A mere five days after the Hollywood acting legend passed away in his sleep at the age of 93, the family of Mickey Rooney was set to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom to fight over where he should be buried. Just hours before the court hearing, the estate reached a settlement — hopefully putting an end to the troubling feud that surrounded Rooney’s family the last few years.
On one hand, Rooney’s family fight should not be viewed as surprising. What else would be expected when a Hollywood icon dies with a new will disinheriting all nine of his children (from eight different marriages), his wife, and all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren? But a closer look shows how this family feud was far from the typical inheritance squabble we often see when famous people die.
Mickey Rooney‘s estate is reported to be worth a mere $18,000 at this point. While his successful acting career spanned more than 80 years, most of Rooney’s starring roles occurred during the movie industry’s “old studio system.” So Rooney’s estate is not in line to receive much in the way of royalties, despite the fact he was the highest-paid actor of the late 1930′s to early 40′s.
Mickey Rooney at one time in the recent past had assets reportedly worth millions. Sadly, he was the victim of elder abuse, allegedly at the hands of his step-son, Christopher Aber. In 2011 Rooney asked for a court-appointed conservator to protect him from financial abuse by the son of his wife, Jan Chamberlin. He even appeared before Congress and made an impassioned plea for better legal protection for seniors.
Rooney and his conservator sued Aber for financial exploitation, claiming he and his wife stole money from Rooney to fund their own lavish lifestyle, imprisoning Rooney in his own home, and convincing him he had to make paid appearances to save his house from foreclosure. Aber denied wrongdoing, but agreed to a $2.86 million settlement in October, 2013. Aber has not paid the large debt because he has no money.
It is no surprise that Mickey Rooney is estranged from Aber and Aber’s mother — Rooney’s wife, Jan, who supported her son in the dispute. While still technically married, Rooney and his wife were separated for the last few years. Rooney reportedly hadn’t spoken to her in at least two years.
Despite the split, Jan and her son went to court this week, demanding that Rooney be buried in a family plot, so she could be buried next to him. Jan’s other son, Mark Aber, opposed the request, as did Rooney’s executor and former conservator. Rooney was living with Mark since the legal proceedings started against Christopher Aber, and Mark is the named beneficiary under Rooney’s recent will.
With no money to fight over, the squabbling instead focused on where Mickey Rooney should be laid to rest. Luckily, the family reached a settlement, allowing his executor to bury him in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Rooney expressed his wishes in recent years to be buried with other Hollywood stars.
This feud is a good lesson; estate battles don’t just happen when there are millions of dollars. Sadly, tales of exploiting seniors and fighting over estates (even when there isn’t enough money to justify it) are all too common in probate courts across the country. No one ever thinks it will happen to their family — but it does. Good prevention, through proper estate planning and keeping a watchful eyes on elderly loved ones is critical.
Many families do not resolve their differences as quickly as what happened this week with the Mickey Rooney estate. Hopefully this will be the end of trouble, so Mickey Rooney can rest in peace. But, with all the trouble his family has seen so far — and the number of different estranged family members there are — it is far from certain that this will be the end.