You Can't Take It With You

By dying rich, Dora Pomeranc ensured that Dade's probate court would continue to be a very lively place

In October 1991, Pred was replaced by Shirley Levinson, one of five nieces A all sisters -- who were Dora's closest relatives. Of the nieces, Levinson was the only one with a permanent residence in Florida. At the outset, all her sisters but one endorsed her appointment as guardian, and soon she submitted an estimated monthly budget to the court. Although the living facility only cost $2400 per month, which included meals and housekeeping expenses, Levinson requested -- and the court approved -- a monthly budget of $7182. Less than six months later, Judge Newman agreed to boost the amount to $7647 per month. The sum, which included an allowance of $1000 for clothing and $1000 for entertainment, stunned Yedwab when he saw it listed in the court papers.

"You have a lady in her late eighties who's suffering senile dementia, who's living in [an adult congregate facility] A you can't spend $12,000 a year for clothing," Yedwab says indignantly. "People have clothing from their healthy years, and they take this clothing to the [facility]. Sometimes you have to buy a housecoat, you have to buy a pair of shoes, what have you. But in my many, many years of practice, I've never seen a guardianship where the expenses for clothing, toiletries, and beauty parlor ever came to more than $400 to $500 a year."

Moreover, close examination of the guardianship financial records revealed that during the first fourteen months of the guardianship, Levinson spent substantially more than she had originally estimated -- close to $8800 per month. Total guardianship expenses for those initial fourteen months came to nearly $123,000, according to an amended annual accounting submitted by Levinson. (The amended accounting was prompted by Yedwab's protests about omissions in the original.) That amount equaled about sixteen percent of the entire estate. After 34 months of guardianship, Dora died on June 22, 1994. The value of her estate had decreased by some $250,000.

Yedwab points out that Levinson was able to exceed the court-approved budget because she neglected to report an additional $1300 in monthly Social Security benefits that flowed into the guardianship's expense account. In fact, not until March 1994 were these Social Security funds reflected in Levinson's financial statements.

Detailed among the expenses in those first fourteen months were several gifts, including $1000 commemorating the birth of Levinson's grandchild and $1000 to Levinson herself, in the form of a check made out to All Flooring Brokers. (Yedwab says that expense was described in the original accountings as upkeep for Dora's condominium. After he questioned why the Levinsons were renovating a condominium that had been sold several months earlier, the accounts were amended to reflect that the check was actually a gift to Shirley Levinson for floor work in her own home.)

Although Levinson made sure her aunt remembered other relatives (records show that Dora gave $100 on the birth of a grandchild of Levinson's sister Evelyn), she arranged for Dora to be most generous with her guardian's family. In 1993 Aunt Dora gave Shirley's daughter $2000 for the birth of a child. The arrival of two more babies in Shirley Levinson's family prompted additional $1000 gifts to the proud parents. Judge Newman's order appointing Levinson as guardian, however, explicitly forbids her making gifts of Dora's property without court approval. (Neither Shirley Levinson nor her husband Martin would comment for this article. In court papers, the Levinsons have argued that all guardianship expenses were necessary in order to support Dora in the style she was accustomed to throughout her life.)

"Shirley made certain gifts and donations that she believed were consistent with what Dora would have done had she [been competent]," asserts attorney Sam Smith, who was hired by the Levinsons to oppose Yedwab. "If Judge Newman hears [at an upcoming hearing] about the gifts she made, and he believes that those are inappropriate, then they'll be put back [into the estate]." Regarding the unreported Social Security payments, Smith claims that all the money was spent on Dora's care, and points out that it was eventually reported in Levinson's amended annual accountings, submitted March 31, 1995.

"Shirley took care of her aunt for all these years," Smith continues. "She tried to give her the best of care, and now upon her death, two nieces are unhappy. They're saying, 'Why did you spend so much money on this poor old lady? Why didn't you save some for us?'"

Levinson's efforts on behalf of her aunt can hardly be characterized as selfless, however. Court papers show she kept a careful tally of every minute she dedicated to her aunt, billing the guardianship at the rate of $75 per hour (the customary rate for many Dade County guardians) for services such as phone calls, reading and sorting papers, attending birthday parties, participating in shopping excursions to Bloomingdale's, and accompanying Dora to doctors' appointments. From October 15, 1991, to November 26, 1991, Levinson calculated, she spent 74.5 hours with her aunt, and she submitted a bill for $5587. (Judge Newman, who did not respond to a request for an interview with New Times, eventually approved about half that amount.)

Levinson justified her bill with a detailed description of her daily activities. For example, on October 20, she logged 2.5 hours. "Dora is having difficulty integrating and adapting at the Palace," she wrote. "However, the staff is very patient. It has been suggested that she get a companion to help her. I spent time calling people and agencies to get her a companion." And on October 21, Levinson recorded that she and Dora spent 6.5 hours visiting the Jewish Community Center. Afterward they "went shopping because [Dora] likes that best of all. Had some yogurt, then back to the Palace."

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