Max Farash of Rochester, New York made hundreds of millions through a very successful career, owning and developing real estate. Estimates of his estate's worth range between 200 and 500 million dollars. A very charitable man, Farash established a foundation that has already given two million dollars over the last ten years to various charitable causes. Farash planned for most of his vast wealth to pass to his foundation when he dies.
So what's the problem? Farash is 95 years old and has been legally incompetent for two years, because of dementia. The court appointed a local lawyer to serve as his guardian, instead of his daughter, Lynn Farash. During his first year serving as guardian, attorney James Gocker and those working for him earned $1.5 million from Farash's estate.
Lynn Farash is understandably upset. Her guardianship lawyer is fighting Gocker's request because of the strong sentimental attachment she has to the properties. Her dad, Lynn says, is but a shell of his former self, and she shouldn't be deprived of the fond memories these properties provide -- especially since her father's wishes spelled out in the will are so clear.
But Gocker is trying to balance Farash's bequests to Lynn with preserving as much money for charity as possible. He agrees that the sales proceeds should be given to Lynn when her father passes, so she will still get equal value, he claims. Lynn undoubtedly feels that the money can never replace the sentimental attachment she feels for the homes. You can read the article here.
This case highlights a big problem with guardianships. While they serve a necessary role in every state, they do cause people to lose control. They also can be quite expensive, as is the case here. Farash's wishes as set forth in his will should be respected, but you never know what may happen when a court-appointed guardian is making the decisions.
The really sad part is that Farash could have avoided all this with proper estate planning. For a man of his obvious wealth, he should have hired the best lawyer in town to draft proper revocable living trust and power of attorney documents. That way, Farash could have hand selected someone he trusted to manage his property in a manner he wanted, once Farash lost the ability to do so himself. And if he had done the proper estate planning, he wishes would have been followed without any court involvement.
Perhaps Farash procrastinated. Perhaps he didn't like spending money on attorneys. Perhaps he didn't like to think of his own mortality. Whatever the reason, Farash's daughter and charitable foundation are both paying a far more expensive price than the proper estate planning would have cost.
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 @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+