B.B. King Estate under Cloud of Alleged Elder Abuse

Jackie Bedard
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The world lost blues music legend B.B. King in May after a lifetime of touring and delighting his fans.

King, 89, fell ill last October. At the time, his longtime business manager, Laverne Toney, held power-of-attorney over his affairs. The following month, police were called to King's Las Vegas home on allegations of neglect and elder abuse. The case remained open, and police and social services were called again in April 2015. A judge dismissed the case in early May, declaring neither investigation had revealed evidence of abuse, leaving Toney in legal control of King's affairs. 

Two weeks later, King died, leaving his estate in a tug of war between Toney and King's surviving eleven out of fifteen biological and adoptive children.

King's estate is estimated in the $10 million range, according to a recent article by Forbes. With music stream downloads of his catalog increasing almost 10,000 percent since his passing, his estate's post-death value is expected to increase significantly.

Elder Abuse

While the battle over the blue legend's estate appears likely to continue for some time, the allegations of elder abuse bring to the forefront an important issue you can address with clients. 

Elder abuse can come in many forms. In particular, financial elder abuse can be committed by a family member, employee or health care worker, or any person who with access to the senior's financial resources. It also includes online, mail or telephone scams designed to trick the elderly into giving access to financial information.

King's children have alleged Toney put her own relatives on King's payroll as a way to siphon money from his accounts. They also say Toney isolated King and denied them access to see him during his final illness. 

The Las Vegas judge in the case brought by King's family, however, ruled the allegations were unsubstantiated, according to The Washington Post.

The 2015 White House Conference on Aging made elder justice a priority, and the Department of Justice has teamed with several government agencies to gather and share data and create materials for professionals and family members. Your clients can use the DOJ's elder justice initiative website to report elder abuse and contact their local office of senior protective services. In addition, the DOJ offers training modules to help recognize and address the financial exploitation of older Americans. 

We recommend sharing these resources with clients as a way to launch a conversation about elder abuse and how to protect themselves or loved ones.

Estate Planning Decisions

Prior to falling ill, King made decisions regarding his power-of-attorney, will, and trust. Like him, there might be legitimate reasons why clients might choose to have a professional advisor rather than a family member manage their end-of-life medical and financial affairs. 

King may have felt that having a third party handle his issues would prevent family squabbles. He may also have believed that Toney had enough experience managing his money and trusted her to make sound and unbiased decisions on his behalf. 

Whatever his reasons, King made those designations long before he became too ill to manage his own affairs. The courts upheld his decisions during his lifetime, but the legal controversy after his death may take months or even years to resolve.

The dispute surrounding King's estate is a good talking point to discuss with clients, both as it relates to potential elder financial abuse and the need to designate someone with authority to handle financial and medical issues if they are no longer able to do so for themselves.

We hope this information was useful to you and helps you and your families. If you have a specific case or a question, don't hesitate to call our office at 919-443-3035.
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