From POA to Guardianship

As of yesterday at 2:55pm I have been appointed Guardian of my mother by a Judge in a court of law, and it wasn’t even my petition for Guardianship. It was my sister who petitioned the court. So pay attention and remember it could happen to you. This is how it happened to us…

My mother appointed me POA over her financial and medical issues after I moved back to Arkansas 3.5 years ago, from California, to be her full time caregiver. My niece had been begging me to come home and take over because something was wrong with mom. Even though I had 3 siblings living in the State, I was chosen and accepted the duty. We had a 3 year plan to get mom ready for the inevitable nursing home at the end of her life.

Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease. No cure. Slow it down some, but something will eventually cause your death. There is no happy ending here, and if you have been following along you know my story. I went public. I had to. Nowhere to turn, so I put it out there for everyone to read and expose the good, the bad, and the ugly, hopefully to make some change happen. We almost made it to 3 years, but that wasn’t our luck. Mom got sick and went into the system: hospitals, rehabilitation, and then the dreaded nursing home.

Briefly, her assets had to be limited to $2000, her home, and her car. That’s it, just to apply for Medicaid, not get it, just apply. Then you wait… And wait…. January 16th is when we applied. April 1st was her approval date. That’s a problem if you have bills and acquire new bills during that time. How do you pay them? No one would tell me.

None of my siblings were directly involved with my mother’s care. My oldest brother helped a lot on the house at first, and would stay with mom when I took some time off. The other 2 were not there for her. A visit, or a phone call, or a card was about it. It would have been nice if all three were helping mom, but that’s not our reality. It was up to me, and I did it. My niece was helpful and supportive along the way, too. So why would an uninvolved sibling want to take over at the end, and go so far as to petition the court for Guardianship? I believe it was for her ‘inheritance’. Money she assumes is out there for her. See the above paragraph on that.

A year ago my sister started criticizing my caregiving to our extended family. I got wind of it and called her out on it, but she would not respond to me, and still wanted to talk to mom. I said not until she explained her concerns. That’s when she called the sheriff on me for ‘welfare checks’ on mom. 4 times. The last time mom was in a nursing home and I told them that. What I heard from family members was that Vivian wanted to take mom to Fort Smith to live with her, not in a nursing home. Regardless of mom’s need for 24 hour care at that point, so I tried to restrict my sister’s visits to mom so she wouldn’t attempt to remove mom from the nursing home and take her to Fort Smith.

The nursing home was aware of the family situation and recommended that I get Guardianship. The POA did not restrict Vivian’s or Michael’s ability to visit her or take her out if mom wanted to go with them. I did not want to petition the court for guardianship as it is expensive, and most decisions have to be made by the Judge. I should have taken their advice and gotten the Guardianship. It would give me the absolute power to protect mom from anyone including family members.

Fast forward to June and I get a call from the nursing home that Vivian is obtaining Guardianship and wants to remove mom from the facility. Talk about jumping the gun. No, she cannot do that as she doesn’t have Guardianship and I have POA. Vivian goes on line and prints out a change of POA document for mom to sign. She doesn’t. Then she prints out a petition for Guardianship and files it with the Garland County Court.

She also filed a document to probate the will of the deceased (mom?). I find out less than 24 hours that the hearing is planned. To be honest I did get 2 phone messages from Vivian a couple of days prior about it, and that I didn’t have to appear. And to not pay the nursing home for the next month…. You bet I showed up to the hearing, and brought Fred and Melissa (my niece) with me. And my milk crate of files on mom. And her picture I took with me to the State Capitol. And my purple bowtie! I didn’t however have council with me. Fortunately, as Vivian was the petitioner, also sans council, the Judge couldn’t do anything but advise her to bring council and serve mom and me properly the petition, which she hadn’t done. Our Judge at the time didn’t ask anything of me except for a new evaluation of mom in his hands in 10 days. I was a day early on that. In the meantime, a second hearing date was issued. And sadly our Judge had a family crisis, and was replaced with another Judge. I passed the hat in our family and retained council. The very next day, our Judge was out of the picture. My council filed a petition contesting Vivian’s petition for Guardianship that explained if the Judge saw fit to appoint a Guardian it should be me.

The second hearing went just like the first one, except I had council to speak for me. Vivian did not. Even with this Judge offering her to get a continuance, and get council, she went ahead. The Judge read the filed documents. It was sad to watch, not surprisingly, she interrupted the Judge enough times he had a female bailiff come in and told her if she continued he would have her removed from his courtroom. ‘Call your first witness,’ the Judge said. Vivian didn’t have any witnesses. She did however call my brother, and my niece, who came with me, to the stand. That didn’t go well for her. Then she called me to the stand. That didn’t go well for her either. Then she got on the stand.

As you know, when you call a witness to the stand, both sides ask questions, and redirect. Bottom line was Vivian didn’t have a plan of care for mom. She didn’t have a clue what it would take to move her to Ft. Smith, care for her, and put her in a nursing home. How much it costs, or how to pay for it.

The Judge announced we had 7 minutes left as he had a juvenile case at 3pm. He said there was a need for an appointed guardian in this case and that he ruled it was to be me. Not her. Vivian asked what she could do, and the Judge suggested she get council. Then it was adjourned.

After a stiff drink at Maxine’s, my first e-mail was to the nursing home. Then I spoke to my neighbor. Today I called my dad to explain the outcome and warn him of what was coming for him next.

I wish there was a roadmap for people to follow when these issues come up. Do this. Do this. Do this. Don’t do this. Get everybody on the same page, speaking the same language, helping resolve problems. I believe this is possible. Instead we have systems of individual programs, departments, and families.

Maybe that’s my roadmap for you.

About Phil Chwalinski

Phil spent 25 years as a specialist in catering and special events in Arkansas, then Florida, and ending up in California for 11 years. He was a Catering Sales Manager at a hotel and as a Wine Educator at a luxury winery in Napa Valley, CA.

For the last 3 years he has been a full time caregiver for his mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, back in Arkansas.

One thing hasn't changed over the years - Phil is also an artist.