The recent Zelman case involved all-too-familiar fighting between a second wife and first kids. The children of 85-year-old Martin Zelman instituted guardianship proceedings alleging that Martin’s wife was taking advantage of him and isolating him from his children, in part to take control of his substantial assets. The children alleged that Martin had “accidentally” deposited $3 million in the couple’s joint bank account, and that the money should be returned to Martin’s sole ownership.
Without allowing the wife to contest what was going on, the court appointed limited guardians of Martin’s person and property and ordered that the $3 million be removed from the couple’s joint bank account and placed in Martin’s solely owned revocable living trust.
The appellate court reversed this decision, reasoning that a spouse is always an interested party in a guardianship proceeding. Being an interested person requires that the spouse be able to participate meaningfully in any guardianship proceeding. Because such items as the marital home and joint bank accounts can be at risk in a guardianship proceeding, the spouse must receive both reasonable notice of any issue to be decided and have the right to present evidence on any contested issue. So, Mrs. Zelman will be able to rebut the children’s evidence concerning the “accidental” deposit at a new hearing.
With $3 million at stake, we will likely hear about this family again.