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Lessons from the life of Mickey Rooney

While you are mentally competent, do not let a single relative or person isolate and control you.

In the recent past, the deaths of several celebrities have made the headlines by giving us examples of what we should avoid in our elder years and in planning our estates. Even if your estate is not worth the millions of dollars at stake in these high-profile estates, you should learn from these examples and avoid these mistakes.

This month, in our first examination of the stars, we look at the later years in the life of Mickey Rooney.

Mickey Rooney was a Hollywood actor who began as a child star and appeared in more than 300 films over an almost-90-year span. According to his testimony that he gave before his death, to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, he had been a victim of elder abuse.1 After Rooney had entrusted his stepson, Christopher Aber, with the management of his company that handled all of Rooney’s professional affairs, the stepson allegedly assigned himself 49 percent of the stock, named himself treasurer, funneled the revenue and residuals into a new account on which he was the signatory, and diverted all of the actor’s mail to a new post office box to prevent his actions from being discovered. Rooney was also allegedly threatened and badgered into submission by his stepson ,although he was deemed mentally competent.

Rooney eventually revealed his desperate situation to a Disney executive during the filming of “The Muppets” in 2011, which led to a court-appointed attorney to be his conservator.2 Despite a lawsuit attempting to recover $8.5 million of Rooney’s assets, the star died in debt with only $18,000.00 in his estate.3

POINTS TO TAKE AWAY FROM MICKEY ROONEY

1. Be cautious about who you trust, including your family members or helpers in your home.

2. While you are mentally competent, do not let a single relative or person isolate and control you. If some person (even if it is a family member) is isolating you, mentally or physically abusing you, or even if their presence makes you feel anxious, find someone that you can tell. Try to keep in touch with a wide range of friends and family so that you will have people in whom you can confide.

3. Don’t be embarrassed to tell someone if you feel like you have signed documents or given money to someone that you regret. Don’t hesitate to turn to accountants, attorneys or some other professional if you want to discuss your situation.

4. See an attorney and make an estate plan that should include documents, such as a last will and testament and/or a trust and healthcare directive, to make sure that your wishes for your estate are known.

FN1. Feinburg, Scott, “A Star is Burned: Mickey Rooney’s Final Days Marred by Bizarre Family Feud,” Hollywood Reporter, April 09, 2014.

FN2. “Mickey Rooney lawyer to control finances,” BBC, March 27, 2011.

FN3. Sales, Nancy Jo, “Mickey Rooney Blew Through Wives and Fortunes, but God, What a Talent!”, Vanity Fair, April 07, 2014; “After 80-year career, Mickey Rooney estate: $18K,” USA Today, April 08, 2014.


Kathy Brown Van Zutphen is an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama and Mississippi. She focuses on the elder law areas of trusts, estates and conservatorships. Additionally, she litigates lawsuits and represents small business owners as part of her legal practice. Visit Kathy’s website to learn more: https:// www.al-mscoastallaw.com. You can also reach her at her office: (228) 357-5227.

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