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Agreement reached on care of ailing singer Etta James

The husband of the terminally ill blues legend will remain conservator of her estate, a judge rules, ending a fight by her two sons over her healthcare and savings.

December 21, 2011|By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
  • Blues legend Etta James, 73, is in the end stages of leukemia and suffers from dementia, her doctors say. The fiery, headstrong performer who, friends say, once appeared capable of surviving anything, now receives around-the-clock medical care at her home in Riverside.
Blues legend Etta James, 73, is in the end stages of leukemia and suffers… (Matt Sayles / Associated…)

The longtime husband of terminally ill blues legend Etta James will remain as conservator of her $1-million estate, a Riverside County judge has ruled.

In court documents, the singer's son Donto James had requested appointment as temporary conservator, expressing concerns about his mother's medical treatment and the costs of her in-home medical care.

Donto James, of Moreno Valley, said he and his brother, Sametto James of Riverside, have reached an agreement with Artis Mills, who married the singer in 1969, that allows him to continue making financial and health decisions for his ailing, 73-year-old wife.

But Riverside County Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Cahraman agreed to release only $350,000 for her medical costs, less than the half a million dollars that Mills asked for, Donto James said. The ruling was made Monday.

Mills estimates that he spends about $30,000 a month on his wife's medical care, which includes a private doctor and nursing care at their home in Riverside's Woodcrest community.

Donto James said he and his brother asked the judge to transfer their mother to a hospital for a thorough examination to make sure she is being provided the best health treatment possible.

"The only issue is my mother going into the hospital," Donto James said. "I begged the doctors to do it this one time to make sure everything is OK."

But the judge said he would leave treatment decisions up to Etta James' doctors, Donto James said.

Etta James is in the end stages of leukemia and suffers from dementia, her doctors said last week.

The fiery, headstrong performer who, friends say, once appeared capable of surviving anything, now requires around-the-clock care.

Best known for her bluesy riffs and smoky nightclub ballads — including "At Last" and "Tell Mama" — she overcame drug addiction and weight problems and was on tour just three years ago.

Etta James moved from Los Angeles to Riverside in the late 1980s, telling The Times in 1992 that she was "tired of burglar alarms on your car going off all night.''

Her simple, ranch-style home is perched on a rugged canyon slope with a frontyard shaded by palms and towering succulents, and a pool and duck pond in the back.

This week's agreement could signal an end to the family feud over her care and savings.

"Mr. Mills' aim is to keep her alive as long as possible," Donto James said. "That's my aim too."

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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