In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month - and the more than five million Americans living with the disease - we highlight our Top 7 Celebrity Estates impacted by Alzheimer’s disease:
Rosa Parks’s estate plan left her assets to a charitable institution she created. But her nieces and nephews challenged the validity of her will and trust, due to her mental deficiencies and allegations of undue influence.
That claim was eventually settled, giving the relatives a 20% share of her assets. But that settlement was far from the end. Since then, there have been ongoing fights over broken deals and leaked secrets, claimed mismanagement of her estate and assets, allegations of bribery and corruption, and a lengthy battle over requested sanctions based on Rosa Parks’s missing coat that she wore at the time of her famous arrest at the Alabama bus stop in 1955.
For an iconic lady whose life was marked by grace, dignity, and self-sacrifice for the greater good, it’s especially tragic that her estate and legacy have been tarnished in ways that she never could have imagined.
2. Gene Wilder
Luckily, his widow - his fourth wife, Karen - and his adopted daughter did not fight over Gene Wilder’s estate after he died, a testament to the importance of good estate planning. When someone has Alzheimer’s disease, proper wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are especially important.
Instead of a fight, Wilder makes our list because of how his widow used her husband’s struggle - which she kept private while Gene Wilder was alive - to bring attention to the terrible disease, including allowing his Willa Wonka character to be used in a video campaign to raise awareness.
3. Aaron Spelling
Despite his mental struggles late in life, Aaron Spelling changed his estate plan just two months before he died, reducing the share to his daughter, actress Tori, and his son, Randy, to $800,000 each.
Tori’s economic struggles were well-publicized in the years that followed. Even though she felt that the reduction in her inheritance was improper, she did not challenge the estate plan in court.
4. Etta James
Etta James’s husband, Artis Mills, alleged that the power of attorney Etta had signed appointing her son, Donto James, as decision-maker was invalid because she was incompetent when she signed it. He sued for control of the money to pay for Etta’s care.
After repeated court hearings, Etta James’s leukemia was determined to be fatal, which led to a settlement. Mills was granted conservatorship and permitted to control sums up to $350,000 to pay for Etta’s care for the last few months of her life.
5. Peter Falk
Shera argued that she had power of attorney and could already legally make Peter Falk’s decisions for him, which included banning daughter Catherine from visits. The judge ultimately granted Shera conservatorship, but ordered a visitation schedule for Catherine. Sadly, a doctor who testified at the hearing said that Falk’s memory struggles were so great that he would likely not even remember the visits.
6. Tom Benson
Prior trusts established by he and his late wife left the sports franchises and other business interests to his daughter and two grandchildren. One of them, Rita LeBlanc, ran the Saints as lead owner until she was fired by her grandfather. Tom Benson opted to take the controlling stock of the teams out of the trust and substitute other assets in their place, taking over control of the teams.
His daughter and grandchildren fought the move, until a 2015 court ruling declared Benson to be competent, despite allegations he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Benson then changed his will and trust and left everything to his third wife, Gayle
The two sides settled their dispute in 2017, leaving other assets to Rita, her mother and brother, but ultimately leaving Gayle in control of the Saints and Pelicans after Benson’s death in 2018 at age 90.
7. Glenn Campbell
Kimberly helped spearhead a critically-acclaimed documentary about Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and has openly talked about the details of her husband’s illness, not only the memory loss, but how it caused him to become paranoid and even violent.
Glenn Campbell’s 2007 estate planning documents cut out three of his adult children, who sued to challenge their disinheritance after he died. In late 2018, they dropped the case, without receiving a settlement. The fact that Campbell’s final will was done a few years before his Alzheimer’s diagnosis was an important factor in the outcome of the lawsuit.
As with the other celebrities on this list, Glenn Campbell’s estate shows how important proper estate planning is - before it’s too late. Wills and trusts that are created or changed after someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or similar conditions are much more likely to be challenged in court, often successfully.
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Top 7 Celebrity Estates Impacted By Alzheimer’s Disease