September 8, 2015 by Lulu
Nick and Rose Battista and the Destruction of their American Dream
It’s 1931, and an author coins the phrase, “The American Dream” and the Great Depression is ending. It became the goal, the path of most Americans. It was simple, and it could mean a life of opportunity, personal happiness and material comfort. My parents had this dream for our family. Nick and Rose Battista worked hard to attain that goal for themselves, for their future and their children’s’ futures. And it took one Judge, one lawyer, one trustee to destroy all they worked for; to divide their children, drain their estate and leave this dream unfinished. Nick and Rose led modest lives to save money for their four children. They clipped newspaper coupons and overlooked the fraying carpet. They kept mismatched sets of glasses in the cupboards. They could have been the
poster parents of their era. Married 53 years, they owned their own home, with Rose staying home to raise two sons and two daughters. They wanted the best for all their children; doing everything they could to support them.This was a source of joy and happiness for them and for each of us. But when children feel that their upbringing was lacking or unequaled to their siblings, conflicts and resentments can silently build. A will can bring this to life with the prospect of “their fair share” not feeling quite so “fair”. When my parents chose me, Cliff Battista, the youngest of their children, to handle their affairs it did not sit well with all my siblings. They wanted only one person in the family to handle their affairs and medical directives to avoid the problems two can bring. Unfortunately, some wanted it for themselves for selfish reasons, not considering what was best for our parents. To safeguard against any disputes, my parents went to their attorney and told him their concerns about some of
their children not being cooperative with their decisions. They wanted him to validate their legal will to avoid further conflicts during their lives and after their passing. The attorney was ineffective in quelling the family dispute. Instead of focusing on solutions to the real problem in the family, he seemed more focused on the money he could make. This only further divided the family, pitting siblings against each other. My mother, Rose, died broken hearted with her family seriously divided. After Rose died, my father, Nick, had a disagreement with his eldest son, and disinherited him. When my brother and my sister angrily confronted my father, he disinherited my sister, as well. With my mother gone, my dad now had to deal with the mess of sibling battles and attorneys. The attorneys further divided the family with restraining orders and removing children from the will. So, my father, also, died broken hearted and his family forever destroyed. Once my father had passed the battle was on among siblings in a full blown battle about the will. My sister hired an elder law attorney to reclaim her share of the estate. The lawsuit split the family and led to costly litigation. In court, the lawyer alleged that my father had “suffered from an insane delusion” when he created and amended the family trust and that I had unduly influenced him. My sister’s lawyer called on another attorney,
a court-appointed public administrator as an expert witness, to testify that I had misspent trust funds. With the lawyer’s recommendation, the judge removed me as the trust administrator and I was replaced by the court-appointed public administrator who now became the trustee of a $732,187.00 estate. The courts and lawyers ignored the legal will and sold almost everything. All the family heirlooms went to the two children removed from the will. I and my other sister received nothing from our parents, not even family pictures. Wills and trusts can become worthless when the fiduciaries of probate courts get involved with their own agendas. The attorneys drained almost all the money from the
estate into their own pockets. The probate judge gave them free reign to do whatever they wanted with the estate entrusted to them. This is how some families in Colorado are devastated, estates divided and assets taken from the rightful heirs. This trustee was the opposing counsel’s business partner and this was clearly a conflict of interest. Not until last April, 2013, when the appointed trustee was required to answer questions in court, did the family get a detailed account of her business relationship with the lawyer. The family members that hired this lawyer now regret their decision after she tried to collect more than $200,000 in fees, and then reduced them as part of a settlement. By then, though, much of Nick Battista’s hard earned gift of inheritance had been spent on the legal battle. I, also, provided documents showing the trustee had also collected more than $50,000 in fees from the estate in three years. It is illegal for a fiduciary to misappropriate money for personal gain. This trustee served as Arapahoe County’s public administrator for 12 years, a court appointment to distribute the assets of a deceased person who did not designate anyone to do so in his will. These attorneys are appointed by a court and expected to act with due regard as they are an arm of the court, and expected to avoid improprieties and even the appearance of impropriety.
So is money worth the heartache and loss, a family destroyed, siblings bitter and hostile toward one another? What of our legacy? They stole the dreams of Rose and Nick and the future of our family. A probate court destroyed our American dream.