Scores of Florida residents are vulnerable to others taking advantage of their financial assets in the wake of debilitating illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Stories abound about these elderly victims being fleeced because of predatory friends, relatives and acquaintances. Now, one man’s estate is facing estate litigation after he left the majority of his $1.6 million estate to the conservator of his will, rather than to Mississippi State University as previously planned.

Allegations have surfaced that the man’s conservator took advantage of him in his vulnerable state, knowing that the elderly man suffered from mental deficiencies.

Official reports show that the decedent had been friends with his will’s conservator for several years before his death, though few would describe them as close. Since the decedent did not have any direct heirs such as children or other family members, he had previously established the trust for the university. In 2007, the trust was created to benefit the school; the only other distribution from the will was a $25,000 award to the man’s longtime housekeeper.

The man had been victimized by at least one other person as his memory began to fail. By 2008, he had given more than $100,000 to a ballroom dancing instructor. That man pleaded guilty to a felony charge and was required to repay the money, which he argued had been signed over as a loan.

Still, the man’s conservator suddenly was named as heir to his entire estate in an updated 2010 will. It is still debatable whether the decedent had the mental capacity to make any contractual changes to his estate plan. The man revoked his previous gift to MSU. In addition, it is not clear whether it is ethical to hand over assets to the person who managed an estate in a professional capacity.

This decedent may have been a target for an unscrupulous conservator, or he could have believe he was doing the right thing. In any case, it is important to remember that establishing estate plans prior to the development of dementia or other incapacitating conditions can prove beneficial to heirs and others associated with the estate.

Luis E. Barreto