Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) alleges in a new lawsuit that she is the victim of financial elder abuse and is being denied access to funds from her late husband’s estate, adding to a number of ongoing legal complaints lodged by her and her daughter over the estate following his death last year.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this month, claims the trustees of Richard C. Blum’s estate are committing financial elder abuse by “wrongfully withholding distributions to which [Blum’s] Trust entitles [Feinstein] in bad faith and diverting assets that they should have used to fund” the senator’s trust. Feinstein has requested the removal of the trustees of Blum’s estate for breaching their fiduciary duties and wants the court to hold the trustees individually liable for the senator’s damages.
The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report on the lawsuit.
Feinstein, 90, and Blum were married for over 40 years before he died in 2022 at the age of 86 after battling cancer. Both Feinstein and Blum had children from previous marriages. Feinstein is independently wealthy and Blum, a financier, had an estimated net worth that reportedly exceeded $1 billion.
The lawsuit states that on July 23, the senator named her daughter, Katherine Feinstein, as her attorney-in-fact under a limited durable power of attorney. The younger Feinstein, a former San Francisco judge, currently serves as a San Francisco fire commissioner.
Adam Russell, a spokesperson for Feinstein, told The Washington Post, “This is a private legal matter. Senator Feinstein and her office won’t have any comment.”
Steven P. Braccini, the attorney for Blum trustees Michael Klein, Marc Scholvinck and Verett Mims, said in a statement that his clients “have acted ethically and appropriately at all times; the same cannot be said for Katherine Feinstein,” adding that “this has nothing to do with [Dianne Feinstein’s] needs and everything to do with her daughter’s avarice.”
Braccini previously said his team had not been presented with evidence showing Katherine Feinstein has power of attorney over her mother. He also said Katherine Feinstein has not “made it clear, either in this filing or directly to my clients, why a sitting United States senator would require someone to have power of attorney over her.”
Patrick Goodman, a senior lecturer at the UCLA School of Law, pointed out that the execution of a durable limited power of attorney “can be used in a range of situations” — from being used simply as a tool of convenience in the legal process to ensuring representation and decision-making capability in a matter for someone who could suffer from an illness or mental decline.
Goodman noted that in California, individuals are liable for twice the value of property recovered if a court finds that the property of an elder was wrongfully taken, concealed or disposed.
This is the third lawsuit involving disputes by the senator and her only daughter over Blum’s estate.
In June, Katherine Feinstein filed a petition arguing that the senator is entitled to sell the family’s multimillion dollar property in Stinson Beach, Calif. And in July, the senator, represented by her daughter, accused the trustees of refusing to make distributions to reimburse Feinstein’s medical expenses. Both lawsuits are ongoing.
Feinstein, the oldest person serving in the U.S. Senate, is grappling with these legal issues as she continues her recovery from serious health issues that followed her husband’s death. Her extended absence from the Senate earlier this year created headaches for Democrats because of their slender majority in that chamber — namely because her vote was needed to approve President Biden’s judicial picks both in committee and on the Senate floor. The logjam that ensued led a coalition of 60 liberal California grass-roots groups to call for her resignation.
But many of her colleagues at the Capitol defended her, and there was no groundswell of calls among California voters for her to step down before she returned in May. Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), a fellow Californian from the Bay Area and longtime friend of Feinstein’s, suggested sexism was at play, noting that a number of male senators had not been asked to leave office when they faced similar circumstances.
Still, Feinstein’s office has long faced questions about her medical condition and her ability to fulfill her duties.
The California senator was hospitalized in February with shingles and was then absent from the Senate for more than two months as she recovered from complications, including encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. In hallway interviews and congressional proceedings on Capitol Hill, she has appeared confused by questions at times and seemed to struggle with her vision and memory.
And most recently, last week her office said she was taken to the hospital after falling at her home in San Francisco and returned home after tests cleared her.
Russell, the spokesperson for her office, said the senator is expected to return to Capitol Hill when Congress returns from recess in September.
Amy B Wang and Maeve Reston contributed to this report.