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Guardianships

April 30, 2015

Guardianship abuse is in both national and local news lately. While many guardians are performing a great service, some are abusing their power, especially when it comes to wealthy seniors.

A photo of Geraldine Strege before she was placed under the care of a guardian.

Teresa Maxwell: This was just a month before the guardian took over her life.

Terry Murphy: This is how Teresa Maxwell would like to remember her mother, Geraldine Strege…

Maxwell: She was full of life.

Murphy: Before everything fell apart.

Maxwell: Within a couple of weeks we weren’t able to see her.

Murphy: Today, Maxwell’s memories are buried in piles of paperwork. These pages tell a story of love and loss…

Maxwell: All visitations for Geraldine Strege has ceased…

Murphy: And a legal system, Maxwell believes stole her mother.

Maxwell: This is the United States of America? This is what’s going on in our courtrooms? And to just take her out of our lives and put all these restrictions on us, and for my mother it was like she was in prison.

Murphy: Geraldine Strege has passed away, but Teresa Maxwell is determined to tell her story, a story that begins here.

Maxwell: My mom and dad both served in World War II. My mom was a nurse on the navy ships. The greatest generation that built this country.

Murphy: Melvin and Geraldine Strege raised 12 children. Geraldine worked as a nurse, but still found time to give back.

A photo of Melvin and Geraldine Strege.

Maxwell: She helped us raise our kids. She was a perfect angel, a perfect citizen.

Murphy: And throughout Teresa’s life…she and her mother remained close.

Maxwell: She was always there for me.

Murphy: Strege had been windowed for years but she maintained a healthy lifestyle. Even at the age of 86, she was still going strong.

Maxwell: She’s at this beautiful assisted living place where she can work out, swim, order her breakfast, lunch and dinner off a menu.

Murphy: But Strege’s life was about to change…

Maxwell: One of my sisters filed a petition to the court

Murphy: A conflict over her financial affairs erupted among her children. One of them, who lived out of state, decided Strege needed a certified public guardian.

Maxwell: She had hired an attorney, to file the petition. Next thing I knew there was a court date set in 3 or 4 weeks after she’s gotten these papers.

Murphy: Even though Strege stated in her declaration to the court that she didn’t need or want a guardian, eventually the court did appoint one.

Maxwell: And then all of a sudden when the guardian takes over in less than three weeks she had a hand-written note that all visitations are ceased.

Murphy: Next, Geraldine phone was disconnected. Before long, Maxwell was completely cut out of her mother’s life.

Maxwell: No phone, no way to communicate with the outside world. All her friend she’d known for 40, 60 years were out of her life, couldn’t come see her. Within a week, seven days or so, they moved my mother and they were moving her to an undisclosed location. So that was that. We had no idea where our mother was.

Murphy: When Maxwell did locate her mother, the restrictions continued.

Maxwell: So they sent my mother over to a lock-down facility. We asked to go see our mother, the guardian would not allow us to see our mother. Couldn’t see her grandkids. She had 12 grandchildren. None of them could see her.

Murphy: According to Maxwell, visitation was permitted after she took a mandatory class on eldercare. Several weeks later, she finally saw her mother.

Maxwell: And what she looked like before and the first time we went to see her was night and day. She was at the state where her head was down, she was very medicated. Her face looked totally different.  

Murphy: With no legal right to intervene on her mother’s behalf, Maxwell could only document her decline.

Maxwell: With about six month of being in this new nursing home, she had broken her wrist, she’s been in and out of the hospital several times. She had black eyes. Her legs were swollen. No human being should have to go through what my mother went through. Nobody deserves this at all.

Murphy: Geraldine Strege’s guardian declined our request for an on-camera interview, but we spoke with Shirley Bondon, director of the certified professional guardianship board.

Shirley Bondon, director of the certified professional guardianship board.

Shirley Bondon: Guardianship is like any profession. You have good guardians and not so good guardians.

Murphy: To become a certified professional guardian, there are certain requirements.

Bondon: You have to have certain educational requirements, there’s a background check, there’s a credit report check and some experience requirements.

Murphy: Guardians are appointed by a court, in cases where the judge determines that a vulnerable individual needs protection. The guardian is responsible for the care, custody and control of that person. Bonbon says, a wide variety of people need guardians.

