DELAND, Fla. — Last July, we reported on a controversial eight-year-long guardianship in which state investigators already uncovered wrongdoing.
New developments have led a family to call court-ordered guardianship in Florida “a civil rights violation."
The I-Team introduced you to retired school administrator Dr. Lillie Sykes White last July.
Her sister and niece say she was isolated from most of her family by a professional guardian during a legal battle over her trust for several years.
“I never thought anything like this could've happened,” White said, in a 2018 video shared with the I-Team by her niece Terri Kennedy.
White was removed from her home in August 2016 and taken to an assisted living facility.
When asked by Terri on the video if she wanted to see her sister, White said, “Of course I do. I’ve always wanted to see her.”
A detective tracked her down, so they bought airline tickets
That reunion of Lillie, her sister Jane and her niece Terri wasn’t supposed to happen.
Her guardian, with a judge’s permission, forbid most of her family from knowing where she was or communicating with her.
But Jane and Terri used the services of a detective, who worked pro bono, to track her down.
“We weren’t even sure she was really there. But the private investigator said there’s a high chance. So we bought a ticket and flew from New York to Florida,” Terri Kennedy said.
“We were lucky because it was a holiday or a weekend or something. So the regular people who were supposed to keep us away I guess weren’t on,” said Jane Kennedy, Lillie’s sister. “When I saw her, you never know how great that was. And when she saw me, 'oh my God,' the twinkle in her eyes and the smile and the hugs. Wonderful!”
“My mom had dark glasses on because she had been crying and crying and crying. And didn’t want her sister to see that,” Terri said.
In the months that followed, Terri and Jane say the guardian ignored their requests to contact Lillie.
“I just wanted to hear her voice. She probably wanted to hear my voice too,” said Jane.
“You needed a passcode to speak with her. No one gave us the passcode,” said Terri.
Watchdog agency found wrongdoing
In 2019, the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians, the watchdog agency assigned to investigate complaints against professional guardians, found that Lillie’s guardian violated multiple sections of Florida’s guardianship law.
But the agency didn’t take any action, saying her conduct was mitigated “by the complexity of the family relationships."
Terri met with Florida Secretary of Elder Affairs Richard Prudom last year.
OPPG falls under his department's jurisdiction.
“Secretary Prudom, when we met in January 2020 said file another complaint. I will expedite it,” Terri said.
But after filing a new complaint, Terri and Jane say they never heard anything from the state.
OPPG’s policy is not to comment on any active or pending investigations.
In November 2018, Lillie’s original guardian resigned and a family member was appointed as her new guardian.
That person is not under the jurisdiction of OPPG, since she is not a registered professional guardian in the State of Florida.
“She dies alone without her family knowing”
The meeting in 2018 was the last time Jane and Terri spoke to Lillie.
“And now my sister’s gone. She’s gone,” said Jane, fighting back tears.
“She dies alone without her family knowing. And two weeks later we find out,” said Terri.
Earlier this week, they received her death certificate, which said Lillie died Dec. 31 of respiratory failure and pneumonia related to COVID-19.
“They should have at least said ok, you can talk to her. She’s not doing well. They didn’t do that. They just let her die,” Jane said.
“Now she’s dying and you still don’t let her 85-year-old sister speak to her? There are no words for that,” said Terri.
Terri says her life’s mission is to tell her aunt Lillie's story and push for changes.
“My aunt’s case reveals the cruelty of unchecked power. Being able to isolate and exploit a senior in secrecy under the guise of protecting her,” Terri said.
“Lillie’s life matters. They have violated her civil rights. My civil rights. The civil rights of all of our family members,” said Jane.
If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email us at email@example.com