Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Working Together to Ensure Safe Living Environments for Our Elderly Clients

Kevin Fritz, Seyfarth Shaw

When Charlie traveled from Michigan to visit her elderly mother in Chicago, she noticed that her mother, Dorothy, had lost a significant amount of weight. Charlie quickly got Dorothy to the doctor and moved from the home she shared with Charlie’s brother into a more structured living arrangement, while also nursing her back to better health. As Charlie lives in Michigan, she was worried that her mother’s health might decline again once Charlie moved back home. So, Charlie went to court and petitioned for guardianship.

Attorney Kevin Fritz had participated in an Adult GAL Training at his firm and agreed to take the case. Pulling in a new associate, Rashal Baz, to join him on the matter, they talked to 13 of Dorothy’s children and grandchildren, an Adult Protective Services worker, an Ombudsman, the Director of Social Services at a facility where Dorothy had stayed and also interviewed three of Dorothy’s in-home service providers. Additionally, Kevin and Rashal uncovered at least three different powers of attorney that various family members had Dorothy sign, and reviewed Dorothy’s medical records. Armed with all of this evidence, Kevin and Rashal discussed options with Dorothy’s quarrelsome family. Eventually, everyone agreed that the agents designated under the various powers of attorney would resign, Charlie would voluntarily withdraw her petition for guardianship and another of Dorothy’s adult children would step in as guardian with a court order stipulating that there should be transparency among Dorothy’s children. This would protect Dorothy from careless neglect.

Rashal Baz, Seyfarth Shaw

When asked about her experience Rashal said, “CVLS gave me the opportunity to interact with the judge and other courtroom personnel, while also reminding me how to relay legal information in a digestible way. I enjoyed working with the family one on one and understanding various, and sometimes conflicting, points of view. This was my first CVLS case and I know it won’t be my last.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Fritz recruited another new attorney, Kyla Miller, to work with him as GAL on Renee’s case. Before Renee was diagnosed with early onset dementia, she and her sister, Shirley, would often bicker. Their mother was Renee’s primary caregiver until she died in 2015. Shirley and a close friend stepped in to ensure that Renee would receive adequate care at a nursing home and Shirley visited regularly. Shirley also eventually filed a petition to become Renee’s guardian.

Kyla Miller, Seyfarth Shaw

Kevin and Kyla visited Renee, interviewed Shirley and other friends and service providers at the nursing home and wrote a report recommending that Shirley’s petition for guardianship be granted. However, at the first court date, Renee’s daughter showed up and told the judge that she wanted to be appointed her mother’s guardian. The daughter remembered her mother bickering with Shirley and was uncomfortable with Shirley becoming guardian. Communication among the family members was strained, but upon further investigation Kevin and Kyla discovered that the family all had the same goals for Renee’s care.

Kyla knew that the something had to be done for Renee and there was room for the family to work together. “It became apparent during my first visit with Renee that she was in need of a guardian to make day-to-day decisions about her care. With the help of [Director of CVLS’ Adult GAL Program] Susan DeCostanza and Kevin Fritz, I was able to evaluate both petitions for guardianship, and ultimately help the petitioners to come to an agreement that allows both parties to remain involved in her care and decision-making.”