WHO HAS PRIORITY TO SERVE AS CONSERVATOR?
October 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
Conservatorships are becoming more commonplace as we baby-boomers and those at the end of the previous generation age.
With the increase in numbers of conservatorships we are seeing more disputes over who gets to serve as fiduciary for the ward. Should it be the neighbor who has always been there while the uncaring children were doing their thing in Phoenix and Chicago? Should it be the only living brother who has a questionable past? Should it be the sister who lives on the other side of town and has visited the ward every day, or should it be the sister who lives in the county and sees the ward every day, or both? Or should it be someone named by the ward before she slid off into incapacity?
Family members often have competing interests. There may be an honest difference of opinion as to what is best. Or there may be bad blood. Or there may be ulterior motives. Any combination of these and other undertones can lead to a court confrontation.
The latest case comes out of Madison County.
Caryn Quilter filed a petition to be named conservator for her aunt, Medora Weaver. Caryn had begun visiting Medora at her home in Houston, TX, after Medora’s husband died. Caryn heard from neighbors that aunt Medora wasn’t doing well, so she moved her to an assisted-living home in Riddgeland, MS, near where Caryn lived.
Caryn filed a petition with the chancery court, supported by the proper physicians’ affidavits. But Caryn’s father, John Salter, filed a counterclaim, asking that he be appointed conservator, since he was the older brother of Medora. In his pleading he admitted that a conservatorship was necessary, he just did not agree that Caryn should serve in that capacity. He also said that Medora requested that he, not Caryn, serve as her conservator.
Chancellor Cynthia Brewer heard testimony from the contending petitioner and counterclaimant, as well as from Medora herself, and she considered the physicians’ affidavits. Based on the proof, she ruled that a conservatorship would be in Medora’s best interest, and that the conservator should be “an objective, non-related person,” and she appointed Arthur Johnston, Chancery Clerk of Madison County, to serve.
John appealed, claiming (1) that the chancellor was in error in determining that Medora needed a conservator, (2) that he was more suited to serve since he had experience in a similar role, (3) that Medora had designated him to serve, and (4) that he was more closely related.
In Salter v. Johnston and Quilter, rendered October 9, 2012, the COA affirmed Judge Brewer.
As for Salter’s argument that it was error to find that a conservatorship was in Medora’s best interest, the COA found that substantial evidence supported the chancellor’s decision. And, besides, the court pointed out that Salter had pled himeslf for appointment of a conservator, and Salter’s own attorney at hearing announced that his client did not dispute that a conservatorshipw as necessary in the case. The COA rejected this argument.
The court disposed of the remaining arguments as follows:
¶13. Salter alternatively contends that, if a conservatorship is needed, he is the proper party to act as conservator. He bases this contention on the fact that Weaver has requested that he act as conservator and on the fact that he has previous experience as a conservator. Salter also contends that he should be given preference as conservator because he is Weaver’s brother.
¶14. We note at the outset that our laws concerning conservatorships give no preference to an individual’s next-of-kin to act as conservator. See Miss. Code Ann. §§ 93-13-251 to -267 (Rev. 2004 & Supp. 2011). Furthermore, the chancery court determined that it would be in Weaver’s best interest if a non-relative served as conservator after hearing testimony regarding the contentious relationship between Salter and Quilter. Given these facts, the chancery court did not err in appointing Johnston to serve as conservator. This issue is without merit.
This case highlights that it is well within the chancellor’s discretion to decide whether a conservatorship is necessary, and who should be appointed to serve as fiduciary. Interestingly, the statute also provides that the chancellor shall be the one to determine the number of witnesses and quality of testimony necessary to decide the issues in the case. Here, the chancellor quite prudently allowed a full hearing at which the parties were at liberty to develop the proof that they felt was necessary to support their claims.