Readers: The following was sent to me from Brett Darken, a Fiduciary and trustee who writes about fraud in trusts and estates, a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Darken has vast experience auditing the estates of those caught up in financially exploitative guardianships and conservatorships:

Good piece, Diane, and important on many levels !

His lawyer is suspect.

And so is his agent.

And manager.

And Financial advisors.

And Tax advisors.

It is their singular job to advocate for his (their) financial


Any guardianship is a huge red flag. It is invasive, and expensive and many of them are unnecessary.

There are literally millions of people with various forms of cognitive disability.

There are dementia care facilities from coast to coast. The patients are given professional care. Few if any of them need a “conservator” to “protect” them.

Guardianship/conservatorship is a very complex legal arrangement that brings the state (the courts are part of the state) into a family’s private (financial) life.

Jay and Mavis are not compelled to create estate plans. It is very likely that their team of legal and financial professionals are on the record telling them to make plans for their assets, and they declined.

It’s worth noting here: Not having a will doesn’t mean that an estate is fated to chaos. It means that the assets (and liabilities) of the person will be administered according to the state. Every state has a section of legal code that defines the distribution of a dead person’s assets. “Intestate” does not mean “in chaos.”

The red flag in the case of Jay and Mavis is that there are dozens of legal and financial tools available that are far less legally complex, far less restrictive and far less expensive to employ.

It’s possible that the argument in play is that as a joint holding relationship, half of their assets are hers. Since she is now incompetent (and thus can’t sign legal documents and thus make a will).

But Jay is still free to do what he wants to with his half of their joint assets. If Jay and Mavis are jointly worth 50 million dollars, Jay’s “half” would be 25 million dollars. He could put 10 million in a trust for the benefit of Mavis’ care during her life. At current interest rates---using just CD/money market rates---that trust would generate $500,000 (annually) for the care of Mavis. That’s more than 1300/day, every day of the year.

Or he can chose to do nothing. But there are many simple alternatives to the scheme being proposed!

What we see repeatedly is that people “volunteer” for guardianships under the guise of “judicial protections.” But once they have volunteered to be in a guardianship, they can’t get out. The Britney Spears is high-profile example. The guardianship of Margarita Salcido Hart is a similar cautionary tale. They are invasive and expensive and in most cases, unnecessary.

Thanks for sharing your very smart piece.

Can't wait for the audio book!

Brett Darken

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This is such an important issue. I Googled you because I wanted to see if you ever humbled yourself over your outsized role in the psychopathic media environment around the sadistic extortion and public humiliation of Michael Jackson, and I wanted to hate you...

...but as a lifelong Britney Spears fan I have been emotionally invested in the insane conservatorship racket topic for 13 years and your reporting here reminds me that the same person can be capable of grave sin and doing God's work.

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Well, ummm, thanks I guess. If you are seriously interested in my investigative findings on the Michael Jackson child molestation allegations you might read "Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case", (Simon Shuster/Atria). The audiobook version includes four all new chapters, including one on the myths about Jackson that have circulated since his death.

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