The Fox is Guarding the Hen House in a Maryland Guardianship

In Maryland, if one asks a Court to appoint a guardian for a person who is alleged to be disabled (the “alleged disabled person”) where such alleged disabled person is believed to be unable to manage his or her own affairs, the Court will appoint a lawyer to represent the alleged disabled person (the “court appointed counsel”). Sometimes, if there is a need to take immediate action to protect the alleged disabled person, the Court might, on the strength of a petition alone, appoint a temporary guardian for the alleged disabled person, which temporary guardian often is a lawyer chosen by the court.

In theory, the court appointed counsel and the temporary guardian are fiduciaries whose job it is to protect the interests of the alleged disabled person. Sometimes, however, it appears that such court appointed fiduciaries do not fulfill that responsibility.

Consider the following circumstance.

A health care facility is caring for Husband. Wife is unhappy with the facility’s treatment and wants husband to come home, and for the moment is withholding payment. Wife holds a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney for her husband, meaning that she has authority to manage his personal, medical, and financial affairs.

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When a Mere Guardianship is Not Enough

Father, who had been enjoying late middle age, had a brain aneurysm and now is in a permanent coma. Unfortunately, he did not have a power of attorney or advance directive, so his adult son could not access his bank account, in which he had $20,000. He has no other assets. Father’s hospital and nursing home bills now exceed $300,000.

Son applied for Medicaid for his father but was denied benefits because Medicaid will not be allowed if Father has more than $2,500. Unfortunately, without a power of attorney, no one has the authority to spend the funds in Father’s bank account so that he can get Medicaid benefits.

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Maryland Legislature Changes the Rule Regarding Paying Guardianship Fees After Ward Dies

In January, 2008, I wrote an article on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals Case, Battley v. Banks (Md. App. December 20, 2007). In that case, the Court ruled that, upon the death of the disabled person (a disabled person under a guardianship is called the “ward”), the ward’s assets become the property of the personal representative of the ward’s probate estate, or if none is appointed immediately, then the guardian must hold the property to be transferred to such personal representative when appointed. Moreover, the Court ruled that the guardian may not pay himself compensation for services or pay any legal fees even after the guardianship court approves such compensation and fees. Instead, the guardian and the lawyer, once the guardianship court approves such fees, must file a claim in the ward’s probate estate to be paid by the Personal Representative of such estate.

That rule, however has been changed by the Maryland legislature, such change to be effective October 1, 2010. The new legislation changes the Annotated Code of Maryland, Estates and Trusts Section 13–214(c)(3).

After October 1, 2010, the relevant statutory provision will read as follows:

When a minor or disabled person dies, the guardian shall deliver to the appropriate probate court for safekeeping any will of the deceased person in his possession, pay from the [guardianship] estate all commissions, fees, and expenses shown on the court-approved final guardianship account, inform the personal representative or a beneficiary named in [the will] that he has done so, and retain the balance of the estate for delivery to an appointed personal representative of the decedent or other person entitled to it.

In the meantime, the strictures of Battley v. Banks shall apply.