“The very court system she served, and was honored by, is now bilking Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Betty Lou Lamoreaux of her life savings,” says Duff McGrath, her 58-year-old nephew and a trustee.
Judge Lamoreaux is now in danger of being financially ruined. And this is caused partially by the justice system to which she dedicated her life. Lamoreaux, who is 92, has Alzheimer’s dementia, and her family – primarily her nieces and nephews –is trying to care for her and preserve her estate. Lamoreaux has no children. However, the family has disagreed over how best to do that and about who should be in charge of her money. Consequently, a court battle has ensued.
Remarkably, the Lamoreaux dispute has included three judges and nine lawyers and related professionals, with more attorneys planning to join in the case. Some in the family worry that the probate fight could result in attorney fees gobbling up “Auntie Lou’s” nest egg – forcing her to sell her $1.8 million house in Newport Beach. They argue that the probate court’s rules are the problem.
These frustrations are felt by others in probate court, where the affairs of a loved one can be removed from family members and assigned to experts at expensive rates. Each year, about 5,000 probate-guardianship cases slog through probate court in Orange County.
Typically, the work is conducted by qualified and sincere professionals attempting to protect their clients, but the process of turning a person’s affairs over to lawyers and can get expensive, even when fees must be approved by the court.
Until a few years ago, Lamoreaux shared her home with her 87-year-old sister and a niece. As her dementia got worse, the home fell into disrepair, to the point of being unhealthy, according to court records. McGrath and other family members went to probate court in 2015 in an attempt to get a court order that would give them the authority to keep Lamoreaux from those they felt would do her harm. McGrath moved Lamoreaux from her house to a senior living center while her home was undergoing repairs. The court responded by appointing two people to the case, an attorney and a guardian, also an attorney, to represent Lamoreaux. That’s when the real trouble started.
The court appointees, after speaking with Lamoreaux, thought she wanted to move back home with her sister. A judge agreed and ordered McGrath to help her move back home. McGrath has appealed that order and hired his own legal team. They argued that Lamoreaux should stay at the center, which has the expertise and facilities to care for her properly.
As Lamoreaux’s case moved forward, additional professional consultants, a fiduciary, and more lawyers – all charging from $200 to $450 an hour – were added. McGrath said the total, when everybody is working, including his attorneys, adds up to about $3,000 an hour.
Lamoreaux’s fate now is in the hands of a judge, who will decide whether McGrath should be removed from his trustee position. According to court records, Lamoreaux’s doctor said she shouldn’t be moved at this time, and she repeatedly tells friends that she wants to stay at the center. The attorney appointed by the court to represent Lamoreaux asked for an emergency hearing to determine if McGrath should be removed as trustee and replaced with a yet another professional.
Reference: The Orange County (CA) Register (October 18, 2016) “The perils of probate court: Former judge with Alzheimer’s could lose her life savings”