On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Morris County, F-6-1715.
Before Judges Stern, Collester and Parker. *fn1
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Collester, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Appellant Judith Oehler appeals from an order of the Chancery Division determining that decedent Marguerite Seyse died while domiciled in the State of Connecticut and transferring probate jurisdiction to that State. We affirm.
When she died in 1999, Marguerite Seyse had two surviving daughters: Ms. Oehler, who lived in New Jersey, and Ellenor Olson, who resided in Connecticut. The record clearly establishes that the relationship between the two sisters was marked by distrust and hostility.
In 1994 while Ms. Seyse was a resident of Senior quarters, an assisted living facility in Montville, New Jersey, Ms. Oehler commenced an action to declare her mother mentally incompetent and for appointment as guardian of her person and property. A counterclaim was filed by her sister. On January 26, 1994, Judge Reginald Stanton signed an order determining that Marguerite Seyse was a mental incompetent incapable of managing her affairs or governing herself including the ability to consent to medical treatment. Judge Stanton appointed Ellenor Olson, Judith Oehler and her husband, John W. Oehler, as co- guardians of the person and property of Marguerite Seyse. Ms. Oehler was to have the single authority to make dispersements in amounts less than $500 for her mother's ordinary living expenses and to make dispersements in amounts greater than $500 solely for her room and board. Because of the demonstrated inability of the two sisters to agree, Judge Stanton appointed Kathleen N. Fennelly, Esq. as arbitrator of disputes among the co-guardians.
On April 17, 1998, Ms. Seyse, then eighty-eight, was removed from Senior Quarters because of disruptive behavior and placed in the psychiatric unit of Chilton Memorial Hospital. Senior Quarters advised the co-guardians that they would not permit Ms. Seyse to return.
Without the consent of the court or the other co-guardians, Ms. Olson removed her mother from the hospital and brought Ms. Seyse to live with her at her home in Connecticut. Ms. Oehler then moved before the Chancery Division to remove Ms. Olson as a co-guardian, and Ms. Olson in turn filed a cross-motion to remove the Oehlers. Ms. Fennelly, the appointed arbitrator, applied for an order listing the New Jersey address of the Oehlers as the address of record for all of Ms. Seyse bank accounts; freezing Ms. Seyse' assets; and directing that Ms. Seyse live with the Oehlers in New Jersey until such time as a permanent placement could be found. Ms. Olson commenced an action in Connecticut to appoint a conservator for her mother. Prior to ruling on the application, Judge MacKenzie appointed Nancy M. Bangiola, Esq. as guardian ad litem for Marguerite Seyse with a direction to interview all parties and submit a report to the court.
Ms. Bangiola visited with Ms. Seyse at the Olson home in Milford, Connecticut. Ms. Seyse told Ms. Bangiola that she liked living with Ms. Olson, did not wish to live with the Oehlers, and said she suspected that Ms. Oehler was guilty of some wrongdoing with regard to her money. Ms. Bangiola stated in her report that "although it appeared to me that Mrs. Seyse remains unable to care for herself or manage her affairs, she was able to express a clear preference in living arrangements. Her preference is not unreasonable."
Ms. Olson told Ms. Bangiola that she had planned to take Ms. Seyse to Connecticut only temporarily, but she felt so frustrated by the dismissal of her suggestions regarding her mother's care that she decided to go to court in Connecticut so that her mother could permanently reside with her. She said that the co-guardianship arrangement was not working even with Ms. Fennelly as arbitrator. She was amenable to the appointment of a third party as guardian of her mother's property but felt she should be appointed sole guardian of her person.
Ms. Bangiola also met with Ms. Oehler, who said that her sister's motives in taking Ms. Seyse out of state were "not pure." Ms. Oehler suggested a care center in Morris Plains that would be a suitable residence for her mother. She did agree with her sister on one point, namely, that the co-guardianship was not working and could not work. She agreed to the idea of appointment of a neutral third party as custodian of the property, but she believed that she should be the sole guardian of the person.
Ms. Bangiola recommended to the court that there be a change in the co-guardianship arrangement and that Ms. Seyse should remain living at the Connecticut residence with Ms. Olson since "my client has expressed a clear desire to stay in Connecticut with Mrs. Olson."
Ms. Fennelly certified to the court that she had been denied permission to visit Ms. Olson's home in Milford, Connecticut until June 11, 1998, when she visited the residence following a hearing in the Milford Probate court. Her observations were that the house was clean, ...