Sears v. Hampton – Showing the Benefits of the UAGPPJA

Sears v. Hampton, an Alabama Supreme Court case may be the first Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act case reported. The UAGPPJA is a uniform act intended to address the problem of “granny snatching,” and other irregularities in the way states handle guardianships and conservatorships of persons who have moved or been moved from other states. Uniform acts are drawn up by a national committee for enactment by the states so the laws in the various states are in agreement. This particular act governs when a state has jurisdiction to appoint a guardian or conservator, called a fiduciary, for someone who recently arrived in the state.

As an illustration, one of my clients came to Michigan from Maine to have an operation. While she was still heavily medicated, her son had her evaluated as incompetent and filed a petition to be appointed her guardian. When she was off the medication, she could not go home to Maine because her son was her guardian and would not let her. She had to file a petition with the Michigan court to terminate the guardianship. One aspect of the UAGPPJA is to deter courts from appointing guardians or conservators for persons who are in the state only temporarily, or who already have fiduciaries in other states.

“Granny snatching” occurs when a family member moves an elder out of state to keep the person away from other family members. This can be due to a family conflict, or to exploit the person financially. The UAGPPJA provides guidance as to whether the court in the state where the elder has been relocated should appoint the person who brought the elder to the state as guardian or conservator.

In the Alabama case, Sears (an individual, not the retailer, which may or may not include fiduciary services as part of its bundle of product offerings, along with vision testing, cosmetology and driving instruction) was appointed as guardian and conservator for her mother, Day, in Kentucky. Sears and Day moved to Alabama and requested transfer of the guardianship and conservatorship to Alabama.

The Alabama court appointed a snotnosed pinhead as “guardian ad litem,” a person appointed by the court to investigate the situation. The guardian ad litem objected to some expenditures in Kentucky and submitted an outrageous bill for $4,110.00. She also recommended that Sears be replaced with the “county guardian and conservator” as guardian and conservator. The court followed this recommendation. The new fiduciary removed Day from Sears’ home and put her in an “apartment home.”

On appeal the Alabama Supreme Court reversed this decision. It held that under the UAGPPJA, the probate court lacked jurisdiction to appoint different fiduciaries until after the case was accepted and a final order appointing the fiduciaries from the originating state was entered.

This appears to be a situation where the UAGPPJA was highly beneficial. A court’s tendency to appoint “professionals” as guardians and conservators can cause great harm. This may be problematic in transferred cases, since the guardians and conservators who are transferring in might not have the same local connections as “homegrown” ones.

Fiduciary appointments can be very lucrative. The judge and his or her cadre of preferred appointees would all be motivated to replace a family member with a professional fiduciary. In curbing the replacement of family members who were appointed in the transferring state, the UAGPPJA shows its usefulness.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2014 John B. Payne, Attorney

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