FEBRUARY 16, 2004 VOLUME 11, NUMBER 33
In 1999 the Platte County, Missouri, courts appointed a guardian of the person and conservator of the estate for Linda Werner. Because of her schizophrenia and her resulting difficulty in making responsible decisions the court decided that Janet Waddell, the county’s “public administrator,” should handle Ms. Werner’s personal and financial affairs. By 2002, however, Ms. Werner was doing much better, and she thought it was time to terminate the legal proceedings.
When Ms. Werner asked the court to end the guardianship and conservatorship, the public administrator agreed—partially. Ms. Waddell indicated that she agreed Ms. Werner could handle her own finances. She also agreed that Ms. Werner had improved enough that she should be allowed to vote, and to drive a vehicle. She disagreed, however, with terminating the guardianship altogether.
The Platte County court heard testimony from friends and acquaintances of Ms. Werner, and from a new doctor who had been treating Ms. Werner. The second physician diagnosed her as suffering from depression, rather than the schizophrenia diagnosed at her first hearing by her original doctor.
Several of the witnesses agreed Ms. Werner was doing much better at providing for herself than had been the case at the original hearing. The judge agreed that she should be permitted to take back control of her own finances and that she should be allowed to vote and drive, but continued the appointment of a guardian for all other purposes.
Ms. Werner appealed, arguing that there had been no evidence at the court hearing that she still needed a guardian. The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the continuation of her guardianship because, said the court, the issue was not whether there was evidence of a continuing need for guardianship—it was whether Ms. Werner had produced sufficient evidence that the guardianship should be terminated.
Because the hearing was on Ms. Werner’s petition to end the guardianship, said the appellate court, she had the burden of proving her case. Although she produced evidence supporting her position, the evidence was not uncontradicted, and the trial judge may have simply not been persuaded. Even if her new physician’s diagnosis of depression was correct, that did not prove that she would continue to do well without a guardian. Ms. Werner’s guardianship continues, though limited. Estate of Werner, February 3, 2004.
Ms. Werner’s case is interesting to Arizona guardianship practitioners for several reasons. In addition to addressing the burden of proof issue, it also introduces the Missouri office of “public administrator,” which is roughly equivalent to Arizona’s “public fiduciary.”