If there was ever a case that showed the need for clarity and naming the proper people as fiduciaries, the Zsa Zsa Gabor story is it. She is still alive, but unable to communicate her wishes or manage her own financial affairs. As you may have guessed by now, her estate planning documents are under fire, and her daughter and Gabor’s husband are fighting over visitation rights and medical care, not to mention how her millions should be managed.
While estate planning is typically regarded as something that kicks in after death, and only for the wealthy, this is a myth. You don’t have to have a lot of money to derive benefit from an estate plan. An estate plan protects your wishes while you are alive, as well as in death. A well thought out estate planning package includes provisions for death and disability. The plan might include a Will, a financial power of attorney, living Will, and health care power of attorney. It may also feature trusts specifically tailored to the wishes of the person wanting estate planning, which would lessen the likelihood of family disagreements.
Most of all, one of the most important things is to name the proper individuals as fiduciaries. Gabor’s husband has been regarded by some as a bit odd. This perception was reinforced when he wanted her to become a mother at the age of 94 via artificial insemination of a surrogate. He was managing her affairs for many years via a power of attorney, but feuding with her daughter over her medical care and visiting rights. The daughter sought to be appointed her mother’s conservator.
In court, the judge appointed Gabor’s husband as a temporary conservator, a move that mandates he submits monthly financial reports and medical records, and canceled any power of attorney he may have had. Gabor’s daughter will now be allowed weekly visits without anyone else present in the room. The daughter considers the court ruling a victory, as it stops anyone using her mother’s money for anything but her care.
While it is an estate planning attorney’s job to anticipate what may happen in every situation, the best laid plans often go asunder when the client chooses fiduciaries that are not up to the tasks before them.
For more information see this article.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555