Wendy Williams and Wells Fargo: Everything We Know About the Legal Battle

Wells Fargo alleges that the talk show host is the victim of 'financial exploitation' while Williams says she is 'of sound mind.'

Wendy Williams has been away for more than six months from her eponymous talk show and in the midst of her hiatus, another battle has been taking place in court over access to her money. The battle stems from accusations by her bank that the TV personality is "incapacitated" and is in need of a guardianship.

The 57-year-old TV host, however, is fighting back, saying "she is fine" and "of sound mind," and her lawyers went to court in an effort to help her regain access to her money in personal and business accounts at Wells Fargo.

ET's been following these developments since lawyers for the bank and Williams filed legal documents laying out their case. The TV host's lawyers also filed for a temporary restraining order against the bank, which a judge has yet to rule on.

Here's everything that's transpired so far and what we know about her new legal battle.  

Williams' health struggles play out on TV

In the last several years, the TV personality's health struggles -- coupled with upheaval in her personal life -- have been well documented: from fainting on live TV back in October 2017 (which she claimed was from dehydration), revealing her Graves' disease diagnosis on her show in February 2018 (forcing her to take three weeks off from her show) and her shoulder fracture in December 2018, to dealing with a very public breakup with then-husband Kevin Hunter, whom she officially divorced in January 2020 after 25 years of marriage.

When the pandemic hit, not only was she forced to film her show remotely, Williams again was forced to take more time off from the show in May 2020 to deal with health concerns related to Graves' disease, an immune system disorder that results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones.

"My thyroid, my hyper thyroid is attached to Graves’ disease," Williams explained during an episode of The Wendy Williams Show. "Graves’ disease squeezes the muscles behind your eyeballs."  

Just as she was gearing up to return for her 13th season last fall, the show announced on Sept. 9, 2021 that Williams would temporarily step back from promoting the show while she dealt with some "ongoing health issues."

At the time, no specifics about Williams' health issues were shared, and the situation was only compounded after she tested positive for a breakthrough COVID-19 case, pushing the scheduled season 13 premiere date from Sept. 20, 2021 to Oct. 4, 2021. Following the news of Williams' bout with COVID, TMZ reported that she volunteered to be hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation. Williams, who has not hosted her show since July 2021, was also spotted by DailyMail photographers in a wheelchair, leaving her Manhattan apartment. 

The season 13 premiere date would eventually be pushed again to Oct. 18, the show announced. According to the statement, Williams continued "to be under a doctor's care and was "still not ready to return to work." At that point, her breakthrough COVID-19 case was no longer an issue -- after she tested negative -- but Williams was "still dealing with some ongoing medical issues" due to her Graves' disease and her thyroid condition.

Williams would eventually share a health update on Nov. 10, 2021, saying, "I’m making progress but it’s just one of those things that’s taking longer than we expected. I’m a woman of a certain age, and I know enough to listen to my doctors and will return to my purple chair as soon as we all agree I’m ready."

The string of postponements ultimately led to a slew of guest hosts for The Wendy Williams Show, from Fat Joe and Remy Ma to Michael Rapaport and Kym Whitley, among others. Sherri Shepherd, who was also part of the rotating list of guest hosts, would eventually take over as the permanent guest host until Williams is able to return.

But just as the show was on its way to regaining some on-air consistency, Williams made more headlines due to her court battle.

Wells Fargo freezes Williams' bank accounts

In a letter filed in court, Wells Fargo made a number of allegations, including that the bank "has strong reason to believe that [Williams] is the victim of undue influence and financial exploitation." The bank revealed Williams is "an established client of Wells Fargo and, notably, 15 years with the particular financial advisor" whom the bank says is "a 23-year veteran of the financial services industry with an unblemished record."

The bank claimed it's "relying not only on reports of the financial advisor, who has recently witnessed telltale signs of exploitation, including [Williams'] own expressed apprehensions, but also upon other independent third-parties who know the petitioner well and share these concerns."

The bank claimed a financial regulatory rule authorizes it "to place a temporary hold on disbursement of funds or securities where such activity is suspected." The bank also claimed "that is precisely what Wells Fargo has done here, pending a determination in the Guardianship Part concerning its client's capacity." Wells Fargo also filed a petition for the appointment of a guardian.

