Ms. A, a 91-year-old woman from the Bronx, was experiencing financial and psychological abuse by her granddaughter, Tia. Ms. A suffers from advanced dementia and therefore requires twenty-four hour care. Her social worker identified this pattern of abuse and immediately referred the case to the Vulnerable Elder Protection Team at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Ms. A’s court appointed guardian removed her from her home and had her hospitalized due to immediate safety concerns.
Soon after her hospitalization, Ms. A was admitted the Weinberg Center, and Ms. A’s other granddaughter, Ellen, stepped up to serve as Ms. A’s guardian. During the guardianship proceeding, it was uncovered that Ms. A had legal custody of her great-grandchildren. Due to her declining capacity and inability to care for herself, it was necessary for somebody else to take custody of the children.
To Ellen’s surprise and devastation, the judge in the ongoing guardianship proceeding lacked authority to make that custody decision. Instead, a long, complicated process was initiated in the family court. Ellen, Ms A’s guardian, filed for custody of the great-grandchildren. Soon after, Tia, Ms. A’s abuser, also filed for custody of the great-grandchildren. The custody dispute now involved: Ms. A through her guardian, Ellen; Ellen on her own behalf; and Tia, Ms. A’s abuser.
In family court, Ellen, a non-attorney without expertise in either Supreme or Family Court, was left to relay the complexities of the family dynamic, custody matter, abuse, and guardianship in this new forum. In Ms. A’s case, a lawyer and social worker from the Weinberg Center were able to help guide the family through this complex process, serving as a source of information both to Ms. A’s family and the court. Unfortunately, many older adults and families must face this system on their own.