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Etta James' family resolves power of attorney dispute

Yes, issues of estate planning may not be every family's favorite topic of discussion, but residents in the Seattle area would be wise not to push to the wayside important decisions regarding wills, trusts, long-term care planning, power of attorney and other estate planning issues. To help expedite the process, a discussion of a celebrity's particular estate plan can often ease the discomfort some family members feel with regard to end-of-life wishes.

For instance, take Etta James, the powerful rhythm and blues legend who passed away recently at age 72. Before she died, James suffered from a variety of health problems, including dementia and leukemia. Unfortunately, the final year of her life also saw much controversy.

James was married to her husband for 42 years. However, her power of attorney gave authority to one of her two adult sons from a prior relationship. The power of attorney was signed in 2008, and her husband claimed James was already suffering from dementia and was incompetent when she signed the document.

In court, James' son and husband disagreed over who actually had the right to make financial and medical decisions for the singer. The men also didn't agree over how much funding James' husband should have to pay for his wife's care.

When doctors said the singer had reached the terminal stage in her illness, the family finally resolved their differences. According to the settlement, James' husband was named as her conservator (called a guardian in Washington). But the settlement only let him handle $350,000 of funds for her medical treatment.

Guardianship disputes like the one surrounding Etta James are usually very expensive and time-consuming, not to mention painful for family members who differ in how they think a loved one should be cared for. If a power of attorney document is being contested, residents in the King County area will likely want to consult with a sensitive estate planning attorney who is familiar with the current laws, and who will help family members work toward an equitable resolution.

Source: Forbes, "Etta James, Others Remind of Need for Estate Planning," Danielle Mayoras and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 24, 2012

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