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Family feud over what to do with Joy Culverhouse's body heats up in court filings

Joy Culverhouse’s competence in her final years is at issue.

Tribune photo

Joy Culverhouse’s competence in her final years is at issue.

TAMPA — The judge handling the probate case of Joy Culverhouse, millionaire widow of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' owner Hugh Culverhouse Sr., is being asked to prohibit an autopsy and allow her body to be cremated or buried on a "timely basis."

"The most important thing is having the decedent laid to rest,'' said a petition filed this week on behalf of attorney Robert Waltuch, the personal representative of Joy Culverhouse's estate. Although she died April 26 at age 96, her estranged children, Hugh Jr. and Gay Culverhouse, said they won't release her body from a Tampa funeral home unless Waltuch agrees to an autopsy and turns over her medical records.

In a counter petition filed Friday, the children ask that Waltuch and another lawyer in the same Tampa firm be disqualified from representing Joy Culverhouse's estate because they had borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies she controlled while her competency "was in serious question.'' The children want an independent administrator appointed to investigate alleged "self-dealing transactions'' by the two lawyers and by Culverhouse's grandson.

The dueling petitions are the latest salvos in what promises to be a pitched battle over whether Culverhouse was competent in her final years, as Waltuch says, or was so addled by age and alcohol that her grandson and employees were taking financial advantage of her, as her children claim.

In his petition, Waltuch acknowledges that Culverhouse's children, as her next of kin, have the right to decide on the disposition of her remains. But Gay Culverhouse and "Junior'' — as the petition repeatedly refers to Hugh Culverhouse Jr. — have no legal right to demand an autopsy or see their mother's medical records, the petition says.

Unless required by a medical examiner, an autopsy generally cannot be performed in Florida without the permission of the deceased's designated health surrogate — in this case, Culverhouse's grandson, Christopher Chapman.

"The decedent obviously had more faith and trust in her grandson than in either of her children,'' the petition says, adding that Chapman "has not and will not authorize an autopsy.''

The petition also says Culverhouse never signed a waiver under the federal HIPPA rules, which ensure privacy of medical records, that would have allowed her records to be shared with her children. Without that waiver from either her or her grandson, "the personal representative remains unwilling to provide access to decedent's medical records, which is consistent with the decedent's wishes,'' the petition says.

Attached to the petition are letters from a psychologist who examined Culverhouse in 2000 and a doctor who examined her in 2009. The earlier evaluation found that she "is not only functioning at a very high level of overall intelligence but is also free of any apparent defects in mental function.''

The 2009 evaluation, when Culverhouse was around 90, also found her to be a "highly intelligent woman'' who was mentally sharper than some people in their 20s and 30s.

"She accordingly appears capable of understanding and making rational decisions concerning the management of her financial affairs and there is no basis in these tests finding for considering her less than fully competent in this regard,'' Dr. Stephen Szabo of Tampa wrote.

Hugh Culverhouse Jr. said in a phone interview Thursday that all of his mother's medical records should be released now.

"You can't just give some and not all,'' he said. "By producing confidential medical records, you've waived access to the medical records before death. You can't waive HIPPA just to your advantage.''

In their petition filed Friday, Culverhouse Jr. and his sister say their mother abused alcohol and pain medications, and had "several episodes evidencing her failing competency," including threatening a nurse and employees with a knife. She spent time hospitalized, was committed to a mental health facility, and in May 2015 was placed in a nursing home, the petition states.

Culverhouse Jr. said complete medical records would show if his mother was competent enough to know that a company she owned was making mortgage loans to her grandson, Waltuch and others who worked for her.

In his petition, Waltuch says it was Joy Culverhouse's "regular practice'' to loan to individuals and businesses. Any loans he received, Waltuch added, "were appropriately documented and fully repaid'' before she died.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Family feud over what to do with Joy Culverhouse's body heats up in court filings 05/20/16 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2016 8:11pm]
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