June 27, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Status as VA Designated Payee Does Not Confer Priority for Appointment as Conservator

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Runyon on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.

Appointment of Uniform Veterans’ Guardianship Act Guardian—Appointment of Guardian by Incapacitated Person.

Gladys Runyon (mother) was the authorized payee for Sidney Runyon’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits until August 2011, when Elizabeth Knight (sister) became the payee. In February 2012, the VA designated Colorado State Bank and Trust (Bank) as payee.

The Bank petitioned for appointment as Runyon’s guardian under the Uniform Veterans’ Guardianship Act (UVGA). It also petitioned to have Jeanette Goodwin appointed as Runyon’s guardian under the Colorado Probate Code. The Denver Probate Court concluded that the Bank’s petitions were filed in the wrong venue but appointed Goodwin as emergency guardian through August 2012.

Ten months after the expiration of the emergency guardianship, mother and sister sought appointment as co-guardians and conservators in Arapahoe County. Runyon advised the court-appointed visitor that he didn’t want mother and sister appointed. The court appointed counsel for Runyon.

The Bank then entered an appearance and sought appointment as conservator and UVGA guardian, and nominated Goodwin as guardian. At the hearing, Runyon’s attorney advised the court of Runyon’s preferences to appoint the Bank and Goodwin as conservator and guardian, and the court granted the appointments.

On appeal, mother and sister argued that the trial court erred because (1) their purported status as designated payees for Runyon’s VA and Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits entitled them to be appointed, and (2) the court should not have given effect to Runyon’s preferences. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the first point and remanded for further proceedings on the second.

The appointment of a guardian lies within the sound discretion of the probate court. A respondent’s nomination of a guardian creates a priority for that nominee, but only if the respondent had “sufficient capacity to express a preference” at the time of the nomination. The respondent may make an oral nomination at an appointment hearing. There is a similar scheme for appointment of conservators and UVGA guardians.

Here, mother and sister had no priority claim to be a guardian or conservator, and being appointed as designated payees of Runyon’s SSA and VA benefits did not confer any such priority claim on them. By nominating the Bank and Goodwin at the hearing, Runyon conferred on them a priority for appointment. However, the record did not reflect whether the trial court found that Runyon had sufficient capacity to express a preference at the time of the nomination. The Court remanded for such a determination, but noted that a finding that a respondent is an “incapacitated person” under the statute does not necessarily mean that the respondent lacks sufficient capacity to express a preference as to a guardian or conservator.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.