Guadalupe Olvera’s right to move in with his daughter in Aptos was disputed by Nevada authorities for almost three years. (Photo by Chip Scheuer)
Last month Guadalupe Olvera, 93, rode in the Aptos Fourth of July parade. A survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, Olvera cruised through town in a vintage World War II jeep with his fellow VFW members. They waved at the families lining the streets, who saluted from the sidewalk and shouted, “Thank you for your service!”
It was a lovely day, but it’s been a long road for Olvera and his family to the Aptos parade. For most of the last three years Olvera and his daughter, Rebecca Schultz of Aptos, have been entangled in a messy and expensive guardianship dispute with his court-appointed guardian, Jared Shafer, a professional guardian and fiduciary who operates a business in Las Vegas.
Guardianship, also referred to as conservatorship, is a legal process where a judge appoints a third party individual to care for a “ward,” usually an elderly or disabled person. The guardian takes direct control over the ward’s life, both personally and financially. The guardian is often responsible for big decisions such as where the ward will live, who is allowed to visit with the ward and even whether to continue with life-support systems.
But the three-year dispute with Shafer wasn’t over the finer details of Olvera’s care. It was over who was entitled to serve as guardian of him and his nearly $1 million estate: Shafer or Schultz, Olvera’s only living child.
Schultz, an artist given to impassioned exclamation over injustices, sees more than a troublesome series of lawsuits for herself over the course of the ordeal. She sees at best a system weighted against families and at worst a conspiracy to steal from the elderly, sanctioned by Nevada courts and overlooked by the federal government.
She claims that Shafer has stolen outright from her father, saying that a year’s worth of Olvera’s carpenter pensions and social security payments are missing and have “never been accounted for.”
She says Shafer fabricated bills and withdrew excessive funds from Olvera’s Wells Fargo checking account, depleting it by almost $300,000 since November 2009.
“I went into this not knowing anything about guardianship. Not knowing anything about lawyers. I’m just an artist. I’m just a normal person. I didn’t know how bad Nevada was. I didn’t know how corrupt it was,” says Schultz.
Neither Shafer nor his attorneys would comment for this article.
Bait & Switch
In 2002, as Schultz tells it, her father and mother moved to Nevada, “lured by promotional videos sent by property developers” promising no state income taxes and ample senior citizen services. The couple moved to Nevada alone, leaving behind their only living daughter and their grandchild. Schultz says she discouraged them from leaving California, where they had lived for their entire adult lives, but kept in touch with them and visited their Nevada home.
In 2005 Olvera’s wife filed for guardianship over her husband’s person. (Court documents obtained by the Weekly state that Olvera has had mild dementia since 2004 but that he is able to communicate and express preferences.) When his wife died in November 2009, Olvera’s guardianship was freed up. Nevada law states that a guardian must live in the same state as the ward, so Schultz wasn’t immediately qualified. She called Family Court Commissioner Jon Norheim’s office for advice. According to Schultz, the woman who answered the phone told her she would need to have a temporary guardian put in place and gave her Shafer’s unlisted home telephone number.
When Schultz called Shafer, he told her she needed an attorney, too. Schultz says he set up an appointment for her with elder law attorney Elyse Tyrell for the next morning.
At the appointment with Tyrell the next day, Schultz says they agreed to put Shafer in place as a temporary guardian while Schultz worked out the details of moving her father to California so she could become his guardian and care for him there. Tyrell filed the guardianship orders immediately.
A few days later, Schultz and Shafer went to her father’s home together and stepped aside for a private conversation about Olvera’s guardianship.
According to Schultz, that day Shafer told her that he expected he would be able to transfer the guardianship of her father to Schultz within three to six months. She says he told her not to mention anything about guardianship to her father for fear that it might cause him anxiety, and limited how long her visits with her father could last.
These limitations seemed strange and frustrating to Schultz, who grew eager to bring her father back to California with her and leave the situation behind them.
