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Ken Schmidt: ‘I can do what I want now’

June 29, 2015
Written by Shannon Mullen

Ken Schmidt had all but given up hope of ever being released from a restrictive guardianship when he wrote to the Asbury Park Press in July 2013.

“Can you please get someone to help a victim who has had everything taken away,” the 74-year-old man pleaded.

These weren’t the ramblings of someone in the throes of Alzheimer’s or dementia. The handwriting was neat. The thoughts were rational. The desperation, palpable.

To read Ken Schmidt’s letter, click here.

When the Press visited Schmidt in a Toms River assisted living facility, it was obvious from his command of current events, the thrillers he was reading, and his grasp of the legal steps that led to his guardianship that he wasn’t “incapacitated.”

Schmidt’s ordeal began in January 2012 when he fell outside his Toms River townhouse and hit his head. Disabled by a traumatic brain injury, he legitimately needed a guardian to make decisions for him.

But Schmidt got better. Months of therapy restored his ability to speak, write and think clearly. Yet his requests to be released from his guardianship fell on deaf ears.

The months wore on, with no change in his status. The state agency responsible for Schmidt’s care, the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults, hadn’t bargained on him making a full recovery. By this time, the agency had disposed of most of Schmidt’s belongings and allowed his townhouse to slip into foreclosure.

With no money and no legal rights, there was little Schmidt could do. But when the Press published a front page story about his predicament, readers were outraged. The story attracted the attention of a Toms River attorney, Joseph J. LaCosta. He later visited with Schmidt, and agreed to take up his case, free of charge.

It took several months, but in December 2013 LaCosta ultimately got Schmidt back in front of an Ocean County judge, who agreed to restore his full legal rights. Schmidt was a free man again. But he had no money and virtually no possessions.

That’s where Press readers came in. They donated more than $4,000 to help get Schmidt back on his feet. Strangers showed up at his door with furniture and kitchen supplies. One woman took him shopping at the mall.

The outpouring of generosity was overwhelming for Schmidt. Long divorced, he was estranged from his two daughters and led an isolated life.

Today, he’s enjoying the freedoms that were stripped away from him when he became a ward of the state.

“I can do what I want now,” Schmidt, now 76, told the Press recently. “If I want to go to the store, if I want to buy something, I can do it. When they had me in captivity in there, I couldn’t do anything.”

He now shares his home with a health aide he met at his former assisted living facility.

Ken Schmidt, Toms River, and his girlfriend Myrna Maghintay. Schmidt was freed from a restrictive legal guardianship in 2013 after his story was featured in the Asbury Park Press.

“I’ve got somebody to talk to, it’s nice. I was lonely. I lived by myself for years and finally, I found somebody,” he said.

“I’m happy right now,” he said. “I’ve got a home. I’ve got my health pretty well intact. That’s all I need.”

At the same time, he knows there are others in the situation he was in who aren’t as fortunate. Some are being neglected or taken advantage of by the guardians entrusted with their care.

Schmidt said a woman who recognized him from the newspaper approached him one day and said, “That happened to my mother, too.”

“It seems like it’s more common than anybody realizes,” he said.

The guardianship system, Schmidt believes, needs a complete overhaul. If it were up to him, he’d start by curbing the powers of the Office of the Public Guardian. The state’s laws currently exempt the agency from having to file regular reports about the wards under its care.

“You’re stuck. You can’t get out. If it wasn’t for (the Press), I’d still be in the system. That’s the honest truth,” he said.

“It was the power of the paper that did it.”

Shannon Mullen: 732-643-4278;

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