APRIL 9, 2007 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 41
Mark Glasser and Suzanne Glasser Matthews, brother and sister, have spent the last two years battling for physical and financial control over their mother, Lillian Glasser. The 86-year-old Mrs. Glasser, who at one point had an estimated net worth of $25 million, has been the subject of proceedings first in Texas and more recently in New Jersey, where a trial judge heard thirty-four days of testimony and argument last fall.
Nearly six months after the extended proceedings, New Jersey Judge Alexander Waugh has issued his ruling, appointing a guardian of the person and estate for Mrs. Glasser. Rather than appointing any of the family members who might have been candidates, Judge Waugh appointed New Jersey attorney Joseph Catanese as guardian of the person. Mr. Catanese had served as court-appointed counsel for Mrs. Glasser during the trial, and the judge indicated that her condition could worsen if yet another new party was injected into her life.
Judge Waugh also appointed a guardian of the estate (the equivalent of a conservator in Arizona and some other states), turning to the financial management firm Mrs. Glasser and her late husband had used before his death. Mrs. Matthews, her daughter, was ordered to return control of approximately $20 million she had transferred to a family limited partnership just before initiating guardianship proceedings in Texas (see the San Antonio Express-News report), and the judge made clear that at least some portion of the costs incurred by Mrs. Matthews to set up that entity would have to be reimbursed as well.
All of that is very interesting, and Judge Waugh’s written opinion reads like a fictional saga (for more detail and an excellent running commentary on the case, consider Texas Tech College of Law Prof. Gerry W. Beyer’s blog coverage of the case). What the Lillian Glasser case points out even more clearly, however, is a growing problem in guardianship matters—the conflicts that can arise between jurisdictions with the increased mobility of families, support systems, caregivers and assets.
Guardianship proceedings were initiated in Texas when Mrs. Matthews sought appointment as guardian of both her mother’s person and her estate. After Mrs. Matthews’ appointment as temporary guardian, another relative initiated the New Jersey case, arguing that Mrs. Glasser was a New Jersey resident and the question of her capacity—and management of her affairs—should be handled there.
In an earlier ruling Judge Waugh determined that his court should have primary jurisdiction over the guardianship. Luckily, the Texas judge assented, staying the proceedings until a hearing could be completed in New Jersey. Although neither state’s laws include explicit provisions permitting such an action, the two judges’ cooperation saved considerable expense and duplicative legal proceedings.
Arizona law also lacks a provision for resolution of interstate guardianship conflicts. In practice, such conflicts are handled on an ad hoc basis, considering the strength of the proposed ward’s ties to each of the jurisdictions, the location of principal witnesses, and other factors. Frequently the result is that the state where proceedings are first filed has priority, even though the stronger contacts are elsewhere.
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), which proposes uniform statutes for consideration by the states, has addressed this growing problem. A provision of the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act, proposed in 1997, would specifically permit the judge in one state to notify and consult with the judge in another state, and to decide whether to accept or decline jurisdiction based on the best interests of the proposed ward (see section 107(b) of the UGPPA).
Another growing problem involves movement of wards after appointment of a guardian or conservator. Under current law and practice, it may be necessary to initiate a whole new guardianship proceeding in the new state after a move, at considerable expense and duplicating much legal effort The proposed uniform law would also address that problem, permitting the final guardianship order of one state to simply be lodged with, and become an order of, the ward’s new state.