How Did Alzheimer’s Impact the Estate Planning of These Famous People?

Forbes’ recent article, “Top 7 Celebrity Estates Impacted By Alzheimer’s Disease” looks at seven celebrity estates that were affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. Rosa Parks. The civil rights icon died at 92 in 2005. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Legal battles over her estate continue to this day. Her estate plan left her assets to a charitable institution she created. However, 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 settled, but there have been fights over broken deals and leaked secrets, claimed mismanagement of her estate and assets, allegations of bribery and corruption and a battle over Rosa’s missing coat that she wore at the time of her famous arrest at the Alabama bus stop in 1955.
  2. Gene Wilder. Wilder’s widow–his fourth wife, Karen–and his adopted daughter didn’t fight over Gene’s estate after he died, which shows good estate planning. Wilder makes the list because of how his widow used her husband’s struggle—which she kept private while he was alive—to bring attention to the terrible disease, including permitting his Willy Wonka character to be used in a campaign to raise awareness.
  3. Aaron Spelling. The Hollywood producer left behind a reported fortune worth $500 million. His death certificate listed Alzheimer’s disease as a contributing factor. 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.
  4. Etta James. Legendary blues singer Etta James passed away in 2012, at 73. Her family said she had been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for several years, and her illness ignited an ugly court battle between her husband of more than 40 years and her son from a prior relationship, over the right to make her medical and financial decisions, including control of her $1 million account. Her husband, Artis Mills, alleged that the power of attorney she signed appointing her son as decision-maker was invalid, because she was incompetent when she signed it. Mills sued for control of the money to pay for Etta’s care. After some litigation, Etta’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. The Lieutenant Columbo actor died at 83 in 2011, after living with Alzheimer’s disease for years. His wife Shera and his adopted daughter Catherine fought in court for conservatorship to make his decisions. Shera argued that she had power of attorney and could already legally make Peter’s decisions for him, which included banning daughter Catherine from visits. The judge granted Shera conservatorship, but ordered a visitation schedule for Catherine. However, a doctor, who testified at the hearing, said that Falk’s memory was so bad that he probably wouldn’t even remember the visits.
  6. Tom Benson. The billionaire owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans was the subject of a lengthy and bitter court battle over control of his professional sports franchises, and hundreds of millions of dollars of other assets. Prior trusts, that he and his late wife established, left the sports franchises and other business interests to his daughter and two grandchildren. One of granddaughters operated the Saints as lead owner, until she was fired by her grandfather. Tom decided 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. However, his daughter and grandchildren fought the move. 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. They all settled the dispute in 2017, leaving other assets to the daughter and grandchildren—but ultimately leaving Gayle in control of the Saints and Pelicans, after Benson’s death in 2018 at age 90.
  7. Glen Campbell. Campbell’s 2007 estate plan left out three of his adult children. They sued to challenge their disinheritance after he died. They dropped the case in 2018, without receiving a settlement. The fact that Campbell’s final will was drafted several years prior to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis was a critical factor in the outcome of the lawsuit.

The estate planning of these celebrities show the importance of proper estate planning, before it is too late. Wills and trusts that are created or changed after someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar conditions are more apt to be challenged in court.

Reference: Forbes (November 25, 2019) “Top 7 Celebrity Estates Impacted By Alzheimer’s Disease”

Get the Facts About Dementia Care

A person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia might need to move into a specialized care facility for his own safety and medical care. If you have a loved one in this situation, you need to know about the options available for dementia care in assisted living and nursing home facilities.

The Alzheimer’s Association created practice recommendations for nursing homes and assisted living facilities that offer dementia care for residents. These guidelines focus on six care areas:

  • Food and fluid consumption
  • Pain management
  • Social engagement
  • Wandering
  • Falls
  • Physical restraints

Care Recommendations about Food and Fluid Consumption

People with dementia do not always make good choices about the food and liquid they consume. They might not consume enough to meet their nutritional or hydration needs, or they might consume items with little nutritional value. As a result, their health and comfort can suffer.

Facilities that provide dementia care should:

  • Perform initial and routine periodic assessments of each resident’s food and fluid consumption status.
  • Develop procedures that ensure the residents consume proper food and liquids.
  • Make mealtimes enjoyable events, where staff interact with the residents and assess the food and fluid in a pleasant social setting.

Residents with physical challenges that make eating or drinking difficult should receive assessment by qualified professional specialists.

Pain Management Care Recommendations

Because many people with dementia have difficulty communicating, they under-report their pain and do not receive the treatment they need. Untreated pain is one of the main reasons why nursing home residents develop undesired behavioral symptoms and receive psychotropic drugs to manage their behavior, instead of getting relief from their pain.

Dementia care should include:

  • Including pain assessment in every vital signs check, along with pulse, temperature, blood pressure and respirations. Consider pain as the “fifth vital sign.”
  • Routinely treat pain just as one would address problems with any other vital sign.
  • Customize the pain management techniques for each resident, taking into account the individual’s risks, medical conditions, needs and other relevant circumstances.

Appropriate pain management can improve the resident’s quality of life.

Guidelines for Social Engagement

Every day, the facility should offer multiple opportunities for residents with dementia to engage in fun, meaningful social activities. The nursing home or assisted living center should consider each resident’s interests and functional abilities. A roomful of residents sitting in their wheelchairs passively watching a staff member perform an activity has little meaning for them, as compared to an event in which the residents can actively participate.

The home should respect each resident’s preferences, including a desire for solitude or downtime. The staff should never force a resident to participate in an activity.

Recommendations about Wandering

Many people with dementia engage in a behavior called wandering. Often, the resident wanders because he is physically uncomfortable, in emotional distress, is bothered by something in his environment, or is looking for social contact.

Facilities that offer dementia care need to encourage the resident to be mobile and physically active, but provide a safe and independent means for him to do so. Some dementia care facilities have hallways that loop around in a circle, so residents can satisfy the need to walk without ending up far from their rooms.

The center should assess the reasons for the individual’s wandering and try to meet those needs.  The facility should also develop protocols that prevent unsafe wandering, including exit seeking.

Guidelines to Prevent Falls

The facility should assess each resident’s risk of falling to prevent injuries. Fall injuries can rob a resident of her mobility. The center should implement measures that reduce the risk of falling. Physical restraints lead to fall injuries. For this and other reasons, nursing homes should avoid the use of physical restraints.

Recommendations on the Use of Physical Restraints

Sometimes a nursing home will use physical restraints under the misguided notion these devices keep residents safe. However, in fact, restraints often harm residents. Facilities should identify the reasons for undesired behavior and address those issues without using restraints. The staff should receive training on restraint-free techniques for keeping residents safe.

Every state has different laws, and your state’s regulations might vary from the general law of this article. You might want to talk to an elder law attorney near you.

References:

National Consumer Voice. “Dementia Care.” (accessed August 15, 2019) https://ltcombudsman.org/issues/dementia-care

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