Love and Guardianship: A Cautionary Tale

This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Ida and Frances were best friends. When Ida died in her 90’s, the love they shared had no place to go, so it gravitated to Ida’s daughter, Gina who ‘adopted’ Frances, communicating with her regularly through long phone calls and occasional visits. They live in towns about an hour apart.

Last winter the fire department was called to Frances’s apartment for a wellness check. She had fallen. It wasn’t the first time. She was found on the floor covered in urine and feces, unable to get up. She was transported to a regional hospital and admitted for treatment of an unspecified wound. After some time it appeared Frances no longer needed that treatment, but the hospital continued to hold her for “safety” reasons, deeming her unfit for independent living. Meanwhile, behind on rent and unwelcome to return, Frances was evicted from the apartment, her belongings lost, leaving her nowhere to go. 

Frances’s only child died in middle age. She has no spouse or living siblings, only an elderly cousin or two whom she described to Gina as “vultures.” The hospital moved to have Frances adjudicated as incompetent, to be placed in a facility. Her social worker does not believe Frances to be incompetent, but thinks the hospital and their counsel may be able to make a strong case. Frances is resisting placement because she says they want to take all her money.

Gina performed her own ‘unprofessional’ assessment. Frances was able to tick off nearly all of her personal background information—family, friends, last two addresses, primary care physician, recent events, length of time in hospital, name of her social worker, and guardian ad litem. She could read the information on the court summons. She was no more forgetful than one would expect from an 80-something year old.

Gina feels morally obligated to help Frances. The love passed on from her mother is strong. But she has no legal standing. People who know of their relationship wonder aloud why she doesn’t assume guardianship, but she is in no position physically, emotionally, or financially to take on that responsibility. It makes her profoundly sad, and makes her wonder what will happen to Frances and all of the other elder orphans out there.

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