By H. Frances Reaves, ESQ.

As a lawyer I do my best to keep elder care matters out of the legal system. It is expensive and public.

About a year ago I wrote a column discussing Buzz Aldrin’s story. Two of his children are attempting to wrest control of his foundation and money because apparently they are afraid that his latest love will marry him and take it away.

Buzz Aldrin is an American hero – besides serving his country in combat while int the Air Force, being a test pilot, an astronaut and the second man to walk on the moon, he then started a foundation to promote STEM awareness. Now his children want the proceeds of his life and have taken it public through the court system. They accuse him of not having “testamentary capacity” and the entire case is completely public.

My second example is about a man who grew up on a plantation in Georgia.

He made it through to the third grade before work became more important than schooling. As soon as he could he moved to the Miami area and held several jobs in construction, plumbing, and baggage handling. He saved his money and bought property in the southern area of Miami. He built duplexes in his spare time and started renting them out.

He ended up with eleven Section 8 housing properties – all of which he maintained until about six years ago. His youngest son is now in the business and does the maintenance himself.

The senior property owner became a millionaire several times over. He is also a hero. He raised and provided for two families. His second wife (who bore him a son) became involved in the business because he is functionally illiterate. As he got older his younger wife became less interested in taking care of him. Further, she is said to have taken money out of their joint account and business accounts to place it in accounts solely in her name.

This all came to light when he filed for divorce. She responded with an emergency guardianship action which was later dismissed in exchange for a dismissal of the divorce petition. During that proceeding the son found out that his mother had stolen over $3,000,000. This all started five years ago and the lawyers (including myself) are now involved on a per hour basis.

For four years, the elderly man has been in cognitive decline and at the same time is being subjected to numerous exams to give to the court to show his cognitive decline.

An exploitation action was taken by his attorney and most of the stolen funds are recovered and in a court-mandated conservatorship. That means he has to ask for funds to be paid on a monthly basis.

Imagine, this man lived the American Dream and now has to ask for his money!

Is that really how we want to end our life . . . fighting for our life’s work?

Our justice system is appropriate for so many fights but I don’t think seniors are well served here. These cases by their very nature take years and it’s a public fight. Anyone can view the “dirty laundry.” I use litigation as a last means of finding justice for seniors.

There are so many opportunities to work out issues through mediation and negotiation. It’s also less expensive and there can be hope for reconciliation at the end of the day.

Let’s do it the nice way.

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