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Caring for Aging Parents: Avoiding Legal Drama

September 12, 2023

Caring for aging parents comes with a tremendous amount of complexity, responsibility, and uncertainty. Knowing what to look out for to avoid unnecessary legal drama can help relieve some of the emotional, financial, and mental burden. In this episode of “Simply Money,” Mark Reckman shares two high-profile news stories that provide insights into how to avoid any tension and misunderstanding when handling the medical and financial needs of your loved ones. 

Episode Transcription

Amy Wagner

You are listening to Simply Money, brought to you by Allworth Financial. I’m Amy Wagner, along with Steve Sprovack. You hear about this when it hits the headlines when a celebrity gets a little bit older and someone takes advantage of them financially, but in the real world, it actually also happens all the time. So joining us tonight with a warning about this is our estate planning expert from the law firm of Wood and Lamping, Mark Reckman. Mark, we do hear about these things, of course, when they hit the headlines.

Mark Reckman

That’s right. And, of course, it’s a tale of caution for all of us to be aware of our aging family members and to keep an eye out for them. So be sure that somebody’s not taking advantage.

Amy Wagner

Let’s talk about some of the big stories that we have heard about and what played out there.

Mark Reckman

Well, probably the one that, the name that a lot of people would recognize, there’s two of them I want to talk about today. But the first is a man named Stan Lee. Stan Lee died in 2018, but he had a bad time two or three years before his death. Stan Lee was the guy who invented Superman. He was a comic. He wrote comics for Marvel and was a legend to anybody who’s into the graphic media-type literature. Before he died, he was entangled in illegal drama that included allegations that a memorabilia collector named Kena Kia Morgan attempted to isolate Lee from his family and to gain control over Lee’s fortune. And at the time, Stan Lee was estimated to be worth about $50 million. Who knows if that’s the real number? Many people speculate it was more. Stan Lee turned down a lot of money when his Marvel characters got to be real popular in Hollywood over the last 10 years.

He really didn’t participate as well as he could, but he was still worth a lot of money. The issue here was that Morgan was taking memorabilia and selling it for his own profit. At least, that was the allegation. He denied any wrongdoing, but a court in LA did issue a restraining order against him, barring him from having any contact with Lee. He fled the state, but he was arrested and extradited back to California and was subsequently indicted for elder abuse, embezzlement, false imprisonment, and a list of other things. And this is just one of two examples that I wanted to talk about today.

Steve Sprovack

Well, that’s fairly straightforward. You have an outsider. Okay, this guy’s taking advantage, but it could be kids too, right?

Mark Reckman

Absolutely. It could be relatives and it could be caretakers. In this case, Kia Morgan was a money manager and memorabilia collector who befriended Stan Lee. But you’re right, it could be someone who’s already on the inside.

Steve Sprovack

Okay, so talk to me about what kids should look out for or what can constitute elder abuse by children on a parent.

Mark Reckman

The key here, Steve, is to keep regular contact with family members. And you can’t totally avoid it, but you can minimize the risk. If you keep in regular contact, visit, call email. Now, email doesn’t always work for some of the elderly because email is a fairly modern invention. FaceTime is something that is more easily adopted by the elderly, but the focus is to react to any evidence of seclusion. If an elderly member is not getting out, or better yet, if there are people who are restricting access to an elderly person, that’s a big red flag.

Steve Sprovack

I found that in my own family, when my dad was getting towards the end, he was not responding. He was in New Jersey. I’m here in Cincinnati, and he just wasn’t available too much. I was getting his voicemail a lot. And thankfully, we had set up a power of attorney where I happened to be named as power of attorney for medical decisions. And part of the reason in our case was he was prescribed massive amounts of basically downers with good intent from various doctors who didn’t seem to know what the other doctors were prescribing. And he was just sleeping away the day. But at least the POA allowed me to get a handle on it, and the doctors were required to talk to me or had the authorization to talk to me, and we sorted it out. And everything worked out well, at least in the short term. But without that power of attorney, they wouldn’t have talked to me.

Mark Reckman

Well, and that’s on the medical side, which is clearly the most important side. But the same thing applies to the financial side. A financial power of attorney would provide you the same access to his financial planners, tax return preparers, and billpayers.

Amy Wagner

And Mark, I think it’s easy to say, my dad, my mom, they’ve always been very sharp people, very together. It’s not going to happen to them. And we all like to think that. But we’ve got examples out there like Buzz Aldrin, right? I mean, someone, the smartest of the smart, he walked on the moon and something similar happened to him.

Mark Reckman

Well, that’s right. Now, Buzz Aldrin, of course, was the namesake for Buzz Lightyear, which was that Toy Story character that charmed me when it came out. There have been several iterations of it, but the namesake, Buzz Aldrin, was a NASA hero. He was 93 years old, still alive. He claimed that his two youngest children colluded with his former business manager to seize control over his estate, which was estimated at $12 million, which is a highly speculative number contradicted by his divorce filings. But at any rate, Buzz sued all three, his two children and his former manager, and they blamed Buzz’s confusion and memory loss for a misunderstanding. The children then filed for a guardianship to have their father declared to be incompetent. In the end, both suits were dropped, and the money management and bill paying was taken over by a neutral third party, and it was resolved that way.

But it’s a classic example where we don’t know who was right or wrong, never will know who’s right or wrong, but the adult, if they have a memory disorder and they can’t recall what they’ve done, then when they see the consequences of their decisions, they don’t understand how it happened. For example, if you had a situation, if your mother has memory problems and she’s no longer driving and she gives you her car as a gift and then doesn’t remember it, so the next day she sees you driving around in her car and she’s angry at you, she’s going to be mad because she doesn’t remember why you’re driving around in her car. And that creates a lot of tension and misunderstanding in families.

Steve Sprovack

Well, you’ve got to have patience in situations like that because she honestly doesn’t remember, and maybe her concern is her kids may be taking things from her.

Mark Reckman

And from my dad, Steve, the issue was driving. His driving skills declined. But frankly, he never had an accident. He never got a ticket. So what grounds did I have to stop him from driving? Do I have to wait until there’s property damage? Or worse yet, somebody gets hurt, and what do I say to him three days later when I’ve taken his keys away and he has no memory of the incident that caused the problem? Do I have to wait, and do I have to have the same argument with him every week? And Steve, the answer is, yeah, you kind of do. And for me, it was kind of like that. One of the things that I tell my clients all the time is: be patient. Treat each repetitive conversation as though it’s the first time you’ve had that conversation, because, from your parents’ standpoint, it is.

Amy Wagner

Yeah, great advice there. And of course, just keeping in regular contact with them, the people coming in and out of their lives, you know who you can trust and maybe who you need to keep an eye on. Great advice, as always, from Mark Reckman, our estate planning expert from the law firm of Wood and Lamping, you’re listening to Simply Money Here on 55 K R C, the Talk Station.

About the Author

Mark S. Reckman

Mark S. Reckman

Mark Reckman has been with Wood + Lamping since 1979

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