The appointment of a Guardian for an incapacitated person is provided by the guidelines enacted in Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law (MHL). The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed many of the aspects involved in New York City Guardianship cases such as Guardianship powers and the petition that is filed with the Court requesting appointment.
A couple of recent Court decisions in which a Guardian was appointed are typical examples of the many factors and issues that are considered before an appointment is actually made.
In Matter of C.T., reported in the New York Law Journal on June 23, 2011, Justice Alexander W. Hunter of the Bronx Supreme Court issued a decision dated June 10, 2011, in which he appointed the sister of the alleged incapacitated person ("AIP") as Guardian of his person and property. The Court noted at the outset of the decision that the AIP and other parties were properly served with the Order to Show Cause and petition. As referred to by the Court, section 81.07 of the MHL provides for very specific requirements regarding notice and the service of papers on interested parties. If these requirements are not complied with the Court would lack proper jurisdiction to conduct a hearing.
The AIP in Matter of C.T. had assets in excess of $2 million dollars. It appears that as part of the sister's petition to the Court she requested that as Guardian she be allowed to provide for Medicaid planning. Such planning typically involves the transfer of the AIP's assets to a family member so that the AIP can qualify for government benefits. Since the Court found that the plan presented by the sister for preserving the AIP's assets was "vague", the Court decided that such plan would require further Court approval before implementation. MHL section 81.21 provides for the granting of power to a Guardian to transfer assets. However, as was recognized by Judge Hunter, there is always a concern that notwithstanding benefits that may be obtained by a family by preserving assets through transfers, assets also need to be retained and used for the care and comfort of the AIP.
In a different case, there was an interesting issue regarding the potential conflict of interest between an AIP and the proposed Guardian. In Matter of A.M., a case reported in the New York Law Journal on May 12, 2011 and also decided by Judge Hunter on April 25, 2011, the petitioner was the brother of the AIP. It appears that the parents of the AIP left her over $1 million dollars in a testamentary trust and that the brother was the trustee. In the Guardianship proceeding, the brother was seeking only to be appointed as Guardian for his sister's personal needs. The Court found that the brother was not eligible to be appointed pursuant to the requirements of MHL section 81.19 ("Eligibility as guardian"), because of the potential monetary conflict of interest. Among other problems, the Court was concerned that the potential of the Guardian selling the AIP's house "creates financial gain" for the brother. Also, the Court stated that "Another motivation that cannot be ignored is that Mr. M [the brother] may no longer desire to directly care for his sister as he is currently doing. Placement in a facility and sale of the home will allow him to return to Florida where he lives. This also constitutes a conflict of interest in that Mr. M may choose his own well-being over that of his potential ward."
As is shown by these recent Court decisions, Guardianship proceedings can be quite complex and involve issues of incapacity, transfers of assets and potential conflicts of interest that may impact on the appointment of a Guardian. Guidance from an experienced attorney is essential in these matters.
New York Guardianship Attorney Jules M. Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to guardianship proceedings, kinship and estate settlement. I have represented clients in these matters throughout New York including Brooklyn and Queens Counties. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.