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The Horrors of Court-Appointed Guardianship – Gretchen’s Shortened Life

Warning to Seniors: Rich or Poor, You’re Worth a LOT to Lawyers, Courts, and Service Agencies!


The Horrors of Court-Appointed Guardianship

by David Arnold

Someone I loved very deeply was the victim of abuse by the Probate Court, which destroyed her whole life and precipitated her premature death.

The judge has sole control of guardianship. Guardianship is a dictatorship.

I met Gretchen in the mid 1980s. We started dating in 1998. Around 2000 she developed Parkinson’s disease. By the end of 2008 she also had dementia. I took care of her at home so she would not have to go into a nursing home.

I filed a petition for guardianship in 2011. Since it was a contested case, the court appointed a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and temporary professional guardian as “disinterested” parties.

My first attorney negotiated a temporary agreement signed by all parties under which I would continue to manage Gretchen’s daily care and finances.

All of Gretchen’s doctors said she should stay at home under my care. In July 2012 the guardian put Gretchen into a nursing home while I was away on vacation, without prior notice.

I should explain: I was planning on going to dance camp with Gretchen as we had done every year for many years. The professional guardian refused to allow Gretchen to go, on the grounds that it would not be safe because of her Parkinson’s and the rustic nature of the camp. She demanded that I go by myself. I have a letter from the camp manager saying that the camp is handicapped accessible. People no longer able to dance are welcome to come to be with their long-time friends.

Gretchen’s daughter had wanted to put Gretchen into a nursing home so she could live in her house. That was what triggered the petition for guardianship. Gretchen did not have a lawyer at the time.

Gretchen’s son did not want her in a nursing home. However, he supported the plan to put Gretchen into a nursing home “temporarily” so I could be removed from Gretchen’s house with a restraining order. That’s what happended while I was away. Then the guardian double crossed Gretchen’s son by keeping her in the nursing home permanently.

When I returned from vacation, the GAL and professional guardian got a restraining order preventing me from visiting Gretchen in the nursing home. Without court authority, the guardian removed Gretchen from my care.

At the hearing on the restraining order I testified that none of the complaints in the affidavit for the restraining order were correct. The judge allowed the restraining order that was based entirely on hearsay and double hearsay.

In the nursing home Gretchen was required to sit in a chair all day. This went directly against the advice of Gretchen’s neurologists who said she needed to stay as physically and socially active as possible or she would go downhill.

Despite her Parkinson’s, Gretchen was very physically active. She loved all kinds of dancing. The picture on page one is from a vintage dance.

We went ballroom dancing a few nights a week. Gretchen went for daily walks (weather permitting), especially around the lake near her house. She went to the movies, visited with friends and relatives, worked out at the health club, went to dance events and dance camps. Her doctors said her condition was approximately stable.

Within weeks after being placed in the nursing home, Gretchen had lost the ability to walk on her own. Gretchen’s son and his wife filed strong complaints with the guardian regarding Gretchen’s inactivity and rapid decline. The guardian hired an attorney (paid for out of Gretchen’s estate) and instructed them not to communicate with her except through her attorney.

My first attorney was being treated for cancer and unable to continue on the case. I hired a high-level Elder Law attorney. I asked him to file a complaint with the court regarding Gretchen’s lack of proper care. He told me we had to work through the GAL and the temporary professional guardian. The guardian ignored the complaints by my attorney.

Gretchen’s daughter-in-law (Reference 1) says Gretchen was being drugged in the nursing home. This was unnecessary, harmful, and can be fatal. Gretchen’s condition continued to deteriorate. In December 2012, Gretchen’s son and his wife filed a blistering complaint with the court asking for the removal of the guardian. The judge did nothing.

In late December 2012 Gretchen suffered an unexplained incident in the nursing home. Her left wrist and left angle were swollen. Gretchen’s doctor at Lahey Clinic recommended physical therapy for her ankle. The guardian denied treatment, citing the DNR [Do Not Resuscitate] and other statements in Gretchen’s HCP [Health Care Proxy].

The swelling in her wrist healed fairly quickly. The ankle never healed. Gretchen spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. The total lack of activity accelerated her decline.

By the time of the trial in February 2013, Gretchen was terminal. At a special session during the trial I testified that there was no valid evidence in the affidavit for the restraining order. The GAL and guardian offered no evidence to support the restraining order. The judge ordered the records of the restraining order sealed to protect my reputation.

The judge did nothing about the misconduct by the GAL and professional guardian. The guardian put Gretchen on hospice care about a week after the trial without notice to the parties. Gretchen died a few months after the trial.

I requested recordings of all the hearings in order to file a complaint. My testimony regarding the false restraining order and misconduct by the GAL and guardian was missing. According to the Office of the Chief Justice of the Probate Court, there is no evidence this testimony was ever given.

Reference 1.



The Office of the Chief Justice told me there is a bill (S.1177/H.3027) before the Massachusetts Legislature proposed by advocates for the elderly. The purpose of the bill is to provide guardianship services to “unbefriended” people.

Unbefriended people are very vulnerable. They have no one to complain to if they are subjected to abuse. Any system for providing guardianship services to the unbefriended needs to have ironclad protections against abuse.

This bill gives immunity to guardians. Guardians are already given immunity by judges of the Probate Court. Regardless of the intent of immunity, the result has been to create a system of legalized crime where guardians commit crimes with impunity.

Other health care providers have to carry liability insurance. Conservators have to be bonded. Guardians should have liability insurance, not immunity.

A careful reading of the bill shows that the Executive Director of the Office of the Adult Guardianship and Decisional Support Services is the only entity given any authority. It is a dictatorship.

I have attempted to rewrite the bill in a way that makes maximum use of the principles of democracy such as separation of powers (no one has sole control), checks and balances, accountability (no immunity), avoiding conflict of interest by putting authority in the hands of disinterested parties, etc., to prevent the abuse of power (Reference 2).

Reference 2.



by Patti Burke Plante

Gretchen was definitely drugged at the nursing home immediately.

This experience was terrible and made our family lose trust in the system. It was unbelievable what the courts get away with. They make you feel guilty for fighting for your loved one’s care.

They “say” they are here to help, but feed on the family that are not getting along and pit family members against each other.

The guardian in our case was terrible and there was no recourse. When we complained or brought up concerns about Gretchen’s care, she got her own lawyer (paid for by Gretchen’s estate) and we could only communicate with the guardian through her lawyer.

This was a long battle and at the last day of court we were told that it was not about Gretchen’s best interest, it was about the law.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that this system is definitely broken and something needs to be done.

A bill or act to give these people more power is just ridiculous!   ♦


8 Replies to “The Horrors of Court-Appointed Guardianship – Gretchen’s Shortened Life

  1. Our organization is working with the Dept of Justice and U.S. Congress on federal ADA prosecution and the first guardianship oversight law. Please contact our site at aaapg.net and file a complaint.

  2. I am extremely angry that gretchen’s memory is being maligned in this way. If anyone wants to know what really happened please call me at 781-245-0080 and ask for the editor of the newspaper. Or gretchen’s son in law bob burgess

  3. The court automatically appoints a “disinterested party” in any case where there is no agreement between the parties. I am not aware of any incorrect statements in the article. I would be happy to correct any wrong information if the mistakes can be pointed out. There is no intent to “malign Gretchen’s memory”. On the contrary, I will also remember what a wonderful person she was. I miss her every day. The intent is correct the system that harmed her so others will not suffer the same fate.

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