Mickey Rooney: Nine Lives

American actor, producer, radio entertainer, and vaudevillian, Mickey Rooney’s career spanned nine decades continuing until his death at the age of 93 on April 6th, 2014.

One of the last surviving stars of the silent movie era, he had appeared in more than 300 films.  At the height of his career, he was the top box office attraction from 1939 to 1941 and became one of the highest-paid actors of the era.  However, after many years of financial mismanagement of his millions in earnings, Rooney’s estate was valued at just $18,000 when he died. 

Old Hollywood contracts did not provide for royalties, so chances are there were no incoming royalties incoming from his 88-year long career.  Rooney’s biggest asset was probably a judgment against his stepson for $2.86 million from an elder abuse lawsuit.  The lawsuit claimed that his stepson, Christopher Aber,  had been allegedly funneling money from Rooney’s earnings to support his own lavish lifestyle. However, this judgment may not be recoverable as the stepson claims he does not have the money.

His will disinherited his nine children, all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and his current wife, from whom he was separated when he died, Jan Chamberlain. Jan supported her son, Christopher, throughout the elder abuse case, so it’s no wonder Rooney became estranged from them both.  Jan’s other son, Mark Aber, was the named beneficiary under Rooney’s recent will.  Rooney had been living with Mark since the legal proceedings against Christopher.

As there was no money to fight over, the focus instead turned on where Rooney should be laid to rest.  Just five days after his death, his family was due to appear in court.   Jan and Christopher demanded that Rooney be buried in a family plot, so she could be buried next to him.  Mark Aber, opposed the request, as did Rooney’s executor, attorney Michael Augustine,  and former conservator.  A settlement was reached just hours before the court hearing.  Rooney was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetary, fulfilling a wish he had expressed before his death that he be buried with other Hollywood stars.  

Jan Chamberlain continues to fight Rooney’s last will and testament, claiming it was written under “undue influence” and that Rooney had lacked capacity at the time the will was written.

Estate disputes don’t always happen when large sums of money are involved.  Probate courts, unfortunately, see many cases where seniors were being exploited and families have fought over estates 

Such disputes can be prevented through proper estate planning.  By making your intentions clear and heeding listening to the guidance and advice given by experienced estate planning attorneys, you can ensure that your estate plan will be executed according to your wishes.


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