If you follow the Marvel comic strips and now their many incarnations in movies, the most recent one being one opening now, “AntMan and the Wasp,” you might recognize the name Stan Lee as co-creator who with Steve Ditko, fashioned such characters as Spider Man and the Incredible Hulk, and began it all.
Steve Ditko just this past week died at age 90. Stan, at age 95, continues on but has been the subject of litigation regarding elder financial abuse including a Court order entered in a Los Angeles court last Friday . This is what makes his story so common and so frustrating. When geniuses age and are no longer able to handle matters on their own, frequently others move in, some with helpful motives, others not. Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Ruth Kleman found Stan Lee’s former manager, Keya Morgan, did not.
As the story played out in the courts, Stan’s daughter and only child, J.C. Lee triumphed over Morgan and also managed to have her father’s lawyer, Tom Lallas, no longer recognized by the court even though Lallas was also struggling to restrain Morgan.
According to press accounts, the allegations against the manager, Morgan, included statements that he attempted to interfere with Lee’s ability to contact caregivers, doctors and family members, attempted to alienate Lee from his daughter, J.C., and was embezzling or misappropriating $5 million of Lee’s assets.
The remedy was a new restraining order following a temporary restraining order already issued, requiring that Morgan stay away from Lee, from Lee’s daughter, J.C., and from Lee’s brother.
J.C. also provided a purported signed declaration from her father stating Lee’s attorney, Lallas, was fired.
Lee’s wife, Joan, who was married to him for almost 70 years passed not long ago. According to press accounts, this “left a void” that resulted in a struggle among would-be friends, attorneys, advisers and managers.
All of this raises common questions not confined to Stan Lee’s experience. When you are too physically or mentally or emotionally debilitated to be able to act on your own, who should stand in your place and, where necessary, make decisions for you?
First, this is where financial and health care powers of attorney come in and occasionally, if you are incapacitated, then guardianship proceedings. But life, being what it is, it is not immediately apparent how to sort the villains from concerned actors. Sometimes even the alleged villain does not see himself as that. Also when family that has not previously become involved, and does so later it could be from protective or exploitive motives or mixed. Courts have seen many of these situations.
Things change over time. The person originally appointed as agent under power of attorney maybe should continue, maybe not. When non-family members become involved only recently – the lady down the street, a newly discovered acquaintance – bells go off. So, what should be done?
Step one – what should happen in a perfect world. In a perfect world, family including adult children and spouses would all work together including the person who is failing, wherever possible. They would communicate on a regular
basis, maybe have family meetings. Those closest to the situation would let the others know what is going on as best they can. Those at a distance would have confidence that the ones who are acting for dad or mom are acting primarily with their parent’s best interests in mind. There would be agreement on who would act if a parent or spouse could not, this would be designated in advance in a power of attorney signed by the parent or spouse previously and the designated agent under power of attorney would have backups or successors if the first person appointed could not act. These cases are least likely to end up in court.
What can happen. In the type of case where Stan Lee is involved, a regular trusted companion, his wife, could pass or herself become unable to act. Others then might move in. Children may or may not be looking out for a parent’s best interest and people tend to impute motives to the other. Old grudges can surface. One question to begin with is what is in the best interest of the parent.
Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.