Couple gets new lawyer, new hope in guardianship

North Texas couple gets new lawyer, new hope in guardianship case
Lou Ann Anderson
September 15, 2009
www.EstateofDenial.com

Michael and Jean Kidd have a new lawyer and hopefully a new chance for review of the guardianship imposed upon them by a  Collin County Probate Court.  The issues to address start with why this elderly Richardson, TX, couple has been forced to spend almost a year in a Pilot Point nursing home when far less restrictive measures seem applicable.   Dallas probate attorney Melinda Hartnett is now representing the Kidds and like anyone else hearing this story, she’ll likely want answers to many questions.

KDFW/FOX 4 Becky Oliver’s most recent report discusses how accountant Michael Taylor, the Kidds’ financial guardian, is actually ineligible for that position due to a lack of credentials from the state of Texas Guardianship Certification Board.  Regarding his approval of Taylor’s appointment, Collin County Probate Judge Weldon Copeland is quoted:

“We sometimes believe someone is certified when they are not,” Copeland said. “Perhaps we should have double checked. It is an opportunity to learn from our mistake here,” he continued.

Thankfully, this “mistake” was stopped from selling the Kidds’ home at a Sept. 1 foreclosure sale.

An earlier KDFW/FOX 4 broadcast reported this about the Kidds’ financial situation:

“You have no idea how much money you have?” Oliver asked Michael Kidd. “None at all,” Kidd responded. “I know what my income was and I know it was more than enough to take care of my bills. Now, I am deteriorating instead of getting better,” Kidd continued.

The monthly tab for a couple at Countryside is about seven thousand dollars. Court records show, for five months’ care, the guardian paid eleven thousand dollars out of the Kidds’ accounts. The state’s Medicaid program kicks in the rest. “I could be at the Hilton for this kind of money,” Kidd told Oliver.

The state appointed a financial guardian in Greenville to manage the Kidds money and pay their bills. When they asked for an accounting, the state refused. Representatives for the state stated the Kidds did not have the mental capacity to even ask for their own financial or medical records.

Collin County taxpayers are reported to have paid a $4,000 legal bill for work done by Bert Starr, the Kidds’ original, court-appointed attorney ad litem.

That Medicaid – i.e., taxpayers – is paying a portion of the Kidds’ nursing home expense is of interest.  For taxpayers who believe programs like Medicaid should be a “safety net” only for those truly in need (not the contrived cases of people defrauding their fellow taxpayers by utilizing “Medicaid planning” techniques), the Kidds’ Medicaid eligibility is probably worthy of investigation.

And if their house was to be sold to fund additional nursing home expenses, what type of responsible guardians turn off the power leaving food spoiling in the kitchen?  Why are windows left broken?  The house unlocked?  The yard overgrown?  Perhaps these were more “mistakes”?

And to then be listing a house below its appraised value due to neglect?  That doesn’t sound like a mistake – that sounds like incompetence, irresponsibility and general disrespect for other people’s property.

Don Ford, a probate lawyer who serves on the Texas Guardianship Certification Board, said:

The guardian’s job is to protect the assets. The judge’s job is to ensure the best course of action is always taken.

It’s hard to see how this has been the case with regard to Jean and Michael Kidd.

In Is Texas ready to address guardianships and other probate abuse? responses from a politician and an activist were addressed:

Both Senator Nelson and Brenda Durant are correct that now is the time for lawmakers to investigate activities relating to guardianships.  However, as probate abuse can also involve wills, trusts and powers of attorney, a review inclusive of all estate administrative functions performed by probate (or other) courts is the true need.

North Texas is home to numerous cases of questionable probate activities so while Senator Nelson is well positioned to investigate how DADS could so easily hijack the lives of Texas residents, efforts hopefully will not end there.  Only going after a state agency – even one so deserving as DADS appears to be the case with the Kidds – is “low-hanging fruit.”  Therefore, as Brenda Durant suggests, additional investigation into the activities of county probate courts or other courts addressing probate issues is imperative as these entities have oversight responsibility.  Conducting a serious review of all parties involved will be the real test of legislators’ willingness to address the confiscation of Texans’ liberty and property via corrupt probate venues.

The exposure of cases like Michael and Jean Kidd helps educate the public regarding looming threats which probate venues can pose to individuals’ liberty and property.  A probate court oversees great sums of money and exerts significant influence over the freedom and property of those before it.  Being viewed as a “not a lot of action here” venue has allowed the evolution of a problematic culture seen too often today.

People are starting to recognize the power wielded within probate venues.  While the elderly are easy targets, disabled or incapacitated people of any age (along with their families!) can be harmed by probate abuse (or “mistakes”).  Regarding the Kidds, Houston Single Parenting Examiner Melanie Saxton astutely wrote:

It is a precautionary tale, especially for Texans. If this can happen to Jean and Michael Kidd, who have always been good citizens, then it can happen to you. As a single parent, I feel especially vulnerable to the prospects of questionable guardianships and elder abuse in my future.

Our country’s aging demographic along with Texas’ current population boom will naturally lead to a potential of more cases like the Kidds.  With that, the probate system and supporting agencies cannot go unchecked.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

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