West Palm Beach residents may know Reese Witherspoon for her starring role as a bubbly law student in the film "Legally Blonde." The actress has now found herself in a real-life legal role concerning the affairs of her father, who is thought to suffer from dementia. Although many of the court records in the pending case remain sealed, documents that have been released indicate that the father is now under a conservatorship of the actress and her brother.
The case began after the Witherspoon's mother saw a news report announcing the marriage of her husband to another woman. According to the mother's affidavit, her husband claimed to have no memory of marrying the woman. The actress and her mother sought conservatorship because they believe the second wife has exercised undue influence to convince the father to change his will. The mother and daughter also believe the woman has attempted to pose as the father's lawful wife in order to take out large loans.
Conservatorship grants the petitioner legal authority to monitor and manage the finances of a vulnerable person, but under Florida law, conservatorships typically only apply to the estates of missing persons. Floridians seeking authority to manage a vulnerable person's finances need to do so by establishing guardianship.
Guardianship is often necessary to preserve the assets of a person suffering from an incapacitating condition like dementia. In some cases, as with Reese Witherspoon's father, guardianship may be necessary to prevent another person from taking advantage of a loved one's vulnerability.
Floridians with family members suffering from incapacitating conditions will want to have a solid understanding of the ways that guardianship can be used to safeguard the best interests of a vulnerable loved one. Individuals with concerns about a loved one's ability to manage personal finances will want to consider acting sooner rather than later in order to prevent any financial exploitation that could strip a loved one of the assets necessary for continuing care.
Source: Associated Press, "Lawyer asked to investigate Witherspoon case," June 1, 2012