Conservatorship strips 81-year-old widow of all possessions - WSMV News 4

Conservatorship strips 81-year-old widow of all possessions

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Here in America, none of us expect to have our home, property or legal rights infringed upon without due process.

But things work a little differently than you might expect in one court system right here in Nashville.

One woman ended up losing everything, and it could happen to anyone.

Jewell Tinnon used to own a home. It was paid for.

"I had red carpet. I had red carpet," she said.

But that house, and everything inside, was auctioned off to the highest bidder in March.

"I wish I was at home. I worked hard, and paid for it," Tinnon said.

Her car was sold, too, and her clothes and all her furniture.

The 81-year-old widow lost nearly everything after she came under a guardianship, also called a conservatorship.

The very people who were assigned by the court to watch over her, to safeguard her possessions, liquidated it all.

"When they came in, they said, 'everything is pretty, but we're going to sell it,'" she said.

Her attorney Michael Hoskins believes what happened to Tinnon wasn't legal, ethical or even American.

"She wasn't given an opportunity to defend herself. All of this happened without her having any knowledge of it," he said.

The trouble started for Ms. Tinnon when her grandsons thought someone was stealing from her. They asked the probate judge, Randy Kennedy, to put her in a guardianship.

The grandsons' attorney said Ms. Tinnon didn't have the ability to make rational decisions. The hearing lasted all of 10 minutes. No medical proof was offered. No doctors, not a single witness testified.

Ms. Tinnon didn't know about the court hearing until after the judge signed her rights away.

"They shouldn't have did me this way. It's wrong, the way they did me," Tinnon said.

When a person is appointed a guardian, they can't sign contracts, or write checks, or buy and sell things. They can't vote, or drive, or marry. They can't decide what doctors to see or what medications to take. They can't chose where to live, or hire their own lawyer.

Ms. Tinnon was assigned a public guardian from an agency for the elderly. That guardian did not return our calls for this story, but we were able to talk to the attorney the judge had assigned to represent her, Karl Warden.

"I feel very sorry for her," Warden said

As her attorney, he was legally obligated to fight the guardianship, because she didn't want it.

But he was in a tough spot after he brought her to a doctor.

"The diagnosis was that she had dementia, and that she was incapable of making decisions for herself over her person and her property," Warden said.

With that, the train was heading down the tracks.

Her guardian decided that a nursing home was the best place for her and said her house should be sold.

Judge Kennedy agreed.

At a public auction, it brought $83,000. That's a little more than half of what the tax assessor said it was worth.

The guardian also cashed in her whole life insurance policy with the judge's permission, all in an attempt to turn her assets into cash to pay her bills.

"If you can sell them and get some money for them, and use them to provide that person's care, then that's the thing that you want to do," Warden said. "Does it feel like a wonderful thing to do? No. Nor should it. Ever."

Months later, with the help of a friend, Jewell Tinnon picked her own lawyer and her own doctors.

Two doctors both said she didn't need a guardian and that Ms. Tinnon "should do just fine living on her own" with some help.

The guardianship that had lasted just over a year was over. But now Ms. Tinnon finds herself with no car, no house and few possessions.

Not only that, the judge ordered that a big chunk of the money from the sale of her house must be used to pay off her eight different lawyers and guardians, $37,645.

"Even though she's been released from the conservatorship, the court has found that she is fully, mentally and physically, capable of taking care of herself and taking care of her own needs, she's now lost her house. She's lost everything," Hoskins said.

Will she get her house back? Not unless she buys it.

It's on the market for $144,000.

"I wish I could get it back," Tinnon said. "They didn't treat me fair. I didn't get a fair deal."

The frightening thing is, this could happen to anyone.

Once you're put under a conservatorship, it can cost every cent you have to get out. This is the third case we've profiled from Judge Randy Kennedy's court. You might remember the case of songwriter Danny Tate who lost his fortune fighting to get out from under a conservatorship case.

We also told you about Ginger Franklin. She fell down a flight of stairs, came under a conservatorship while in the hospital and ended up losing her condo and her car.

Judge Kennedy declined to be interviewed on this case.

Lawyers tell us there are three important documents you should have, documents that will help protect you from coming under a conservatorship.

They include a durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney or health directive, and a living will.

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