Family divided over millionaire’s mental competence (TX)

The fear of aging really is the fear of losing control of your life.

Loss of control can manifest itself in a physical or mental deterioration that robs you of your independence. It also cam stem from intrafamily legal squabbles that turn you into a mere pawn of the guardianship process, forced to sit back and watch while others debate your competence and evaluate your lucidity.

That last scenario is the nightmare that’s playing out right now for Hattie Poole.

Poole, 85, deserves so much better than this. With her late husband, Duane, she helped build Industrial Communications, a highly successful radio service and sales company whose original office was located at the site of what later became HemisFair Arena.

She worked tirelessly for charities, co-founding Guadalupe Home (a transitional living center for homeless pregnant women) and playing an active role in fundraising efforts for Padua Place (a home for retired priests). In 2005, the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her, in tribute to her years of volunteerism.

But Poole finds herself in a situation where her affairs are controlled by a court-appointed guardian (her son, Jeff). She can’t touch her estate of more than $3 million and must get by on an allowance.

In what she regards as the cruelest cut of all, Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff has not even allowed her to pick her own attorney. As a result, Poole’s own estate money is being used to pay a court-appointed lawyer she believes is working against her interests, while she’s also forced to pay the attorney hired by her son to argue against her right to choose her legal representation.

This sad case has divided the Poole family, with Hattie’s daughter Laura insisting her mother is fully competent to make her own decisions, and Hattie’s three sons arguing that she is incapacitated. As with many guardianship battles, this one centers around the death of a parent and the subsequent emergence of a new romantic partner for the surviving parent.

Hattie lost Duane in 2012, after more than 60 years of marriage, and has since become engaged to Ben Marek, a man 30 years her junior. According to a Jan. 27 court application requesting that Rickhoff turn over her guardianship to Jeff Poole, Hattie attempted to transfer $225,000 to Marek last December, and Frost Bank responded by freezing her account. The case also was referred to Adult Protective Services.

Jeff Poole did not respond to an interview request for this column.

A recent neuropsychological exam concluded Hattie has experienced “mild” loss of memory and executive functioning. When she spoke to me by phone on Thursday afternoon, Hattie sounded remarkably lucid. Over the course of a 15-minute conversation, she spoke in a soft voice but displayed a strong command of the facts of the case.

“It’s been really frustrating and sad. I cry a lot,” she said. “I feel betrayed. Unfortunately, the court system seems to be so unfair. I’m older than the fiance, and Mr. Rickhoff’s court seems to think that it’s OK for a future husband to be older, but it’s not OK for the future wife to be older than her fiance.”

Poole reached out to trial attorney Barry Snell to represent her, but Rickhoff refused to allow it. Rickhoff did not respond to an interview request for this column.

Snell hopes to take her case to the 4th Court of Appeals, but there are legal questions about whether he has the authority to file an appeal on her behalf, given the fact that Rickhoff ruled her incompetent to hire her own attorney.

“I have no criticism of the motives of anyone, including Judge Rickhoff,” Snell said. “I think they all believe they’re doing what’s best for the lady. But the point is, no one in this thing was advocating for what she wanted, and it struck me that, ‘Hey this is really unfair. They’re going to take all of this lady’s property away from her and even take away her right to marry, without a jury trial that she’s entitled to.’”

Hattie Poole has earned the right to live her later years the way she chooses. But with the entanglements of a family business, estate considerations and questions about mental competence, the legal system won’t allow it to be that simple.

“It’s my life. I let my sons choose their fiancees and their wives, and I didn’t interfere. So I don’t know why they would want to interfere with my life now,” she said. “I feel as though I’ve been pushed in a corner.”

Attribution:

Family divided over millionaire’s mental competence
Gilbert Garcia
June 13, 2015
San Antonio Express News
http://www.expressnews.com/news/news_columnists/gilbert_garcia/article/Family-divided-over-mental-competence-of-longtime-6322347.php?t=3ac92da5c0&cmpid=email-premium

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