Bondon: The elderly who have dementia. They’re starting to have problems. They can’t manage their financial affairs. Persons with developmental disabilities sometimes need guardians. And individual who have mental illness. I think guardians do an excellent job. They try to do the right thing.

Murphy; But if they do the wrong thing, and a complaint is filed, it can take years to resolve.

Bondon: It may take two or three years to decertify someone because they have due process rights and when I say due process they have a right to a hearing, they have a right to an appeal, and all that takes time.

Murphy: Bondon could not comment on Strege’s guardian, who is still certified, but she admits the system is not perfect.

Bondon: Sometimes guardian can overstep, they all try to do a good job, b ut sometimes they can make mistakes.

Murphy: And it’s those mistakes that are getting lawmaker’s attention.

Sen. Steve Conway is sponsoring a bill that is intended change the complaint procedure regarding legal guardianship.

Senator Steve Conway: An issue that deeply concerns me is when a guardian makes a decision to isolate a parent from their family.

Murphy: Senator Steve Conway is sponsoring a bill that addresses the complaint procedure regarding legal guardianship of a vulnerable adult.

Conway: The Strege case indicated to me that is a guardian can take a mother in this case and make a decision to move her into a different setting and then deny children access to that parent, there’s something wrong with that picture. We need a place where these families can go to challenge these decisions and question the guardian.

Murphy: Geraldine Strege received a full military burial next to her husband. Teresa Maxwell’s own battle to care for her mother still weighs heavily upon this table…and on her grief.

Maxwell: She was just there for me whenever I needed her she was there for me. So when I saw her and she needed me, I wasn’t able to help her. That’s’ the hardest part, to this day that will haunt me.

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Made possible in part by

Terry Murphy

Terry Murphy has worked at every TV station in Seattle for a wide variety of local and national shows, including: KCTS9 Connects, Evening Magazine, Dateline, Biography Channel, The Steve Harvey Show, special projects, public affairs and children’s programming. Her work has taken her everywhere from Alaska to Brazil. National and regional awards include American Women in Radio & Television, two Gabriels, PM Magazine National Honors, several regional Emmys and Academy of Religious Broadcasting awards. After almost 30 years in broadcasting, Terry still believes it’s a joy and a privilege to tell other people’s stories…especially here at KCTS9.

More stories by Terry Murphy

There are 22 comments

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I surely understand how Ms Murphy feels since my wife and I fought so hard for my own mother who was under guardianship. Our experience took us in and out of court and the end result was because of all there unexplained expenses and over charging it wiped out a million dollar estate that took generations to build.

What state and county was this in ?

1 disability WA case - psyche evaluation within 8 fays of arrest
Appointment special master April 2015 judarsha Pechman
2 psyche eval hospitals by WA supreme court - requires WA state spend $50O,000,000 per year
3. Guardianship oversight laws need to be updated and comply with national best practices.
4 probate reform
5 federal law 2005 Indian probate reform act - allows tribes to create a tribal code and exempts state probate codes of tribal citizens and landowners.

In the In Close program shown 4/30 a very negative view of guardianships was presented. Certainly there is abuse of the system, but there are also very good reasons for the system and many dedicated guardians and guardian ad litems who provide caring services to persons who are in need of a guardian. What was presented may have been a case of guardian abuse, but without more information on the family and the reasons for the court granting a guardianship, the issue of abuse is unknown. The presentation in your program of guardianship as a system used by society to protect persons who are otherwise quite vulnerable was biased. Also, it will give many persons, who might otherwise benefit from using guardianship, an unwarranted negative view, and result in unnecessary hardship.

One must emphatically agree with you that guardianships are surely needed in many situations, and when they go well they can make an enormous difference to the quality of a troubled person's life. Also, that there are guardians, both family "lay" guardians, and paid professional guardians, who are able and dedicated to doing the work needed to produce stellar results.

But this case is not one of such a guardianship. As has been adjudged by Washington State's Certified Professional Guardianship Board. Two detailed documents attest to this.
See:
https://www.courts.wa.gov/content/PublicUpload/Disciplinary%20Proceeding...
And more recently:
https://www.courts.wa.gov/content/PublicUpload/Complaints%20Filed%20With...
Which sadly, give details that could not be covered within the time allotted to the April 30th IN Close program.

