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Family dispute over Etta James' end-of-life wishes resolved

Readers in the Detroit area were likely saddened to hear of the death of Etta James, the R&B icon with the powerful and husky voice who sang such hits as "At Last" and "Tell Mama." James passed away recently at the age of 72. Sadly, in her later years, she suffered from a number of health problems, including leukemia and dementia, and the final year of her life saw much controversy over matters of estate planning. Oakland County residents may take interest in the dispute over the care of James' estate, as many families in Michigan often face similar issues.

James' husband of 42 years and one of her two sons from a prior relationship disputed in court over who had the right to make medical and financial decisions for the singer. In 2008, James' power of attorney was given to her son, but her husband said the singer was already suffering from dementia when the power of attorney document was signed. Her husband claimed that James lacked capacity by then to make good decisions with regard to the estate. James' husband and son were also at odds as to who should have access to the money used pay for the singer's medical care.

Shortly after doctors said James' illness was terminal, her husband and son resolved their dispute. The settlement named James' husband as her conservator, meaning he was allowed to make her medical and financial decisions for her. However, the settlement limited his monetary control over her medical care to $350,000.

Sometimes estate planning issues are difficult for families to talk about, since end-of-life wishes may not be high on the list of easy topics. But discussing long-term care, wills, trusts, powers of attorney and other important issues can perhaps be made easier by using celebrity examples like Etta James'. Additionally, Michigan residents who have questions with regard to estate administration will want to consult with a legal professional who focuses on estate planning law. Seeking this specific kind of counsel can ease the burden on family members and ultimately help them avoid probate.

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

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