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Groucho Marx’s estate planning mishaps

Posted by Ann Saponara | Dec 13, 2013

Groucho Marx was a great character.  Here in Fremont, his movies are still shown at the Niles Essanay Museum on Saturday nights (  Less happy & lesser known is that Groucho Marx got caught up in a conservatorship proceeding in probate court when he became older.

Conservatorships, sometimes also called guardianship proceedings, can happen not just to the elderly but to anyone who loses capacity to manage their own affairs.  But they can be avoided.  It is important to have an updated Durable Power of Attorney for Property Management which designates an agent and an alternate agent to act as your “attorney-in-fact” if you are declared to lack capacity by a doctor or if you give your agent permission to act on your behalf.  It's a very powerful document because the person can sign their name on your behalf.  So if I had been the attorney-in-fact for Groucho Marx (although I'm not that old!), I would have signed his royalty checks “Ann Saponara as attorney-in-fact for Groucho Marx” and then deposited into his bank account.  This last part is important because the attorney-in-fact has to act in the best interests of the person whose affairs he or she is managing.  I would have had a fiduciary duty to Groucho.  You should pick someone you trust implicitly for a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management.  It can allow your family and loved ones to avoid the need to file for a conservatorship or guardianship.

In conservatorship and guardianship proceedings, a court investigator talks to the person to be conserved, he or she testifies, the family testifies, and a judge determines if that person is fit to make their own decisions.  The person appointed conservator or guardian often has to post bond, which can be expensive.  Regular accountings must be done and filed with the court about how the money is being spent.  These are important safeguards and we are fortunate to have the Probate Court oversee this process when there is not already a plan in place and someone very much needs help managing their finances and care.

You can take control now, though.  If you would rather have your spouse or a friend or a professional whom you implicitly trust manage your affairs for you without the need of going through Probate court, I would be happy to prepare a Durable Power of Attorney for you.  Best regards, Ann Saponara

About the Author

Ann Saponara

About Ann Ann grew up in Fremont and attended UCLA as an undergraduate and Cornell Law School.  Ann has practiced law for 25 years, in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo & Santa Clara counties.  Her practice currently focuses on probating decedent's estates, trusts, trust administration and divor...

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