Interesting News from the World of Estate Planning

Learn from Zsa Zsa’s Family Conservatorship Feud

Anyone who has a lot of money and gets married nine times (as legendary actress Zsa Zsa Gabor has) can expect a family fight or two about money. Gabor’s current husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, and estranged daughter Francesca Hilton (from a prior marriage) recently battled over control of her multi-million dollar estate. Both Hilton and von Anhalt were unable to convince Gabor to sign new estate planning documents. Hilton claimed that Anhalt deliberately kept her mother (who suffers from multiple medical problems and dementia) isolated and heavily sedated while manipulating her financial holdings for his own gain. Hilton therefore filed for a conservatorship that would give her legal authority to make decisions about her 95-year-old mom’s medical care and finances. Gabor could have prevented this predictable fight by selecting a disinterested fiduciary to manage her finances in the event of her incapacity.

Conservatorships are society’s way of protecting vulnerable elders who have not protected themselves with effective estate planning. California courts are often reluctant to grant a petition to appoint a conservator because it means that the elder’s civil rights will be taken away. A judge must appoint the conservator and approve all major decisions before the conservator can act. This means that conservatorships are costly as they require extensive and particular court accountings and documents.

Multiple attorneys and court hearings are also often required. Conservatorships can be humiliating for an older adult who is still somewhat capable and they can be emotionally difficult if family members, like Gabor’s, disagree about who should act as conservator.

Michael Jackson: Estate Plan Thriller

If the sudden death of Michael Jackson at age 50 taught us anything- other than the side effects of too much prescription medication – it’s the importance of proper planning and follow through regardless of one’s age and health. Jackson didn’t transfer his assets to himself as trustee of The Michael Jackson Family Trust during his lifetime. Consequently the general public learned of intimate financial details such as his mother’s monthly grooming expenses of $1,000 and his family’s monthly allowance of $86,000. Transfer certain investment assets to yourself as trustee of your trust, in consultation with your estate lawyer, to avoid probate court and the limelight!

About the author:

ogradyJohn O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC,  was the 2012 chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section.