. . . Final Years . . .
Written by Davy Davidson
Los Altos Town Crier
While searching for the most appropriate assisted-living situation in the Los Altos area [for Pauline], I met an amazing woman. It turned out that Sandra Wallace, a professional placement specialist with Insight Memory Care Choices who represents individuals free of charge, became a fierce advocate for Pauline.
I met Pauline when she was an active and independent 85-year-old. We became fast friends regardless of our four-decade age difference. We both were advocates for animals and we both enjoyed authentic conversation. Pauline was a highly accomplished painter with a quick wit and deadpan delivery.
One would think a woman with her multimillion-dollar wealth would be well cared for in the final years of her life. The irony was that she lost control of both major and minor life decisions because a court appointed conservator did not follow Pauline’s wishes. Adding insult to injury, Pauline had to pay from her estate for that abuse.
When I first met Pauline, she was living in the same home she had shared with her husband for 49 years. It hadn’t changed in all those years; Pauline rarely bought anything new. Clothes and furnishings had more character than conventionality. Pauline’s simple tastes belied the complexity of her inner life. She knew she wanted to leave her estate to help animals and legally set up a foundation to provide grants to animal welfare organizations.
While Pauline excelled at caring for those with no voice, she wasn’t able to protect herself, and many of her wishes were ignored.
It was extremely sad when Pauline ended up describing herself a “prisoner” of 24/7 care against her will for the last three years of her life. A conservator was making decisions that Pauline didn’t approve. The free-spirited artist was stripped of her free will, and it was agonizing for her.
A conservator can be assigned by probate court when a person has no family to care for him or her or when the family appears abusive. For example, if an administrator of an assisted-living facility suspects abuse, he or she may call social services and the process begins to legally protect the senior.
In Pauline’s case, the San Francisco court where she lived assigned a “conservator of person and estate” when long-lost family members appeared to want to take money from her. The court ruled she was subject to undue influence, and the assignment of a conservator was meant to protect Pauline from losing her life’s savings.
Unfortunately, the cure turned out to be worse than the original problem.
Pauline’s conservator may have protected the estate, but she took away Pauline’s right to choose where and how to live. She even chose not to provide medical care for Pauline after a stroke. And this was a private fiduciary, one with a good reputation, who charged a significant fee for every minute of her time.
I tried to intervene. Pauline begged me to help her move away from her conservator’s choice of residence. I notified the court investigator that my friend’s wishes were being denied.
While searching for the most appropriate assisted-living situation in the Los Altos area, I met an amazing woman. It turned out that Sandra Wallace, a professional placement specialist with Insight Memory Care Choices who represents individuals free of charge, became a fierce advocate for Pauline. Sandra drew on her past experience as an executive director of a retirement facility to help find an ideal community that Pauline’s lawyer later approved.
Any rational soul would have thought Pauline should have the care and residence she wanted. The court appointed a lawyer to represent Pauline. He found the conservator to be acting against Pauline’s wishes. The lawyer petitioned the court to allow Pauline to move. Sadly, the power of the legal authority granted to conservators in California, along with the conservator’s resistance to our efforts, prevented us from moving Pauline to a peaceful home. She died on the day the court was to hear her petition to move.
I learned how vitally important it is to consider how we want to live our final years and make arrangements before we need them. It is critical you make your wishes known, especially if you have no family to care for you.
Having a sizable nest egg doesn’t necessarily protect you from all the vagaries of growing old. You can appoint a trusted younger friend to be your conservator should the need arise. A short visit to a lawyer will help ensure that your wishes are documented in a legally binding manner.
Pauline’s experience taught me to speak while I have the capacity about how I wish to spend my last precious years.
For more information on Insight Memory Care Choices, call 650-208-8809 or e-mail.
Davy Davidson is a Los Altos Hills resident.