By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — Airline tickets, Air Pods, massage therapy.

Those are just some of the gifts one woman gave to her spiritual caregiver before passing away.

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But the woman’s nephew later found out his aunt also left the cargiver a half-million dollars in her will and he’s claiming it’s a case of elder financial abuse.

Lauren Victory looks into the dispute that’s now headed for court.

“She loved people, she loved kids, she loved teaching,” said Ed Schwitzky, reliving fond memories of his late aunt, Hanna Schwitzy Lord. “Because my aunt was a teacher she traveled during the summers and she’d call my parents and say, ‘Can Eddie go with me to the world’s fair’ or to wherever it was.”

Ed Schwitzky thought he knew what was going on in his aunt’s life.

“Gosh, I talked to my aunt every day.”

But there was something she wasn’t telling him: After she died, she left $500,000 to her spiritual caregiver, Elizabeth Butler Jameson, a former priest at St. Simon’s church in Arlington Heights.

Hanna’s husband was receiving end-of-life spiritual care from Elizabeth. After he passed away, Elizabeth and Hanna grew closer.

“Every conversation became about Elizabeth,” Ed Schwitzky said.

And as their relationship developed, Hanna gave Elizabeth more and more gifts–including massages and AirPods and airline tickets. Seven months before she passed away, Hanna revised her will to leave Elizabeth a substantial sum–almost $500,000.

Although Ed was the executor of his aunt’s estate, he was never told about the change.

“All of this development last fall was terribly surprising and disturbing,” said Ed.

After Ed found out about the trust and gifts, he submitted a Title IV complaint with the Episcopal Diocese. The Diocese said Elizabeth shouldn’t have accepted the gifts. However, because she was retired when she received almost all them, it wasn’t possible to suspend her.

The Diocese ultimately dismissed the investigation.

Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee did reach out to Elizabeth and the two agreed it was inappropriate for her to be named a beneficiary.  In an email to Ed, Elizabeth said she would forfeit the $500,000.

But when Ed tried to reach a settlement with Elizabeth, she backed out of the agreement.

“It’s gut wrenching, it’s emotionally draining, and I would hope no one else goes through this,” Ed said.

Elizabeth is disputing that and accusing Ed of filing a lawsuit instead of following through with the plan. She released the following statement, including emails between herself and Ed:

“August 22, 2020 – 6:25pm

Ed and Mary Ellen,

I understand that Hanna has now died, may she rest in peace.  I am sorry for the tremendous loss in all of our lives.

I am sending this to both of you, as I assume one or both of you are executors of her estate.

I have been advised that I am named as a transfer-on-death beneficiary of one or more accounts that Hanna created. I very much appreciate Hanna’s thoughtfulness toward me, but as I told her several times, I wish from her only the friendship we have shared.

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I therefore intend to disclaim any interest in the TOD account.  I will sign the necessary document(s) to do so if they can be provided to me.

Elizabeth Jameson

***

August 22, 2020 – 6:55pm

That would be I.

Documents will be provided for assets held at Edward Jones and Parkway Bank, plus any other assets we may discover naming Elizabeth Butler Jameson as TOD or POD beneficiary.

Ed Schwitzky”

Rather than following through and, as promised, providing the Rev. Jameson with the necessary documentation for her to disclaim all of the relevant proceeds from the subject accounts, Mr. Schwitzky instead filed a lawsuit against the Rev. Jameson seeking recovery of in excess of $1.4 million, plus his attorneys’ fees.

The Rev. Jameson expressly denies any liability and will continue to vigorously defend against such frivolous and vexatious litigation.

This matter will be resolved in court, not through one-sided reporting of Mr. Schwitzky’s misleading allegations and/or contrived suppositions.

With no results from the Diocese and a settlement off the table, Ed filed a civil lawsuit accusing Elizabeth of committing elder financial abuse.

Until a judge rules on this case, we won’t know if Elizabeth will be held legally responsible. We do know elder financial abuse is a big problem. We spoke to an attorney not connected to this case.

“Statistics show that we really have an epidemic of financial exploitation occurring against older adults,” said Kerry Peck, managing partner at Peck-Ritchey.

Peck’s a Chicago attorney who’s dedicated much of his career to these cases. Since 2016, the Illinois Department of Aging has confirmed more than 14,000 elder financial abuse claims (14,359).

But those numbers are only part of the picture. Peck said the cases are largely underreported.

Peck worked with the Department of Aging to strengthen laws protecting seniors — including a statute about caregivers..

“If a caregiver receives in excess of $20,000 in value it’s presumed to be fraudulent and the caregiver has the burden of proof to demonstrate that it’s not a fraudulent transfer,” Peck said.

While Ed’s case against Elizabeth will have to play out in court, he’s speaking out to prevent this from happening to others.

“If I could do something that could slow this down or stop this from happening, you know one person, one preacher or one church, one diocese,” he said.

Full statement from the diocese:

On August 19, 2020, Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee received a complaint from Ed Schwitzky, alleging that the Rev. Elizabeth Jameson, a priest of the diocese, had engaged in a financially exploitative relationship with his aunt, Hanna Lord. Ms. Lord, a member of the parish the Rev. Jameson had previously served as rector, was dying of cancer, and intended to leave a significant bequest to the Rev. Jameson, who had recently retired on disability due to a brain injury.

Ms. Lord died the following day. On August 21, Bishop Lee issued a pastoral directive  to the Rev. Jameson affirming her decision to decline any inheritance that might be left to her, and directing her “to sign ‘Disclaim of Rights as Beneficiary’ forms for any pertinent accounts that name you as beneficiary.”

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The diocese also conducted an extensive disciplinary investigation into the Rev. Jameson’s relationship with Ms. Lord under Title IV of the canons of the Episcopal Church. Such procedures seek to establish a factual record and to foster reconciliation between parties. Given the Rev. Jameson’s permanent retirement from pastoral ministry and the bishop’s directive forbidding her from benefitting from Ms. Lord’s will, the diocese believed the case had been settled appropriately. The case was dismissed in late September 2020. Mr. Schwitzky did not exercise his right to appeal.

Lauren Victory