estate contests can be, I have always taken comfort knowing that the worst of them do not compare to a garden-variety custody fight. The case of Lillian Glasser, reported in the December 28th New York Times combines the worst features of a custody fight with the worst features of an estate fight. What could be messier than an interstate custody fight between adult siblings over a parent with a net worth of twenty five million dollars?

Lillian Glasser, an octogenarian and lifelong New Jerseyan visited her daughter , Suzanne Matthews in San Antonio. Citing her mother's Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Diseases, Ms. Matthews applied in Bexar County Texas for the appointment of a guardian. The Texas court, in effect, took control not only of Mrs. Glasser but of her millions as well.

None of this went over too well with Mrs. Glasser's son Mark or -for that matterówith Mrs. Glasser herself who was decidedly unhappy with her daughter's actions. During a visit back to New Jersey (which she could not make without the approval of the Texas Court) the matter was submitted to a New Jersey probate court which found that Mrs. Glasser was a New Jersey resident and ruled that she could not be removed from the jurisdiction. Ms. Matthews simply ignored this order by chartering a private jet and flying mom back to Texas.

The warring siblings have spent more than three million dollars litigating what should be done with their mother and her millions. Now , Mark Glasser has applied to have a Federal District Court take control over this matter before it can be tried in the Texas court.

The Glasser case underscores the problems created by a highly mobile society with families extended over a number of states with a host of conflicts in both estate and guardianship law. For example, some states,such as New Jersey, will not exercise jurisdiction in a probate or guardianship matter unless they are the state of domicile while others -such as Texas-- will exercise jurisdiction upon a mere physical presence. There is normally no federal jurisdiction in such matters. It is clear that the ultimate solution to problems such as those raised in Glasser is a compact between the states to enact uniform legislation insuring that the laws of all fifty sister states are in basic agreement. While there have been initial attempts at establishing uniform legislation, no such compact exists in this area of the law at this time so the problems we are seeing in cases such as Glasser will be with us for a while.

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