Close this search box.

Petition Is Dismissed, But Nephew Must Pay Aunt’s Fees

Print Article

MARCH 30, 1998 VOLUME 5, NUMBER 39

In last week’s Elder Law Issues, we described the Wisconsin case of Evelyn O. In that case, a community agency sought the appointment of a guardian for two women, Evelyn O. and Thyra K. Even though the guardianship petitions were successful, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that the agency could not force the women’s estates to pay the cost of the guardianship proceedings.

Margaret Rennhack, a New York woman, faced the opposite problem. Ms. Rennhack’s legal problems actually began, however, with her brother’s death.

Ms. Rennhack and her late brother owned several rental properties together. Before his death, a nephew had been appointed as conservator for the brother and had handled the rentals. After her brother’s death, Ms. Rennhack sought appointment as his executor in the New York courts so that she could take over the management of the properties.

[Ed. note–In New York the person who is appointed to handle financial affairs of another is a “guardian of the estate.” We have used the more familiar term “conservator” here to avoid confusion.]

Ms. Rennhack’s sister objected to her appointment as executor of their brother’s estate. Her son (the same nephew who had handled Ms. Rennhack’s brother’s property as conservator) filed a conservatorship proceeding against Ms. Rennhack herself.

The nephew, Steven Naimoli, and his mother alleged that Ms. Rennhack had a “long-standing history of mental illness.” Mr. Naimoli also argued that Ms. Rennhack was under the influence of a neighbor, who was directing her financial arrangements. An evaluator was appointed by the court to determine whether Ms. Rennhack really needed a conservator.

Mr. Naimoli first sought the removal of Ms. Rennhack’s attorney by arguing that the attorney would be a witness to Ms. Rennhack’s alleged inability to handle her financial affairs. Before a hearing could be held on that request, the court-appointed evaluator reported his findings and recommended that no conservator be appointed.

Mr. Naimoli then moved to dismiss his own petition. The judge agreed to the dismissal, but not until he ordered Mr. Naimoli to pay Ms. Rennhack’s legal fees and the fees of the court-appointed evaluator. Those fees amounted to nearly $8,000.

A key element in the judge’s order was his finding that Mr. Naimoli had not acted in good faith when he brought the conservatorship proceeding against his aunt. Ms. Rennhack had signed documents to eliminate her neighbor’s influence over her finances, and her nephew said that the conservatorship was no longer needed. But, said the judge, if Mr. Naimoli had really believed that his aunt was incompetent, he would not have relied on the documents she signed to resolve the problem.

The real reason for Mr. Naimoli’s conservatorship filing, according to the judge, was “a power struggle over control of his late uncle’s estate, coupled with his distrust of Mrs. Rennhack’s long-standing friend, and he was ill-advised” to have filed the proceeding. As a consequence, Mr. Naimoli was ordered to pay Ms. Rennhack’s fees for the lawyer she was “required to engage in defending the actions of her overly aggressive nephew.” Matter of Rennhack, Nassau County, New York, Supreme Court, December 29, 1997.

Taken together, these two cases illustrate some of the financial problems which can make filing a conservatorship petition difficult. Last week’s Wisconsin case established that a successful petitioner might not be able to recover legal fees. The Rennhack case demonstrates that an unsuccessful petitioner might have to pay not only his own legal fees, but also the fees incurred by the person he intended to protect.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our Newsletter to get our takes on some of the situations families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities find themselves in. These posts help guide you in the decision making process and point out helpful tips and nuances to take advantage of. Enter your email below to have our entries sent directly to your inbox!

Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.