Recently, media mogul Sumner Redstone has been in the press because there was a fight to decide who should be his health care agent. Mr. Redstone is a director, chairman emeritus and controlling shareholder of both CBS and Viacom, and remains in control until he is declared incompetent or dies. At one point he had named his former lover, Manuela Herzer, as his health care agent; she was assisting him and living in his Southern California home. Last October, he had a falling-out with her and kicked her out. After some maneuvering, his daughter Shari was named as his agent. Ms. Herzer alleged that Mr. Redstone lacked mental capacity and that she should continue in charge of his health care. (A finding of incapacity would also have salvaged bequests to Ms. Herzer in the amount of approximately $70 million, which he had subsequently revoked.) Mr. Redstone has had an extremely difficult relationship with his daughter Shari over the years, including several long and public periods of estrangement, but of late she has come back into his life, and has taken a central role in his care.
The case ended up hinging on 18 minutes of videotaped testimony by Mr. Redstone, during which he was asked questions by Ms. Herzer’s attorney and by his attorney. A stroke and health complications have made his speech extremely difficult to understand, so he also had a speech therapist as an interpreter. A transcript of the testimony was released. His communication was extremely limited, and at one point he did not or could not answer when asked what his name was at birth (it was Sumner Murray Rothstein). However, the little he did say was not at all complimentary to Ms. Herzer (and it was full of profanity) – and he said he wanted her out of his life. He also managed to respond, when asked, that he was happy with the care he was receiving now from Shari and his family. The judge said that the testimony was a driving factor in dismissing the trial after only one day.
This trial is an illustration of two, or maybe three, important things. First, it is important to have named a health care proxy in case you end up in a situation such as that of Mr. Redstone. Although he is a billionaire, he’s now 92, and he’s failing. His health is declining, his mental capacity is declining, and he needs to have someone who can make decisions for him. Second, this was an indication that people don’t have to be at the top of their game (and can actually be pretty close to the bottom of their game), as long as they can indicate their wishes. (It helps to have enough money to be able to surround oneself with doctors, lawyers, and “interpreters.”) And third, it shows that fostering amicable, healthy and functional relationships with your family and friends can save you a lot of heartache and nasty squabbling at the time in your life when you need your loved ones the most.