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Home care, friendship, real estate make a messy mix

Linda Henry put her former home care aide’s name on the deed to her house. They had a falling out and Henry wants the woman’s name off the deed, but the aide refuses to comply.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Linda Henry put her former home care aide’s name on the deed to her house. They had a falling out and Henry wants the woman’s name off the deed, but the aide refuses to comply.

HOLIDAY — Linda Henry liked Linda Alden.

She liked her so much that early last year she had Alden's name added to the deed to her home. She wanted Alden to inherit the place when she died.

Then this summer, their relationship fell apart. Henry demanded Alden take her name off the deed. Alden refused. Now, a standoff.

Perhaps their story might be just a cautionary tale of mixing friendship and real estate. But there is more.

Henry, 59, is disabled. She can't walk, can't handle her finances, can't leave her house without a special transport service. She has no close relatives or friends.

Until August, Alden, 70, had been Henry's home health aide for nearly three years. Weekdays, for five hours a day, and Saturdays, for three hours, she bathed Henry, cooked for her, dressed her, helped her with medical appointments.

"We were absolutely shocked," said Joanne Doyle, a supervisor for Interim Healthcare, a large Florida-based home care services provider that sent Alden to Henry. "And we're not utilizing Linda Alden at this time."

Whatever the intentions behind it, the transaction highlights the sometimes complicated relationship between caregiver and patient and raises concerns among professionals in the home health care industry.

Aides can become part of the family, especially for clients who have no one else, said Gene Tischer, a director with trade group Home Care Association of Florida.

"You can develop very long relationships," he said.

But that's precisely why most home health agencies, including Interim, have strict rules about gift giving. (There is no state law forbidding it.) Whatever their relationship, Tischer said, caregivers can't give even the appearance of using their position to influence patients.

"You have no business accepting anything from a patient," said Tischer. "It's unethical."

Bill Aycrigg, president and chief executive of Community Aging and Retirement Services Inc. (CARES), said his agency's home health care program also forbids employees from accepting gifts from patients.

Over the years, the issue has come up frequently, as many patients try to show their appreciation to the people who take care of them. Aycrigg said the agency tries to encourage patients to instead make a donation to CARES on behalf of their favorite nurses or aides.

Sometimes even volunteers inspire gifts: A CARES volunteer recently learned that a patient had willed him her home, said Aycrigg. If the volunteer agrees to take the home, Aycrigg said, he can no longer volunteer for the agency.

"You want to respect the client's freedom of choice," he said. But "we just don't want to have any issue where someone could bring up exploitation."

• • •

The story of Linda Henry and Linda Alden illustrates just how messy these situations can get.

Henry lives alone in a modest Holiday Lakes home that her late father bought in 1985. Her name was added to the deed in 1989. The home is valued at $109,580 by the Pasco property appraiser's office and is paid off.

She says she hasn't walked since 2000. That's when she was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which attacks her muscles and burns her skin. She said she also has bipolar disorder, for which she takes medication.

She is obese, and her swollen, purple legs are of little use. She gets around in a wheelchair and spends her days writing poetry — "I'm a world famous poet on the Internet," she says, by way of introduction — and putting together puzzles.

Her father looked after her until his death in 2005. After that, a social services agency connected her with Interim Healthcare, which sent Alden to look after her.

Early last year, Henry and Alden went to see New Port Richey lawyer Jonathan Smith. Henry was adamant about adding Alden to the deed to the home, Smith recalled.

"My understanding was she wanted it to go to Alden because of her regard for her," Smith said. He asked her to think hard about it and come back to him.

"I typically tell people they should be loath to add other people's names to their real estate," he said. "Human relationships are impossible to predict."

Henry and Alden left. But Henry contacted him again, saying she was certain she wanted to do it. In March 2007, the two women signed a quit claim deed that transferred the home from Henry to Henry and Alden.

• • •

Today, the two women give contradicting accounts of what was behind their decision. Henry says Alden pressured her into giving her half the home. Alden says Henry pressured her into taking it.

Whatever the case, the relationship between the two women ended in August of this year after Alden went on a vacation. Henry got a temporary replacement aide, Tammy Armstrong.

Henry said Armstrong opened her eyes about problems with Alden. Alden said the new aide turned Henry against her.

The real estate dispute had begun.

Smith, Henry's lawyer, sent Alden paperwork asking her to sign off on a new quit claim deed that puts the property solely in Henry's name. Alden never responded.

Alden gives a complicated rationale for her desire to hold on to her interest in Henry's home. She said Henry is not capable of handling her own affairs, and she wants to use the house as leverage to persuade the state to appoint Henry a legal guardian. (Guardianship matters are decided by judges, not by state officials.)

Besides, she noted, she already has her own home, which is valued at $106,270, in Hillandale Estates. Alden filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 2007.

"The only plan I have is to try to find her a legal guardian," said Alden. "If it takes me hanging on to this house till they find one, I will."

• • •

If Alden does not agree to reconvey to Henry her interest in the home, Henry's only other remedy would be to take her to court.

Henry says she does not have the money to do that. But she wants Alden's name off the deed. She's found someone trustworthy she wants to add to the deed instead: Tammy Armstrong, her new home health aide.

At first, Armstrong said she'd take it. But then she changed her mind. She said she told Henry that if she ever gets Alden's name off the deed, she should not add anybody else.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Home care, friendship, real estate make a messy mix 12/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:34pm]
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