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Farmer v. Farmer

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 19, 2010

Robert L. FARMER, Appellant,
v.
Barbara FARMER, Appellee.

Editorial Note:

This opinion is published in the advance sheet at this citation Farmer v. Farmer, 226 P.3d 2010, was withdrawn from the bound volume because it was withdrawn and reissued by the court with modifications. For superseding opinion, see 2010 WL 1930171.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District No. 3AN-07-0017 PR, Anchorage, Peter A. Michalski, Judge.

Martin A. Engel, Office of Public Advocacy, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Barbara Farmer, pro se, Anchorage.

Before: Carpeneti, Chief Justice, Fabe, Winfree, and Christen, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A probate master appointed a temporary limited conservator for Robert Farmer. The conservatorship was reviewed the following year; the probate master held a hearing, found that Robert was incapacitated, and recommended that his daughter be appointed partial limited conservator. The superior court considered the matter de novo and ultimately adopted the probate master's findings and recommendations. Robert appeals, arguing: (1) the evidence does not support the need for appointment of a conservator; (2) the court failed to make a necessary finding for the appointment of a conservator; and (3) the conservatorship order is not the least restrictive alternative. Because its findings are sufficiently complete and not clearly erroneous and because it did not abuse its discretion in fashioning the conservatorship order, we affirm the superior court's decision.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Robert Farmer resides in Anchorage. He has four children, including daughters Barbara and Anita. Robert worked for the State of Alaska but his employment was terminated in January 2005. He filed suit against the State for wrongful termination, and also filed suit against other government entities. Approximately one year later Robert fell behind on his mortgage payments. To avoid foreclosure Barbara and Jennifer Farmer — Barbara's mother and Robert's wife — borrowed money from Jennifer's sister to make the mortgage payments, and Barbara also began to pay for Robert and Jennifer's utilities.

During the summer of 2006 Robert worked temporarily as a surveyor. In December 2006 Jennifer died and the home was again in danger of foreclosure. Barbara made additional mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure.

In January 2007 Barbara filed a petition for appointment of a guardian and conservator for Robert to protect Robert's home from foreclosure. Barbara continued to pay Robert's utilities during the spring and summer, even though foreclosure proceedings began in March and the foreclosure auction was scheduled for August.

The probate master held a hearing in August 2007 and found that Robert was "unable to manage his property and affairs effectively" and his home would be wasted or dissipated absent management by a conservator. The probate master appointed Anita temporary limited conservator for six months. As temporary limited conservator Anita was allowed only to sell Robert's home to Barbara and to manage the sale proceeds. Robert was allowed to reside in the home for at least one year after Barbara purchased it, with the mortgage payments for that year to be paid from the sale proceeds.

As it turned out, Anita conveyed Robert's home to Barbara in December 2007 with Barbara assuming the existing mortgage; the plan was to repair and market the home for sale, with the proceeds providing for Robert's future housing needs. Barbara began making improvements to market the home, but Robert, who continued to live in the home, often interfered with her efforts.

In March 2008 Barbara petitioned the superior court to review the conservatorship. The probate master held a hearing in August 2008. Barbara testified that she paid for Robert's utilities for almost two years, acquired food stamps and heating assistance for Robert and two younger siblings living in the home, and made mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure. She testified that she and her siblings had rented an apartment for Robert but he was unwilling to move into it. She stated that Robert "has an inability to prioritize" his financial obligations and spends money in an "irrational way"; for example, although he did not pay his phone bill, Robert bought electronics, engaged in unnecessary home-improvement projects, and spent money on alcohol, tobacco, and his lawsuits. According to Barbara, Robert refused to apply for disability ...


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