Due to lifelong mental disability, in 1988, when Ms. Banks was 18, an Indiana court appointed her mother and step-father as her legal guardians. In 1997, following the death of Ms. Banks’ step-father, the Indiana court appointed her maternal aunt, Lavaughnda Rayoum, who lived in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, as her co-guardian. In 2006, Ms. Banks’ mother began suffering health problems and moved with her daughter to Ste. Genevieve, and Ms. Rayoum then began caring for both Ms. Banks and her mother, including handling their financial affairs and attending to their daily needs.
In November 2007, Ms. Banks’ sister, Kimberly Banks-Haines, petitioned for appointment as Ms. Banks’ guardian and conservator of her estate. In January 2008, Ms. Banks’ mother and Ms. Rayoum filed an objection to Ms. Banks-Haines’ petition as well as a cross-petition seeking appointment as guardian and conservator. Ms. Banks’ mother died before a hearing was held. Following her mother’s death, Ms. Banks resided continuously at Ms. Rayoum’s home, along with Ms. Rayoum’s mentally disabled sister, where Ms. Rayoum provided for all of Ms. Banks’ needs, including finding her employment at the local sheltered workshop. In June 2008, the trial court held a hearing on Ms. Banks-Haines’ petition and Ms. Rayoum’s cross-petition.
The Circuit Court of Ste. Genevieve County entered a judgment appointing Ms. Rayoum as Ms. Banks’ guardian and conservator. Ms. Banks-Haines appealed.
A court has discretion to appoint an aunt over an adult sibling as guardian and conservator of a disabled person, even when both are willing and qualified to serve, when such appointment serves the best interests of the disabled person.
An adult sibling and an aunt are both in the same preference class in RSMo. §475.050.1, which governs the appointment of guardians and conservators. RSMo. §475.050.1(3) provides, in pertinent part, that a court shall consider the suitability of appointing “[t]he spouse, parents, adult children, adult brothers and sisters and other close adult relatives of the incapacitated or disabled person.” The statute’s language does not create sub-preferences within this class of relatives, and no case law has interpreted the statute in such a manner. Additionally, RSMo. §475.050.1 clearly permits a court to use its discretion in appointing guardians or conservators despite statutory preference when such appointment serves the best interests of the disabled person. When two relatives are both “suitable and fit to act,” the trial court should consider the disabled person’s best interests when determining which relative should serve, and it does not have to show preference to the closer relative.