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February 2009
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March 2009

Peter Falk's daughter is losing the conservatorship battle

I've previously posted about the Peter Falk guardianship / conservatorship filing by his daughter, due to his Alzheimer's disease, and about the family feud that began when his wife objected to the daughter's requests, which is not unusual in second-marriage situations.  Now, the case appears to be nearing resolution.  The judge hearing the conservatorship case has been ruling against Falk's daughter, Catherine Falk.

Several days ago, conservatorship attorneys appeared in court for Catherine Falk and Peter's Falk wife, Shera Falk, to determine what would come of Catherine's legal petition to appoint a new decision-maker for her father, whom she claimed was unable to make decisions due to his Alzheimer's disease.  She alleged Peter needed to be protected for his health and safety, as well as financially to insulate him from fraud and undue influence.    Peter Falk 3

Shera Falk, married to 81-year old Peter Falk for 32 years, claimed she had the legal authority to make decisions for him already due to power of attorney documents, so there was no need for a conservator to be appointed.  She denied he needed protection or was in any danger.

The judge ruled in favor of Shera Falk, and decided not to grant the daughter's request.  In fact, Catherine had already withdrawn her petition for conservatorship over his financial decisions, and the court felt that Peter's care was being properly managed by his wife.  The court-appointed attorney who investigated the daughter's claims had previously reported to the judge that no conservator was needed, and the judge agreed in the recent court hearing.

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Will forger gets jail time

Experienced probate litigation attorneys see it all -- family feuds, claims of theft and exploitation, elder abuse, siblings who hate each other, and parents who cheat their own children.  This is a first one for me -- someone forging a will and actually getting thrown in jail for it.  Edward Blomfield 

Edward Blomfield of Santa Barbara County, California, learned his girlfriend was murdered in January, 2006, as a former postal clerk went on a shooting spree, shooting and killing seven people, one of whom was Blomfield's girlfriend.  As if that wasn't enough tragedy for the girlfriend's family, Blomfield sought to profit from the tragedy by creating a "will" of his late girlfriend, leaving her entire estate valued at $750,000 to him.


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Britney Spears Conservatorship Case

Many people assume that probate and estate planning issues are only for the elderly.  They think that it's nothing to spend time worrying about until they're at least 80.  Seasoned probate litigation attorneys know better.  Every family has to address these important legal issues sooner or later; sometimes much sooner than they think.  And when proper planning isn't done, it can often lead to trouble.

The Britney Spears case presents a good illustration.  At the tender age of 26, she became subject to a court-ordered conservatorship and guardianship.  Her father, Jamie Spears, has the legal right to make decisions for her, including controlling her finances (which are extensive).  The judge allows him to pay himself more than $16,000 every month, from his daughter's money.  Given the remarkable turnaround in her life and her career, this fee may be well worth it.Britney Spears

In fact, Britney now seems to be in favor of her father's control.  In October of 2008, she agreed not to oppose her father's request to continue the conservatorship indefinitely (it was originally set to expire at the end of 2008).  Think this means the court case is done?  Not so fast.

Last week, an attorney named Jon Eardley, returned the case to court.  Eardley, just over one year ago, claimed that Britney had asked him by telephone to represent her to fight the conservatorship.  He even took the highly unusual step of trying to move the case to Federal Court, arguing she was denied a fair trial in the California Superior Court where the case was pending. 

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The Return of the Anna Nicole Smith Case

It's back!  Perhaps the most famous probate litigation case ever, Marshall v. Marshall (a/k/a Anna Nicole Smith versus the son of her late 90+year old husband) has been on hold for more than two years, but may be ready for its big comeback.ANS and JHM

In 2002, former Playboy Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith won a judgment for a whopping $88 million against the son of her late husband for interfering with her inheritance rights.  More specifically, two different federal court judges in California ruled in her favor, finding that E. Pierce Marshall, son of the late oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, had fraudulently and improperly prevented Howard Marshall from making a substantial gift to Anna Nicole Smith.

In fact, the courts found "overwhelming" evidence that Pierce Marshall's willful, malicious and fraudulent behavior, which included forging documents and lying to his father, justified $44 million in damages, plus another $44 million in "punitive" damages because the behavior was so outrageous.

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Undue Influence case for the dogs

Leona Helmsley apparently wasn't the only one.  The late Judge Earl Morgan of Lincoln County, Nebraska, enjoyed a successful career as an attorney and judge.  He left an estate worth $3.2 million, not to mention two surviving children, 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.Earl Morgan

To the great surprise of those children, Morgan's will wasn't of the normal variety.  He did leave $100,000 to each of his kids, as well as the use of his money for the rest of their lives for support, maintenance, medical expenses, and more.  But here's the kicker -- once they died, instead of passing the money onto grandchildren, it all went to a local humane society called Paws-itive Partners.  Here's the local paper article about the case.

His children were not amused.  They challenged the will saying Morgan wasn't competent when he signed it, two years before he died, at age 87.  As is often the case in will challenges, the family's probate litigation attorney also brought an undue influence claim.  In other words, they felt Morgan's free will was overcome by a representative of the humane society, who tricked, coerced or otherwise improperly influenced his decision to make the new will, they alleged.

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Hearst Conservatorship Legal Battle

Probate lawyers in this country fight in court on a daily basis about whether people are competent or require a guardian and/or conservator to manage their medical, financial and legal affairs.  Most people don't pay such disputes much notice, but some are worthy of extra attention.

Phoebe Hearst Cooke is one of six grandchildren of legendary publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.  In addition to tremendous wealth built through Hearst's newspaper and other media corporations, the Hearst family is perhaps most well known because of the events surrounding another Hearst granddaughter, kidnap victim Patty Hearst.  Hearst Cooke

Because of her great wealth, Cooke also enjoys a certain amount of fame.  In fact, she has been a regular member of Forbe's list of 400 Richest Americans, coming in at number 215 in 2008.  Her fortune is estimated to be around 2.1 billion dollars.

She and some of her family members, including twin brother George Hearst, Jr. (chairman of the Hearst Corp.) are now fighting in probate court in California about whether she is capable of managing her own financial affairs.  Her relatives claim she is "paranoid, irrational, uncooperative and delusional and in need of supervision and assistance" according to this recent article in the San Luis Obispo (California) Tribune.

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