Family mourns loss of loved one caught up in guardianship

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Following the death of a loved one, the loss became more painful because family members said a system that's supposed to protect families failed them.

Contact 13 began investigating problems with Clark County's guardianship system nearly a year ago, starting with a daughter who had to fight the courts to carry out her father's wishes.

"I miss him. I miss him immensely," Terri Black said.

Terri and her dad, Del Mencarelli, were very close.

Del passed away July 3. Now Terri sorts through the few personal belongings she recovered.

"Just a simple watch. You know nothing fancy," she said. "But this probably was Dad's favorite watch."

The family had a simple plan in place. If the time came when Del couldn't take care of himself, Terri would step in. But things didn't work out that way.

"If my dad knew how the end story of his life has gone, he would have been horrified," Terri said through tears. "This is not the way he wanted it to be. This is not the way he wanted to live out the remainder of his days."

Nearly two years ago, Alzheimer's disease was taking a toll on Del's health. Terri, and her husband Rick, came to Las Vegas to take him home to North Carolina, but Del's companion Helen Natko resisted, forcing Terri into a drawn-out and very expensive court battle.

"That's a hell that no one should ever be put through," Rick said.

Hearing Master Jon Norheim gave guardianship over Del to Natko, even though she's facing a felony charge of exploitation over money transferred from Del's accounts. The criminal charge is still pending.

"He's gone. He's gone," Terri said. "I've been wanting to care for him through the 2 years I've been out here in Nevada fighting as a daughter. And now he's gone."

Just recently Terri had reason to hope she would get to spend more time with her dad. Contact 13 was there when she won a small victory.

After Contact 13 started reporting about the guardianship system preventing families from caring for their loved ones, adult guardianship cases were taken away from Hearing Master Norheim and turned over to Judge Cynthia Steel, who granted Terri co-guardianship in June. Terri was able to visit her dad in the hospital.

"I fed him his dinner. We went dessert first, back to the meal," Terri explained. "And I will never forget just holding his hand and feeding him and telling him how much I love him and what a good father he has been to me."

Just one of the precious few memories Terri holds close to her heart of her father's final days.

"And we have to wait until he nearly dies to have the opportunity to spend time with him without a chaperone for more than 20 minutes," Rick said.

Del passed away less than two weeks after Terri finally got some say in his care. She and Rick believe the family court failed them -- isolating Del from his family and allowing Natko to keep him in her home despite his failing health.

Now, Terri vows to continue the fight for guardianship reform in her father's memory.

"We will help other people so that no one, no one will have to go through this hell that we have gone through, that we have lived through over the last two years," she said.

Natko's criminal case is scheduled for a hearing next month.

For more information, go to the newly created State Guardianship Commission's website. The next meeting is Aug. 17. The first meeting was held July 15.

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