In the past, I have reported here about the need for a uniform guardianship law in order to prevent elder kidnapping to gain control of a senior citizen’s estate. The case of Lillian Glasser made headlines two years ago when it took a federal court to unsnarl a legal imbroglio between a New Jersey widow and her children when her daughter attempted to keep her in Texas by obtaining an order from a Dallas probate judge while her mother was visiting her. The Hartford Courant reported on May 9th on a similar and even more horrifying case.
It seems that Margot Claus, who will be eighty later this month, was visiting a distant cousin in Connecticut late last year when she suffered a fall and was hospitalized. She is a German national and a resident of New York with absolutely no relationship to Connecticut save for her unfortunate visit there. She does, however, have assets of over one million dollars and therein lies the root of this case.
Rather than allow her to recover and return home, her enterprising cousin, Linda Eger, went to probate court in Connecticut and –as that state’s laws evidently permit– got an order this past February from a North Haven court appointing her as Ms. Claus’s "involuntary conservator". By so doing, she gained control over Ms. Claus’s assets and presumably was also entitled to earn commissions in handling them as well. Meanwhile, Margot Claus became , in effect, a civil prisoner of the State of Connecticut. Her apartment in New York was emptied of its contents and a lawyer was hired to sell it while the attorneys working for the conservator in Connecticut generated fees which they attempted to have paid from the conservatee’s assets.
This story does have a happy ending. Ms. Claus was not without concerned relatives who eventually came to her aid from as far away as Germany . They were able to interest some dedicated Legal Aid attorneys to take her case. Eventually, the injustice was brought to the attention of Probate Judge Michael Brandt who held a further hearing on the matter where, incredulously, Ms. Claus’s court-appointed lawyer actually argued against letting her "client" return home to Germany. Judge Brandt did realize what had been done to Ms. Claus and has now vacated his prior order and has allowed her to return home to Germany in time for her birthday on May 22.
Unfortunately, this is apparantly not a unique situation. In the absence of the passage of uniform guardianship laws, there will always be states where a hapless –but probably wealthy– senior citizen can fall prey to greedy relatives who will try to use the law as a tool to seize his or her assets and –in effect– bury them before they are dead.