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In the Matter of Susan Keeter

May 11, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Monmouth County, P-184-10/S#224356.

Per curiam.


Argued March 22, 2011

Before Judges Yannotti and Roe.

Plaintiff, Patricia Valentine, appeals from the dismissal of her complaint for guardianship of her mother, Susan Keeter, as an alleged incapacitated person. We affirm.

Plaintiff filed a complaint for guardianship for her mother based on her alleged incapacity on June 10, 2010. Keeter is age eighty-nine. In addition to Valentine, Keeter has a son, Richard.

On June 21, 2010 the court appointed Suzana Hot, Esq. as attorney for Keeter. Hot opposed the motion for guardianship at Keeter's request.

In support of her complaint for guardianship, Valentine produced sworn certifications from two doctors to support her position that Keeter was sufficiently incapacitated so as to require a full plenary hearing. An order to show cause scheduling a hearing was signed on June 10, 2010 to determine whether Keeter needed a guardian.

According to Keeter's treating physician, Dr. Jeanne Tomaino, Keeter suffers from dementia, uncontrolled diabetes, and atherosclerotic heart disease. Dr. Tomaino submitted a certification which the court characterized as a "fill in the blanks" form report. Dr. Tomaino noted that Keeter was not oriented to time or place, and she "cannot manage her medication or make informed health care decisions" and cannot manage her finances. Dr. Tomaino diagnosed Keeter with dementia, and stated that she was not capable of attending a court hearing due to "poor memory and inability to fully comprehend conversations."

Valentine also submitted a report from Dr. Jon Salisbury. Dr. Salisbury examined Keeter on May 25, 2010, and noted that Keeter could not name her medications or list her medical problems. He screened Keeter for cognitive impairment and determined that Keeter was "orientated to person, place and time" but "could not copy a shape or repeat a simple phrase." According to Dr. Salisbury, Keeter appeared "very comfortable" with Valentine managing her financial affairs. Dr. Salisbury opined that Keeter suffered from early dementia, and though "not completely incapacitated," has "significant areas of problems with cognition and her ability to handle her finances and extensive medication schedule." Dr. Salisbury suggested that as Keeter's illness was progressive, "[i]t would probably be in her best interest that [Valentine] be appointed guardian or at least [conservator]."

Keeter's court-appointed lawyer, Hot, met with Keeter twice, once at her son Richard's home in Freehold and once at Keeter's home in Englishtown. Hot described Keeter as "coherent and pleasant" and stated that Keeter explained that she had given Valentine her power of attorney and the two had handled her finances together for several years.

According to Keeter, in or around 2008, Valentine and Keeter had a falling-out after Valentine allegedly turned "mean and domineering" and siphoned funds from Keeter's accounts by writing checks in amounts significantly higher than Keeter instructed. Keeter advised Hot that she wanted to substitute Richard as her power of attorney.

Keeter conceded that she had been hospitalized for failing to take her medications properly. Though persons from the Visiting Nurse Association had been engaged at some point to oversee medication administration, Keeter dismissed them, believing she did not need their assistance. Keeter was adamant that "she did not need or want a guardian."

During the second meeting with Hot at Keeter's home in Englishtown, Keeter was again "adamant that she did not need or want a guardian." She indicated that she takes multiple pills and she relies on Richard to dispense her medicine because she did not trust Valentine to do so. Keeter could not remember the names of her medications, but claimed she remembers what they look like. Keeter rejected Hot's suggestion that she employ a visiting nurse or an aide.

Hot interviewed Richard and Valentine. According to Richard, Keeter was competent and did not need a guardian. He was "willing to be her agent and assist her in any and every way." Specifically, Richard claimed that he transports Keeter to and ...

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