Posts Tagged ‘Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act’

Transfer of Guardianship to New State Should Be Easy

DECEMBER 9, 2013 VOLUME 20 NUMBER 46

We have written before about transferring a guardianship or conservatorship to Arizona, or out of Arizona, when the subject of the proceeding moves to another state. In fact, Arizona has joined a number of other states (that number, incidentally, currently stands at 37 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) in adopting something called the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act — the UAGPPJA. A mouthful of a title, but a simple goal: it should be easy and inexpensive to move your Arizona guardianship to Arkansas, or to Alaska, if you and your ward move to one of those states.

One key element of the UAGPPJA’s efficiency goal involves each state’s courts giving up a little tiny slice of control. Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings are often tightly controlled by local judges, and for good reason. But the logic of the UAGPPJA says that when the local judge in another state has decided whether a guardian or conservator is needed, and who should be appointed, the local judge in the new jurisdiction should be able to take that determination at face value. That means no expensive proceeding to evaluate the proposed guardian and conservator, no additional imposition of costly proceedings or even appointment of investigators, medical examiners and attorneys — unless there is good reason to suspect that something is amiss.

That’s the theory, but the devil, as usual, is in the details. A recent Alabama case may be the first appellate court decision to address how the UAGPPJA should work, and that state’s Supreme Court comes down squarely on the side of efficiency and ease of administration.

Roberta Smith (not her real name) filed a guardianship and conservatorship proceeding regarding her mother Susan in 2010. Both Roberta and Susan lived in Kentucky at the time, and so she appropriately filed her petition in Kentucky courts. After notice was given and a hearing held pursuant to Kentucky’s normal appointment process, Roberta was appointed as her mother’s guardian and conservator.

Roberta then moved to Alabama, and took her mother with her. She wanted to transfer the guardianship to their new state, and it should have been easy — both states had adopted the UAGPPJA. The process requires several steps, but it is mostly clerical in nature. First Roberta had to get the Kentucky court’s permission to initiate the transfer, then get the Alabama court’s permission to make the transfer, then go back to Kentucky to show that the Alabama proceeding was underway, then once more back to the Alabama courts to accept final transfer. The UAGPPJA intends that the result would then be that Alabama had jurisdiction over the guardianship and conservatorship, and Kentucky could close its file on the matter.

But the Alabama probate judge had a different idea. He wanted to make sure Roberta was a suitable guardian and conservator, and that she was making decisions properly. So he appointed a guardian ad litem (a GAL, in lawyer lingo — which is not a comment on the appointee’s gender) to investigate and to represent Susan’s interests in the transfer proceeding. Months later the GAL reported that, while Roberta hadn’t done anything wrong, she thought the public guardian would be a better choice to make decisions for Susan. The probate judge agreed and appointed a new guardian and conservator.

Roberta appealed, arguing that the UAGPPJA was supposed to allow transfer of proceedings, not relitigation of issues already decided. Meanwhile, as an aside, the public guardian recommended that the GAL could be appointed as guardian for Susan, and the probate court went along — turning Susan’s lawyer into her decision-maker for health care and placement decisions, and raising more questions about the Alabama proceedings.

The Alabama Supreme Court looked over this record, reversed the probate judge and sent the entire matter back for entry of an order transferring the Kentucky proceedings to Alabama. The UAGPPJA does not permit the receiving court (Alabama, in this case) to make a new determination about who ought to be guardian and conservator, but only to transfer the existing guardianship and conservatorship. Of course, once the transfer is completed the new court has jurisdiction, and could review the actions of the guardian and conservator, direct her to handle things differently and even remove her and appoint a new person — but that would be a separate proceeding. Sears v. Hampton, November 22, 2013.

The Alabama case, though it deals with an issue near and dear to our lawyers’ hearts, will probably not have a large impact on guardianship and conservatorship across the country. But it does reflect a change in the way the world works. Twenty years ago it was relatively rare to see a guardian or conservator move — with the ward — to a new state, and the law was unsettled about how to handle such a switch. Most of the time the guardian/conservator would be required to file a new petition in the new state, incur significant legal expenses and hope to get appointed. Once appointed, they could go back to the original state, show the new state’s appointment, and ask to have the first state’s file closed.

But each state probate judge might have a different idea about who should act, what they should do, and what were reasonable decisions. There was the regular concern that the two courts might enter conflicting orders, or that the first state’s judge might object to the second state proceeding even being initiated, or that the second state’s judge might refuse to act while the first state still had jurisdiction. Our society grows more mobile every year, and these problems become more complicated. The UAGPPJA was intended to help simplify this process, and now it has — at least in Alabama. We would like to think that it will also simplify things in Arizona, Arkansas, Alaska and all the states that don’t even start with “A”.

