We’ve all heard the horror stories that come from probate courts relating to bad guardians; these are the people who are court appointed to look after the well-being and finances of children too young to look after themselves.
Betty J. Coleman is the very definition of a ‘bad guardian’ as she lied about her criminal past in order to be named as the guardian of her granddaughter’s estate. When Coleman’s ex-husband died, the 14 year old girl received an inheritance of $50,000. However, Coleman managed to spend the entire sum within five months; the expenditure mainly covered her own needs which included alcohol, cigarettes and rent.
In a sordid twist, some of the money was spent on Coleman’s current husband is who is jail for sexually assaulting the girl receiving the inheritance. While her money has been frittered away, the girl has been sleeping on an uninflated air mattress in an unfurnished room of another relative.
A Sorry Tale
The probate court first heard about Coleman’s crime in 2013 and the girl won a default judgement of $150,000 the following year after claims of fraud, theft and breach of fiduciary duty were made. In March 2015, Coleman was charged with contempt of court and embezzlement but she pleaded not guilty and was released on $500 bail while she works on a plea deal.
When Coleman’s ex-husband died in 2012, it transpired that he had a life insurance policy worth $50,000 which was to be paid to his granddaughter. Coleman has divorced her ex-husband five years previously. She applied to become the guardian of the girl’s estate at Milwaukee County Probate Court in 2013 and while she admitted a conviction for using the credit card of her parents without their consent, she did not disclose several other convictions for identity theft, forgery and theft; these convictions were received under a different name.
She was appointed guardian in April 2013 and the following month she received the inheritance in the form of two cheques. The terms of the inheritance specified that $20,000 was to be deposited and left alone until the girl turned 18 while the rest of the cash was to be managed in the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, Coleman had no intention of following these orders and began spending the money on her needs. She managed to buy time with the probate court by forging bank records.
Within days, she had spent thousands of dollars at various stores including Wal-Mart and Best Buy and purchased all manner of goods including wigs and jewellery. Most of the money was taken via cash withdrawals although just over $2,000 was deposited into a joint account that Coleman shared with her granddaughter. There was also evidence that some of the money may have been spent on the girl.
Coleman’s current husband Roosevelt is in Jackson Correctional Institute where he was sent for sexually assaulting Coleman’s granddaughter in 2010. He was given six years in prison and another three years of supervised release. Despite his crime, Coleman deposited some of the girl’s inheritance into Roosevelt’s prison account.
The attorneys involved in the case refuse to talk about the case and little is known of the girl’s parents. Once Coleman failed to appear in court and provide records, Sara Eberhardy was made guardian. When she tried to recover the remaining assets she found just $25 in one account.
According to Eberhardy, the civil judgment is virtually worthless since Coleman has no intention of repaying the money. The original judge on the case did not ask Coleman to post a bond despite the fact that it is standard practice to prevent a guardian from stealing inheritance money. This error has had serious repercussions for the unfortunate young girl at the centre of the case.