Guardian Should Have Respected Couple

[This article was originally published on April 9, 2003. The links were updated on August 24, 2018.]

The person appointed by a court to manage the affairs of an institutionalized Medicaid recipient failed in her role because she did not respect the efforts that the recipient and his wife had made to protect their small savings from being gobbled up by long-term care costs, an appeals court in the State of Washington has ruled. Estate of Sullivan v. Brashear (Wash. Ct. App., Div. I, No. 49266-7-I, March 31, 2003) (unpublished opinion).

In 1980, John and Else Sullivan wrote separate wills giving everything to each other, or to two nieces once they were both gone. When Mr. Sullivan needed long-term care, Mrs. Sullivan sought out an elder law attorney, who advised her to take several planning steps, including transferring title to the couple's mobile home into her name alone, which she did. Mrs. Sullivan died shortly thereafter and Sheila Brashear, a professional guardian, was appointed to be the guardian of Mr. Sullivan.

One of the nieces, who was personal representative of her aunt's estate, asked the court to distribute the proceeds of the mobile home to the estate. The guardian, Ms. Brashear, opposed this and asked that funds from the mobile home be taken from Mrs. Sullivan's estate and given to Mr. Sullivan.

The nieces noted that giving the money to Mr. Sullivan would disqualify him from Medicaid, and they suggested a special needs trust instead. The nieces requested that Ms. Brashear honor the estate planning that had been done by the Sullivans. While this was going on, the Department of Social and Health Services filed a substantial Medicaid lien against Mr. Sullivan's estate.

The nieces sued Ms. Brashear, alleging that as a result of her actions the estates of Else and John Sullivan were substantially damaged. The trial court dismissed the complaint, holding that Ms. Brashear had acted within the scope of her duties as guardian.

The State of Washington Court of Appeals reverses, finding that Ms. Brashear breached her duties to Mr. Sullivan and to his estate. The court finds that Ms. Brashear should have sought court approval before insisting that Mrs. Sullivan's estate be invaded to provide money to Mr. Sullivan, and that she failed to recognize that any money given to Mr. Sullivan would provide no benefit to him since he was a Medicaid recipient. "There were clear allegations that any additional financial interest received by John Sullivan's guardianship estate would only serve to benefit Brashear or the Department of Social and Health Services in direct contravention of the intent of either John or Else," the court writes.

For the full text of this decision, go to:

For more on guardianship, click here.