I think it is VERY important that these issues be carefully examined.

Please excuse me for "pasting in" the wrong web address, leaving two identical links. The first link should have been: >>> https://www.courts.wa.gov/content/PublicUpload/Disciplinary%20Proceeding...

Mr. Willsie. Maybe when you or one of your loved ones is under guardianship, you will have a different perspective. Is it possible that you are one of these guardians? There isn't a family on earth that is perfect but isolating parents from children, drugging someone because they are older, and liquidating their assets by a stranger is a crime against humanity and these so called guardians should have the same treatment.

I have a story similar to Teresa's story and left the state of Washington due
to concerns regarding my safety. Many thanks to Teresa for having the courage to go public with her story and to PBS for honoring her dear mother who suffered terribly from the care provided to her by her "guardian." In my opinion, Shirley Bondon is minimizing the problem of guardianship abuse that is pervasive in our legal system. There are many more stories similar to Teresa's story and mine that have devastated the elderly in many ways: financially, emotionally, and physically. I was issued a non-contact protection order for five years after reporting physical abuse of my mother that occured in a group home. Although I had pictures of my mother with black eyes, broken nose and bruises, the probate court commissioner sanctioned the proposed order. Unecessary restrictions of family members from visiting their parents is legal abuse of the worst kind. I am most grateful for your willingness to expose this crime against our seniors. Maureen McCaslin, MSW

Ms Bondon is a part of a shameless process that harms our citizens most in need of protection. "Professional" guardians are only minimally qualified for their positions - at best. Due process requires some time, granted. But there is nothing to stop the board and/or the state from immediately removing the ward from the care of a guardian who has been accused of negligence or abuse while due process occurs. The potential to do harm to the ward is much greater in guardianship than those who occupy the real world of professionals.
In reality, you don't need to rely on accusations of abuse or neglect. The records (those that have not been improperly sealed) offer irrefutable proof that "professional" guardians are driven by greed and not by concern for the helpless folks assigned to their "care." The only reason for isolating the ward is to permit the greed to continue unhampered and unquestioned. I don't need to offer any proof. The proof is right there in the public record. Look up any guardianship agency - one with a number of employees. Look up a ward with assets being "protected" by that agency. Examine (even a cursory examination will do) the billings of the guardian, its attorney, and other employees of the agency. You can't fail to note the gigantic rip-off occurring - the unwarranted billing and over billing. It's an undignified feeding frenzy. These "professionals" are stuffing their pockets with unearned profits with nary a hint of legitimacy or class. The wards worked a lifetime to save what they could to ease the vagaries of old age. The guardians et. al. acquire it in a matter of months for pretend conferences, discussions, considerations, etc. The proceeds are split with a totally superfluous attorney (how many hospitals and health care professionals make their decisions regarding care and billing in court with an attorney pasted to the hip?). This occurs despite the legal obligation to "preserve and conserve" the wards' assets so that her or she will not become a burden to family or to the state. Guardianship has become the new bread and butter of the legal "profession." Once the assets are vacuumed into the unworthy pockets of those in the guardianship industry, the wards are returned (penniless) to the family or the state. The families are left with sorrow that their efforts could not protect their loved one when protection was most needed. They are left also with an undying contempt for the legal process bought by the sacrifices of their loved ones and by their own taxes.
I long for the day when the courts, the attorneys, the guardians et. al. are exposed for what they truly are - an organized criminal conspiracy designed to rob the generation deemed to be America's best at the time when care and compassion are most called for.

I agree, vulnerable adults, in difficult situations, may need secure and safe guardianships. Then if a guardianship goes wrong, "due process" must balance the rights and needs of the vulnerable person with the rights of a Court appointed guardian. The need for suspension of a guardian, after the serious nature of accusations has been confirmed by thorough investigation, seems obvious. A need to wait years, possibly beyond the death of the ward, for the protection of a paid guardian's rights or business interests does not seem as obvious.

There can be little doubt that some guardians are unable, even unfit, to do the challenging work of managing other people's lives, or other people's money. 15 years of guardianship regulation and discipline in Washington State amply demonstrate this.

