Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DIY Wills - Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

A Florida woman saved money on will preparation by using a DIY service titled E-Z Legal Form.  Her will left all of her listed property to her brother.  The will did not have a residuary clause which states who receives all non-listed assets.   Inevitably, she later opened a new account that was not addressed by the will.  She left a handwritten note in which she tried to  to bequeath the account and all of her "worldly possessions" to her brother except for several accounts she wanted to leave to his daughter.  The note was only witnessed by her brother's  daughter.  Other nieces claimed that they were entitled to a share of the unlisted account because it was not addressed in the will.  The Florida Supreme Court ruled that they were entitled to a share of the unaddressed account under Florida intestacy laws.

Several points:

1.  All wills need a residuary clause to provide who inherits assets not specifically listed.  In fact, in every will I draft the residuary clause is the most important section.

2.  The decedent would have been better served simply by skipping the listing of specific assets and merely having a residuary clause leaving all of her assets to her brother.

3.  A handwritten note with only one witness who is also a potential beneficiary is invalid on its face and is a worse idea than using a poorly drafted form found on the Internet or purchased at Staples.

4.  As the weary mechanic in the Fram oil filter commercials said after performing an expensive engine repair instead of simply replacing an oil filter, "Pay me now or pay me later."   This decedent would have been better served spending some money on an attorney ($600 is my standard will and power of attorney fee) instead of trying to save a few dollars while incurring thousands of dollars in legal fees in a futile attempt to have her wishes followed.   Plus, I am much more fun to work with than following, perhaps incorrectly, a few prompts in a software program.

alligator-walking

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Even Rappers' Estates Need to Pay Their Debts

I have previously blogged about rapper Nate Dogg and the financial issues surrounding his estate.  He died in 2011 without a will but with 6 children of unascertainable ages and different mothers and unpaid child support and medical bills of $290K.  His primary asset was a house with $200K of equity.  The administrator of his estate has a contract to sell the house for $340,000 but his children are opposing the sale because it will not leave them enough money.

Several points:

1.  A decedent's debts must be paid before estate beneficiaries receive any proceeds of the estate. It is unfortunate for his children that there will likely be no assets left for them after the payment of debts, but an administrator cannot magically make a house worth more than the market is willing to pay nor make the debts less.

2.  If Mr. Dogg had wanted to provide for his children and not worry about his debts, he could have purchased a life insurance policy to benefit them.

3.  His house was worth $340K?  I doubt it was featured on MTV's "Cribs."

 Nate Dogg

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Last Will and Embezzlement

Diminutive actor Mickey Rooney died this week at age 93. In recent years, he was in the news for his allegations of elder abuse against his step-son and step-daughter-in-law and for his Congressional testimony about the abuse. Last Fall, he symbolically settled the case against his step-son and his step-daughter-in-law for a $2.8 million judgment that will not be paid by them. He re-wrote his will last month to exclude his wife of 35 years, from whom he had separated a year ago after allegations of physical abuse, and his 11 natural children. He left his entire $18,000 estate to his other step-son who has been his care giver for the past 3 years.

Several points:

1. Elder abuse is more common than realized. Although it is rare when a spouse of 36 years is somewhat complicit in the abuse, mothers will go to great lengths to "protect" and enable their children's bad habits.

2. Under Ohio law, his estranged wife would receive the entire $18,000 despite what the will states because a spouse is entitled to at least the first $20,000 of assets.

3. Eight wives? Someone should have told him he did not need to marry every woman he dated.
mickey_rooney_report_a_p

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Shooting an Airball

Lorenzen Wright played in the NBA for 13 years and earned $55 million.  Shortly after his retirement, he was the victim of an unsolved murder in a suspected drug deal.  He was survived by his ex-wife, Sherra Wright,  and their 6 children.  After his death, his ex-wife received $1 million in insurance proceeds in trust for the children.  Within 10 months of receiving the proceeds, she was accused of having spent nearly all of them on housing, furniture, cars, and travel.  She is now subject to probate court action to remove her as trustee.

Several points:

1.  It is never a good idea to have a former spouse serve as trustee for the children.  A financially savvy third party is a much better choice.  Newly divorced individuals should quickly revise their wills and trusts to remove the former spouse and to keep him/her away from assets for the children.

2.  In some defense of Sherra Wright, purchasing real estate with trust assets is not spending them, it is re-allocating the type of investment.

3.  I suspect that Mr. Wright is not the only former NBA player to have significant career earnings and to die with less than 2% of them remaining.  Annual child support and alimony payments of $330,000 tend to rapidly diminish one's net worth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fast, Furious, and Guardianship Settlement

As mentioned previously, Paul Walker designated his mother as the guardian of his minor daughter, Meadow Rain, even though Rebecca Soteros, Meadow's mother, was still alive.  His mother filed probate documents asking to be named guardian.  According to Bela Lugosi Jr, attorney for Mrs. Walker, the parties recently agreed to allow Meadow to live with Soteros once Soteros completes a stint in alcohol rehab.

Several points:

1.  This would have been a difficult fight for Mrs. Walker to win because the birth parent is presumed to get sole custody of a child regardless of provisions in the deceased's will.

2.  Mrs. Walker probably leveraged the will provision to ensure that Soteros sought treatment before gaining sole custody of Meadow, although she might have been tempted to fight for custody by the trust funds available to her.

3.  Who knew that Bela Lugosi (Jr.) was practicing law?  I thought Bauhaus said "Bela Lugosi's Dead."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

As Tears Go By

L'Wren Scott was the fashion designer girlfriend of Mick Jagger.  When she committed suicide 10 days ago, rumors swirled that she was in financial trouble.  After her will leaving her entire estate to Mick was filed in NY Surrogate's Court this week, media outlets are reporting that she was not financially stressed because the probate documents listed her as the owner of an $8 million condo and $ 1 million of personal belongings.

Several points:

1.  The media outlets are incorrect and Ms. Scott could have been financially strapped.  NY (and Ohio) requires initial probate documents to reflect gross value of assets.  Debts and liabilities are not required to be listed so it is doubtful that she had a condo with $8 million equity.

2.  Leaving money to Mick Jagger?  No matter how much she wanted to show love for him, L'Wren might have been better off selecting a charity important to her and Mick, assuming she had assets to leave. Mick does not need a nickel from her which will only be taxed at his death (although he and Keith Richards might have a deal with the devil to live forever).

3.  As I have mentioned before, I remain available for media consultation on will and probate interpretation matters.  Someone has to assist in getting these stories reported correctly.