I’m at the Southern California Tax and Estate Planning Conference in San Diego. Attorney Ellen McKissick spoke on Marriage: The Latest Tool for Elder Abuse. The basic scenario is someone who knows or is caring for an elderly person talks that person into marriage so she can claim half of his estate when he dies. Apparently this is occurring more and more frequently.
A dramatic example is former California State Senator Ralph Dills, 1912 -2002. He married his third wife, Elizabeth Ging Lee, in 1970. Ms. Lee had three children, two sons and a daughter. Dills adopted the sons, not the daughter. Elizabeth Dills died in 2000. Dills, who was teetering on loss of mental capacity, allowed his deceased wife’s daughter, Wendi Lewellen, to take care of him. According to a 2002 local ABC report:
Dills’ sons claim Lewellen began to dress like their mother and even wore her perfume. “I think she was dressing like that to deceive my father into thinking she was my mother,” said Greg Dills. Then came the biggest shock. Lewellen became state Senator Dills’ new wife, secretly marrying him.
Dills’ sons were stunned. Lewellen said it was for tax purposes. News10 contacted Lewellen and her attorney by phone, but they said they would not comment. Lewellen did say she did nothing wrong and called her brothers’ allegations “unfounded accusations” and said the situation has gotten out of hand and is “just killing me.” Sen. Dills left a large estate, with properties worth several million dollars. It’s now in tied up in the courts while the Rocklin Police Department investigates possible elder abuse.
Dills was called the ironman of California politics, having served in the state legislature longer than anyone, and ironically, he was known for his legislative work to protect seniors from elder abuse.