Samson: Petition for Guardianship Must Be Detailed

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued an unpublished opinion, In re the Guardianship of Christine Rose Samson (Minn. App. June 18, 2012), which serves as a good reminder that practitioners need to put as much factual detail as possible in their petitions for guardianship/conservatorship (and, more importantly, have the factual support to back up the need for a guardianship).

In Samson, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a son’s petition seeking guardianship of his 98 year old mother.  Although the facts aren’t completely set forth in the Samson opinion, it appears that the petition alleged that a doctor had prescribed some wrong medication for mom; mom had previously executed a health care directive naming her daughter as health care agent; and the daughter vacationed in Florida each year for 2 months at a time and so, allegedly, unable to act with regard to mom’s health care needs during this time.

The lesson of Samson is that although Minn. Stat. 524.5-303 indicates that the petition should include a “brief description of the nature and extent of the respondent’s alleged incapacity”, in order to avoid having the petition dismissed, it would be wise to include sufficient factual detail to survive a motion to dismiss.  At a minimum, the petitioner should be prepared to submit additional factual support for the allegations set forth in the petition, if faced with a motion to dismiss.  However, the obvious drawback of not including the factual details in the original petition is that then the court may decline to consider matters outside of the original pleadings.

Bottom line:  if you are going to petition for guardianship and/or conservatorship of someone, you should have more than just general allegations/suspicions.  You must have very specific factual examples that justify taking away someone’s civil liberties and imposing a guardianship.

Family Feud? Courts May Appoint An Independent Guardian or Conservator

On July 9, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued an unpublished decision (In re the Guardianship and/or Conservatorship of Lois L. Rothfusz) addressing (among other things) the issue of who should be guardian/conservator when there are feuding family members.  In keeping with precedent (In re the Guardianship of Wells, 733 N.W.2d 506 (Minn. App. 2007); In re Conservatorship of Edwards, 390 N.W.2d 300 (Minn. App. 1986), the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to appoint a neutral professional as successor guardian/conservator, rather than one of the ward’s daughters, when there was significant acrimony between the children.  The full decision of In re: Guardianship and/or Conservatorship of Lois L. Rothfusz can be found here.  Although family members have statutory priority over a professional guardian, the court has discretion to decline to appoint someone with priority if it is in the best interest of the ward to do so.  See Minn. Stat. 524.5-309 (a) (2011) (priority for guardians) and Minn. Stat. 524.5-413(a) (2011) (priority for conservators).  As the Court stated, “the ward’s best interests are the decisive factor and the court’s paramount concern when deciding who to appoint as guardian and conservator of a ward.”