The Queen of Birmingham’s Fight for Freedom from Elder Abuse
We all know (and love) someone like Mama B. A proud plant lady who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty; who makes you laugh with her quick wit and spends her birthday playing Bridge with her besties eating green tomato pie. She’s represents the endearing mother, sister, grandmother, or even great-grandmother that we all adore.
This particular woman of grace is Joann Bashinsky. The Golden Flake heiress worth hundreds of millions of dollars is seemingly untouchable to most of us. But, while Joann Bashinsky is all of those things; a friend, a grandmother, a successful businesswoman, she is also shockingly, a victim of elder abuse.
The World Health Organization reported in 2020 that 1 in 6 people 60 years and older have experienced some form of abuse within the past year. There are multiple different ways elder abuse shows up: psychological, physical, financial, neglect, and sexual. For Mama B, it’s financial and psychological abuse that has plagued the last 10 months of her life. It started when two disgruntled employees, who were her best friends, filed a suit against her on the day she fired them. These two employees claimed Joann suffered from dementia and aggressively pursued a conservatorship of all her assets.
“They had all my finances frozen. I couldn’t even buy an ice-cream cone.” But for Mama B, buying an ice-cream cone was the least of her frustration.
Spend five minutes with her and you’ll not only realize that her brain is sharper than probably yours or mine, but she’ll also quickly tell you about the second “love her life” The Bashinksy Foundation. Second, only after her late husband of 37 years. Through The Bashinsky Foundation, Mama B has poured her heart, soul, and finances into providing scholarships for young people to attend college who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. She isn’t in denial that her success has made her well-resourced. But she has managed to do what most of hope we would in her same situation, to be wildly generous. She was sure to show us the plaque in her home office that celebrates her contribution of giving over $1,000,000 to send young people to college. She built a reputation as a generous, brilliant, loving businesswoman and friend… and that was all ripped right out from under her.
But the story doesn’t end there. The queen of Birmingham fought the conservatorship at the state’s highest level and the Supreme Court dismissed the emergency petition for a guardian and conservator. This means, she won! And she’s not tapping out just yet. Not until she has done everything in her power to raise awareness and help others effected by elder abuse to speak up.
Many of Joann’s friends can’t believe what happened to her. She boldly tells them it could happen to them too! American Senior Alliance Executive Director, Conwell Hooper, reported that $750 Million was taken from seniors last year alone. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Well, many seniors feel ashamed and never speak up. Mama B is on a mission to make this a hot button issue, especially right now, because predators are targeting many seniors while they are isolated at home. Her message to anyone who has been taken advantage of, tricked, or abused is that “they need to tell somebody and fight it because they’ll take every penny you’ve got if you don’t.”
When asked how family members and friends can support the aging communities and prevent elder abuse, Joann replied, “I don’t know how they can protect them.”
I don’t know.
Those three words are jarring in any circumstance but especially coming from the 89-year-old who managed to fight her way out of her conservatorship.
So, what can we do?
A member of Mama B’s legal team stated passionately that, “just because someone may be elderly, that doesn’t mean they’re incompetent and their rights need to be preserved. Their feelings and opinions need to be respected. At the end of the day a person’s property is their property.”
Changing the perception of elderly competence and raising awareness about elder abuse is how we prevent this issue moving forward.
Steps to Protect Yourself
- Have a will, trust, and back up trustee
- Keep your power of attorney updated every 5-10 years
- Clearly state your plan for your property, your health, and what you want to happen if you can no longer live alone.
Steps to Protect a Friend or Family Member
- Have a personal conversation with that person first
- Enlist their own doctors
- Talk to their clergy
Joann Bashinsky is using her platform to fight for those without resources. Like she always has.
“I want it to be my legacy that I stopped this and made people aware of it. I just don’t want old people to be abused anymore.”
All in favor of a Joann Bashinsky law to prevent elder abuse, say I.