Friday, April 25, 2008

A Living Probate

Groucho Marx had a will that planned for his loved ones upon his death. But a will cannot offer any protection should a client become disabled. Because of this lack of foresight, the last years of his life were filled with heartbreak, legal battles, and expense.

When Groucho could no longer care for himself –because of his age – his girlfriend, Erin Fleming, asked a probate court to declare Groucho mentally incompetent. This would allow her to be Groucho’s guardian and conservator. As guardian, she would have the power to act as Groucho’s legal parent, controlling his personal life. As conservator, Erin would have the power to handle Groucho’s money.

Erin’s attempt to gain control of Groucho was successful. However, after a few years, Groucho’s relatives became more and more distraught about Erin’s treatment of Groucho, and her ability to use his money for her personal gain. They took Erin to court to have her removed as Groucho’s guardian and conservator.

After several months of one of the most publicized court proceedings in American history, Erin was removed from her position of control. The toll in terms of money and emotional heartbreak was considerable. Among allegations of abuse, attempted murder, and drugs, one point became very clear:

Groucho was the victim of an antiquated legal process, a living probate, that allows disabled Americans to unnecessarily suffer the humiliation and emotional trauma of having their lives subject to a public court proceeding.

A living probate, just like the one Groucho went through, is public in every sense of the word. It is humiliating because all the physical, mental, emotional, and monetary facts about the person are exposed. The facts are readily available to everyone, from morbid curiosity seekers to gold diggers.

Groucho died a few days after the court battle ended.

Source: The Groucho Marx Story

See also:
A Loving Trust - Groucho Marx Story

Think about picking a financial guardian

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Saving Our Parents

Ed Asner, Art Linkletter, Michael Reagan, LAPD Police Chief William Bratton, L.A. Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and a host of others join intergenerational experts Debby Bitticks and Dorothy Breininger of Delphi Health Products, Inc. in a new documentary, "Saving Our Parents", which launches this month, April 2008.

Hosted and narrated by Emmy & Golden Globe winner Ed Asner, and produced and directed by Emmy winner Jeff MacIntyre, the DVD's mission is to protect the aging population of the country and help adult children care for their aging parents.

Interviewees tell shocking stories of families deceived by predators and offer life-saving information from the country's most trusted experts on the topic.

Segments include:

* Predatory caregivers and crooked conservators
* Financial scam artists
* Neglectful nursing homes and generations living together
* Dangerous hoarding disorders that pose health risks
* Michael Reagan's transformational experience with his father,
former president Ronald Reagan and Alzheimer's Disease
* Tips from Marc Hankin, Elder Abuse Attorney
* Inspirational tips for safe and healthy aging

Celebrities & Experts Join Forces to Help Prevent Elder Abuse

Our parents and loved ones are living longer than ever before. Between 1990 and 2020 the number of 65 to 74 year old Americans will increase by a staggering 75%. As the senior population surges, so does their risk for falling prey to elder abuse. Predatory Caregivers... Crooked Conservators... Neglectful Nursing Homes — the "golden" years have never been more dangerous.

Saving Our Parents is a must see wake-up call for every generation!

To view clips from the film: Saving Our Parents

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Probate Showdown

More than a year after the retired Baytown refinery worker died, a showdown still looms in the costly court fight that pits Perry "Bit" Whatley's widow against the dead man's former guardians and the Harris County probate judge who appointed them.

Two attorneys appointed by Probate Judge Mike Wood to represent Whatley during his final years — as well as the judge himself — could face trial in June in a civil lawsuit.

The suit alleges Whatley's guardianship was improperly handled and lawyers should not have been allowed by Wood to manage Whatley's life or his savings.

At stake are hundreds of thousands in court-ordered legal fees and living expenses that consumed much of Whatley's $2 million nest egg, which he built over a lifetime of investments, primarily in his former employer, oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp.

As the litigation drags on beyond Whatley's death, the case remains a cause celebre among critics who allege Texas probate courts are being misused and abused at the expense of the elderly and infirm.
Full Article and Source:
Possible trial pits widow against her spouse's former guardians

The Whatley case, first reported by the Houston Chronicle last year, has been fraught with accusations of financial greed.

