Guardianship: Abuse or Protection? Buzz Aldrin’s Dilemma

The rich and famous are not immune from guardianship, and neither are you.

Take, for example, Buzz Aldrin.

His guardianship case was in the news in 2018 not only because of his fame but also because of the unusual counteraction that he took:  he sued back.

The contretemps started in a Florida court when two of Aldrin’s three children and his business manager filed a guardianship action against Aldrin.  Aldrin, age 88, responded by filing a separate lawsuit against his children and business manager that alleged they had taken control of his personal credit cards, bank accounts, trust money, space memorabilia, and artifacts and had been falsely telling others that he had dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Aldrin apparently had in place the usual documents that are used to protect against the need for a guardianship:  powers of attorney, corporate entities and a revocable trust agreement.

Unfortunately, those documents are not enough to protect a senior if the agents are dishonest or if the senior acts against his own best interests, either because he may actually suffer from dementia or because he is being exploited by a third party.  It is too soon to tell if Aldrin’s case involves any of those scenarios.

Aldrin joins a growing roster of celebrities who have been involved in guardianships: Brooke Astor,  Sumner Redstone, Glen Campbell, Mickey Rooney, Casey Kasem, Peter Falk, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, to name just a few.

And then we get to the common folk.  There are more than a million and a half guardianship cases in the U.S. today.

Guardianships are difficult cases.  They often involve family members being pitted against each other with the elder caught in the middle.  Once a guardianship case is initiated, it takes on a life of its own.  The judge has jurisdiction over the elder and, to some extent, everyone involved with the elder.  It is not unusual to have the judge oust family members and long-time business associates from positions of authority.  Powers of attorney can be voided, trusts can be broken up, businesses and assets can be ordered sold.  Access to the elder can be limited.  The elder’s right to marry, to contract, to drive, to decide where to live, even to vote can be stripped.

It sounds extreme, but often all of that is necessary to protect the elder.  There are a lot of bad actors who want to exploit elders.  Tragically, they are frequently family members and trusted advisors.

That need to protect the senior sometimes gets mired in laws and legal proceedings that do not go far enough to protect a senior’s rights.  Lest you think that this does not concern you, consider this:  guardianship is not limited to seniors, those with dementia, and those with special needs.  Someone, anyone, could file a guardianship action on you tomorrow.

It may not succeed, but it would be enough to drag you into the system.

Resources:

National Center for State Court Guardianship /Conservatorship Resource Guide

New Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act 

Guardianship Reform Background 

For more resources regarding this issue, see my blog at www.hammerle.com/blog/.

Virginia, a 1982 SMU law school graduate, has advised clients for over 35 years.  For more information, visit hammerle.com, and for newsletter sign-up, email legaltalktexas@hammerle.com.  This column does not constitute legal advice.