Blues great B.B. King, who is now 89 years old and suffers from diabetes and other health problems, is the subject of a bitter dispute over management of his care and assets. The battle pits his longtime business manager, Laverne Toney, against a handful of his 11 surviving children.
King fathered and adopted a total of 15 children, from several different marriages, but four had previously died. Three recently went to court in Las Vegas trying to combat Toney in what they allege is a case of elder abuse.
Karen Williams, Rita Washington, and Patty King say that Toney is not providing proper medical care to their father, is restricting his children and friends from visiting, and that there are large amounts of money missing from King’s bank account. In fact, the family says it cannot account for more than one million dollars. The three children are seeking the appointment of an independent guardian for their father to begin making his decisions and protect him.
Toney’s legal team called the allegations about money laughable, saying his money is spent legitimately on King. Toney, who is acting for King through power-of-attorney documents, contends that the legendary performer is receiving proper care in a home hospice setting. She also says that the children can schedule a visit to see him as they’ve always been able to do. Toney’s attorney said the guardianship filing was frivolous and fundamentally flawed.
The Toney camp also believes that the filing by B.B. King‘s children is all about the money. Reportedly, his children believe King’s assets are in the neighborhood of five million dollars.
The case was presented in a Las Vegas, Nevada courtroom to the county guardianship commissioner, who acted as the hearing officer. He promptly dismissed the case. The hearing officer said that not all of B.B. King’s children and grandchildren had been served with copies of the filings and he saw insufficient evidence of an emergency.
The hearing officer pointed to two different investigations that found no evidence of abuse and had recommended that Toney stay in charge. Further, King’s primary care physician attended the court hearing and said King was receiving treatment for his conditions and was being made as comfortable as possible. The officer also relied on the fact that B.B. King had his own legal counsel, was not found to be mentally incompetent, and could use his lawyer to protect himself if abuse was happening.
The King children are allowed to re-file the case if they properly serve all of the other family members, but they’ll need concrete evidence of abuse if they hope to prevail. They said they only lost a battle, not the war, and have vowed to continue the fight.
Sadly, this type of guardianship fight in court is much more common than most people think. While those involved are not usually famous blues guitarists, families frequently fight when those who are not in control feel that proper decisions are not being made by the person or people holding authority through a power of attorney. These disputes are especially common when there is a second marriage or when siblings don’t get along.
In this case, the fact that B.B. King had a power of attorney — as well as a will and trust — led to the dispute being tossed out of court quickly. Without a proper power of attorney, the court would have been forced to take action because King’s health conditions prohibit him from managing his own affairs. Clearly, the court’s hearing officer felt that King’s choice of his long-time manager to act under the power of attorney should be respected.
On the other hand, the risk of using powers of attorney is that those with power can sometimes abuse it. When someone untrustworthy is named under a power of attorney, it can lead to abuse — along the lines that the B. B. King’s children have alleged have happened to their father. It is impossible to say if those allegations have merit in this instance, but certainly elder abuse is a growing epidemic in our country, and many times people will use powers of attorney to perpetrate abuse, whether of a financial, physical, or emotional nature.
Families who have legitimate concerns of abuse by someone with power of attorney can and should proceed to court through a guardianship (or conservatorship filing, depending on which state the person lives in). Actual evidence of abuse, or unsafe and inappropriate decisions, will be needed for those types of court proceedings to work when someone already has a proper power of attorney.
The place to start is usually with an attorney experienced in guardianship and conservatorship cases, who can help the family evaluate options and decide whether or not a court filing is the right step. Experience in these types of cases is critical because being involved in a legal dispute over the care and management of an elderly person is difficult for everyone involved.