See also:
When probate court threatened to take away his assets, Perry Whatley gave up and fled — and ultimately died far from his home - Perry Whatley battles probate court to the end

Judge Mike Wood and Harris County Probate Court #2 is registered with the National Guardianship Association

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Elder Abuse: A Silent Shame

The Sigma Delta Chi Awards are administered by the Society of Professional Journalists and date back to 1932. More than 1,000 entries were submitted this year in 48 categories. The staff of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison won the public service award for newspapers with circulation of less than 100,000 for "Elder Abuse: Silent Shame." Source: JS Online

The Series:

Day 1: How can this happen?
An elderly recluse starves to death. A con man bleeds nearly $250,000 from two women in their 90s. A nursing home aide sexually assaults a 73-year-old Alzheimer's patient. An eccentric 88-year-old woman with $50,000 in her handbag is shot to death and left in a farm field. The stories, all from Wisconsin, outrage us and capture our attention — for a while. But thousands of senior citizens here, and millions nationally, are suffering silently at the hands of family, caregivers and even themselves.

Day 2: In others' hands
Every year, more elderly move into nursing homes and other long-term care facilities -- dependent on the skill and dedication of nurses, aides and others. Now the aging baby boom generation is poised to further stretch a system that becomes dangerous when homes don't have enough staff, don't train workers well and suffer from high turnover, experts said.

Day 3: Hurting themselves
She had drifted into a hellish life. By the age of 62, the Dane County woman was firmly in the grip of alcohol abuse and her condition was deteriorating. She was picked up by police many times, sometimes landing in the hospital. One time, her hair was so filthy and matted that hospital staff had to cut it off. Her problems had grown worse with age as she refused help from a brother and from county social workers.

Day 4: Easy targets
They have cash and property. Some are alone and frail. Others are sharp and socially connected. And they're being robbed, sometimes losing small sums, sometimes life savings, to family, friends, caregivers and scam artists.

Day 5: Afraid to cry out
In old age, they absorb bruises, rage — even sexual violence. Although society has awakened to the problem of domestic violence between younger people, an entire category of victims remains, for the most part, an afterthought.

Day 6: Caregiver crisis
To countless elders, paid and unpaid caregivers provide companionship and invaluable help with eating, taking medicine, bathing, toileting and safety. But sometimes, those caregivers abuse, neglect and steal in the ultimate betrayal of the most vulnerable among us.

Day 7: Breaking silence
Most people wouldn't let someone hurt a child and get away with it. The growing problem of elder abuse hasn't inspired that kind of resolve. A change, some experts say, may be provoked by the very group about to further strain the public safety net: aging baby boomers.

Elder Abuse: A Silent Shame

Kathleen Simane, a court-appointed guardian, used her position to steal more than $75,000 from her dying great-aunt, Helen Fabis, and is mentioned in the series - Day 4: Easy targets

Monday, April 21, 2008

More Connecticut Probate Abuse

According to friends, Margot Claus, a German citizen, is a fiercely independent New Yorker who wanted to spend her last years in her native land.

The 79-year-old, despondent and now hospitalized for dehydration, had been living in an assisted-living facility in Woodbridge, her estate in the hands of a distant relative and her life overseen by Connecticut's probate court.

Alarmed German authorities are asking for an investigation into how Claus was taken from New York and moved to Connecticut. A probate court judge in February named a North Haven woman, Linda Eger, conservator of Claus' sizable estate.

The odyssey of Margot Claus appears to be yet another misadventure within Connecticut's byzantine and sprawling probate system, where life-altering decisions are made in obscure mom-and-pop courts with little outside scrutiny.

"Friends and family are very alarmed and have contacted German authorities in both Germany and the United States," wrote Katja Hoffman, vice consul in Boston, in a recent letter to Probate Judge Michael Brandt. "The conservator, Linda Eger, has changed Ms. Claus' residence repeatedly without court approval and has removed Ms. Claus' personal property without court approval."

Full Article and Source: Probate Abuses Yet Again

Comments on Article: Topix - Hartford Courant

Rick Green's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at