Father of Member Terri Black
Family Speaks Out About Guardianship System
Contact 13 Investigates
This is a story for anyone who may one day have to care for a loved one. Contact 13 shines a spotlight on a system that some say is tearing families apart and harming some of those it’s supposed to protect.
Terri Black always planned to be there for her father Del Mencarelli, “He knew that we would take care of him. I’m an only child and there was never any question of that.”
Little did she know, she and her husband Rick would have to fight to care for Del.
“This has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life,” said Terri fighting back tears.
That’s saying a lot for someone who lost her mother to a brain tumor.
Knowing that tragedy can strike at anytime, they began to put dad’s estate in order.
“He put me on all of his bank accounts, made me the executrix of his will.”
But it turned out, that wouldn’t be enough.
Family Court Judge Charles Hoskin explains the wording many people don’t know they need, “That they put an estate plan in place or designate that if I’m in need of a guardian, this is who I’d like to have done.”
While a will specifies what goes to who after someone passes, it often leaves out instructions if one becomes incapacitated.
Del’s journey into guardianship began when he moved to Las Vegas in 2002 to live with his longtime companion, Helen Natko. Years later, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his health took a turn for the worse. In 2013, Terri noticed several withdrawals from his account adding up to $220,000.
“Something did not look right. My dad did not write checks for $50,000.”
The Blacks flew in from their home state of North Carolina to help, only to find them shut out by Helen, “She just said, ‘You’re not going to see him. He’s staying here.'”
The Blacks tried calling police, but learned they’d have to apply for guardianship of Del through the courts.
If it’s believed you can no longer take care of yourself physically or financially, a family court judge can declare you a ward of the state and appoint a guardian, who gets control over every aspect of your life, including your money.
Attorney Rob Graham specializes in estate and guardianship cases, “People who are wards of the state have fewer rights and access to fewer resources than prisoners who are convicted of the most heinous crimes.”
He argues the system intended to protect people puts them in a very vulnerable position. He describes the system as a grey prison.
We asked Family Court Judge Hoskin about that, “Too much power? There’s sufficient power, hopefully.”
The Blacks feel powerless in Del’s case, partially because Nevada has a “home state rule,” meaning you can’t apply to be someone’s guardian if you don’t live in Nevada.
“It’s very difficult to manage somebody’s affairs from a distance,” said Judge Hoskin.
They sought local help, but Del’s companion, Helen, filed for guardianship too. So the court appointed a temporary guardian who took control of Del’s estate.
“The court that you think is there to protect you, to protect your loved ones, it’s called family court,” said Rick, Del’s son-in-law. “The court completely denied our family any rights.”
“We try to protect the ward,” said Judge Hoskin. “And a lot times that’s going to cause someone else in the spectrum to feel like they weren’t dealt with correctly.”
The Blacks sure do. Terri even had to ask permission from the court-appointed guardian for something as basic as dinner alone with her dad, “I was told, ‘You will not be able to remove your dad from the home and take him to dinner.'”
Terri and Rick say that began a campaign to discredit them, isolate Del, and rack up charges to his estate.
Under state law the court-appointed guardian is paid with the ward’s money. Every time Terri called or emailed for any reason, her father was billed as the system drained Del’s money to fight his own daughter.
“It’s difficult. I think that ultimately the process is too expensive,” said Judge Hoskin.
But here’s the kicker in Del’s case.
“There was criminal action here presented to the family court that they ignored.”
Remember all the money withdrawn from Del’s bank? The Blacks reported that to authorities, who investigated and criminally charged Helen Natko with felony exploitation, alleging she took tens of thousands for her own use. Natko has not entered a plea.
The Blacks provided evidence she lost thousands of dollars gambling and told the family court she was under criminal investigation.
Despite that, the court gave guardianship over Del to Helen. And that hasn’t changed even though she’s been charged.
While many say that makes it clear the system is broken Judge Hoskins argues, “I have 8,500 active guardianship cases and I only have a very few that are disgruntled and I think that’s a very positive spin on what’s going on in our system.”
Contact 13 reached out to Helen Natko and her attorney but both declined to go on camera. They pointed to the family court’s final decision, which found Del too medically fragile to move to North Carolina. Despite the pending criminal case, family court didn’t find evidence that money was misused.
Contact 13 spoke with several other families who report devastating problems with the guardianship system. Not only are the elderly at risk, any adult can get caught up in it, and taxpayers foot the bill when money runs out.
KTNV Channel 13 News Source Link
Criminal Case Against Court-Appointed Guardian Moves Forward:
by Darcy Spears
“A small victory comes Monday from a criminal case involving a daughter who wanted to carry out her father’s wishes and care for him when the time came.
She wasn’t allowed to do that by order of Clark County Family Court. Now, the woman who the court put in charge is facing trial.
Terri Black’s father, Del, was deemed incompetent and the court got involved when Terri suspected Del’s long-time companion, Helen Natko, of taking his money. Despite hours of testimony in family court, Helen was appointed to be Del’s guardian.
“This whole ordeal has cost our family $826,000 as of this date,” says Rick Black. “And that is a travesty that you have to spend that kind of money to defend your family against a crook.”….”