As I’m sure most of you have heard, Stan Lee passed away on November 12 of this year. It’s not clear at this time whether he had a will or not. What the media is focusing on is the drama that surrounded him at the end of his life, which doesn’t appear to be settling down anytime soon.
Plenty of news outlets are giving the details on the drama, so I won’t repeat it all here. The problem I want to focus on is the claims of elder abuse from various quarters – even Stan Lee himself. He has accused multiple people over the last year or so of either outright stealing his money, capitalizing on his fame, or attempting to manipulate him to their benefit. Some of these resulted in lawsuits that are still ongoing. The members of his inner circle have also accused each other of elder abuse and undue influence – and there are rumors that his daughter J.C. Lee physically assaulted him on at least one occasion.
Of course, you don’t have to be famous to have these problems – I’m dealing with several cases where elder abuse and/or undue influence is a legitimate concern, and my colleagues that specialize in elder law say that it will only get worse as the senior population continues to grow. Even someone in full possession of their faculties can find themselves – or their estate – facing accusations of elder abuse and undue influence from relatives who are unhappy with how things shook out.
So how do you go about preventing these accusations in your life? Here’s a few ideas to implement:
- Create an estate plan before your mental state can be questioned. It’s highly unlikely anyone will believe there’s undue influence when the person created a will and trust in their thirties. That doesn’t mean that you can’t create or update one later in life, but it makes things easier when the groundwork is in place early on.
- Be open and forthright about what will happen after you’re gone. I’ve spoken to several litigators who have said that many times, it’s the shock of learning the plan isn’t what they expected that pushes people to litigate. Letting them know in advance won’t make them happy, but in many situations it will reduce the odds of them suing down the road.
- Have a large and active social network. The most common victims of elder abuse are seniors who are isolated and don’t have anyone to turn to for help. If the person isn’t isolated already, abusers will often work to isolate them, making them distrust anyone besides the abuser. Having friends and relatives that you speak to regularly will not only protect you from abusers, but will provide you with witnesses that could, if needed, testify that you knew exactly what you were doing when you changed that estate plan.
- Talk to an expert. If all else fails, there are people out there who are trained to evaluate mental capacity. If you are particularly concerned about an elder abuse claim (and you’re confident of your own mental abilities), get yourself tested and have an expert sign a statement that tells the world that you are completely capable of making decisions about your estate plan.
This list is hardly comprehensive, but it gives you a good place to start. To learn more about how to prevent an elder abuse accusation, or to learn what to do if you know someone who’s being abused, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.