In early March, I wrote this article about how one of the granddaughters of famed media mogul William Randolph Hearst -- she of the 2.1 billion dollar net worth -- was fighting family members who felt she was no longer competent to manage her affairs. They were worried she was being exploited and taken advantage of because she kept give people large checks (in the six-figure range).
Phoebe Hearst Cooke went through multiple attorneys trying to prove she could manage her own affairs. Meanwhile, a court-appointed guardian handled her finances, selling some of her prized horses and cattle, which upset Cooke.
A few days ago, the court was scheduled to hold a trial to determine if she was truly competent or not. Interestingly, the family requested that the hearing be closed to the public to keep the details from being sorted out in front of the media. The judge denied the request.
The trial then ended very quickly. Cooke withdrew her opposition to her family's efforts and agreed to a conservatorship. The judge appointed her twin brother, George Hearst, Jr., and his son, to act as her conservators. No witnesses were called to testify because Cooke agreed to the resolution.
Family fights over guardianships and other probate-related issues are not only expensive, emotional and difficult, but they are also very public. Anyone who doesn't want their family to go through a public airing of dirty laundry needs to do the proper estate planning, complete with a will and/or trust, power of attorney, and patient advocate or living will documents.
That's the best way to avoid a court battle such as the one the Hearst family was forced to have. Trust me, you're better off hiring a good estate planning attorney now, then forcing your family to hire a probate litigation attorney like me later.
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+