Did Groucho Marx Have Estate Planning and Elder Care Problems?

Julius Henry Marx, better known as Groucho, died 42 years ago on Aug. 19, 1977, at age 86. Groucho teamed with three of his four brothers—Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo—to become stars of vaudeville, Broadway, film, radio and television. (A fifth brother, Gummo, wasn’t part of the act).

PBS News Hours’ recent article, “How Groucho Marx fell prey to elder abuse” reports that the legal battles over Groucho’s money and possessions went on long after he died. The unrest of his last few years is familiar to adult children concerned with the well-being of their elderly parents.

Groucho’s relationships with his son Arthur and daughter Miriam (children from his first marriage) were also strained for various reasons. To add flame to the fire, Arthur wrote several books based on life in the Marx family, and Groucho threatened litigation over his portrayal in one of Arthur’s memoirs.

In the last few years of his life, Groucho had a companion, Erin Fleming, who was accused of elder abuse. Fleming was Groucho’s secretary-manager and was responsible for his popular comeback in the early 1970s. Fleming successfully campaigned for the Marx Brothers to receive a special Academy Award in 1974. In his acceptance speech, Groucho thanked “Erin Fleming, who makes my life worth living and who understands all my jokes.” However, some of Groucho’s friends thought that Fleming was pushing him too hard to perform, given his age and memory loss.

In 1974, Fleming was appointed his guardian and temporary conservator of an estate worth an estimated $2-$4 million. In 1975, Groucho even tried to adopt her, until a psychologist said he was not mentally competent.

Arthur Marx, Groucho’s son, sued Fleming for having a harmful and destructive influence on his father, including threatening his well-being and being abusive. He also claimed that she pushed Groucho to perform, against his best interest, for her own financial gain. In Groucho’s final days, a judge appointed the 72-year-old Nat Perrin, a close pal of Groucho’s and co-writer of the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film, “Duck Soup,” as temporary conservator of Groucho’s well-being and estate. Later, his grandson, Andrew, was named permanent conservator.

Even after he died, litigation concerning Groucho’s estate went on into the early 1980s. Groucho left most of his estate to his children but gave control of his name, image and movie rights to Fleming—an issue of dispute that led to substantial legal battles.

The court found in favor of Groucho’s children and ordered Fleming to pay $472,000, which she bilked from Groucho’s bank accounts, while she worked for him. Fleming committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 61.

In the 1970s, the term “elder abuse” had not been used, even though it existed. Today, elder abuse is a growing problem. There’s a long list of harmful activities, including physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological forms of abuse and neglect, as well as the theft or withholding of financial assets needed to live.

In identifying when elder abuse may be happening, it is important to keep in mind that some elders may be more susceptible than others due to risk factors. These include functional dependence or disability, poor physical health, cognitive impairment and dementia, low income, financial dependence, race or ethnicity, gender, and age.

Perpetrators also have their own set of risk factors, which include mental illness, substance abuse, relationship status (spouse/partners are often the most common perpetrators of emotional and physical elder abuse), and the abuser’s potential dependency on their victims for emotional support, financial help, housing and other forms of assistance.

Get some expert legal and medical advice on estate planning and the creation of a living will so that your wishes are known, and you and your estate are protected properly.

Reference: PBS News Hour (August 19, 2019) “How Groucho Marx fell prey to elder abuse” 

Elder Abuse Charges Brought Against Stan Lee’s Former Manager

District Attorney of Los Angeles County Jackie Lacey has leveled elder abuse charges against Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan.

MSN’s recent article, “Stan Lee’s Ex-Manager Hit With Elder Abuse Charges; Arrest Warrant Issued” reports that Morgan is facing one felony count of false imprisonment of an elder adult, three felony counts of theft, embezzlement, and forgery or fraud against an elder adult, as well as the initial elder abuse misdemeanor count.

Morgan took control of Lee’s business affairs and personal life in February 2018. Lee, the creator of Spiderman, the Black Panther, and other comic book heroes, had assets of more than $50 million in the last years of his life. Lee passed away on November 12, 2018. Morgan is said to have isolated his client from family and friends. Morgan also embezzled or misappropriated $5 million of assets, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2018.

The five counts of elder abuse filed on May 10 could put Morgan in prison for 10 years, if he’s found guilty.

The public first learned of the troublesome relationship between Morgan and Lee last summer, when the then 95-year old Marvel comic book legend sought a restraining order against his ex-aide over elder abuse. The request was made just three days after Lee put out a June 10, 2018 video on social media insisting that he and Morgan were working “together and are conquering the world side-by-side.”

Because of the video and the elder abuse filing, Lee’s financial advisor was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on suspicion of filing a false police report, allegedly concerning a supposed break-in incident at Lee’s residence.

A three-year restraining order against Morgan was granted by a county judge last August. He was found guilty of the false police report misdemeanor charge in April 2019 and was ordered to stay away from Lee’s family and residence among other conditions.

After years of making cameos in all the Marvel blockbuster movies, Lee’s last appearance was in the record smashing Avengers: Endgame, which was released last month.

Reference: MSN (May 15, 2019) “Stan Lee’s Ex-Manager Hit With Elder Abuse Charges; Arrest Warrant Issued”

How are Financial Advisors Trying to Prevent Financial Exploitation?

The next time you see your financial adviser, you may be asked to provide a trusted point of contact, such as a relative or friend to call, if the adviser has a reasonable belief that you might be a victim of financial exploitation. Financial advisors are trying to prevent financial exploitation given the increase in these issues.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “New Rules Battle Financial Scams, Elder Abuse” says that your adviser could place a temporary hold on a suspicious disbursement request from you, so your money is protected until the concern is investigated. When money leaves an account, it’s hard to get it back.

Changes include several new laws that protect seniors and their money. For older adults, financial exploitation is a growing problem. One in five older Americans are the victim of financial exploitation each year, resulting in the loss of $3 billion annually.

Mild cognitive impairment can result in older adults not seeing red flags for fraud, says Michael Pieciak, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), which represents state securities regulators. The ability to judge risk may be diminished. He noted that social isolation plays a part, with vulnerable seniors home during the day and apt to answer the phone when a fraudster calls.

Federal and state lawmakers, along with the financial services industry, have initiated new rules to help safeguard seniors and their assets. The idea is that financial institutions and professionals are on the front lines of spotting elder financial abuse. The changes are designed to protect seniors and to shield financial professionals from liability for reporting possible exploitation.

Congress passed the Senior Safe Act in 2018. This law protects financial services professionals from being sued over privacy and other violations for reporting suspected elder financial abuse to law enforcement, provided they’ve been trained. If a bank teller notices that a senior seems confused about withdrawing money or making puzzling transactions, the teller could tell a superior, who could contact authorities, if necessary.

Nineteen states have enacted some version of a NASAA model act that provides registered investment advisers and broker-dealers with guidance on telling a trusted point of contact and putting a temporary hold on a client’s account to investigate financial fraud.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 3, 2019) “New Rules Battle Financial Scams, Elder Abuse”