Williams files a response

Williams' lawyer filed a letter in court explaining why they are filing a temporary restraining order in response to Wells Fargo freezing Williams' accounts.

In the letter, Williams "denies that she is the victim of undue influence and financial exploitation." The letter also stated, "Despite [Wells Fargo's] assertion that its suspicions are genuine, their decision to deny [Williams] access to her financial assets for weeks without providing her or her counsel with adequate explanation or evidence to support its decision ... gives pause for concern about [Wells Fargo's] intentions."

The lawyer went on to say that Williams' "inability to access her financial assets has caused her to be in breach of ongoing financial obligations."

Wells Fargo files second letter in court 

In the letter, the law firm representing Wells Fargo reiterated that it is "concerned about [Williams'] situation and want to reiterate our desire to be heard if the Court intends to consider [Williams'] attempt to re-litigate the issue of a TRO." The firm also said it is its hope "that the Guardianship Part will imminently appoint a temporary guardian or evaluator to review the situation and ensure that [Williams'] affairs are being properly handled pending the applications before Your Honor and in the Guardianship Part."

Wells Fargo's lawyers stated in the letter that the bank is open to arranging with Williams' counsel "to release funds directly to the creditors to pay outstanding amounts that have been historically and regularly paid from the accounts in question, such as employee salaries, utilities and the like."

Williams files for a temporary restraining order

According to legal documents, obtained by ET, Williams is asking the judge to order Wells Fargo to "reopen any frozen accounts or assets" and grant Williams "access to any and all accompanying statements." She also wants the bank to be barred "from freezing any and all assets which contain funds that were removed and/or withheld" from Williams' own personal and business accounts.

In the documents, Williams claimed that "for more than two weeks, [Wells Fargo] has denied [Williams] any access, whether online or otherwise, to her financial accounts, assets, and statements based on the advisement by [Williams'] former financial advisor, Lori Schiller, that [Williams] was of unsound mind." 

Williams went on to claim in court docs that Schiller was terminated as her financial advisor "due to Schiller's malfeasance in relation to [Williams'] accounts and Schiller's improper conduct in relation to their professional relationship." Williams claimed Wells Fargo "continues to rely on Schiller's advisement as support for its decision to deny [Williams] access to her financial assets and statements."

Wells Fargo releases statement 

In a statement to ET, a rep for the bank said, "We deny any allegations of improper actions with respect to Ms. Williams’ accounts and are fully participating in a court process to reach a resolution that is in her best interest. The financial well-being of our clients is at the heart of everything we do."

The statement continued, "Wells Fargo’s priority is the financial well-being of Ms. Williams and the preservation of her privacy. As we have expressed to the Court, Wells Fargo is open to working with Ms. Williams’ counsel to release funds directly to her creditors for bills historically and regularly paid from her accounts."

Williams' rep releases lengthy statement 

LaShawn Thomas, one of Williams' attorneys, released a statement to ET denying the TV host is of unsound mind. 

"On behalf of Wendy Hunter, professionally known as Wendy Williams, as counsel to her and her affairs, Wendy wants the world to know that she strenuously denies all allegations about her mental health and well-being," the statement began. "During this hiatus from the show, Wendy has employed holistic health professionals to help her reach optimal health during her treatment of Graves’ disease and thyroid concerns.

"It saddens Wendy that Wells Fargo, has chosen to believe the allegations of a former employee who is upset because she no longer has direct and unfettered access to Wendy's financial affairs. Wendy had to unfortunately bring this action because Wells Fargo has refused to honor her Power of Attorney, granting her son authority to make inquiries to the bank on Wendy's behalf. Wendy further believes that all of the false narratives currently making the rounds derive from this source and she is saddened that she once considered this person a friend."

The statement went on to say, "Wendy can't believe that Wells Fargo has wrongly denied her access to her funds without justification. She has spoken to several bank representatives and has even gone into a local branch and discussed this issue with bank managers, as clear evidence that there are no concerns about her state of mind. In fact, Wells Fargo’s alleged suspicions were never raised until Wendy made it known that she no longer wanted to bank at Wells Fargo due to the bank's mishandling of her complaints against her advisor."

