Ugo di Portanova. Quite a name . . . and quite a story. The Houston Chronicle had an interesting feature today about this heir to a massive oil fortune. Di Portanova has assets valued at more than $65 million (which he largely inherited). So you'd assume he'd wield great power with all that money, right? Sadly, it's just the opposite.
Di Portanova has been declared legally incapacitated (at least in part) continuously since 1967. After a long fight, he won the right to manage $1,000 per month, marry who he wants, and make a will. But he lost his quest to end the guardianship, so he has almost no say in management of his own money or other important decisions in his life.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, di Portanova, now age 74, has lost more than the right to make most of his financial and other decisions. He has also lost many millions of dollars to exorbitant legal fees, guardian and trustee salaries, court costs, and related expenses. The Chronicle reviewed decades worth of court records and tabbed the total bill at more than $50 million.
Almost $5 million of that was spent in the last year alone. During that time, many of his 10 trustees and numerous guardians, guardian at litems, and court-appointed attorneys fought for a year against each in court, over claims of abuse and mismanagement. A recent settlement ended the legal war and reduced the number of trustees from 10 to 3, saving future fees. But, as the Chronicle article points out, di Portanova would have to live 20 more years to break even from the costs of the litigation he was forced to endure, against his own wishes.
Tales of guardianship abuse are all too common in many states in our country, especially when wealthy, incompetent seniors have no choice but to pay expensive guardians, conservators and trustees that they never chose. Often judges are forced to to appoint independent attorneys and other professional guardians to protect incompetent people because of family disharmony or a lack of suitable relatives. Often, however, the price of that protection can be difficult to swallow.
Just ask di Portanova. He wanted to be left out of court fights, and free to give his money to a couple of dear friends who helped care for him for decades. The professionals appointed to protect him fear that the friends are taking advantage of his weakened mental state to convince him to make lavish gifts.
The guardianship system is often murky, expensive and wasteful. Yet, guardianships are often unnecessary evils that have to be endured so incompetent people aren't left alone with no protection.
Indeed, with no guardians or trustees, di Portanova may have wasted his vast fortune decades ago. But, did it really take $50 million to protect him?
Don't leave your loved ones at the mercy of a flawed guardianship system. Everyone over the age of 18 needs to have a durable power of attorney, patient advocate designation, living will, or similar document (states use different names for these important documents). They allow you to name a loved one or trusted friend to make decisions for you if the unthinkable happens.
If tragedy strikes, such as a car accident or Alzheimer's disease, and you or your loved one doesn't have these documents in place, then the guardianship system could be the only option left.
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+.