In the Matter of the Guardianship of Gerhardt T.
Wisconsin Court of Appeals
830 N.W.2d 723 (2013)
Gerhardt T. was 76 years old, suffered from dementia, and lived with his new wife, Susan L. (plaintiff) on Gerhardt’s farm. Gerhardt had known Susan for approximately 20 years before marrying her. Less than two years after the marriage, county workers discovered Gerhardt alone and disoriented in unsanitary conditions while Susan was on a cruise. The home contained 29 cats and was covered in garbage and animal waste. The county removed Gerhardt from the home and petitioned to have the state court appoint a guardian for him. The court found that (1) Gerhardt was incompetent and (2) Susan was motivated by financial gain and had been depleting Gerhardt’s assets. The court appointed a third party as the guardian of Gerhardt’s estate and appointed Gerhardt’s nephew, Carl T. (defendant), as the guardian of Gerhardt’s person. Gerhardt was initially placed in Carl’s home, but the court later agreed that Gerhardt could be placed in a community-based residential facility. While at the facility, Gerhardt repeatedly told his caregivers that he wanted to return home to his farm. Susan sought counseling, took a class on caregiving, reduced the number of animals in the house, cleaned the house, and installed devices in the house to help with Gerhardt’s care. Susan then asked to have Gerhardt moved back to their home, claiming that he could now be properly cared for there and that it was less restrictive than forcing Gerhardt to be in a community facility. Carl opposed the motion, expressing concern that Susan would prevent Gerhardt’s family from visiting and monitoring Gerhardt if he were moved back home. Evidence was presented that (1) Gerhardt was high functioning, (2) Gerhardt would likely be safe in his home if he had 24-hour supervision, and (3) dementia patients like Gerhardt often did better in familiar surroundings, such as their own homes. The trial court found that moving Gerhardt back home was possible if certain conditions were imposed and, therefore, that being at home was currently the least restrictive alternative for Gerhardt’s care. Thus, the court ordered that Gerhardt would return home, provided that (1) he was supervised at all times by Susan, a family member, or a caregiver; (2) Gerhardt’s family was allowed to visit at least once per week; (3) the house was kept sanitary; (4) the number of animals in the house stayed under specific limits; and (5) the house was subject to unannounced inspections. Carl appealed, arguing that the court’s order did not adequately protect Gerhardt.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Cane, J.)
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