Court Appropriately Chose Formerly Estranged Daughter as Guardian

Elder Law Answers case summary.The Court of Appeals of Indiana holds that the trial court was correct when it appointed a daughter as her mother’s guardian, as they had mended their previously estranged relationship. The trial court appropriately revoked the mother’s power of attorney naming her son as her agent because the son was still estranged from her. (This opinion is not a binding precedent.) In Biggs v. Renner (Ind. Ct. App., No. 22A-GU-2042, March 3, 2023).

Ms. Peggy Renner, a woman with dementia, had three children: Mrs. Sherry Renner Biggs, Ms. Terri Renner, and Mr. Randy Renner. She was estranged from two of her children, Ms. Terri Renner and Mr. Randy Renner. Although she rekindled her relationship with her daughter Ms. Terri Renner, she remained estranged from her son. She had a consistent relationship with Mrs. Biggs, but Mrs. Biggs lived in Florida, away from her family in Indiana.

When Ms. Peggy Renner’s health declined, she primarily lived in Indiana with her daughter, Ms. Terri Renner, although she briefly stayed in a Florida facility.

Mrs. Biggs used her mother’s money for herself and moved her daughter’s family into her mother’s home. They never paid rent. Although the sisters initially consulted each other and worked together to help their mother, their relationship deteriorated when Ms. Terri Renner grew suspicious that her sister was taking advantage of their mother financially.

Ms. Terri Renner became her mother’s guardian of the person, and because of the issues concerning Ms. Peggy Renner’s money, the court appointed a disinterested guardian of the estate.

Mrs. Biggs appealed. She argued that the trial court improperly chose her sister as guardian by default rather than following the statutory framework. But the trial court was within its discretion to select Ms. Terri Renner. Appointing Ms. Terri Renner was in Mrs. Peggy Renner’s best interests because she intended to allow her to live at home, which the guardian ad litem recommended. Before the guardianship petition, Ms. Terri Renner had cared for her mother in her home for two years.

As Ms. Terri Renner is willing to serve as guardian, there is no reason to designate a third-party individual as guardian of her mother’s person. Given the conflict between the sisters about their mother’s finances, the trial court’s appointment of a third-party estate guardian was fitting.

The trial court also did not err when it revoked Ms. Peggy Renner’s 2003 power of attorney that named her son as her agent. Mr. Randy Renner did not want to be his mother’s agent and resigned voluntarily.

When it appointed Ms. Terri Renner as guardian of her mother’s person and revoked the power of attorney naming Mr. Randy Renner as the agent, the trial court acted within its discretion. It correctly considered that Ms. Terri Renner had reconnected with her mother, whereas Mr. Randy Renner remained estranged.

Read the full opinion here.