For extra credit: is this the first appellate decision to interpret the UAGPPJA? It could be. In Hetman v. Schwade, a concurring justice in one of the other “A” states (Arkansas) strongly suggested that his state’s legislature should adopt the UAGPPJA — and they took him up on the suggestion two years later. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, in a July 13, 2013, decision (In re Proposed Conservatorship of Stratton), makes a passing reference to the UAGPPJA — but only to note that the appellant failed to preserve any argument she might have under the Act. So we think this Alabama case is in fact the first appellate interpretation of the Act.

Conservator May Be Able To Act As Successor Trustee

AUGUST 16, 2010 VOLUME 17 NUMBER 26
Let’s say you have created a revocable living trust, and you have named yourself as trustee. You also name your two children as successor trustees, to act together upon your death or incapacity. Two years later you become incapacitated; because of a dispute between your two children about who should handle assets outside the trust, the probate court names a local bank as your conservator. Now who handles your trust — the bank, or your children?

Before we answer that question, let us complicate it. You are also the beneficiary of a trust set up by your late husband — and you are trustee of that trust, as well. About half of the assets the two of you owned are included in each of the two trusts. Your husband’s trust names you as trustee (now that he is deceased) and names the two children as successor trustees if anything should happen to you. Does your conservator have any authority over that trust?

Those were precisely the questions faced by a probate judge in South Dakota when Evelyn Didier became incapacitated. The bank appointed as her conservator asked the court to clarify that it had control over both trusts as well as Ms. Didier’s non-trust assets. The judge agreed, and Ms. Didier’s daughter Barbara Didier-Stager appealed.

Court appointment of a conservator does not amount to appointment of a successor trustee, argued Ms. Didier’s daughter. In fact, appointment of a conservator proves the incapacity that triggers a change in trustees — resulting in the son and daughter taking over as successor trustee of their mother’s trust. As to their father’s trust, the successor trustee provisions are triggered by the conservatorship in the same way — though our simplified version of the facts described above fails to clarify that the successor trustees of that trust were actually Ms. Didier-Stager and another local bank — different from the bank acting as Ms. Didier’s conservator.

South Dakota, like Arizona, has adopted the Uniform Probate Code — though South Dakota’s version has been updated more recently and is more current. The Code includes provisions about guardianship and conservatorship (though now those sections have been set aside as a separate uniform law, the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act). Those uniform laws permit the judge in a conservatorship proceeding to enter orders related to the protected person’s estate plan.

So, reasoned the South Dakota court, the probate court could permit Ms. Didier’s conservator to do anything that Ms. Didier herself could have done before becoming incapacitated. Her own trust was revocable and amendable — if she had wanted to do so, she could have changed the successor trustee at any time. She could have named the bank that was ultimately appointed as her conservator. Consequently, the court could allow her conservator to assume the powers of successor trustee over that trust.

The late Mr. Didiers trust was a different matter, however. Ms. Didier herself did not have the power to change the trustee, and so her conservator could not exercise that power on her behalf. That trust would have to be dealt with separately, and the Supreme Court ordered the case remanded to the probate judge to determine what to do about Mr. Didier’s trust. Conservatorship of Didier, June 30, 2010.

Does this mean that Mr. Didier’s successor trustees automatically take over, instead of Mrs. Didier’s conservator? Probably not. Other provisions of the Probate Code give the probate judge authority over trust administration, and if it appears that there is some reason not to allow the named successors to become trustee there will presumably be an order to that effect. But it does change the discussion from a choice between blindly following the document or giving Mrs. Didier’s conservator power to do anything she could do. Instead, the probate court will have to determine which approach is most consistent with the trust, with proper administration, and with the best interests of the trust’s beneficiaries.

The Uniform law actually goes quite a bit further today than the 1974 version originally adopted in Arizona (though Arizona has updated portions of the law several times). Reviewing the statute in the context of the Didier case highlights some of the changes. Among the powers given to conservators by the “new” Code (as adopted in South Dakota, for instance) is the power to “make, amend, or revoke the protected person’s will.” (See Section 411(a)(7) of the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act.) Court approval is required, but the very notion of a conservator changing the protected person’s estate plan might strike some as dangerous.

High-Stakes Guardianship Case Illustrates Multistate Conflicts

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.

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