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When a fiduciary fails: abuse allegations and estate litigation

The word "fiduciary" derives from the Latin word for faith or trust. And in essence, a breach of fiduciary duty involves a breach of trust.

"Trust" is also a legal term for a property right that one party exercises for the benefit of another. Those who exercise such rights for others are called trustees.

In Massachusetts and across the country, a breach of trust by a fiduciary can create significant problems. An example of this can be seen in the dispute over the estate of the famous actor Mickey Rooney

Rooney, a former child movie star, is now 92 years old and in declining health. He recently had to move out of his home he had lived in for many years. He did this because he was no longer to climb the stairs there.

Rooney moved into the home of one of his stepsons and his stepson's wife. This development comes about a year and a half after an attorney who is now Mickey Rooney's conservator alleged that another stepson and stepson's wife had subjected Rooney to a prolonged period of abuse.

The abuse allegations included verbal abuse, as well as the withholding of food and medicine. There were also allegations that the biological stepson and his wife took control of both Mickey Rooney's income and his finances. The court agreed that a conservator should be appointed for Rooney and his assets.

The stepson who was accused of emotional abuse and breach of duty is the biological son of Rooney's current wife. Rooney and his wife will not be living together, his conservator has announced. But no formal divorce proceedings are planned.

The proceeds of the sale of the couple's house will be divided between them. Mickey Rooney will get $500,000. His wife will get $525,000.

In essence, the sad events in this case show that a breach of fiduciary duty can potentially occur even before someone has died. The case has not been fully resolved, because attorneys for Rooney are still seeking an injunction against the couple who allegedly mistreated him.

Source: "Mickey Rooney's home to be sold for $1.3 million to West Hills firm," Los Angeles Daily News, Bill Hetherman, 3-4-13

To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on trusts and asset protection.

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