When she returned to California in late November 2009, Schultz conducted an internet search of Shafer and found something unsettling: an ethics charge brought against him from the family of another ward, back in 2003. This seemed like a red flag to Schultz, who turned to her attorney, Tyrell, for assistance and says she got quite a surprise.
“She told me, ‘I don’t work for you, I work for Jared Shafer. You’re more than welcome to hire another attorney and petition the court for guardianship.’”
In November, Schultz had paid Tyrell a total of $3,700 for her legal services, outlined in a document signed by both women that states plainly, “This agreement is made on this 13th day of November, 2009, between Rebecca Schultz as guardian for Guadalupe Olvera and the law firm of Trent, Tyrell & Associates.”
On Feb. 9, 2010, however, Schultz received a letter from Tyrell that included a reimbursement check for the $3,700. The letter denied that Tyrell had ever been Schultz’s attorney: “During our meeting on November 13, 2009 and, during several telephone conversations subsequent thereto, I explained to you that I represent Jared E. Shafer as your father’s guardian and I do not represent you.”
Tyrell failed to respond to multiple phone messages left by the Weekly.
Caught in a perplexing situation by people she had believed to be working for her, Schultz hired other lawyers and went to the family court in Las Vegas in an attempt to remove Shafer as guardian and have herself and her husband appointed. Delays by the court and complaints by Shafer about Schultz’s character alleging that she was after her father’s money (“character assassination,” says Schultz) stalled the process.
Finally, in September 2010, Schultz defied the Nevada court and brought her father from Las Vegas to her home in Aptos, where he resides today. He spends most of his time in a nicely appointed room in Schultz’s house. Schultz and her husband Robert provide meals, laundry, help with bathing and transportation to doctor visits to her father. Olvera stated numerous times in a court report that his daughter and son-in-law treat him “like gold.” Schultz estimates they save him $7,300 a month—the figure Shafer’s care giving agency charged.
Schultz remembers the day in 2009 that she spoke with Shafer in her father’s home about the temporary guardianship. She says he assured her he didn’t like to hold onto cases like Olvera’s for more than three to six months and then added, “You know, I don’t even have to go to court. The judges give me what I want.”
Just two weeks before Schultz moved her father to California, Schultz and Olvera sat in a hearing before Clark County Nevada Family Court Commissioner Jon Norheim. Across from them sat Jared Shafer and Alan Freer, one of the several attorneys Shafer works with. Schultz and Olvera had two attorneys, Stephen Mayfield and Brian Boggess.
A video of the hearing viewed by the Weekly shows casual courtroom decorum by Norheim and Shafer and peculiar behavior by Norheim, who is supposed to be hearing both sides of the case.
Norheim perches at the judge’s bench, sipping out of a large soda and personally outlining the reasons the court is recommending Olvera stay in Las Vegas. Freer isn’t required to say anything until over halfway through the proceedings—Norheim rebuts the assertions of Schultz’s attorneys himself. All the while Shafer, wearing a T-shirt, reclines in his seat with his hands folded behind his head.
Olvera stands up, again wearing his WW2 uniform, and announces forcefully, “I’m going to California no matter what. I’m not going to live here. I don’t need that man; I don’t need Jared [Shafer]!”
“I’m not willing to make that jump today,” says Commissioner Norheim, with an apologetic smile. “You may have greater luck at a higher level than me.”
Norheim then cites a report conducted by a court social worker months before, which allegedly says Olvera didn’t want to move to California.
“There has been a determination that Mr. Shafer is doing a good job,” says Norheim. “The ward has continuously expressed that he doesn’t want to move to California, that he wants to be here with the friends in the facility that he’s in, because he developed bonds there…he likes the social environment there.”
That piece, though, is odd. Olvera didn’t live in a facility with a social environment. He lived at home, alone, with just a single caregiver from an organization called Keep You Company.
Schultz repeatedly refers to this experience as a “kangaroo court,” and says she wonders if Norheim even read the case documents.
Adding insult to the injury, Schultz paid for her attorney fees with the help of a friend. Freer’s fees, however, were taken out of Olvera’s estate—but padded first, according to Schultz.
