Stories of Care – How Professional Fiduciaries Change Lives

Mustang Susie

My first meeting with Susie (name changed) was on a mattress in a neighbor’s home and boy oh boy was she mad. Her brother had taken her money, put mortgages on her homes, failed to pay her bills until she was evicted from her skilled nursing home. Then, he committed suicide.

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Susie was a happy go-lucky retired girl who loved nothing more than dressing up, putting on her jewelry and driving her black convertible Mustang to go out dancing. She knew every good dance spot in the area and, now that she was retired, she could go out every night of the week. And, she did! Then she had a devastating stroke. She was determined to recover her life and returned to her home to do physical therapy and regain her strength when a second stroke hit and she was unable to care for herself or manage her affairs. From the hospital, Susie moved to skilled nursing and her brother was named her conservator.

My California Professional Fiduciary License was 3 weeks old when I was named successor conservator. Susie gave me earful after earful of anger about her brother’s actions – far past and recent past. She was adamant that no one in her family should ever receive one penny of her money.

As Susie and I negotiated the changes in her life – obtained affordable care in a board and care home where she was loved and cared for, performed repairs to make both of her homes productive as rental income properties – she told me lots of stories about her family. They were not always pretty stories. There was some past there. She was adamant that all of her money should be donated to “the wild horse ranch”.

Step one was to locate “the wild horse ranch”. I did and we talked about Susie’s attachment to the wild horses. She loved the freedom of their lives and never wanted them to feel the constraints of a bridle or corral. She related their freedom to her sadness when she left home to achieve her dream of attending design school only to be called back home to help care for her ailing father. She said she felt like she was one of the wild horses who had to be put in a corral because it was what someone else wanted.

Over the next several years of working together, Susie and I talked about her own estate plan and what she wanted to happen to her money after she passed on. Those discussions included conversations about how difficult it would be for her grand-nieces and grand-nephews to ever attend college based on their parents’ situations. One grand-niece’s father died of a drug overdose when she was 5 years old and her mother could never escape the bounds of addiction. The grand-niece was finally placed in another relative’s home. Others were members of a large family where no one had ever attended college.

When I connected Susie with an estate planning attorney, she was prepared with her new plan. Susie decided that she would like to place her money in an education trust for the benefit of her grand-nieces and grand-nephews to assist them with the expenses of obtaining an education. Susie had two conditions: (1) their parents would never touch one penny of her money – ever; and (2) if the children did not attend college, any money left would go to her beloved wild horses.

The first two beneficiaries are now preparing for college. They are grateful for the gift from Aunt Susie and their parents tell me that they are very happy that their children will have opportunities they never had. When these families talk about Great Aunt Susie, they really mean the “Great” part!

Submitted by

Donna, CLPF

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Alexandra and Charity

In 2014, I was asked to take a conservatorship of a 58-year woman who was quadriplegic and blind. Alexandra (name changed), had been hit head-on by a drunk driver when she was 27 and left completely disabled. Her daughter, Charity (name changed), was in the car and suffered brain damage, leaving her developmentally disabled.

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Alexandra had many bad breaks during this time. In the hospital, further damage was done due to oxygen deprivation. Her husband then became her conservator and squandered much of the settlement money that Alexandra received. She then divorced him and her oldest daughter became conservator for both Alexandra and Charity. Her daughter invested both Alexandra’s and Charity’s money badly (her kids soccer coach had some great investment advice), so much of their money was lost during the Bernie Madoff scandal.

This was when I became the conservator for both Alexandra and Charity. Quickly running out of money due to needing full time caregiver, Alexandra begged me not to put her in a nursing home. I know this would be a very difficult promise to make, though I would do my best.

Her home was a condo at a complex with very high Homeowners fees. Since Alexandra could not use the golf course, pool, clubhouse, hiking trails, this was an expense that was not suitable. Selling the house would leave her few choices for a place to live.

Then, an angel appeared! The caregiver stated that she wanted Alexandra to come live with her and her family, that she would take care of Alexandra. This still did not solve the financial problem, though it was a start. The house was put on the market. Charity was happy to find a place to live with a woman who works as coach and mentor, understanding developmentally disabled young adults.

In the meantime, I devised a plan to purchase another home in Sacramento, which at the time had very low housing rates. A “vesting schedule” was set up so that Alexandra was the homeowner, and each month her caregiver cared for Alexandra, she became vested in home ownership. At a certain point the caregiver would be the owner and Alexandra would have a life interest in the home. Although skeptical, the court approved the plan.

This has worked out beautifully! The caregiver now owns the home (which has more than doubled in value, Alexandra lives in her own home, is cared for by a loving family. The conservatorship continues to pay household maintenance and expenses for Alexandra.

Visiting Alexandra is always a joy! She always has a smile on her face, has cheerful things to say and with all that has gone on in her life. To me, she is an example of persevering and has inspired my creativity in problem solving!

Respectfully submitted,

Dusty, CLPF

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Haru & Miko

I first learned of Haru and Miko (names changed) from a government official. Haru had just had a massive stroke. Neighbors had learned that Miko needed a lot of care while Haru was recovering.

