The ‘double life’ of Mickey Rooney

The life of Mickey Rooney can be summed up by the title of his 1942 film "Andy Hardy's Double Life."

It has been reported that Rooney, who died on April 6 at the age of 93, had an estate valued at only $18,000. A victim of financial elder abuse, Rooney's life was far from that of the idealized teenager Andy Hardy.

Rooney was at the height of his career in 1940. He was one of the biggest box-office draws from 1939 to 1941, which brought him fame and fortune. His pursuit of the "good life" ended abruptly when his earnings couldn't keep pace with his spending.

Actor Mickey Rooney
Paul Morigi | WireImage | Getty Images
Actor Mickey Rooney

In 1962, at the time of his first filing for bankruptcy, he was already married and divorced four times.

Read MorePros, cons of long-term care insurance

The story from there is a tale of both inspiration and desperation. Rooney rebuilt his career over the next four decades, reportedly regaining financial stability through participation in more than 70 movies, coupled with appearances on television and stage. Later in his life, his inspirational story turned to desperation, as court documents revealed that Rooney had fallen victim to elder abuse.

It was widely reported that Rooney allowed his stepson, Christopher Aber, to manage his financial affairs starting in 1998. In court documents, Rooney detailed how he was subjected to financial and verbal abuse by his stepson and his stepson's wife, Christina.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Your Wealth

Weekly advice on managing your money
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services.
By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

In March 2011, Rooney testified before a Senate Special Committee on Aging, detailing his treatment. "Over the course of time, my daily life became unbearable," he said. "I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated. But above all, I felt helpless."

In September that same year, Rooney's court-appointed conservator, Michael. R. Augustine, filed suit against the Abers, alleging elder abuse and misappropriation of his likeness.

Read MoreRetirees keep one foot in workforce

The suit alleged that after Rooney let his stepson handle his personal and business affairs, the couple stole Rooney's money for their own use, kept him in the dark about his own finances, used threatening and abusive language and refused him basic necessities, such as food and medicine.

In October 2013, Rooney's conservator agreed to a $2.8 million stipulated judgment against the Abers.

According to advocacy group the Elder Justice Coalition, financial abuse costs its victims $2.9 billion a year, and the direct medical costs associated with elder abuse now exceeds $5 billion.

By coming forward, Rooney did a service for millions of elderly in this country by helping to publicize financial elder abuse.

As is often the case, celebrities can use star status to shed light on important issues. Rooney's courage will hopefully further the progress that is being made at the national level to fight the epidemic of elder abuse in this country.

To that point, there are many efforts under way to help in the prevention and detection of elder abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse, a program of the U.S. Administration on Aging, serves as a national resource center dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment. The NCEA website is host to more than 100 publications, ranging from prevention techniques and fact sheets to caregiver guides and questionnaires.

Reporting elder abuse is also made easier through the site, which lists every state's elder abuse hotlines, helplines or referral sources.

"There are many lessons that Mickey Rooney's life can teach us if we choose to look beyond the brightness of his star."

Another governmental resource is the Administration on Aging's online Eldercare Locator, a public service program that helps connect users to services by location through a ZIP code, city or state search for older adults and their families. Program representatives can be reached by telephone at 800-677-1116 or via online chat through the website.

Read MoreKeep future Medicare costs in mind

For those who are in charge of managing someone else's money through powers of attorney, trusteeships or court-appointed guardianships, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published guidelines that outline your responsibilities and duties, as well as places where you can go for help if needed.

There are many lessons that Mickey Rooney's life can teach us if we choose to look beyond the brightness of his star. His life was a roller coaster ride of success, failure and success again. Rooney summarized his life by saying: "You always pass failure on your way to success."

Ed Gjertsen is a certified financial planner and vice president of Mack Investment Securities.