In fact, bank statements from Shafer’s guardianship, viewed by the Weekly, show several confounding billing discrepancies. There are duplicate billings of multiple invoices with the same invoice number. There are extraordinarily high charges, such as a total of $7,475 billed for emails sent over the period of just 19 days, all listed at exactly “6 minutes each.” One bill shows a bizarre charge for 1.666667 hours. After Olvera moved to California, Shafer continued to bill his estate for in-person visits with him, which would have been impossible.
Guardians are lawfully allowed to use the elderly ward’s estate money to fight in court to maintain the guardianship, often in cases against the ward’s children or other family members, resulting in a mind-bending Catch-22. People like Schultz wind up feeding the very system they’re fighting against.
Schultz’s accusations against Shafer may seem extreme and almost unbelievable, but she is far from the only one making these claims. Just typing the name Jared E. Shafer into Google’s search engine pulls up several pages of complaints against him on consumer report websites, making it impossible to unearth his professional web site through the heaps of corruption accusations. And this isn’t just a Las Vegas problem.
“This is happening on an ongoing basis all over the country. The states where old folks go to retire like Florida, Nevada, California are the worst,” affirms Elaine Renoire, Director of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse.
In a September 2010 report on the issue, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) “identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010.”
“In 20 selected closed cases,” the report reads, “GAO found that guardians stole or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million in assets from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were seniors. In some instances, guardians also physically neglected and abused their victims.”
Closer to home, the Mercury News recently conducted a six-month investigation into guardian and fiduciary abuse in Santa Clara County. Reporters found similar instances of lavish bills from guardians going unchallenged by the courts.
The Weekly spoke with Robert L. Morris, a partner in the Las Vegas law firm Grant, Morris and Dobbs specializing in estate, trust administration and guardianship. Morris is unaffiliated with Schultz’s case but says he has had clients with similar complaints against professional guardians and that Schultz’s situation doesn’t surprise him.
Morris says that, as a practice, he doesn’t refer clients to professional guardians like Shafer.
“You run into these issues of breach of fiduciary duty, mismanagement with any professional guardian who is out there for hire,” he says.
Further, Morris notes that Clark County courts are “very busy” and unlikely to catch fraudulent or exorbitant charges by professional guardians from their ward’s estates, even though it is technically the court’s job to approve or deny all billings related to guardianship.
“The court is going to approve those fees,” he says simply.
Renoire explains that most professional guardianship situations come about as the result of family disputes: “Sometimes family members get into a dispute about money or care issues and take the matter to court. They expect the judge to hear both sides and make a fair decision. On a growing level instead, the judge hears family disputes and brings in a third party as a guardian or conservator.”
Renoire encourages families, especially those with elderly parents, to turn to respected community members and counselors before taking their disputes to court in order to avoid a messy and expensive guardianship situation.
“Most people that need a guardian need one quickly, and they don’t have time to do research. They don’t know about guardianship until they’re stuck. It’s like stepping in quick sand.”
“The newest wave of victims are coming to shore: Baby Boomers,” she adds.
Once in Santa Cruz County, Schultz researched local fiduciaries and decided on William Chaddock, a Santa Cruz fiduciary with over 30 years of experience. On July 16, Santa Cruz family court judge Timothy Volkmann and The Grunsky Firm, representing Shafer locally, agreed to appoint Chaddock as guardian over Olvera’s estate and Schultz and her husband as guardian over her father’s person. Shafer’s guardianship will be terminated, as long as Shafer and the Nevada courts finalize the procedure.
Keith Dysart, Schultz’s local attorney, encouraged her to take the day off and celebrate—she had won. Schultz reports that she was in shock, and says she doesn’t feel out of the woods yet. She expects Shafer will drag out the transition, making it “difficult and expensive.”
Schultz, for her part, isn’t finished.
“We still are, for a long time, going to be dealing with making Shafer accountable. That’s going to be the issue now. I’m still going to keep at it with the feds and everything. It’s not over.”
“It has consumed my life because I’m a fighter,” she says. “He’s messed with the wrong family this time. I’m not going to let it go.”