Washington Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Guardianship Order for Woman Suffering from Schizophrenia and a Neurocognitive Disorder

Above: Senior Avenues, the company founded by Kirstyan Calhoun — Image Source: (Senior Avenues)

On December 22, 2020, a Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a guardianship petition for Dorothy Helm O’Dell. O’Dell asserted that her power of attorney had been in bad faith, in part because the attorney incorrectly stated that O’Dell suffers from dementia, but the court disagreed.

Between 2015 and 2016, O’Dell was placed under involuntary psychiatric commitment after her social worker became concerned about her ability to understand and manage her finances. In 2016, O’Dell appointed a certified professional guardian, Kirstyan Calhoun, as her power of attorney.

On January 23, 2018, Calhoun petitioned for guardianship of O’Dell, stating that O’Dell suffers from dementia and “generally suffers from impairment of intellectual abilities such as attention, orientation, memory, judgment, and language.” The petition was initially granted, and Amelia Clark was appointed to be O’Dell’s guardian at the request of Calhoun.

In 2019, however, the superior court dismissed the petition for guardianship and revoked Calhoun’s power of attorney. As a part of this dismissal, the superior court “found Ms. Calhoun petitioned in good faith and awarded her limited attorney fees and costs of $5,000.00.”

O’Dell appealed, contending that “the superior court should not have dismissed the guardianship petition without allowing for discovery and a hearing regarding the issue of Ms. Calhoun’s bad faith.” O’Dell took issue with Calhoun’s statement that she was diagnosed with dementia, as in reality, she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and a neurocognitive disorder.

The court agreed that Calhoun “may have been inexact in describing Ms. Helm O’Dell as being diagnosed with dementia instead of schizophrenia and a neurocognitive disorder.” However, the court found that “[t]he contents of the guardianship petition were not indicative of bad faith” as Calhoun was not asking to be O’Dell’s guardian. Because “[Calhoun’s] missteps never misled the court and did not undermine the overwhelming evidence that the guardianship petition was filed in good faith[,]” the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the superior court.

Key words: guardianship, power of attorney, schizophrenia, dementia, Washington

Citation: Matter of Guardianship of O’Dell, 2020 WL 7591807

This post is the 62nd post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

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at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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