Amid public triumph, private turmoil for Marvel’s Stan Lee

FILE - In this April 23, 2018 file photo, Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan arrive at the world premiere of "Avengers: Infinity War" in Los Angeles. After the death last July of his wife Joan, the Marvel mogul has found himself in the middle of a fight over his finances and properties that has led to lawsuits, a restraining order and a police investigation of elder abuse. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES — It has been another epic year for characters Stan Lee helped create, with “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” earning more than $3 billion combined globally and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” still to open next week, all three featuring the clever cameos beloved by devoted fans of the Marvel Comics mastermind.

But for Lee himself, the past year has been tough and tumultuous. After the death last July of Joan, his wife of 69 years and partner in all things, the 95-year-old has found himself in the middle of a fight over his finances and legacy that has led to lawsuits, a restraining order and a police investigation of elder abuse.

His exact circumstances may be unique, but Lee’s status as a celebrity in declining mental health and vulnerable to exploitation has many precedents and may become increasingly common as a wave of wealthy baby boomers reaches old age.

Into the void left behind by Joan Lee poured many acquaintances seeking a part of her popular and accommodating husband, and holdings his lawyer estimates are worth between $50 million to $70 million.

Probate attorney Troy Martin, who has worked on the cases of many late-in-life celebrities, including Casey Kasem, said Lee’s circumstances made him a compelling target.

“He’s going through the grief of a wife he relied upon. He’s always had the reputation for being a people pleaser, and you add his grief to, at 95, some cognitive difficulties, it makes him vulnerable,” said Martin, who is not involved in Lee’s case.

Key to Lee’s situation is his only child, 68-year-old Joan Celia “JC” Lee, who has been dependent her entire life on her father, according to a sworn declaration signed by Lee in February that was drafted by attorney Tom Lallas.