I’ve seen couples settle down in their 80s with newly found soulmates, and live happily ever after. And I’ve seen formerly thoughtful and dignified elders lose their hearts and their fortunes to an engaging home health aide or ballroom dance instructor.
That’s love for you. And at first blush, if you’ll excuse the term, this seems to be what has happened in the case of the second human being ever to walk on the moon.
Unlike most of the elders I have met and written about who become ensnared in Florida’s guardianship system, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, 88, appears to have received excellent legal advice on how to defend himself against two of his children who petitioned the state to declare him mentally incompetent. Not only did he obtain an independent cognitive assessment from a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of California Los Angeles — who described his abilities as “superior to normal” — but he also went on the offensive, filing a lawsuit in Brevard County against his own kin.
The younger Aldrins’ claim is that their father suffers from dementia, has fallen under the sway of false friends and is spending money at a ruinous rate. In return, he accuses two of his three offspring of seeking to control him “for their own self-dealing and enrichment.”
Under Florida law, adults deemed by a judge too frail or mentally compromised to make decisions for themselves can be stripped of their civil rights — unable to manage their own finances, to buy or sell property, to marry or divorce, even to vote.
Guardianship laws are necessary, especially in a state like Florida where elders can find themselves isolated and vulnerable in their later days. But the system that attempts to safeguard penniless wards is terribly underfunded, and the money to pay for attorneys and guardians has to come from somewhere. Often, as the Herald-Tribune showed in a series nearly four years ago, it comes from far wealthier wards whose life savings become a target of shiny new love interests, manipulative con artists or mercenary adult children.
The result is an adversarial courtroom drama where a judge has to decide, based on sadly skimpy evidence, who is telling the truth. The process is almost always demeaning and humiliating for the elder placed in the position of proving a negative — that he or she has not irretrievably lost his or her mind.
What’s so tough for the judge is that an elder such as Aldrin, even with a history of depression and divorces, is legally allowed to be a fool for love and act against his own best interests, regardless of how his family feels about it — as long as he can convince a court of his mental competence. We’re talking about the subtle but vital difference between illusion and delusion.
″He’s 88 years old, but he still has something to contribute to this country and the world. He doesn’t want to be a Fabergé egg stuck up on the shelf.”
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NEW WRINKLES: A man on the moon, brought down to earth
Legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin sues his family alleging fraud