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October 2010

Federal guardianship abuse probe raises major concerns

CNN has an interesting article today about a soon-to-be-released federal study by the Government Accountability Office, raising some major red flags about the guardianship system:

Some court-appointed guardians for incapacitated seniors are not screened before they're Elderly woman
appointed, and many are not monitored by the courts after they've taken over the affairs of their charges, resulting in hundreds of allegations of abuse, a federal probe found.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found allegations of abuse by legal guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to an advance copy of the report obtained by CNN. The report is scheduled to be released Wednesday.
In 20 cases studied by the office in which criminal or civil penalties resulted, investigators found that guardians stole at least $5.4 million in assets from 158 victims, the report said. In some instances, these same guardians abused or physically neglected the people they were supposed to help and protect.

In six of the 20 cases examined, the courts failed to screen guardians before giving them control over the financial affairs and care of their wards, the federal agency found.

You can read the full article here.

The study will be used by the Senate Special Committee on Aging to help implement changes at a national level, so that state court systems can change the way they screen, train and oversee professional guardians and others in the adult guardianship system, such as judges and other legal personnel.

Presently, it is up to each state to monitor, certify and select guardians, with no federal oversight at all.  There have been widespread reports of abuse and exploitation for many years; it is refreshing to see the federal government acting to intercede.

It is important to note, however, that flaws in the system and unscrupulous public guardians who take advantage of our country's weakest citizens, while very troubling, do not mean that the entire guardianship system or all professional guardians are bad.  There is room for improvement, but guardians play a very important role helping those seniors when no one else can.  There are bad apples in any profession, but most guardians are undervalued for the service they provide.

That reality does not change the fact that, clearly, new systems are needed in most states, as this investigation demonstrates.  Hopefully changes are coming soon.

If you have a loved one involved in a troubling guardianship situation, and suspect that a guardian is not doing his or her job properly, consider speaking with an experienced guardianship attorney to see what options you have.

Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.  Follow us on Facebook and Google+.

Dennis Hopper estate battle moving into high gear

It's ironic that the estate of the actor made famous through the movie Easy Rider is proving to be anything but an easy ride.  On one side sits Dennis Hopper's fifth wife, Victoria Duffy-Hopper.  On the other sit his trustees and children, spearheaded by daughter Marin Hopper.  Marin is the oldest daughter and is five years older than her "step-mother".  Think there's some bad blood there?  Dennis-Hopper

You bet there is.  Before Hopper died, he filed for divorce.  His wife claimed this move was driven by his children in an effort to cut her out of his estate plan.  According to the couple's prenuptial agreement, if they were divorced or no longer living together, then she would not inherit 25% of his estate and life insurance worth $250,000.

At first, it was reported that Duffy-Hopper would argue that they were still living together because the judge in their divorce case permitted her to remain on the same property with him, but in separate houses.  That was clearly an uphill battle.  It would have been a real stretch to call that "living together."

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Is Lisa Marie Presley really opposing Eliza Presley's lawsuit?

No one ever said it was easy trying to rewrite the history books.  But that's exactly what Eliza Presley's lawsuit seeks to do.  She has been battling for two years in court, trying to prove that Vernon Presley (father of Elvis) really is her father too, based on DNA evidence she's gathered.  That same DNA evidence also would show that Elvis is alive.  Lisa Marie Presley

So it's no wonder that there are people desperate to stop her.  Elvis Presley Enterprises makes 55 million dollars a year (as of 2009), which would be in serious jeopardy if Elvis was proven to actually be living.  Elvis makes a regular appearance on Forbes' annual list of top-earning deceased celebrities.

Clearly, someone is trying to oppose Eliza's lawsuit in court and stop her from trying to show the world that she is who she says she is and that Elvis is alive. 

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Panama court throws out will that left millions to poor children

It surely must rank as one of the most devastating will contest cases any country has ever seen ...  especially for the hundreds of thousands of impoverished children in Panama.   Wilson-Lucom

Wilson Lucom (pictured, right) was a wealthy tycoon from Florida whose third wife, Hilda, was from one of Panama's wealthiest families.  Hilda had previously been married to a powerful politician in the country and has five adult children from that marriage.  Wilson and Hilda lived in Panama when he died in 2006.

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It's baaaack ... The Anna Nicole Smith Case

It has to rank as one of the craziest, lengthiest and most-watched probate litigation court cases of all time.  It officially started as Vicki Lynn Marshall (a/k/a Anna Nicole Smith) vs. E. Pierce Marshall (son and sole beneficiary of the late oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall).  Anna-Nicole-Smith-Estate-Trial-and-Heirs

Originally, the Smith team won an $88 million against her "step-son", Pierce, but that victory was taken away by the Court of Appeals, which ended the fight.  That is, it was over until the United States Supreme Court ruled in Smith's favor and reinstated the case.

Then Pierce died, followed by Anna Nicole Smith.  But, just because they both passed away doesn't mean the fighting stopped!  Their two estates have continued to battle over the billions left behind by Smith's 90-year-old husband, 15 years after he died.

Then, this past March, the Court of Appeals again threw out the case (on a different legal ground).  Once again Smith's estate, with the infamous Howard K. Stern at the helm, asked the Supreme Court to step in and review the Court of Appeals' decision.

Continue reading "It's baaaack ... The Anna Nicole Smith Case" »