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No Laughing Matter

June 15, 2024


Author: Shea Law


It’s a tragic reality that far too many people are forced to experience, but the horrors of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases can be devastating—and are all too common. The World Health Organization estimates that around 55 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, with 10 million new cases every year. And while many of us either know someone who has been impacted by dementia or have experienced the pain of dementia firsthand through the suffering of a loved one, sometimes it takes a high-profile case to remind the public just how challenging—and how complicated—dementia can be.


Such a case recently hit the headlines with comedian and former late night host Jay Leno and his wife, Mavis, who is suffering from dementia. As was widely reported, Mavis “has been progressively losing capacity and orientation to space and time for several years” which forced Mr. Leno to file for a conservatorship petition to formulate an estate plan for his wife.  While Mavis’ court-appointed attorney fortunately supported the petition, the court could have denied Mr. Leno the right to make legal decisions for his wife regarding her medical care and financial affairs. This case illustrates the importance of having an estate plan in place before you or your spouse become debilitated or incapacitated.


Mr. Leno and his wife are both extremely fortunate to be in a position to address the complications around Mavis’ dementia.  As Shea Law reminds clients all the time, without estate planning documents in place, it will be the court that has final say on who will manage your affairs if you become incapacitated or pass away. At the time initial reports emerged, Mavis’ next of kin, her brother, had not yet been consulted, and could have potentially objected to the filing. And the very fact that this deeply personal and painful issue appeared in the news at all resulted from the fact that publicly available court documents had to be filed. Happily, Mr. Leno’s petition was recently approved and the family can now move forward. But all of this publicity and uncertainty could have been avoided if the Lenos simply had power of attorney documents in place ahead of time.


That is why we work so hard here at Shea Law to make the estate planning process as accessible and convenient as possible for our clients. It’s also why we work hard to communicate the importance of proactive estate planning, and why our estate planning attorneys make it a point to discuss these issues in detail with each of their clients. We want to make sure you and your loved ones are prepared and protected, and we want to help you make that happen in a way that is seamless, while also leaving you with peace of mind knowing you have taken care of the people you care about.


Mavis’ attorney might have said it best: “Estate planning is something that most everyone needs, but by the time you need it, if you don’t have it, it is too late to get it.”

The information in this blog post is based on general legal and tax rules and is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal or tax advice. Readers should consult their own legal and tax advisors as to their specific legal or tax situation as it may require more complex analysis, or the consideration of other information.