Edina woman gets control of life, may lose home

Isabelle Jessich got rid of her court-appointed guardian, but her house could be sold to pay legal fees.

Hospitalized last year, Isabelle Jessich could be forced to move back into a Robbinsdale nursing home.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Isabelle Jessich went to court Friday with two goals: to regain her liberty from a court-appointed guardian and to prevent him from selling her Edina home to pay $100,000 in fees for himself and seven lawyers.

Jessich succeeded in getting control of everything but her money, but she now faces the prospect of being sent back to a nursing home while her 17-year-old daughter could be placed in foster care.

Jessich, 57, has been battling for 20 months to take control of her life from Joseph Vogel, a professional guardian and conservator appointed by a Hennepin County judge in December 2008 to make decisions for her. Last year, Jessich made major strides to overcome the eating disorder, neurological problems and alcoholism that had made her a ward of the court. But Vogel would not let her leave a Robbinsdale nursing home and rejoin her daughter Allison, who was left to fend for herself.

After the Star Tribune reported on Jessich's situation in August 2009, state inspectors investigated and cited Robbinsdale Rehab and Care Center for failing to release Jessich. She moved back home in December. Since then, Jessich testified Friday, she has continued with physical therapy and other recovery activities. She said she is leading a "normal life."

But her struggle with Vogel over her finances could bring chaos back into her life. Vogel said he's owed almost $25,000, and lawyers in the case -- whose fees must be paid by Jessich -- have racked up more than $80,000 in bills. Vogel can't get access to Jessich's sizable inheritance in Belgium, worth at least $200,000, because Belgian officials don't recognize his authority, Vogel said.

In Hennepin County District Court on Friday, Vogel asked Judge Jay Quam for permission to sell Jessich's Edina home because it would be in her "best interest." He described the deal as a "last resort."

If the house were sold, the judge asked Vogel, what would happen to Jessich? Vogel said she would go back to the nursing home. Then Quam asked where Jessich's daughter would live. She could go into foster care, the guardian said, or perhaps be emancipated. Vogel said he didn't know how old she was.

Vogel blamed Jessich for the money crisis. "Had we had cooperation from Ms. Jessich, the bills would have been one-tenth of what they are, the estate would have been settled last June and Ms. Jessich would be in a far better financial position," he testified. "I think that's truly sad."

Jessich said her guardian turned her into a "prisoner." She said he kept her passport, preventing her from traveling to Belgium and dealing with the estate. "He's not helped me at all," she said.

Quam dismissed the guardianship, which means Jessich can make her own decisions about living arrangements. But for now, Vogel will continue to act as her conservator and handle Jessich's money on behalf of the court. Quam indicated he would rule on whether to end the conservatorship or allow Vogel to sell Jessich's house within a month.

That house was nearly lost at a foreclosure auction, but Jessich arranged for someone to pay the back mortgage payments. Jessich refused to identify her "guardian angel," and the judge warned that failing to answer the question would hurt her position.

When Jessich's daughter was asked how her mother manages the household finances, she said she keeps out of those decisions.

"I don't like how money affects people," Allison Jessich testified. "It makes monsters out of people."

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