Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek Actress and NASA Volunteer, Is Embroiled in Complicated Conservatorship Situation

Earlier this year, Nichelle Nichols, 88, who played Lt. Uhura on the original “Star Trek,” starred in a highly acclaimed documentary, “Woman in Motion.” “Woman in Motion” told the story of Nichols’ role in diversifying the American space program, a role many don’t know about that the film’s director, Todd Thompson, felt needed to be told.

Nichelle Nichols, a fan favorite who boasts a Hollywood Walk of Fame star and a Life Career Award winner from the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Film Academy, also volunteered with NASA from 1977 to 2015. She was instrumental in promoting diversity in the recruitment of female and minority astronauts. This initiative led to the recruitment of Dr. Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in the country.

Now, Nichols is involved in an unfortunate dramatic situation of her own. She finds herself at the center of a conservatorship battle, much like that of singer Britney Spears. Similar to Spears, Nichols is a famous entertainer at risk of exploitation by her legal conservators. Unlike Spears, Nichols is elderly and suffers from dementia.

Nichelle Nichols and Her Conservatorship Battle

In the Nichelle Nichols situation, a disagreement over the actor’s care is occurring between her only child, Kyle Johnson, her former manager, Gilbert Bell, and a concerned friend, Angelique Fawcette, each of whom claims that at least one other party is exerting undue influence over Nichols and exploiting her.

Nichols’ situation started in 2018 when she was diagnosed with dementia. After she suffered from pancreatitis and Bell took care of her, she signed an advance health care directive and a general power of attorney naming Bell as primary agent, allowing him to make health care decisions and to manage finances for her. Angelique Fawcette was named as a successor.

In May 2018, Kyle Johnson, who felt his mother was being exploited by Bell, petitioned for conservatorship. He nominated a team of licensed professional fiduciaries to temporarily control Nichols’ person — including health care, food, clothing, and housing — as well as her estate and the financial assets. Johnson says the trigger for filing a conservatorship petition was learning that Bell had transferred Nichols’ home into his name as power of attorney. The petition kicked off three years of legal proceedings — with objections and battles over the cost of legal representation.

After filing the petition, the probate court suspended Bell’s power of attorney, and Nichols’ home was transferred back into her name. In early 2019, Johnson was appointed as conservator of her person and estate. Johnson served as his mother’s sole caregiver in her home, where he said he had moved to take care of her and protect her from exploitation.

Not everyone agreed that this is what was happening though. Nichols’ friend, Angelique Fawcette, and her former manager, Gilbert Bell, both challenged the actor’s conservatorship arrangement, claiming that her son is not acting in Nichols’s best interests.

Disagreements and Legal Actions Ensued

Gilbert Bell filed a lawsuit against Johnson, alleging attempts to remove him from Nichols’ guest home, where he has lived since 2010, and for “aggressive and combative behavior.” He said that he was the one who was responsible for “helping to restore her career and financial well-being.” Bell also considered himself to be a caregiver and a friend to Nichols. He claimed that he cooked meals for her daily, helped care for her after a stroke, and helped find and employ physical therapists, caregivers, and assistants to help her.

Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, disagreed and contended that Bell allegedly lived with Nichols rent-free in Nichols’ guest house in Woodland Hills, California, for a decade. Johnson said that he filed the conservatorship petition because he found out Bell had transferred Nichols’ home into his name. According to allegations made in court documents and in interviews with Newsweek, Bell was also previously accused of embezzling an unknown amount of money from Nichols. According to the LA Times, Johnson filed a countersuit against Bell in 2020, stating that he “exerted his undue influence” and “misappropriated the star’s income as her health deteriorated and memory faded.”

Some of the allegations between Bell and Johnson are as follows, according to IndieWire:

  • Johnson alleged that “Bell discharged Nichols from a rehabilitation facility after pancreatitis against medical advice and the wishes of her family.” But Bell alleges that “it was against Nichols’ wishes to stay at that or any other care facility.”
  • Johnson alleged that “Bell used this instance “to isolate Ms. Nichols from her family and long-term friends.” In his own suit, Bell argues that “Johnson’s recent actions have isolated Nichols.”
  • Bell also allegedly “forced Nichols to sign a health care directive, offering him dominion over her medication, necessities of life, and personal decisions.” Johnson later alleged “Bell forced Nichols to give Bell power of attorney over her financial affairs.” Johnson in 2018 petitioned the court to establish a conservatorship over his mother, alleging that “Bell had financially abused her.” The court “appointed a group of third-party, temporary conservators to oversee Nichols’ affairs and suspended Bell’s powers of attorney,” according to Johnson’s cross-complaint. But Bell alleged that Nichols has “repeatedly voiced concerns” that she didn’t want Johnson to be responsible for her affairs.
  • During the time Bell was managing Nichols’ career, Johnson alleges Bell “intentionally misappropriated income earned by Ms. Nichols, by siphoning cash from Ms. Nichols’ appearances at conventions, inappropriately dispersing the money Ms. Nichols earned, and misappropriating funds from Ms. Nichols’ financial accounts.”
  • Bell also allegedly “used her credit cards and forced her to get a $412,488 reverse mortgage on her property, and eventually used legal maneuvers to sign over Nichols’ property to himself.”
  • Bell alleged that “now that Johnson has taken a more active role in Nichols’ care, he has allowed the property to fall into disrepair in an attempt to force the pair off the property. Johnson has allegedly stopped paying for utilities and the sewer is backing up into the bathtub, causing an unlivable stench.”
  • Bell in his original suit also alleged that “Johnson has threatened to “kill him while holding Ms. Nichols’ walking cane, a threatening and dangerous metal object.”

A Friend of Nichols Believes That Neither Johnson nor Bell Are Concerned for Nichols’ Well-Being

The third person involved in Nichelle Nichols’ conservatorship is longtime friend and movie producer, Angelique Fawcette, who has argued in court filings that neither Johnson nor Bell are concerned for Nichols’ well-being. Fawcette made it clear that “Nichols’ son was absent from his mother’s life,” and said that “Bell fiercely controlled Nichelle’s financial affairs and her person.” She claimed that “Bell allegedly used Nichols’ money to upgrade the home he lived in on her property and bought new cars while Nichelle’s house sat in decay. He even contemplated marrying Nichelle so that her son would be denied his inheritance.”

Nichols’ House Is Sold by Son

Nichols’ house and guesthouse were sold for nearly $2.2 million to Baron Construction & Remodeling Co. Johnson says the proceeds were placed into his mother’s conservatorship account and will let him care for his mother.

The home, purchased in 1982, was Nichols’ pride and joy, say those close to the star. According to friends, Johnson acted against his mother’s wishes with the sale of a home they say she was “proud” of and helped to design and build. She is now living in New Mexico and her friends believe that she is lonely and isolated, but Johnson argues that it is to protect her from exploitation.

Both Bell and Fawcette told People that they have not seen Nichols since 2019, the same year that Johnson became conservator. We will provide updates on the situation as they become available.

Guardianship and/or Conservatorship Can Be Avoided if You Plan in Advance

It is unfortunate to see what is happening to Nichelle Nichols. We remember her fondly for all of her accomplishments, both on- and off-screen.

As you can see, it is very important to plan in advance while you are still of sound mind, to ensure that you choose the right people to make decisions on your behalf when you can no longer do so yourself. If you have not done a Power of Attorney, now is the time to get it done as part of a comprehensive Incapacity Plan, which includes an Advance Medical Directive and Long-term Care Directive®, or as part of a comprehensive Estate Plan, which includes an Incapacity Plan and a living trust to avoid after-death probate. Please contact us if you’re ready to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.