Monday, October 24, 2016

Between a Rock and Hard Place

Bill Cornwell lived in a Greenwich Village brownstone with his same sex partner for 50 years. When he died two years ago, his will left the building and all of his possessions to his partner. However, the will was only witnessed by one individual while NY law requires two witnesses. Without a valid will, his estate will pass to his closest living relatives who are his nieces and nephews who recently sold the building for $7 million. The partner has since filed suit trying to prove that he and Mr. Cornwell were actually married, although they were not, so he can be considered the closest heir.

So many points and such short attention spans:

1. All wills require two witnesses not related to the individual and who will not receive any assets under the will.

2. Using a DIY will kit could lead to problems with properly executing wills (among other issues)

3. The legal arguments made by the partner verge on stupid. One of them is that even though they lived in NY, which does not recognize common law marriage, they bought a dog in Pennsylvania in 1991 as a symbol of their commitment to each other and because Pennsylvania used to recognize common law marriage they should be considered as married.

4. The 85 year old partner would be better off dropping the law suit and accepting the offer of the nieces and nephews to live in the apartment for 5 years at a monthly rental of $10 and receive $250,000 upon the sale of the building.

5. The entire problem could have been avoided if they had simply married each other once gay marriage became legal.

6. One niece claimed, apparently with a straight face, that her uncle did not want his partner to inherit or he would have properly executed the will. She also suggested that perhaps the men were just friends or great companions. The address of the rock under which she lives is unknown.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Married Without Children

In lieu of much newsworthy, I will resort to the evergreen story of the seemingly penniless senior citizen who left a large bequest to a charity in his will. Ken Millen was born in Aberdeen, WA, attended Grays Harbor College there, worked as shoe salesman until the store went out of business in the '80s, and always lived in the house in which he was born. He inherited some funds 20 years ago from a brother who was an attorney in the South. When Millen died last year, he left some crappy personal property, including his 1979 car, to his neighbors who treated him like a family member. He left the remaining $1 million to his alma mater. The neighbors ended up hauling most of the personal belongings to the dump because they were worthless.

A few non-legal points:

1. As heart warming as these stories are portrayed, they are actually somewhat bothersome in that an individual who was treated decently and warmly by neighbors for years eschews leaving them any funds in lieu of giving it to an institution he attended 65 years ago but likely did not have much present contact with.

2. Estate planning attorneys need to do a better job with clients without living relatives to guide them to leaving some meaningful assets to important individuals in their lives rather than faceless institutions. 

3. Mercifully Grays Harbor College does not have a football team so the bequest cannot be wasted on an unnecessary scoreboard.

4. To quote Aberdeen's most famous resident: "I found it hard, it's hard to find, Oh well, whatever, never mind."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pet Cemetery

NY recently passed legislation permitting people to be buried with the remains of their pets. Only four states permit humans and pets to be buried together. Ohio law is silent on this matter although some cemeteries bury both humans and pets in separate sections. There is no word on whether Jennifer Lopez intends to be buried with Casper Smart.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Your Money Is Ours

Hillary Clinton announced an updated estate tax proposal today. After previously supporting an increase in the estate tax rate from 40% to 45% and decreasing the amount of tax free assets to $3.5 million, she now wants to tax estates exceeding $10 million at 50%, estates exceeding $50 million at 55%, and estates exceeding $500 million at 65%. She also wants to remove the stepped up basis provision for estates so appreciated assets would also be subject to capital gains tax at death.

Two quick points without being too political because the proposal speaks for itself:

1. Apparently Hillary believes the Senator Warren adage that "you did not build this" so we are going to tax it mantra.

2. No word from her billionaire buddies Soros, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Buffet on how they feel about the government possibly taking 65% of their wealth and, frankly, I don't give a damn about them.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Old Adult Fiction

A former University of New Hampshire librarian who lived frugally, left his entire $4 million estate to the university. The UNH promptly fulfilled his mostly unrestricted bequest by allocating $100K to the library where he worked (some might say toiled) for 50 years, $1 million for a video scoreboard for the football stadium, and $2.5 million for the career center to presumably assist students with worthless majors like women's studies, anthropology, and fine arts find jobs other than as baristas. 

Several points only marginally associated with estate planning: 

1. By leaving his entire estate to charity, the former librarian will not incur state or federal estate tax. 

2. Even though he spent the last year of his life in an assisted living facility watching (and finally learning about) football, I highly doubt that he would approve of UNH spending $1 million in his name on a video scoreboard for their minor league football team (avg attendance 6,000 last year). I doubt the absence of a video scoreboard is keeping people away. 

3. Although assisting students with job placement after they selected useless majors is a questionable use of one's savings, it is no less worthy than leaving money to a library in the 21st Century when most functions of a library are available on on-line (except for providing a physical warm or cool space for the homeless during the Winter or Summer).

Thursday, September 8, 2016

TML Again

I wrote Paul Daugherty's The Morning Line blog again today. I covered UC's Big 12 candidacy, Notre Dame's quarterback situation, and myriad other topics including Bruce Springsteen's forthcoming autobiography. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Meanest Man Begets Mean Daughter

Sam Huff is an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the NY Giants and Washington Redskins. He was known as the Meanest Man in the NFL during the 1960's. He is long divorced,has lived with Carol Holden for nearly 30 years, and now suffers from dementia. His daughter picked him up one morning in late March to take him to a dentist appointment and has not returned him to his home. Some might call this kidnapping. The daughter then took him to an attorney to have herself appointed as his health care decision maker (she was already his financial decision maker) and her mother, Huff's ex--wife, as the alternate. She also asked a court to appoint her as his guardian.
Several points:
1. The prior structure of Huff's health care and financial powers of attorneys was what I usually recommend in a second marriage situation - the spouse/partner can make the medical decisions but the child can make the financial decisions.
2. The validity of Huff's new health care power of attorney is certainly questionable given his dementia diagnosis which is further evidenced by him naming his elderly, ex-wife as his alternate decision maker.
3. I am always disappointed at the vitriol that children have towards the second spouse/partner of their parents no matter how long they have been together.
4. It is no surprise that the Meanest Man in the NFL would would have an incredibly mean daughter.