Andrew Mayoras recently discussed this topic, featuring some prevention tips on Forbes.com. Of course, discussions of a few celebrity cases are included, such as Wesley Snipes, Anna Nicole Smith, and Farrah Fawcett.
2011 marks the first year that baby boomers turn 65. This means there will be a dramatic increase in the number of seniors in the years to come, making it extra important to raise awareness and help families protect against financial exploitation.
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.
Former baseball manager George "Sparky" Anderson, a Hall of Fame coach who led both the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds to World Series titles, died on November 4, 2010 because of complications from dementia. He was 76 years old. Sparky was a truly-beloved sports figure who will be sorely missed, as described in this article from the Detroit Free Press.
His death comes during National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness month. Dementia is most often caused by Alzheimer's disease and is a growing epidemic in our country. In fact, every 70 seconds, someone else in America develops Alzheimer's disease. It now affects over 5.3 million Americans.
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
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+.
It's been more than 18 months since the daughter of France's richest woman sued to protect her from a man described as a "dandy" who had received more than $1 billion (U.S. value) in gifts from the owner of cosmetic giant L'Oreal. You can read The Probate Lawyer Blog's last article on the case here.
The daughter of 87-year-old Liliane Bettencourt sued Francois-Marie Banier, a 63-year old (male) celebrity photographer who reportedly has befriended Johnny Depp, Salvador Dali and others. Banier claims the lavish gifts of cash and art masterpieces were given to him by Bettencourt when she was mentally competent as a thank-you for his years of friendship and help as an advisor.
Bettencourt's daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, was permitted to sue Banier criminally last year. This means that if she wins her lawsuit, Banier will not only have to return the money, but also face jail time. The case was set for trial late last week.
Anthony Marshall and the attorney he conspired with, Francis Morrissey, each received jail sentences earlier this week for 1 to 3 years. They had been convicted of looting Brooke Astor, Marshall's mother, out of $60 million by convincing her to change her will when she was mentally unable to comprehend it due to Alzheimer's disease, along with related crimes.
Marshall's attorneys had pled for leniency, citing his advanced age, poor health and doctors' reports saying any jail time would equate to a death sentence for him. The Probate Lawyer Blog covered the defense lawyer's efforts in this recent article.
The judge wouldn't hear of it. He noted how sad it was that a life of extreme abundance led to such sadness, particularly when Marshall's own son took the stand and "tried very, very hard to destroy" Marshall.
The judge did consider that Mrs. Astor loved her son, the judge felt, along with other mitigating factors, so he did not impose the 4 1/2 years that the prosecutors requested. In fact, the judge said he actually preferred a different sentence. He wished he could cause Marshall's many millions to be donated to charity and leave Marshall in the hands of his wife (for whom he committed the crimes, the judge said) to care for him -- without his money.
The Brooke Astor trial was a fascinating portrayal of greed and exploitation involving New York's upper, upper crust society. You can read The Probate Lawyer Blog's coverage of the Brooke Astor case here. Brooke Astor's son, Anthony Marshall, and one of her attorneys, Francis X. Morrissey, Jr., were convicted of fraud, larceny, conspiracy and a host of related charges related to management of her financial affairs and changes to her will that occurred after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Because of this, Anthony Marshall, who is 85 years old, faces up to 25 years in jail. But whether he actually sees any jail time is a big question. He will certainly appeal the verdict and his lawyers will pull out every trick in the book to try to keep the millionaire from seeing the inside of a jail cell.
In fact, they've already started. A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that Marshall's attorneys filed a request asking the judge to dismiss the charges "in furtherance of justice". They say his condition is so frail (following quadruple bypass surgery, a stroke, and suffering gastrointestinal disease) that any jail time would be tantamount to a death sentence, because he would not survive it.
To support the request, they supplied 70 letters of support and doctor's reports. The letters attest to his good character and even include ones written by Whoopi Goldberg and Al Roker. They point to his otherwise clean record and say he's suffered enough.
So what do you think? Has the 85-year old been punished enough through the 5-month trial and guilty verdict that he doesn't deserve jail time? This was a non-violent crime, should he forced to go to prison when it may kill him?
I for one believe he should go to jail. His conviction sends a message that those who exploit the frail and elderly can be punished. If he is allowed to get off because of poor health and wealthy friends, what kind of message does that send?
A jury carefully deliberated for 12 days and found him guilty of almost every count. If a judge throws that out, not because of the evidence, but because he feels sorry for Marshall, why even have a jury trial? This type of legal maneuvering rarely works. Otherwise, the criminal justice system wouldn't function.
If Marshall's effort fails, he is scheduled for sentencing on December 21st. And, to top it off, this is not the only legal worry he has resulting from the case.
Others (most notably, his own son) had previously started will contest proceedings to challenge Brooke Astor's estate planning documents, which left increasingly higher amounts to Marshall as she continued to age (she was 105 when she passed). The civil case was put on hold when the criminal case started.
But now, it's swinging back into action. Lawyers held a private meeting this week to discuss the case in advance of the next court date, January 13, 2010. While the criminal case determined that Ms. Astor's most recent will amendments were invalid (meaning that those documents will be set aside with ease in the civil case), prosecutors did not focus on earlier documents which are under attack now.
In other words, Marshall may lose more than the $60 million that was affected by the will codicils that have already been found to be invalid by the criminal jury.
Marshall certainly cannot handle another protracted legal battle, physically and maybe even financially. There's a good chance that this case will settle -- that's probably what this lawyers' meeting was all about.
So we'll continue to keep a close eye on this case. Hopefully others who would seek to take advantage of someone elderly (a growing problem in this country, especially with this economy) will think twice because of cases like this one.
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+