Family members, county face off over woman's best interests

March 28, 2013 1:39:01 AM PDT
We're told to protect our assets with things like living trusts and wills. But a case in Santa Clara County is raising questions about when our plans can be changed by someone else, possibly against our wishes.

In early February, 85-year-old Grace Alaimo was in a Santa Clara superior courtroom surrounded by people arguing over what she wants.

"She's shared those wishes to the public guardian's office," Santa Clara County Counsel Mark Gonzalez said in court.

At the center of the dispute is where she is going to live and what will happen to her assets. She currently stays in an assisted living facility in Cupertino paid for by MediCal, but owns a house in San Jose.

"This is a family home; I've been living here for 30 years," Grace's son Anthony Alaimo said.

Anthony has been fighting the county over its control of his mother. Stacks of legal documents on the dining room table show five years of court filings.

Grace Alaimo was conserved by Santa Clara County in 2008 after a court found the accusations credible that her son and now-deceased husband Sylvio misused her money and were not taking care of her.

"Lies and insinuations that have no, fact base," Anthony said.

"The only reason why it's in this situation right now, in my opinion, is because, that's because the father and son pushed it to this point," Grace's friend Debra Kemp said.

Kemp holds the power of attorney for Grace's healthcare. Kemp met Grace while dating Anthony Alaimo and she and Grace remained friends, even after the couple split up.

Kemp says Grace asked her for help because she didn't think Anthony had her best interests in mind.

"He was unwilling to take care of her the way a son should," Kemp said.

She points out that Grace filed for a temporary restraining order against her own son in 2008. In court filings, she wrote, "about two months ago he shoved me."?"(he) makes fun of me because I stutter sometimes."? "He has told me I belong in a nursing home and that I am not well."

Grace ultimately dropped her request for the restraining order.

"My mother loves me; we care about each other," Anthony said.

The biggest fight has been over the Alaimo family trust, set up in 2005. The only asset is the family home.

Anthony believes the special needs clause in the trust protects the house from being liquidated to care for his mother's medical needs. But, the court removed him as trustee because of a conflict of interest, because Anthony was to inherit the house when his other dies.

"It's an unprotected legal document," Anthony said. "It's been assaulted by the court system and by the public guardian's office."

Anthony appealed being removed as trustee, but the sixth appellate court ruled against him. Now, the county wants to take out a reverse mortgage on the home to move his mother back there and to pay for her medical care.

"The reverse mortgage is almost a death sentence when it comes to the home because once the reverse mortgage is put on, once the person passes away, then you have this situation where the house must be sold," Anthony's attorney Shawn Parr said.

Parr says taking out a reverse mortgage goes against one of the reasons Grace Alaimo created the trust.

"It's very clear that her intent at the time she drafted the trust was to be put on MediCal and was to protect whatever assets she may or may not of had at the time to be given to her heirs," Parr said.

Anthony gave the ABC7 News I-Team video of his mother saying, "I don't want a reverse mortgage on the house."

The county contends the only way she can move home is with a reverse mortgage. Her son says she is in no condition to come back to the house. He thinks she will receive better care in assisted living.

"The primary obligation of the trust is about Ms. Alaimo and her desires, not about inheritance, not about what's going to happen after her death," Mark Gonzalez said. "That is the primary issue in this trust."

Thursday morning, Grace Alaimo will have a chance to tell a judge where she wants to live. Anthony Alaimo worries she will be too medicated to answer questions, while the county is concerned her son has may have influenced her decision.


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