There are currently 49.2 million Americans aged 65 or older, and this number is expected to grow (referred to by many as the “Silver Tsunami”). Of this population, 1.3 to as many as 3 million (or more) individuals are in guardianships. These guardianships affect successive generations and their proper expectations of inheritance so that the total number of people involved in subject to the consequences of guardianship could be as high as 30 million.
And as John Oliver pointed out in a recent episode of his “last week tonight show”, there can be devastating abuses of the system from court insiders who profit greatly from family dysfunction and even mild mental decline by exploiting the law to divert all the assets of an allegedly incapacitated person away from intended inheritors and into the pockets of the court insiders like lawyers and guardians.
In New Mexico alone recent indictments against Ayudando guardians have revealed massive fraud and diversion of millions of dollars that were supposed to take care of the most vulnerable in our society under their care. Another indictment in New Mexico with Desert Trust owner Paul Danisthorpe expose that he misappropriated multiple millions of dollars intended for the care of wards. Other cases in Nevada, Florida and a host of other states reveal a pattern of guardianship abuse and exploitation of massive proportions. Very few Americans have any inkling of the danger posed to them by this judicial process.
Dr. Buzz Aldrin, of satellite Beach Florida aged 88, a wealthy American icon and the “second man to walk on the moon,” had sued his former business manager and two of his children claiming that they misused his credit cards, improperly converted his funds, and falsely characterized him as experiencing “cognitive decline”.
Aldrin’s freedom and assets were placed in jeopardy when, in apparent retaliation for his initial lawsuit, his children filed an incapacity proceeding in a Florida court, by alleging that Aldrin suffers from memory loss, delusions, paranoia, and confusion. Aldrin’s children are seeking legal guardianship over their father’s person and his considerable property, including the operations of Aldrin’s private company, Buzz Aldrin Enterprises, and his nonprofit foundation. They allege that Aldrin is associating with new friends (especially female companions) who want to alienate Aldrin from his family, and that he has, especially in his amorous relations gotten out of control.
Aldrin maintains that he is fully competent. In April, Aldrin chose to be examined by a private physician who concurred, but he is presently awaiting review by a court-appointed three-person incapacity determination panel. If he is deemed competent by all three examiners, the proceeding will be terminated; however, if two of the three examiners claim that he is incapacitated, a guardian will be appointed by the court.
The appointed guardian may not be someone of Aldrin’s choosing, and could be a private professional guardian, who may charge substantial fees for their services as is so commonly the case with wealthy individuals. That situation is extensively described and discussed in a recently released book by Dr. Sam Sugar, “Guardianships and the Elderly — The Perfect Crime”.https://tinyurl.com/ycdckogz
Family dysfunction and disagreements over how aging parents spend their money or handle their personal affairs are common– thousands of new guardianships are created in every state annually. Legal redress of these issues can be enormously expensive and can drag on for many agonizing years gradually depleting the estate by virtue of unending enormous legal bills.
In theory, preparing and executing advance directives, such as a Durable Power of Attorney for financial management, and a Designation of Health Care Surrogate for medical treatment-related decision-making should protect against unneeded or unwanted guardianships.
Unfortunately, even with perfectly prepared advance directives, the system can fail if a probate guardianship judge chooses to ignore those advance directives for any reason. According to polls taken by the advocacy group Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship founded by Dr. Sam Sugar , this happens frequently and is the number one complaint of guardianship victim families across the country. When it happens, a professional Guardian is appointed and the family loses all control over the Ward and his or her assets and often the family is prevented from even talking to or visiting with their parent.
The Aldrin case is an example of how even a national icon can lose all their civil rights in unneeded or unnecessary guardianship. Even though all the state laws indicate the guardianship should be the last resort it is often the first resort when cases like this are presented to a probate judge.
Initially Aldrin was represented by Attorney Robert W Bauer of Gainesville Florida, but as of this writing Mr. Bauer is no longer representing Buzz Aldrin.
The decision on Buzz Aldrin’s future and his legal status as capacitated or incapacitated as determined by the three-person examining committee is in the hands of chief judge of the 18th judicial circuit of Florida judge John Harris.