The Problem With (Some) Gifts

We’re revisiting an earlier blog post about gifts. Gifting, bequeathing, leaving to a trust, donations to charity. Usually, there are only nice connotations attached to gifts. It is, however, a cold, hard fact that a lot of the time one person’s gift is another’s ‘disinheriting’. We’ll be writing about the different aspects of testamentary gifting over the next few weeks, for now lets revisit this post from last spring. Call it Chapter One.

There is, according to the New York Times, a current epidemic of disinheriting across the U.S.

It revolves around elder abuse, but not how you’d expect. Not physical abuse, but psychological.

It’s been brought to the forefront by the Sumner Redstone case we’ve posted about on Facebook. Redstone is 93 and, by all accounts, in failing health. Earlier this year his representatives – or, rather, the representatives of the trust he put his considerable assets into years ago – were in court in California trying to prove that he was competent when he removed his live-in (and much, much younger) girlfriend as a beneficiary and evicted her from their home.

Now -right now – they are in another court trying to prove he was incompetent in April when he removed several life-long friends from the board of Viacom, basically ceding control of the company to his long estranged daughter.

That’s the rub – who’s calling the shots? The competent or incompetent Sumner, or someone else who has something to gain?

The financial and society media are in full agreement – it’s not the ninety-three-year-old. Vanity Fair has gone as far as to call the removal of the Viacom directors a coup d’état by the daughter who popped back into Redstone’s life over the past few years, about the same time changes began to occur.

So, you may say, this is interesting in a sort of latter day Falcon Crest episode might be, but what do the travails of a billionaire have to do with the rest of us?

Simple, this is happening everywhere, across all financial strata. Redstone, as the head of one of the nation’s top estate planning firms, Georgiana Slade, states in the Times article, “faces a situation where it appears that people around him are competing for control and each has their own objectives. It seems that people with an interest are attempting to influence decisions related to his estate, the trust, and Viacom. But the real question should be: ‘what does Mr. Redstone himself want?’

Of course, Redstone may no longer know what he wants, but that is not stopping anyone. Kerry Peek, an attorney and co-author falcon_crest_tv_series-909015505-largeof Alzheimer’s and the Law, contributed this to the Times article: “the Redstone pattern is happening in epidemic proportions. Caregivers in particular, often younger women, are ingratiating themselves into the lives of older men. They meet them at places you’d consider safe, like senior centers, churches and synagogues. They start as caregivers, and then they become romantic suitors. We’re seeing these scenarios with stunning frequency.”

Attorney Slade added, “It’s a huge issue nationally as the elderly population grows and their minds start to falter. I’ve seen charities coming after people for multiple gifts: Sometimes these donors don’t remember that they already gave the previous week. Romantic partners, caregivers who take advantage of the elderly — we’re seeing it all.”

The crux is, people live longer, which makes dementia in all its forms more prevalent. Older people rely on their caregivers and often charities. Their influences can be almost total. And, by the way, lest one thinks that Attorney Slade is being too harsh on charities, remember that with GoFundMe, etc., in this day and age everyone is a potential charity.

The thing is, the Redstone matter is a fight over the control of a multi-billion-dollar trust and the multi-billion corporations it controls. The shareholders of Viacom and CBS are probably the ones who will be hardest hit. For the daughter and other advisors, it’s all about control and what comes with it.

In the real world, the one you and I live in, it’s about money, houses, assets and taking them from the legitimate heirs. It is about disinheriting.

The effect of this ‘epidemic’, then, the disinheriting of family and friends and undo plans that may well have been in place for years.

In the long run, the Redstone matter is unique, unfortunately, only in its high visibility and the fact that this is happening while he’s still alive. The rest of us don’t usually discover this until we are, in fact, disinherited.

We can help – if you think this may be happening with a loved one, or a loved one’s estate, or think you are facing disinheriting like this please feel free to call a member of our team and schedule a consultation with our office.