One of Reese Witherspoon’s more famous roles was as the perky young attorney in Legally Blonde. Late last week, she accompanied her parents to court in a much more somber setting. It’s one that may relate to more of your clients than you realize.
Reese Witherspoon’s father, Dr. John Draper Witherspoon, was recently married. At least, that’s what a newspaper in Nashville, Tenn. announced. You can read the big announcement and see the happy couple’s wedding photo here.
There’s just one problem.
Reese’s 70-year old father, John, was never divorced from Reese’s mother, Mary. While they’ve been living apart for the last 16 years, they still are married. Mary says she still loves her husband of 42 years, but they had to separate because of John’s alcoholism, overspending, infidelity and hoarding.
In fact, Mary is very worried for John. She recently sued his new “wife,” Tricianne Taylor (whose legal name is Patricia Taylor), in order to annul the marriage, due to bigamy. Reese’s mother also asked the court to order Taylor to vacate the condo where she and John live (and which is owned by Reese), and to return any property she has received from the family.
Mary alleged in her court filing that John and Tricianne used fraud or forgery, with her possibly posing as Mrs. John Witherspoon, to trick a bank into lending $400,000 to them. She said that Tricianne has tried to borrow money as John’s wife. She’s also living in his condo, driving their families’ vehicles and even has convinced John to sign a new will.
Mary says she confronted John about it, and he didn’t even know he had gotten married. Mary is very worried for John’s mental and physical health, pointing out that he suffers from diabetes, a heart condition and what she fears is early-onset dementia. She says John was recently let go from the medical practice where he was an otolaryngologist for 30 years.
Reese’s mother tried to appeal directly to Tricianne as well, telling her that John was still married, with two children and four grandchildren. Tricianne refused to talk to her, Mary says.
So, with no other choice to protect John, Mary turned to the court system.
In fact, filing to annul the marriage was only part of the process. Mary also asked for, and received a temporary restraining order against Tricianne. This court order prohibits her from using the Witherspoon name or posing as John’s wife.
Even as helpful as that was, it still wasn’t enough to fully protect her husband. In fact, after this story first broke, we wrote an article suggesting that Mary should seek a guardianship or conservatorship over John, which is the only way to be sure that he would not be exploited.
These are legal proceedings where someone is appointed as a decision-maker over a person who is determined to be in need of protection, typically for being legally incompetent. The most common situations where these arise occur when an elderly person has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Interestingly, the same time that we were writing and posting our article on Friday, Reese Witherspoon and her mother were in court in Tennessee, seeking conservatorship over John. John appeared in court with them, where the family attended an emergency court hearing. You can read the article about it from The Tennessean here, which includes pictures of Reese and her father in the courthouse.
The Tennessean reports that the judge closed the court hearing on Friday, over objections from the newspaper’s attorney, and the outcome is not known. It is likely that the judge granted at least some protections over John, given the seriousness of the allegations and the fact that he appears to have attended the court hearing voluntarily with Reese at his side.
It’s a sad reality that people take advantage of seniors living alone all the time. We’ve seen many cases of this in our law practice, especially of single women desperate for money, who hook onto older, lonely men. And it’s not just the rich ones who become targets of the Anna Nicole Smiths of the world.
While in the case of Reese Witherspoon’s father, the relationship turned into bigamy, many gold-diggers are content to convince their victims to give them gifts, add their names to bank accounts or deeds, or change their wills or trusts. All of this can be achieved without a marriage, and the only way to stop it is with a guardianship or conservatorship court proceeding.
It’s never an easy task for a family to go court because of exploitation of an elderly loved one. It’s a growing epidemic in our country, with an estimated $2.6 billion annually lost to financial exploitation of seniors. Hopefully, the Witherspoon family caught this problem early enough to remedy it.
You can help your clients be on the lookout for elderly exploitation in their families by sharing these ten warnings signs. And, if your clients fear that an elderly loved one is making unsafe decisions or being taken advantage of, we would encourage them to consult with an experienced guardianship and conservatorship attorney in the proper state to see if these court proceedings are appropriate.
No one wants to think of their elderly loved ones falling prey to financial abuse. You can show your clients how much you care about them as people, not just their money, by sharing stories like this to warn them. It’s a great way to build trust and rapport that will pay dividends for years to come.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.