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Haru was the main caregiver for his wife Miko, a very cute, petite Japanese woman. Miko had had a stroke several years earlier, was unable to take care of her daily activities, in a wheelchair and was being tube fed due to not being able to swallow. Neighbors found that she had run out of her nutritional packets, laundry was not being done and she was unable to speak in order to get help. She also had no idea about their financial situation, since Haru had always taken care of that, as the devoted Japanese husband that he was.

When Haru had his stroke, Miko managed to propel her wheelchair to a neighbor’s house and indicate that she needed help. They came quickly, called 911 and Haru was taken to the hospital.

Once appointed Conservator for Miko, I was able to set her mind at ease that finances were adequate to take care of both of them…she cried out of gratitude! I was able to get care into the house for her, order the necessary supplies, and arrange for the caregiver to take her regularly to visit her husband. Haru was moved to a skilled nursing facility, requiring a great deal of care.

I was then appointed Conservator for Haru, and realized very soon that he was very unhappy in the facility. Being Japanese and used to quiet, the facility was a huge departure from his lifestyle. He could not watch his Japanese TV channels, since he could not speak or swallow (due to the stroke), he was unable to visit with other patients. He was lonely. The doctors said he most likely had a year (or less) to live, fearing another major stroke. This was in 2014.

Their house was well suited to manage both Haru and Miko along with caregivers. Side by side hospital beds were set up in the generously sized master bedroom, 2 full time caregivers were hired (luckily Japanese speaking caregivers were found!). They were together again!

Haru had bought a home in Hawaii shortly before his stroke with the intention of going there annually. He had visited 2-3 times, when he had his stroke. The only word he could speak understandably was “Hawai’I”. He wanted to go. Unfortunately, at that time, Miko did not want to go to Hawaii, and managing a visit for both of them and 2 full time caregivers, plus all the equipment that would be needed, was just too much to manage.

Miko died at home surrounded by her devoted husband and caregivers. After a short time, Haru became understandably depressed. It was then that a decision was made to get Haru to Hawaii. It was proposed to him…and it helped him emotionally, mentally, and physically to have something to work for.

A new caregiving team (husband/wife) was put into place, arrangements were made for needed equipment in Hawaii, supplies sent, and dates sent. Haru was very excited.

Haru and caregivers flew to Hawaii and spent six weeks. Haru loved the weather, the daily sunsets, and the excursions. The only problem was that he could not go to some of the sites that he wanted to visit. This is when we discovered an all terrain wheelchair. We could not get it delivered in time for this trip, though knew we had more options for future visits.

Haru again became despondent the following year. This is understandable, since he was totally dependent on caregivers, could not eat regular food, could speak only slightly. It seemed he had given up, having minimal quality of life. He was refusing his tube feedings, his physical therapy sessions, and did not want to go on drives or rides around the neighborhood. I suggested the caregivers ask him if it was time to go back to Hawaii. His mood changed completely, he began participating once again, and was happy to plan for the next trip.

Haru just returned from his second six-week trip to the Big Island to his home. The Volcano started erupting on week 2, though was not an issue where they lived, so they decided to stay through the planned departure date, if possible. The all terrain wheelchair arrived, Haru was taken to the many places he wanted to go. His main joy was sitting on the lanai, overlooking the ocean, and watching the daily sunsets.

As conservator, it has been my joy and pleasure to make his desire of trips to Hawaii happen. Hawaii is where his heart…and love is. Hopefully, he’ll be able to visit many times.

Respectfully submitted,

Dusty, CLPF

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Patty from Hawai’i

When I first met Patty (name changed), she was a very happy woman, who at 91 loved her family and wanted to make sure they were taken care of with whatever she had left. In looking around her little house in San Jose, I noticed a great deal of Hawaiian decoration, leis, teak bowls, statues, a ukulele, pictures of Hawaii, and much more.

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Since I have a love of “things Hawaiian” we immediately had a connection and she decided I would be the right person to fulfill her wishes.

During the next year, Patty would tell me about her life, her living in Hawaii for 15 years and that she considered herself, “Hawai’ian”, her being a bookkeeper (which meant that I would need to do things HER way). She told me about her son, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. She knew their challenges, faults and loved them all a great deal. She wrote her estate plan with all of this in mind.

She also decided that I should hire her granddaughter, to be my bookkeeper. I was not keen on having a beneficiaries family member working in my office, though Patty was persistent, so I interviewed Sandy and decided to try her out with a couple of clients. She was even better than Patty bragged about and has become an integral part of my business. Patty was so proud and initially said Sandy should not work on HER accounts, though later, she decided this was not a problem for her.

This story takes a bit of a different turn here. Sandy, while working in my office, became interested in the work of a Professional Fiduciary. She became certified through the CSUF Fiduciary Program, became a California Licensed Professional Fiduciary, learned to do court accountings and is even more valuable to me and other fiduciaries by doing court accountings. A new career was born for Sandy

As Patty’s time came to an end at age 93, with the help of her family, I was able to fulfill Patty’s last wish of a Hawaiian Memorial Service complete with Hawaiian style chanting and drumming. Lei’s instead of the usual flowers gave all family members a sense of participation.

Patty’s legacy continues and she would be very proud of how each of her family has used the funds she left to improve their lives and especially proud that her first great granddaughter started college!

Submitted with Aloha,

Dusty, CLPF

All stories and photos used with permission of all parties involved. Names have been changed.

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