"Wendy wants you to know she is fine; she is of sound mind and disappointed about falsely circulated statements from an industry she has devoted her life to," the statement continued. "Wendy is grateful for the love and the outpouring of support she has received from her fans and she can't wait to get back. 

"She thanks everyone who has been patiently awaiting her return and believes that, thanks in large part to the love and support of her son, her family, her new team of doctors and a change of scenery, she is on the mend. Wendy says to all her fans, 'How you doing?'"

Williams files affidavit in court

In an affidavit filed in court on Feb. 11 and obtained by ET, Williams said her request for relief arises from, among other things, the bank's "failure and refusal to reopen my personal, business, deferred compensation, and investment accounts and unfreeze my financial assets, which has caused and is causing imminent and irreparable financial harm to myself, my family, and my business."

She went on to say that "for more than two weeks, Wells Fargo has repeatedly denied my requests to access my financial assets, which total over several million dollars. I have submitted multiple written requests to Wells Fargo and I have visited various Wells Fargo branches in the South Florida area in an effort to resolve this matter outside of the courtroom."

Williams alleged that Schiller "was and is disgruntled by this decision for a potential change in direction, and it saddens me that [Wells Fargo] and I have not been able to resolve this controversy amicably." She added that "despite my decision to terminate Schiller as a result of her improper conduct in relation to my accounts, Wells Fargo continues to deny me access to my financial assets and statements."

As a result, Williams claimed, "I have defaulted and I am at risk of defaulting on several billing and financial obligations, including, but not limited to, mortgage payments and employee payroll."

Who is Lori Schiller?

Williams claimed in court docs that Schiller has been terminated but a source connected to the case tells ET, "Schiller is a current Wells Fargo employee who is deeply committed to her clients, including Wendy Williams. The only person with legal access to her accounts is this client and to date, she has not dismissed her financial advisor."

The Williams-Wells Fargo case is now under seal

This means any documents filed in this case will not be accessible to anyone, unless a court order has been granted. PageSix first reported the news on Feb. 16.

Williams speaks out on video

In a new verified Instagram account dubbed @therealwendywilliamsonline, Williams is seen on a video posted on Feb. 16 in which she is seemingly being recorded by her son, Kevin Hunter Jr. In the five-minute, 22-second video, Williams is wearing a black hoodie and walking on a Florida beach while Hunter Jr. peppers her with various questions, like, "How often do you come out here?" Williams says "often" because "it's very peaceful being here." But the timing of the video has also raised questions.

In the video, Williams refers to herself as 56 (she's 57) and talks about enjoying her visits to Florida because it's where she has "real family" like her "mother, father, sister, brother." But, as fans have observed, Williams announced during one of her shows that her mother, Shirley, had died back in December 2020.

A rep working with Williams' lawyer tells ET, "Williams’ mother's funeral arrangements were all handled in Florida and the clip was filmed Wednesday, 2/16, morning by her son. In regards to her age discrepancy, she misspoke."

The following day, on Feb. 17, a second post to the new Instagram account showed up on the feed. It shows Williams hanging out with her dad on his 91st birthday. The post was captioned, "Daddy’s 91st birthday! Enjoying it in the most relaxing way possible."

On the outside looking in 

Mitra Ahouraian, a Beverly Hills-based attorney who is not involved in the Williams-Wells Fargo case, tells ET that the bank has a bit of an uphill battle in order to prove Williams is in need of a guardianship.

"In order for Wells Fargo to be successful in obtaining a guardianship they have to meet the highest standard of proof, which is clear and convincing evidence," says Ahouraian, who specializes in corporate and entertainment law. "They really need evidence that she is of unsound mind, whether that's statements from doctors or evidence that she has made decisions that are not only questionable but really something that a reasonable person, healthy person would not make. That standard is very difficult to meet."

Ahouraian also notes that the bank's steps are "quite unusual."

"It's something that you see typically done by family members," she explains. "So, you might have a parent or grandparent who appears to not be able to make decisions on their own or maybe has dementia or maybe substance abuse, but a lot of times it's family members that are coming in and requesting guardianship. [It is] very interesting that a bank would do that."

That being said, Ahouraian says it's also not unheard of.

