Buzz Aldrin was the second person to set foot on the moon’s surface and only 12 people have set foot there. But now he is one of an estimated one and a half million adults who are the subject of guardianship proceedings in the United States. The guardianship case was filed in Brevard County, Florida, on May 30, by two of Aldrin’s three children and by his business manager. Aldrin has vigorously opposed the proceeding and in response filed a separate action charging them with breach of fiduciary duty; exploitation of the elderly; constructive fraud; unjust enrichment; undue influence, conversion and conspiracy.
It is not possible at this time to assess the strength of the allegations of the guardianship or the verified complaint filed in response. The guardianship file is sealed and the responsive suit is a public record so only one side of the case is revealed. In addition, these cases have only been recently filed and it is too early to predict the outcome of either one. It is appropriate at this time however, to call attention to Aldrin’s response to the guardianship, suggesting that the best defense may be an offense.
The Florida Guardianship
Aldrin, age 88, has named his children to important position in the several interests he has created (Buzz Aldrin Enterprises, Inc; Buzz Aldrin Space Foundation, Inc.; Sharespace Foundation, Inc., Aldrin Space Institute and Aldrin Center for Entrepreneurship in Space) indicating a close familial relationship at one time. He has also named one of his sons as trustee of a revocable trust and agent under a power of attorney. But, similar to the fate of Shakespeare’s King Lear, it does not appear that the loving relationship has continued, resulting in the filing of a guardianship petition. It has been reported that within the guardianship petition is an allegation that Aldrin is “in cognitive decline.” There may also have been specific allegations that he suffers from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Florida statutes require that within five days after a petition for determination of incapacity has been filed the court must appoint a three-member “examining committee.” One member of the committee must be a psychiatrist or other physician. The other two members of the committee must be either a psychologist, or gerontologist, or another psychiatrist or physician, or registered nurse, or nurse practitioner, or licensed social worker, or person with an advanced degree in gerontology from an accredited institution of higher learning or a person appointed at the discretion of the court. A comprehensive examination must be made of the alleged incapacitated person and it must include a physical examination, a mental health examination and a functional assessment. Each committee member must submit a written report.
Buzz Aldrin’s Response
The unusual aspect of this case is the response of Aldrin to the guardianship filing. Most subjects of a guardianship who disagree about the need for the court intervention present their defense in the original proceeding. In this case, Aldrin filed a separate action on June 7, against his children (and his business manager and several organizations with which he is associated). Aldrin’s verified complain paints a picture of a celebrity with the capacity to manage his own affairs who is being manipulated by his children and business manager for their own selfish ends. The specific language of the complaint alleges that the defendants:
“… have assumed control and access to the plaintiff’s personal credit cards, bank accounts, trust money, space memorabilia, space artifacts, social media accounts and all elements of the Buzz Aldrin brand.”
“… have been for the past number of years been slandering the plaintiff in public and/or to other individuals or small groups by stating the plaintiff has dementia and Alzheimer’s. The defendants have used this tactic to gain further control over the plaintiff’s personal relationships, business contacts and assets.”
“… have effectively established a de facto guardianship over the plaintiff.”
“… have forbidden the plaintiff to marry and specifically and deliberately have undermined bullied and defamed all of the plaintiff’s personal romantic relationships.”
He also charges defendants with exploitation of the elderly. “Plaintiff is a vulnerable adult, as defined by Florida Statutes and pursuant to Florida Statute Section 415.111, due to the plaintiff’s advanced age of 88 years. Defendant Andrew Aldrin, individually exploited the plaintiff by knowingly and through deception or intimidation deprived the plaintiff of his finances, property and knowledge of the plaintiff’s business affairs.”
Response of Defendants to Suit by Buzz Aldrin
It is noteworthy that in the case initiated by Aldrin, there is a motion by the defendants asking that the court take judicial notice of the reports from Dr. Margaret Rank, Carmal Morelli, RN and Marti Jo McCoy, LCSW. They are each identified as member of the “examining committee” in the separate guardianship case. The examining committee reports are described as confidential and therefore not attached to the motion. The fact that the defendants sought to have the court made aware of the examining committee reports is an indication that the defendants believe the reports contain matters that are favorable to their position and unfavorable to Aldrin. In addition, the defendants have filed a motion for a stay of the proceeding initiated by Aldrin pending the outcome of a ”… previously filed action to determine the capacity of the plaintiff.”
Aldrin joins a list of many well-known individuals who have been the subject of guardianship proceedings (Brooke Astor; Sumner Redstone; Glen Campbell; Mickey Rooney; Casey Kasem and Zsa Zsa Gabor). The proceeding was brought despite the fact that Aldrin had executed a power of attorney and revocable trust agreement, documents often thought to obviate the need for a guardianship. In the Aldrin case, as in many of the other high-profile guardianships, the proceeding is evidence of fractured family relationships.
The cases also demonstrate that no one is immune from the possibility of being the subject of a guardianship. Status alone or financial wealth alone or the use of inter-vivos estate planning documents alone is not enough to ensure that an older individual is insulated from a guardianship proceeding.
The twin filings in this case are a part of the current debate over whether the guardianship statutes are protecting the elderly from abuse or subjecting them to abuse. Once a rather unusual proceeding, the guardianship is now commonly a part of the trust and estates practice