Hertz also signed off on the settlement, which gives Waters only a monthly stipend instead of a net payment. After signing the deal, Hertz kept Waters' life tightly budgeted: $600 a month for her family in Nicaragua, $250 in "personal expenses," and $700 for "food/entertainment." Waters soon believed she was well enough to handle her own affairs. But Hertz — and the court — disagreed.

"Helen couldn't utter a coherent word. This was not tiredness... It was neglect."

"I would ask for things and she would say, 'No, they're not on the list,' " Waters remembers. "I felt like I was a child again. I had to prove that I needed something. I had to ask permission all the time. I had to beg for everything."

That included her personal relationships. While recovering from surgery, Waters had reconnected with a boyfriend from years before in Bluefields. Phillip Hodgson was a mechanic who repaired Miami Police cars and lived in Liberty City. They planned to get married as soon as she was better, but Hertz refused. She ultimately relented after meeting Hodgson. But when Waters finally wed, the judge threatened to hold her in contempt for not having a prenuptial agreement in place.

Illustration by Pat Kinsella
Illustration by Pat Kinsella

"I looked at them and I just shook my head," Waters says. "All I wanted was for them to leave me in peace."

Waters finally escaped her guardianship in February 2013, when a judge ruled she was fit to manage her own life again. But instead of using her mass settlement to start a new life, she had spent more than $250,000 on her guardians and lawyers, and the deal they'd signed off on allowed her only enough money per month for a shabby apartment.

Hertz and Dunn tell a different story, of course. The guardian says she worked with Waters to gradually give her back her rights. "I was able to take little baby steps with her," she says. "We gave her control of one thing, then another, then another."

And Dunn says the discrepancy between Waters' and Hertz's stories isn't surprising.

"There is always a potential conflict in a situation where a ward has money and the guardian is getting paid to represent the ward," Dunn admits. "A guardian's personal interest in keeping a client can be great... You have to have a guardian who will consider the ­interests of the client before their own.

Waters' life now is simple: She sits at the table in her kitchen and watches her dog bark at neighbors until her husband comes home. But at least it's her life. If she lived in Palm Beach or Broward, she could have gotten her life back much sooner.

"When you have back your rights," she says, staring out the door, "whatever you do, wrong or right, it's your decision."

It was the feeding tube that made Barbara Stone snap. For months she had been fighting with Hertz over the treatment of her mother, Helen. The 86-year-old had already been hospitalized while under the professional guardian's care. She was now supposed to be recovering. So when Barbara stopped by an Aventura nursing home and found her mother hooked up to a tube — a short step away from death itself, Barbara thought — something broke inside the buttoned-down real estate broker.

She waited until the hallways were empty. Then Barbara lifted her mother's shrunken frame into a wheelchair and said, "Mama, let's go out for a little walk."

They drove to Denny's. Then Barbara took her mother to a motel room and turned on the TV set. "We were having a grand old time," Barbara says. "Then the cops arrived."

Stone was arrested and charged with three felonies, including false imprisonment and elder abuse, all — in her view — for trying to save her own mother from what she saw as an abusive guardianship.

Like Waters' tale, Stone's version of events is hotly contested by Hertz, who contends Stone was delusional. But like the Nicaraguan's case, critics say it also shows how guardianships can go wrong without an independent watchdog to judge claims of abuse.

Stone's story also illustrates why dozens of Floridians every year end up facing felony charges for trying to extricate family members from what they consider abusive guardianships. And records suggest that, in general, they have some right to be concerned, particularly in Miami-Dade, where judges have taken thousands of dollars from the guardians who depend on them for a living and where filing systems and supposed safeguards are outdated and barely used.

"Isolate, medicate, and rape the estate — that's what guardians do," Stone says. "Every morning I wake up to this nightmare."

Stone's ordeal began as many do: with a family dispute. Her father was a stockbroker in North Miami Beach. When he died in the mid-'90s, his son took over the family's accounts. Instead of finance, Barbara had gone into real estate. She had become a broker in New York City but flew home frequently to visit her mother, who lived in Aventura.

But in 2012, Barbara began to notice bruises on her mother. Helen had been diagnosed with dementia, and Barbara began to believe her mother needed better care."I didn't have any other option but to file for guardianship," she says.

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My Voice Nation Help

 I am a former court appointed Guardian in another state, although I live here.

With the rights of the children to bring their parent or grand parent home, there are specialized attorneys in estate law that can deal with this. From my experience, there is another perspective on this. Whether one is 80 or 20 and on a feeding tube because of a stroke or delated disorder,

there is the risk of the person choking when eating by mouth. Well intentioned people can feed someone by mouth and insist that the feeding tube is removed. However, even if the person appears to be eating all of the food, salivation can be created from a remnant of food left in the mouth, and that cause a severe stroke victim to aspirate.

We live in world now where people from Florida may be dealing with grandparents under Guardianship in Georgia or Alabama, for example. Quality attorneys specialized in this field can be of great assistance.

Winston Grace



This is Investigative reporting!  

great (sad) story