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Dispute over Etta James' estate plan resolved

Residents of West Palm Beach may have heard that Etta James, the legendary rhythm and blues singer, recently passed away. James, who later in life suffered from leukemia and dementia, was known for singing such enduring chart-toppers as "At Last" and "Tell Mama." She was 72 years old when she passed away, and sadly, the last year of her life involved some controversy over her estate plan. Readers in South Florida who are concerned with issues of powers of attorney, determining incapacity, medical directives or other estate planning matters may be interested in the dispute over James' estate, since many people in Florida face similar conflicts every year.

James was married to her husband for 42 years. She also had two sons from a previous relationship. One of her sons and her husband took their disagreement to court over who had the right to make decisions for the singer regarding her medical care and finances.

James' power of attorney was officially signed over to her son in 2008, but her husband said that her dementia had already progressed to the point that she was incompetent or otherwise not able to make the right decision at the time. In court, James' son sought specifically to limit how much control the singer's husband had over the money to be used for her medical care.

The husband and son reached an agreement around the time doctors said that James' illness had become terminal. According to the settlement, her husband was named as her conservator. That means he was permitted to make decisions concerning her medical care and finances, but his monetary control over her medical care was limited by the settlement to $350,000.

West Palm Beach residents who are engaged in or would like to avoid a dispute like the one described here would likely benefit from consulting with an estate planning attorney who is familiar with the relevant Florida laws. A legal professional can help reduce an estate's burden on family members, as well as help prevent assets from ending up in probate.

Source: Forbes, "Etta James, Others Remind of Need for Estate Planning," Danielle Mayoras and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 24, 2012

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