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Updated on Jul 6, 2018

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B.B. King | An Estate Disaster

Elder financial abuse is a scourge that truly affects everyone - the rich and the poor, famous people and ordinary people, brilliant Nobel Prize winners and retired people who've never had any formal education.

The reason I draw your attention to cases of celebrity elder financial abuse is because they prove a point -- no one is immune. As Mickey Rooney once famously said before a Congressional Committee, if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone - and it does.

When we study celebrity cases of elder financial abuse, we notice the same patterns that occur in cases that come to us at Hackard Law. The magnitude of financial abuse may be greater, but the lessons are the same. Case in point: Riley B. King, better known as the musician B.B. King.

When he died at the age of 89 in Las Vegas on May 14, 2015, "the king of the Blues" was a rock-and-roll legend. And while B.B. King was world-famous, had 15 Grammys, and amassed a fortune of perhaps as much as $40 Million, his cognitive abilities likely began to decline in his mid-80's because of strokes brought on by complications from high blood pressure and diabetes. But perhaps more important than his declining mental status, and possible Alzheimer's Disease, B.B. King had another factor that we often see in cases of elder financial abuse: a very complicated personal life.

He was married only twice, first when he was 21, and again at 33, marriages which lasted 6 years each. But he reportedly fathered 15 children by 15 different women over the course of his life, 11 of whom survived him.

In 2007, King set up a trust for his family members that was designed to take generous care of them after he died. He also gave control of his finances and medical care to his long-time and trusted business manager, LaVerne Toney, who became the legal trustee of his estate and trust.

Unbeknownst to King's children and heirs, however, in 2014, he changed his trust, leaving each between $3,000 and $5,000, with the rest of his assets going to fund future college and education expenses for the family.

Needless to say, that change did not sit well with King's children. Shortly after his death several of them made a shocking allegation: that LaVerne Toney, as well as King's Personal Assistant, conspired to poison King and coerced him into changing his trust.

Investigators eventually ordered an autopsy, but there was never any hard evidence that King was poisoned, and a related lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Then new lawsuits were filed. King's heirs contended that King's Business Manager and Personal Assistant siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars, stole personal belongings from King's storage facilities, and allegedly prevented family members from seeing King in his declining days. However, investigators from Las Vegas Police and the City's Aging and Disability Services Division, it should be noted, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

More lawsuits were filed. According to the Hollywood Reporter, King's family has split into multiple factions, each with different lawsuits. About the only thing they seem to agree upon is that the 2014 trust may have been "flawed" because King might have been blind and suffering from Alzheimer's at the time it was signed. If a court agrees that the 2007 trust is valid, however, several of King's children, who were not specifically named, will likely receive little or nothing.

As these things go, the court cases surrounding B.B. King will probably continue for a very long time, with judges and lawyers working to untangle the complex and complicated life of a legendary blues musician.

Could all the legal wrangling between family members after B.B. King's death, and allegations of elder financial abuse, have been prevented?

Every case is unique, of course, but I do advise people who have multiple marriages, multiple step-children, and multiple half-brothers and half-sisters to iron out all their estate and trust issues as quickly as possible before they get into their seventies or eighties.

Changing a major trust document at the age of 88, just a year before someone dies, regardless of who they are, is likely to be scrutinized and challenged by heirs and beneficiaries.

If B.B. King had set up a trust 20 years earlier and had carefully documented to each potential heir or beneficiary how he wanted to take care of them after his death, there is a good chance that no one would have been left - pardon the pun - singing the blues. Unfortunately, such was not the case with B.B. King's family.

B.B. King | An Estate Disaster from Hackard Law on Vimeo.
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