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Judges, lawyers use guardianships to prey on elderly

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Reprinted with Permission

Barbara Hollingsworth

Local Opinion Editor

The Washington Examiner

Think your well-tended nest egg will protect you from the depredations of old age? Don’t count on it.

Little has changed since the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled almost a decade ago that Probate Judge Kaye Christian abused her power by ordering retired economist Mollie Orshansky, creator of the federal poverty line, removed from her sister’s care in New York and placed in a District guardianship against her will.

Even multimillionaires cannot prevent a judge from appointing a total stranger to take complete control of their affairs — and banish family members who object.

That’s what happened to five-term D.C. Council member Hilda Mason and her husband, Charles, a Harvard graduate who traced his lineage back to the Plymouth landing. Despite Charles’ $22.5 million fortune, this power couple ended their lives in squalor.

Blind, wheelchair-bound and suffering from diabetes and skin cancer, Charles spent his last days in dirty clothing and worn-out shoes, with fingernails so long they curled around his fingers.

“He looked like a hobo,” one witness told The Washington Examiner. His frail wife suffered a broken collarbone when one of her “caregivers” ran her over with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

At the time of Hilda Mason’s death in 2007, debris and broken furniture littered every room of the couple’s once-stately Shepherd Park home. The roof leaked and the house was infested with rodents and insects.

As attorneys helped themselves to the couple’s assets, Episcopal Senior Ministries reported that “there appears to be no individual or group that is currently responsible for the cleaning/condition of the house.”

According to a Jan. 9, 2001, court transcript, a clearly competent Charles Mason testified before the same Judge Christian that he no longer wanted the Virginia attorney he had previously hired to represent him.

Less than three months later, Charles was declared incompetent after an adverse reaction to a psychotropic cocktail landed him in Suburban Hospital’s psychiatric ward. More

Exploitation of the elderly: Predatory guardians at work

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Too often, death is the only way out of guardianship gulag

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There are many ways elderly, sick and disabled people can wind up in a court-appointed guardianship, where a complete stranger wields total control over their lives and assets. Some are identified as “incapacitated” by paid caregivers. Others are fingered by greedy relatives or rapacious lawyers.But members of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, who spoke out last week on Capitol Hill, agree that once a loved one is placed in a guardianship, they are stripped of all their civil and constitutional rights and death is often the only way out.

That was the case for 72-year-old Yvonne Sarhan, the widowed mother of Miami physician Robert Sarhan, who was declared “incapacitated” at a secret ex parte (“one side only”) hearing.

Guardians helped themselves to her $2 million estate while a Florida probate judge ignored her son’s desperate pleas to take her off the schizophrenia drug Seroquel, which is contraindicated for the elderly because it causes electrical disturbances in the heart.

“The word ‘incapacitated’ has no medical meaning,” Dr. Sarhan told The Examiner. “Two board-certified neurologists both agreed my mother was competent. She was a bit forgetful, but she was still able to go to the grocery store and church.”

Yet it continued even after Dr. Sarhan produced documented evidence that the same lawyer representing his mother also represented the court-appointed guardian who was billing her estate. More

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