Elderly Mineral Wells woman fights state for independence - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Elderly Mineral Wells woman fights state for independence

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The State of Texas is trying to get custody of an elderly woman, even though she says she wants to stay in her home.

The same thing happened to her sister three years ago, and people familiar with the way these cases work say the system is being abused.

Suzanne Foley, 85, wants her independence and says she has a right to stay in her own home with the help of a caregiver. However, Adult Protective Services wants her in a nursing home.

Foley suffers from Alzheimer's and dementia, according to her caregiver, Kathy Gilbreath.

But Gilbreath says Foley can still get around her house.

"She dresses herself every day," said Gilbreath. "She's a very independent woman."

Foley is from Switzerland, but her house in Mineral Wells has been her home for the past 20 years.

However, on Tuesday, a county judge in the town of Palo Pinto held a hearing, where the State of Texas asked to take over Foley's affairs and her sizeable bank account.     

The judge closed the court to the public and now has issued a gag order, prohibiting the participants from discussing what happened.

The process is familiar to Virginia Pritchett, who was good friends with Denise Tighe, Foley's sister.

"This guardianship law is a big money grab," said Pritchett.

In 2011, she says Tighe got sick and went to the doctor, and that was the beginning of the end of Tighe's independence.

Adult Protective Services got involved. With no will and no close family other than her equally elderly sister, Tighe was placed in a nursing home 20 miles away. Her belongings were sold off.

"Her money was siphoned between state agencies, a nursing home where she never wanted to go, and it was terribly sad," said Pritchett.

Tighe died in January, with no friends or family with her.

"My friend had plenty of money, and like I said, she couldn't buy herself out of this horrible situation…they saw money and they grabbed it," said Pritchett.

Dr. William Tedford has seen cases like this before. As professor emeritus of psychology at SMU, he's frequently called as an expert to evaluate the elderly for court cases.

"I think almost anybody who's looked at the situation professionally agrees that staying in the home is the preferred solution, if it's at all possible."

But Dr. Tedford says too often, the state interjects itself into these people's lives, and caseworkers, lawyers and accountants take over without being asked.

"I think primarily the main motive in most cases is just plain greed -- looking for the money," said Tedford.

Court records show Foley has about $250,000 in her accounts. The state is asking for guardianship, claiming her caregiver, Gilbreath, spent too much of her money.

The state is asking her power of attorney title be stripped so she no longer has access to Foley's accounts.

Gilbreath now lives with Foley and has taken care of her for the past three years. Foley says Gilbreath and the sitters she hires when she needs to be away do a good job.  

At Foley's court hearing, the state brought at least a dozen people to present their case for guardianship.

Gilbreath and a few others spoke on Foley's behalf.

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