Family feuds over the assets of wealthy relatives, either recently deceased or declared incapacitated, are typically sad and ugly, yet common place. When the family member is the classic R&B legend Etta James, the entire sordid story receives media attention and lawyers are kept busy.
As reported in local newspaper, The Press Enterprise, James’ husband of 41 years, Artis Mills, is seeking control of more than $1 million dollars of James’ money as part of a civil case filed in Riverside County Superior Court. If successful, the money would be moved from James’ accounts into either a joint account or to Mills alone as beneficiary and would be used for care, maintenance and support of Ms. James.
There are two twists in this story however. First, the singer gave power of attorney to her son Donto James and his wife Christy James and her other son, Sametto James back in February 2008. Donto has stated in a court declaration that he wants any money released to be overseen by a third party, “to avoid present and future family conflict and discrepancies.” Secondly, Mills filed for divorce in April 2008, although the petition was dismissed a few months later.
Sadly, James suffers from dementia and has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Her doctor has reported that she is unable to sign her name and requires assistance with necessary tasks, although she does recognize her husband and children. Her current condition raises issues dealing with powers of attorney in estate planning and planning for incapacity. If her children have a durable power of attorney, they will have the authority to make decisions regarding her healthcare while she is incapacitated.