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Peter Falk may need a guardian

Sadly, the daughter of actor Peter Falk, age 81, has filed for guardianship / conservatorship over her father.  Catherine Falk recently initiated legal proceedings in Los Angeles County Superior Court (which is what the local probate court is called there) due to her father's Alzheimer's disease.  She asks for the appointment of a conservator over his person (called guardianship in most states) because he "requires full-time custodial care for his health and safety."  She also asks for a conservator over his finances to make his financial decisions to protect him from "fraud or undue influence" because she is worried that he may be deceived into transferring away his property.Falk 2

Guardianships and Conservatorships are probate court proceedings where people ask a judge to declare someone legally incapable of making appropriate decisions and to appoint someone to make decisions for him or her.  These, like other legal proceedings, are public records and can be difficult and expensive when conflicts or other problems arise.

Like other probate court matters, they can usually be avoided.  If Peter Falk had a proper estate plan, including a power of attorney, he could have named his daughter or someone else he trusted to make his decisions for him if the time came when he no longer could.  Of course, even when someone has a power of attorney, court proceedings like these can still be necessary if there is family conflict.

In my practice, I have handled dozens of contested guardianship and conservatorship cases.  They aren't pretty for anyone involved.   It's never easy for families when a loved one has Alzheimer's or dementia.  It's much worse when that condition acts as a spark to ignite a family feud. 

Let's hope that Peter Falk's family is able to get through his without a guardianship fight. His daughter, Catherine, is from his first marriage.  Peter has been married to his second wife, Shera Danese, for more than 30 years.  It is interesting that his daughter, not his wife, filed these legal proceedings.  We'll have to keep an eye on this to see if Catherine and Shera can agree.  In many second marriage situations, big problems arise in this exact scenario.  Stay tuned . . .

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at awmayoras @

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