As the CEO of the leading national online caregiving company, I read with considerable interest the court battle to oversee the health care of Sumner Redstone, the 92-year-old billionaire who controls both Viacom and CBS. Redstone's decline admittedly has some significant business implications, but the saga should be viewed with alarm by all aging parents with children, caretakers and active romantic relationships. One doesn't have to be a billionaire to experience Redstone's unfortunate end-of-life predicament.
Redstone's former lover and once designated health guardian Manuela Herzer last year filed a lawsuit alleging that the media mogul's cognitive abilities had been "decimated" for months and that Sumner wasn't of sound mind when he removed her as his legal guardian and significant beneficiary in October. Judge David J. Cowan dismissed the lawsuit after seeing Sumner's videotaped testimony trashing Herzer with obscenities and insisting he no longer wanted her in his life. Redstone's daughter Shari, who the media mogul once ostracized, has apparently taken control of her father's care.
The optics of Herzer's or Shari Redstone's motivations don't reflect positively on either of them. Herzer's professed love for a dying man some 40 years her junior seems rather incredulous, particularly after reading this piece in the May 2015 issue of Vanity Fair featuring Herzer and another Redstone live-in companion. Herzer claims that Shari Redstone, who is part of a trust that will take over Redstone's holdings after he dies, has brainwashed her father and turned him against her. Shari's 34-year-old niece, Keryn Redstone, has publicly supported Herzer's lawsuit.
The elder Redstone is twice divorced. He also is reportedly estranged from his son Brent, who sued his father for trying to cut him out of the family business. The two apparently haven't spoken for years. (Keryn Redstone is Brent's daughter.) It is truly disheartening to see all the interfamily dynamics at play here, when most everyone is looking out for their best interests versus the overall wellbeing and health of Summer Redstone, who is in need of care.
In my experience, battles over control of an elder's health care rarely are motivated out of a concern for the person whose guardianship is in dispute. Rather, the battles invariably are driven by financial concerns, most often over the cost of health care and how treatments are eroding the legacies of those who stand to inherent the elder's remaining funds. Unfortunately, money-driven legal battles are just as easily waged among once loving families as they are by former mistresses who have been cut out of their lovers' wills. That's why parents should leave clear and explicit instructions about the end-of-life care they wish to receive and not necessarily entrust their children to carry out their wishes.
The individuals I've witnessed experiencing the most peaceful final moments are the ones who are surrounded by loving family and friends who are truly saddened by the impending loss of their loved ones. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but Redstone appears destined to finish out his life surrounded by individuals more focused on their legal strategies than his pending passing from earth. For all Redstone's incredible power and wealth, he quite likely will die emotionally abandoned and alone.
Redstone's life serves as a cautionary lesson that money not only can't buy love, it often breeds and attracts some very predatory individuals.