Read the full, original-length article with links to the court documents, news, and other coverage by nationally-recognized investigative journalist Terry Lapoint:
Joann Bashinsky, Golden Flake Heiress – Her Legacy: Stop Guardianship Abuse, at www.tinyurl.com/guardianabuse
FROM OUR APRIL 2021 PRINTED EDITION
by Terri LaPoint
Joann Bashinsky, heiress to the Golden Flake potato chips fortune, was well-known for her selfless generosity and philanthropy. Yet, that was not enough to protect her from becoming still another victim of elder abuse via the manipulation of guardianship and conservatorship laws. Sadly, she spent her final year and a half on Earth fighting a fierce battle for control over her own life.
All it took was for a couple of disgruntled former employees to file a petition with a probate judge declaring her to be mentally unfit, and Bashinsky’s life was forever changed. With no due process, and without a judge ever hearing a shred of evidence in her defense, complete strangers were appointed to manage her money and given effective control of her life.
Horror stories like hers happen every single day, right here in America. People are thrown into a system that dehumanizes them in the name of “protecting” them. More than 1.5 million adults in the United States are under guardianships and conservatorships, with more than $250 billion a year in assets at stake.
Her story is a stark warning for others.
According to Yellowhammer News, the beloved Alabama philanthropist set out “to raise awareness about what is happening to far too many people as they grow older.” She wanted her legacy to be that what happened to her never happens to anyone ever again.
On October 1, 2019, Bashinsky fired two longtime employees, John McKleroy and Patty Townsend, after they refused to comply with repeated requests to transfer some of her investment money from one company to another.
According to court documents, later that same day the disgruntled employees filed petitions with the Probate Court of Jefferson County to place 88-year-old Bashinsky under the care of a guardian and conservator “who can make decisions for Ms. Bashinsky and give consent for her care and treatment and manage finances.”
On October 3, 2019, Probate Judge Alan King appointed a guardian and assigned a social worker to her case. All of this happened behind closed doors.
Neither Bashinsky nor her staff were aware of any of this until the guardian showed up at her home unannounced the next day. They immediately began researching guardianships and learned that what had just happened to Mrs. B was much more common than the public realizes.
Less than two months before, retired Alabama school teacher Marian Leonard died in a Birmingham area nursing home, where she had been forced into unnecessary hospice care under a guardian appointed by Judge Alan King — the same judge who appointed a guardian and conservator to take over Bashinsky’s affairs.
In both cases, Judge King set aside the Power of Attorney documents executed by Ms. Leonard and by Mrs. Bashinsky, respectively, utterly disregarding the people they had legally appointed to represent and defend them.
The petitioners had found a doctor willing to write a diagnosis of dementia. However, Bashinsky showed no sign of mental decline according to those close to her, as well as doctors who performed extensive testing and consultations, including her personal physician.
These testimonies were never heard by the probate court, and the court appointed both a guardian and a conservator to manage her affairs.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common practice when dealing with guardianship issues. Exonerating evidence is often either ignored or not allowed to be heard by the court.
After the conservator was appointed, Bashinsky no longer had control over the way her money was spent. The conservator did not make the same kinds of financial decisions that Bashinsky would have made.
“Mel, how are we ever going to pay for the kids to go to school?” This was the first thing Bashinsky said after learning that a conservator would be seizing control of her finances, according to her personal assistant Melanie Myers. Myers told Real News Spark that Mrs. B wasn’t concerned about herself — she was worried about the children and young people she might no longer be able to help through her philanthropic work. In addition to being a huge supporter of the children of the Big Oak Ranch, one of Bashinsky’s greatest joys in life was helping send young people to college who would not otherwise be able to afford it.
The purported purpose of a conservator or guardian is to protect a ward’s money, but many times a senior citizen’s estate is whittled away once their lives and fortunes are taken from them. Lonnie Brennan, editor of the Boston Broadside, calls the process, “Isolate, Medicate, Liquidate.”
Bashinsky took the case to the Alabama Supreme Court, which agreed that her rights were “egregiously violated,” and the emergency petition was dismissed on July 3, 2020.
However, Bashinsky had only regained partial freedom. There were two petitions filed simultaneously – the emergency petition and the permanent petition. Both listed the same allegations, but the lower court had only ruled on the emergency petition. That was the decision the Alabama Supreme Court overturned on July 3. The permanent petition had not yet come to trial.
With the permanent petition still looming over her head, she had additional court battles to fight. She was very concerned that they would end up isolating her from her loved ones.
“Mrs. B was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” Myers told Real News Spark. Through it all, Bashinsky reminded those around her that “God always has the final say.” Her hope was that her story would make a difference for others.
Even so, during the last month or so of her life, Myers said she could see that Mrs. B was mentally and physically tired. She confided in her assistant that the fight was really beating her down. She was under a great deal of stress throughout her final weeks.
In a twist of irony, the petitioners who started all this by declaring that Bashinsky was incompetent to make financial or other decisions were now reportedly demanding that she make huge financial decisions about the family trust by December 31, 2020. During the Christmas holiday, there were many long, stressful meetings demanding Bashinsky’s presence.
Joann Bashinsky suffered a heart attack on Saturday, January 2, 2021, and died in the hospital the next day.
During her memorial service on Friday, January 8, “she was slapped with new hostile motions in court from the petitioners. Mourners were reportedly stunned when some of them simultaneously received phone alerts that notice had been served of the motions.”
The court battles are not over, even with her death. There is a new judge, and the fate of the estate has not yet been determined.
What happened to Joann Bashinsky, a beloved philanthropist of substantial means, can and does happen to people all over this country, rich and poor. Instead of being able to enjoy their twilight years, their lives are being torn apart with endless legal and court wranglings by predators who do not value them as people. Laws, systems, and courts designed to protect our elderly are being manipulated to deprive them of their basic human rights. ♦