Your comment is on the mark in every sentence and every thought . The torment that is clauses is as close as one can get to dying . You have expressed this whole situation superbly with no allowance or care for the public relations posts written here to Deflect and make us think these elder cleansing drugging isolating cases are rare . They are not rare . They are everywhere . Money has corrupted man against man

NASGA'S position on isolation is straightforward: Guardians who isolated their wards from family, friends, advocates, and/or even clergy, must be immediately removed and charged with the crime of elder abuse. California last year passed AB937 which states guardianship/conservatorship wards retain the right to visitors, phone calls, and mail. Representative David Harris has introduced a similar bill in Illinois this session and we are hopeful it passes quickly.

Join the national movement for reform of unlawful and abusive guardianships and conservatorships. Join NASGA!

Two years ago, State Senator Conway introduced a bill that would prevent guardians from isolating family members from loved ones. The judges didn't like some of the language so the bill went to the SCJA (Superior Court Judges Association.) The Law and Justice Committee chair would not allow a hearing unless the Judges weighed in. Once they did -- he still wouldn't allow a hearing.

In February, there was a news clip about a lady in Vancouver, WA who saved $250,000 towards her retirement. First, she was declared incapacitated and then not incapacitated; then incapacitated, etc. She only has $24,000 left to live on. Senator Rivers filed a bill that would have started to contain the greed of guardians. Again, the chair of the Law and Justice Committee didn't like the bill as written and did not hold a hearing on it. He is a former judge from the Spokane area. So, we willl have to try again next session. We would like to get some help -- but can't get past this state senator.

I will help in anyway I can . Don Buchanan living in Glenwood Place has been Isolated since May 2015. It all started when Don was going to live with his daughter and gave a 30 day notice to Glenwood. Glenwood contacted DSHS and they came up with bogas allagation and filed a guardianship. No evendentary hearing was allowed . Don has been Medicated and forced to stay in Glenwood against his will. They medicated him before bring him to the court room to keep him form saying anything. They brought him in a wheel chair all drugged out. He was living in assittant living for 3500.00 but moved him to memory care for 8000.00 . Exploitation for sure.

You may contact me at 503-369-4551

I agree with the previous comments. I've heard all sorts of stories. There was the lady in Spokane who was forced by APS and the AG's office into a guardianship. This lady was legally deaf -- and yet was declared incapacitated by the courts with a mini-mental test that she couldn't even hear. There have been 2 bills that would have started to protect the elderly more in WA State but neither bill moved forward because of the Law and Justice Committee. The first bill would have stopped guardians from isolating seniors and the second would have stopped them from charging as much as they have been. We will keep trying.

I've heard stories about professional guardians trying to take land in California from someone who isn't even under guardianship; selling a house under value in Shoreline; breaking state law when it comes to forcing IP's into facilities against their wishes -- and saying the guardian did nothing wrong; isolating seniors and the guardian board not taking any action (they closed the investigation); the Guardian Board saying that families in WA State perceive that their loved ones have been isolated -- but the Board never investigated the claims, etc. Then there is the case of Sharon Nielson -- who embezzled approximately $370,000 from 2 wards in Mt. Vernon (this has been settled in court).

Sirs; I congratulate you on your April 30th “IN Close” KCTS9 report on guardianship This was an effective and tasteful presentation of the deep tragedy and pain that can be caused when a paid guardianship has gone awry. Sadly, this case is not unique, so it is important that your broadcast informs the public, helping citizens become more aware of this danger. Also, it is essential to remember that it is not only Washington State that has difficulties with some guardians, at the same time as many, many guardians are responsible and fully dedicated to doing excellent work in helping our most vulnerable. Thank you for speaking up on this difficult set of problems.

Geraldine Strege needed protection from her professional guardian and there are many more people in her same situation in the USA. No one should EVER be appointed an outside guardian when there are family members willing and able. Any guardian that isolates, restricts visit should be immediately removed and criminally charged with ABUSE.