"The law actually does allow them [the bank] to freeze the funds if they have some legitimate concern over the client's ability to make decisions about her own finances," she says. "What's interesting is, because they [the bank] have been a little bit tight-lipped with the court about what their concerns are and asking for the documents to be filed under seal, we don't really know what is going on other than Wendy Williams' statement about her capacity, that she's totally fine."

That Williams filed an affidavit in court speaking on her behalf is an aspect that may bolster Williams' case, Ahouraian says.

"Wendy giving her own affidavit is really important and significant because she is establishing her own notion, basically that she is able to express why she does not need a guardianship and why she is of sound mind," Ahouraian explains. "She sounds very logical. Part of it [in her affidavit] is actually relatable. I mean, she has been trying to work this out with Wells Fargo dozens of times now and she hasn't been successful. So, it is quite convincing."

The case has also drawn comparisons to other conservatorship/guardian cases, most notably Britney Spears. But Ahouraian cautions that these are two very different cases.

"I think this [case] is getting a lot of attention because we've seen concerns with guardianship conservatorships and celebrities being accused of not being of sound mind and not being able to make decisions, including financial decisions," Ahouraian says. "It's important to understand that this situation is very different from what we saw with Britney Spears this last year."

"Britney Spears had a conservatorship over everything. What we're seeing now [in Williams' case] is a very limited financial guardianship, and that's also limited to the funds that are with Wells Fargo," Ahouraian continues. "And if they [Wells Fargo] are successful it's probably going to be even further limited. And again, that's even if they are successful. It's not a family member asking for this, it's a bank, so we have to think about also how realistic that is."

Sherri Shepherd gets the talk show green light 

Sherri Shepherd, who has been filling in as a guest host for The Wendy Williams Show, announced on the Feb. 22 episode of show that she will be debuting her own talk showSherri, come September. Williams' eponymous show will continue through the end of the current 13th season with guest hosts -- Shepherd included -- before Sherri fills that time slot in the fall, Deadline reported. 

A door left open for Williams

In a statement to ET, Williams' rep, Howard Bragman, said, "It’s been a challenging time for Wendy as she deals with her health issues. She is incredibly grateful to Debmar-Mercury, to Sherri and everybody else who has supported the show through this time. She, more than anyone, understands the reality of syndicated television -- you can’t go to the marketplace and sell a show that’s the Maybe Wendy Show. She understands why this decision was made from a business point of view, and she has been assured by Debmar-Mercury that should her health get to a point where she can host again and should her desire be that she hosts again that she would be back on TV at that time."

Williams gives phone interview to Good Morning America

The TV personality gave a pre-recorded phone interview in March with Good Morning America's T.J. Holmes, and was asked right off the bat if she was "of sound mind." Williams jokingly replied, "Absolutely! Are you?"

During their conversation, Williams addressed her financial struggles with Wells Fargo and why she thinks the bank is claiming she's "incapacitated" and in need of guardianship.

"Well, you know, when people want control of their accounts, they say anything, including something crazy like that about me," Williams told Holmes. "They say that I need somebody to handle my account, and I don't want that. I want all my money. I want to see all my money that I've worked hard for my entire life. My entire life. I don't lie, I don't cheat and I don't steal. I am an honest, hard-working person."

When asked why she thinks the bank has taken the extreme step to say she's not of sound mind, Williams responded, "Well, you know, I want to spend more time with my family and, you know, working out and waiting for the responses to my money situation and Wells Fargo. And they don’t like that."

Later, an unnamed member of Williams' team interjected and claimed, "There was an individual internal to Wells Fargo that Wendy worked with that Wendy wanted to have her [21-year-old] son [Kevin Hunter Jr.] begin to come in and have a little bit more space, to get a little bit of knowledge as to the inner runnings of Wendy Williams, so the person that was there was going to be losing some of the access to Wendy that she had prior and I don’t think that she liked that. "

In terms of her health, Williams assured fans that she's doing OK. "[My] health is very well, and I've actually had a few appointments. You know, I'm 57 now, and I have the mind and body of a 25-year-old," she said.

Holmes said that Williams insisted her reason for the delay to return to television had "nothing to do with her health," but is rather "things she needs to work out." 

Williams also said she'd be "very comfortable [with returning to work]" but later added, "Well, give me, give me about three months. There are private things that I have to deal with and then I'll be ready to come back and free and ready to do my thing."