Family fights over an aging loved one end up in court through guardianship and conservatorship proceedings all too often, especially in second-marriage families.
Then there’s the family of Zsa Zsa Gabor, a ninth-marriage family. Gabor’s ninth husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, and her daughter, Francesca Hilton, have famously been fighting each other for years. Hilton says she is not happy with the way her step-father is controlling Gabor and isolating her, and filed a court case after von Anhalt announced that he wanted his 94-year-old wife to be a mother again via a surrogate mother, an act that could in fact make Gabor a parent again, at least legally.
Ultimately, the question of whether Gabor needs a conservator will come down to whether or not her care or finances have been compromised. Planners with clients whose families are involved in this type of legal struggle over an elderly parent should keep in mind that there are two sides (at least) to every story, and these kinds of allegations are not always easy to prove.
Hilton’s attorney filed the conservatorship paperwork in the Los Angeles probate court on March 20. Interestingly, the case was assigned to the same judge who is handling Britney Spears’ conservatorship. Hilton asks to be appointed as the conservator for her mother, which would give her the right to make Gabor’s medical, financial and other decisions under the supervision of the court, if she wins the case.
In her petition to the court, which you can read here, courtesy of Eonline, Hilton alleges that for the last year and a half, since Gabor fell and broke her hip, von Anhalt has been increasingly isolating Gabor and over-medicating her. She says she’s only been allowed to see Gabor twice in the last several months, and Gabor was sedated both times. She wants her mother to be medically evaluated to see if she is required to be bedridden.
Hilton also makes accusations about the finances. She says that von Anhalt has allowed the house to go into foreclosure. Hilton’s petition includes a copy of a recent notice of default filed against the home by the bank that holds the mortgage. She accuses von Anhalt of taking out a $700,000 loan against the house, but says he hasn’t been using it to make mortgage payments. Hilton says Gabor and von Anhalt signed a prenuptial agreement, keeping her money out of his control, and this loan undermined Gabor’s wishes.
So how did the publicity-loving von Anhalt respond to the news of this court case? He held a press conference, of course. TMZ has the video footage, which you can watch here. In the video, he rants against Hilton and says she’s only after Gabor’s money. He goes on to complain how he and Gabor are $6 million in debt, and the loan was needed to help pay for her medical bills. He even goes so far as to blame Hilton for the fact that the mortgage on the house is so large. Von Anhalt insists he is a loving and devoted husband, who cares only about Gabor’s well-being.
Will the Judge intercede and order that Hilton be allowed more time to see Gabor before she passes away? And will the Judge attempt to find peace in the family by appointing a neutral, third-party conservator to manage the situation, given the obvious hatred that both sides have for one another? We’ll watch closely to find out.
If a client of yours ever finds himself or herself in a similar situation, where an elderly family member is at risk — or if someone is challenging the level of care that your client is providing — then it may be time for your client to speak with an experienced attorney who regularly handles guardianship and conservator cases. While no one likes to go down that route, good legal counsel early can sometimes even avoid a costly dispute, or at the very least, help your client through the process if a court fight is inevitable.
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.