The children of Buzz Aldrin, former astronaut, are trying to obtain guardianship over him in a Florida court – and he’s fighting back. According to the Wall Street Journal, Andrew and Janice Aldrin say their father is in “cognitive decline” and a guardianship is necessary.
Aldrin and his attorneys responded with a lawsuit accusing son Andrew and business manager Christina Korp of elder exploitation, and daughter Janice of “conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty.”
In a recent interview, Aldrin stated: “Nobody is going to come close to thinking I should be under a guardianship.”
The guardianship (called Conservatorship in California) would grant Janice and Andrew Aldrin control over Col. Aldrin’s financial and medical affairs. Medical affairs can include everything related to daily living. Financial affairs generally include control over all accounts and assets not held in a trust.
Aldrin appears to have significant financial interests, including Buzz Aldrin Enterprises and the ShareSpace Foundation, which his children and manager Ms. Korp are already heavily involved in. Aldrin apparently also has a revocable trust, which was set up with his two children in 2016.
According to WSJ, Aldrin underwent a mental evaluation this past April in which the doctor, a UCLA professor, concluded that he was “cognitively intact and retains all forms of decisional capacity.”
The Florida court proceeding for guardianship requires Aldrin to undergo three additional tests to determine mental capacity, which his lawyers say he will complete this week.
In the course of a conservatorship in California, it is customary for the Conservatee to undergo at least one comprehensive neurocognitive evaluation, which assists the court in determining if a conservatorship is necessary. In certain instances, the proposed Conservatee (as Aldrin is here) will refuse to submit to a mental evaluation. In some cases, this hinders the ability of the court to establish a Conservatorship, and in other cases, it does not.
California Probate Courts: Guardianship = under age 18 | Conservatorship = over age 18
In addition to the medical assessment (typically conducted by a highly specialized physician), probate courts generally require a report by a Court Investigator, who works directly for the court. In California, the Court Investigator’s report is extensive in nature and can have significant sway over the judge’s decision to grant or deny conservatorship. The court investigator, who is part of the probate investigations unit, is deemed to be a neutral third party whose duty is to look out for the best interest of the elder.
The court appointed Conservatee’s attorney also has significant influence over whether a conservatorship is denied or granted. The attorney for the conservatee is appointed by the court from a panel of experienced lawyers who specialize in Conservatorship. However, it is possible for the conservatee to separately hire his or her own attorney. When a proposed Conservatee elects to hire his or her own counsel, that attorney does not necessarily replace the court appointed lawyer. In Col. Aldrin’s situation, it appears he has hired multiple attorneys, who have brought additional lawsuits that may not fall within the context of the Guardianship. Despite the fact that Aldrin’s lawsuits may be separate matters from the guardianship, they are nonetheless likely to have a material effect on the Guardianship.
What is the next step in the Guardianship of Buzz Aldrin?
In a typical Conservatorship proceeding, there will often be two major court hearings: the hearing on whether or not a temporary (short term) conservatorship is necessary, and the hearing on whether a general (long term) conservatorship is needed.
With substantial initial evidence supporting the need for Conservatorship, the court will often grant a temporary conservatorship, even when there is opposition to the conservatorship. In situations where there is disagreement over the necessity of a Conservatorship or who should be Conservator, the court’s hope is that the opposing parties (and their respective attorneys) will work together to come to a resolution prior to the hearing for the general conservatorship. In situations where parties cannot agree on a Conservator, but the need for a conservatorship has been clearly established in the eyes of the court, the judge will sometimes look to appoint a neutral third party. The neutral third party is generally a licensed fiduciary who is known and trusted by the court.
Buzz Aldrin and his attorneys have come out very negatively against the proposed Conservators – Janice and Andrew – and it therefore seems unlikely that the court would appoint them to act. It also appears that Aldrin may be in a very gray area when it comes to mental competence. This can be one of the most difficult situations to work with in terms of Conservatorship because it is not uncommon for the proposed Conservatee to be vehemently opposed to others taking control of his (or her) affairs.
There are a variety of ways a situation like this can go. Much of it will depend upon the findings in the medical evaluations and the Court Investigator’s report, as well as how much of a fight Aldrin and his attorneys put up.
If you are considering Conservatorship for a loved one but know that the situation may be potentially complex or antagonistic, speak with an experienced Conservatorship attorney who frequently works in the court where the proposed Conservatee resides. Such an attorney will be able to outline the various courses of action and potential for success.
Our Contra Costa Law Office specializes in Complex Conservatorships. Matthew Talbot is not only a member of the Court’s Complex Conservatorship panel, but has been appointed multiple times by the Judge to represent Conservatees and fiduciaries in contested conservatorship matters.