Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings exist to help those who are incapacitated, usually due to age or disability, and can't make proper decisions for themselves. While these court cases help many thousands of people each year, they can also expose people to fraud and abuse.
Many believe that Nashville, Tennessee musician Danny Tate was one of the very unfortunate who was abused by the system. Tate had written music for popular TV shows Entertainment Tonight and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as a top 10 hit in the 1980's. Yet his lifetime of savings of more than $600,000, and yearly royalty earnings of $125,000, are almost completely gone. And he's only 54 years old.
Why? Because in 2007, his brother convinced a probate court judge that Danny was so addicted to crack cocaine that his life was in jeopardy, and he was unable to make legal, financial and medical decisions for himself.
Danny was not even told of the initial court hearing. He was not given an attorney. At a second court hearing three weeks later, he was denied an attorney and was instead committed to a psychiatric ward, according to this report by the Associated Press.
Danny finally won his freedom yesterday, after battling for two and one-half years. But the court fight reportedly cost him his entire lifetime of savings.
Here is an interesting article that examines the case in a little more detail and holds it up as an example of abuses that can occur in guardianship and conservatorship cases.
Danny Tate's brother defends his actions, saying his younger brother would be dead if not for his actions. Danny admits he had a drug addiction, but says he still functioned and could make his own decisions. He says his estate has been plundered through the legal fees spent on his case, especially because his money was used to pay the lawyers and experts on both sides.
At least he now has his rights back, as of yesterday -- after providing clean drug tests for nine months and a report by three different doctors saying he could make his own decisions.
While the circumstances that gave rise to this case are troubling -- to say the least -- and certainly this case shows the horrors of what can go wrong in guardianship cases, not all of these court proceedings are bad. Sometimes people need the help of a court-appointed guardian or conservator for their own protection.
Was this such a case? Or was Danny Tate a victim of a broken court process?
It's especially odd that Danny Tate wasn't given a lawyer until his rights had already been stripped away. An experienced guardianship and conservatorship attorney is critical for families facing complicated cases like these, such as those where competency is questionable, where there are allegations of abuse, or where family members are fighting.
If you or a loved one are facing such a court proceeding, the sooner you consult with a good attorney, the better.
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 Google+