My Father had dementia and had been in the hospital for surgery. He was only 67 years old. His POA while he was in the hospital changed him to a DNR without his permission. My Father's dementia was mild. And he was only supposed to go to rehab for 2 weeks and instead his POA was able to lie and with the help of the Nursing Director, was able to have him admitted instead as hospice and he was kept restricted to a Nursing station only, kept in the wheelchair 24/7 and not allowed out of it. They kept him heavily drugged on Roxanol and he was killed on 08/13/15 by 2 Nurse's aids by injection. Do you know how many agencies I sought help from and no one would help me because of his POA being the one in charge? His POA is mentally sick and as his daughter all I could do was watch what happened to him and in the meantime, they Nursing facility filed false police reports against me and made up lies saying I was interfering in my Father's care..there was NO care involved at this facility. He went days without being bathed and 2 days before he was killed, we discovered the horrible bedsores he had. The state of Ohio Health Department did nothing to help and went with the nursing homes false records. Did they really think the nursing home would tell the truth ? My Father's POA tried to have me banned from seeing him. I went to Pro Seniors for help and they were able to get me back in to see my Father again but after that they were useless. No agency will help you and truth be told, once they are under a guardianship or a POA's care, you have already lost. Since when did murder and abuse become legal? Even the Ohio Attorney General would do nothing and I just received a letter from the Ohio Inspector General who said they can do nothing to help. Their exact words per the letter they sent me said " There appear to be many conflicting aspects of this matter".. So in essence the lies the Nursing home said covered the apparent murder of my Father.

I believe KCTS-9 should come to Vancouver Washington and do a story on the court house steps. I have information on more people this is happening too, DSHS and some BAD GALs or guardians are the perpetrators. Stealing from the elderly, than issolating them to lead to the killing of them. KCTS-9 can call me anytime. My number is 503-369-4551. I told Donald Buchanan on his last day on the God forsaking earth than I wound stand up for him. I will against the odds. I would meet KTCS-9 on any court house step as this ABUSE to the ELDERLY needs to STOP before it happens to YOUR FAMILY. The law in Washington says that the Superior court is the guardian over any guardianship case. So people file as a interested person and go let the Superior court hear the truth but before you go take a copy of all the Washington Judges cannon rules with you.IT IS TIME WE ALL STICK TOGETHER AND STOP THIS ABUSE THAT LEAD TO OUR PARENTS DEATHS. PLEASE CALL ME.

I can not use my real name, do to witch hunt going on in Washington state. These people need to be stopped, including GAL, attorneys, judges, and state reps.
I have been told by adult protective services, that since I called APS to many times, they were going to punish me and the family, you can also thank the good ole governor and the attorney general for this also, they are all in bed together. The governor wants all cases closed in 30 days no matter what. My family's house has been in trust for years, now the GAL, judges and attorneys are going to take the house so all of them can be paid. I can give you names and so called independent investigators that are not independent

Hello all, I'm someone you do not know. But there are some families willing to incapacitate disabled adults just because they're disabled. Right now, I could be ripped out of my lover's arms, he's a young blind man I've come to know quite well. He's super sweet, but my family guardians have declared me unable to marry. What if we want a house? I can't buy it. What if we have kids? I might lose them, and he might be upset. My life is Hell because of a family guardianship. As far as I am concerned, guardianships should only be used for truly vulnerable citizens who actually need it. My family thinks my financial situation needs "help" but they refused to see what happens when DVR Colorado, the rehabilitative services for the blind, refused to purchase a computer for me. Now I'm making payments for a laptop beyond my budget, literally starving to or half to death just to pay off my bills and the computer, and it gets worse. I'm being denied friendships and support because of going over so much. My parents want to fly me back to Brevard County, Florida. I can't go anywhere except with them there if I do this. You may think paid guardians and elders are the only ones affected, but that's not the case either. Look also at Jenny (Margaret Jeanne) Hatch's story. You'll see why. It is unlawful criminal theft of property if a group home steals your cell phone or laptop, unlawful criminal abuse if someone tells you you cannot go to your church, see your friends, etc. I am wondering how to terminate the guardianship and possibly sue the guardians and others involved in my incapacitation because it wasn't even warranted. I'm blind, and I'm lucky I can even compose this comment because true vulnerability can be found in persons who are in a persistent vegetative state, dying, or Alzheimer's patients. None of which is me.

A certified professional guardian has legally kidnapped a relative of mine and we are spending thousands of dollars in attorney's fees to free him.  I can't say more until we get it resolved, but I am so glad I read this story and I know we are not alone!  Stay tuned for more.

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