Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L’Oreal fortune and the richest woman in France, was involved in a bitter legal dispute with her estranged daughter Françoise. The argument was over whether Bettencourt is competent to handle her own affairs at 89 years. Bettencourt’s daughter has long been calling for a judge to order a guardianship, and in October 2011 a judge agreed. Bettencourt’s complex situation demonstrates the need for guardianships and conservatorships if proper estate planning has not been accomplished.
After Bettencourt’s husband died in 2007, Bettencourt’s daughter was afraid that people were taking advantage of her mother and using her for her money. For example, Bettencourt had given over €1 billion in gifts to a celebrity photographer. Bettencourt’s daughter took legal action, asking the court to name a guardian for her mother. Bettencourt fought the request, arguing that she was still capable of managing her own affairs.
In 2010, secret recordings Bettencourt’s butler made became public. The recordings contained not only evidence of Bettencourt’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease, but information regarding political campaign donations to the prime minister’s campaign. These donations exceeded the legally allowed amounts, and caused conflicts of interest for members of the prime minister’s cabinet.
As a result of the recordings, the judge granted Bettencourt’s daughter’s request and named her and her sons guardians of her mother’s assets. The judge also named one of Bettencourt’s grandsons as her personal guardian.
Guardianships and Conservatorships
U.S. law allows for similar arrangements to the one that the French judge ordered for Bettencourt. In Arizona and New Mexico, a guardianship is for the care and control of another person, whether it is a minor or an incompetent adult. A guardian deals with the care of and well-being of the person under the guardianship.
A conservatorship is set up to manage the financial assets of a minor or an adult whom court has found incompetent to manage his or her own affairs. The conservator has the right to act on the person’s behalf to pay debts, maintain assets and make financial decisions.
The conservatorship/guardianship process can be very expensive and protracted, and it is very public, as attested to by the Bettencourt matter. A properly created and maintained living trust will help people in Arizona and New Mexico avoid the publicity, expense, delays and other grief of these proceedings, while providing great protection for the person in need.
Source: France’s Bitter Family Feud, Tracy McNicoll