A Lowcountry family is furious because their bank account was drained, and they were told they had to ask permission to spend their money.
When the courts take control of your finances it’s called a conservatorship. They are usually established for the protection of an incapacitated person’s finances.
The Bennett family contests court intervention isn’t necessary, but they’ve been stuck in the system for nearly a year.
New reports from court appointed doctors show Benjamin Bennett is not incapacitated.
“This thing has me going crazy,” Bennett told News 2’s Rebecca Collett during a follow up interview with the family.
His daughter, Melissa, called News 2 after her father’s now former doctor recommended the conservatorship for protection. Mr. Bennett recently came into a large inheritance. According to the original doctor’s report, Bennett showed signs of dementia and had voiced concerns about having so much money in the bank
“Since this thing has been going on, I just ain’t how I used to be,” Mr. Bennett explained, trying to keep his frustration calm.
Last November, the courts called for an emergency hearing, citing concerns Mr. Bennett was unable to handle his money. The court drained his bank account of roughly $500,000 and appointed Family Services to oversee the family finances. The court appointed health experts examined Mr. Bennett. They also interviewed the family. According to the new mental health records released to News 2 by the family, both exams found Mr. Bennett is not incapacitated; should be able to handle his own financial affairs; and showed normal signs of aging. They also found the family to be supportive.
The family believes the court should not have taken control until after the capacity tests. The initial recommendation came during a time when Mr. Bennett was experiencing an infection that caused confusion.
At this point, Mr. Bennett is so frustrated with the court control over his money, he didn’t finish one of the tests. It’s possible the courts and attorneys won’t accept the findings until he finishes. The reports contained notes citing concerns for Bennett’s future as he aged, though the family was noted as being helpful to Benjamin and his wife.
Melissa says the tests on her 80-year-old father are taking their toll on Mr. Bennett’s health. Health records show he’s losing weight.
“What he has lost is more than the money now,” she explained. Melissa said he’s been depressed and unable to participate in his normal activities.
Mr. Bennett’s wife of 60 years, Ida, is his court appointed guardian, but even she can’t freely access their money. The water company notified her this month the bills aren’t getting paid.
The court appointed conservator, Family Services, said they weren’t aware of the water bill because it was in Ida’s name.
The Bennetts need permission to access any of their money for everything from dentures to AC repairs.
Mrs. Bennett said the couple had plans to take a cruise and enjoy their retirement, but their situation has made that impossible.
A hearing was planned for October 23, but it was pushed back. In court records Mr. Bennett’s attorney cited concerns about the tests. Though the family agreed to the delay, they are frustrated that after nearly a year, they still don’t have resolution.
The longer the family is under the conservatorship, the more it costs them in fees for attorneys, doctors, and Family Services.
The family expects to meet with their court appointed attorneys next week, but Mr. Bennett is losing hope he will ever have control over his life again.
“If I can’t handle this, the good master will handle them,” he said.
Getting out of a conservatorship is a long shot. Fewer than one percent of cases are dissolved by the court each year in Charleston County. The typical case that is dissolved is an accident case where the person is in intensive care then regains capacity. That means 99% of cases are dissolved only after a ward dies.
News 2 was originally granted access to the court files related to Mr. Bennett’s case, but following our initial report, a court appointed attorney for Mr. Bennett objected to our access to the files. Bennett’s wife, who is also his legal guardian, approved our access to the file, but we were still denied access to the court records.