York caregiver: I knew nothing about insurance money

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comSeptember 10, 2013 

Patton

— A caregiver denied knowing anything about missing life insurance money scheduled to go into Margie Miller’s bank account after the elderly, incapacitated York woman’s dead sister left her $240,000, a judge said on Tuesday.

By that time, court officials later discovered, Shirley Patton already had cashed two life insurance checks, spending $78,000 on repairs to her house in Waxhaw, N.C., and paying herself a $26,000 salary.

Patton, 54, is standing trial for the second time. She is charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult and breach of trust with fraudulent intent, accused of stealing money from two life insurance policies belonging to Miller.

Police and prosecutors say she asked the insurance company to send the money to a Charlotte address, then deposited the cash in a Bank of America checking account.

Miller, who died in September 2012, never saw a dime. She was 87.

Patton’s first trial ended with a mistrial, after one juror refused to convict her.

On Tuesday, York County Probate Judge Carolyn Rogers testified that during a hearing she ruled in early 2011 that Margie Miller could not competently make decisions about her late sister’s estate or finances.

Miller’s sister, Mamie Miller, died in October 2010, leaving two life insurance policies for her sister that named her as the personal representative responsible for settling her estate.

A month later, Patton, who worked as an office manager at Rock Hill’s Premier Health Clinic – where Margie Miller saw her primary physician – was named her power of attorney.

Wendy Duda, executive director of the York County Council on Aging and a longtime friend of the Miller sisters, challenged the legality of the document, unwilling to believe that Miller would make that decision herself, she testified Tuesday morning.

During a December 2010 hearing, a now-retired probate judge froze all of Margie Miller’s bank accounts. He did not make an official decision on the document’s legality, but ordered that Margie Miller undergo neurological evaluation.

In April 2011, Rogers, who took over as probate judge, ruled that the document was “null and void” because Patton, the selected power of attorney, also signed the document as a witness.

“The agent named power of attorney should never be a witness,” Rogers said. “That makes the document invalid.”

Duda also testified that Margie Miller in 2007 suffered a stroke that left her unable to write. When signing legal documents, she endorsed them with an “X.” The power of attorney document was signed in November 2010 and contains Margie Miller’s full name as the principal.

While speaking with her in April 2011, Rogers said she realized the “very pleasant” Margie Miller also could be “easily persuaded...easily led.” A neurologist testified that Margie Miller could not competently handle her own nor her dead sister’s finances.

At the same time, Patton opposed Duda, who, along with a distant cousin of Margie Miller’s, had petitioned to be named her court-appointed guardian. Until another hearing could be scheduled, Rogers authorized Patton to keep caring for Margie Miller’s “day to day” needs, such as shopping for her groceries and ensuring she ate and bathed.

“Frankly, there was no one else,” she said, adding that Patton seemed to be taking good care of Margie Miller.

In July, Rogers ordered everyone – including Patton, Duda, Margie Miller’s attorney and her cousin – to turn over all financial assets of Margie Miller’s to a guardian ad litem, who would turn them in to the courts.

Rogers determined that a conservator, a third-party chosen to manage an incapacitated person’s financial affairs, should be selected so the same person caring for Miller’s day-to-day needs would not also oversee her money.

Two months later, stakeholders gave the court Margie Miller’s financial assets, but no one reported the life insurance policies. Rogers appointed Patton and Margie Miller’s cousin as her co-guardians, while Palmetto Trust, based in Spartanburg, became responsible for Margie Miller’s finances.

She ordered that every attempt be made to keep Margie Miller living in her York home, and Patton to continue supervising the caregivers and providing for Margie Miller’s basic needs.

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