Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dying Pains

Alan Thicke’s sons, who are trustees of his 2016 trust, filed suit this week against his widow, Tanya Callau. They asked a court to enforce the terms of Thicke’s trust. They contend that Callau, who Thicke married in 2005, is trying to void the terms of the pre-nuptial agreement she and Thicke signed.

The pre-nup provided that at Thicke's death Callau would receive 25% of his estate and 5 acres of a ranch Thicke owned. The trust meanwhile provides that Callau will receive a $500K insurance policy, his pension benefits, and 40% of his estate. If Callau wants to live in the house, she may do so if she pays the mortgage and other expenses. Despite these generous terms, Callau’s attorney claims that the trust is “the worst document ever drafted by an attorney” and “the attorneys should still be writing in crayons.”

Trying to piece together several points:

1. The terms of a trust can override the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement if the trust terms are more generous than what is provided in the pre-nup. That seems to be the case here.

2. The claims by Callau’s attorney about the quality of the trust drafting are obnoxious, but a trust typically would not address insurance policies and pension benefits because those are non-probate assets (i.e. they have their own beneficiary designation) and not included in a trust.

3. Perhaps the attorney who drafted the trust is the same attorney who advised Robin Thicke to foolishly sue Marvin Gaye's estate over "Blurred Lines" which resulted in a $7.2 million judgment against the younger Thicke.


                                          Photo Credit: Matt Baron/BEI/REX/Shutterstock
                                                                  License:  Fair Use/Education 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rules Are For the Little People

In an unusual moment of sanity, the federal government announced on Friday that it would stop seizing the tax refunds of taxpayers whose parents owed money to Social Security from years ago.  This has been governmental policy since late 2008.  In typical bureaucratic efficiency, the IRS would send letters to addresses that had not been used in 40 years or would inexplicably be unable to contact someone who had lived at the same address for 40 years.  In its defense, the IRS does not pass these inane laws, it merely enforces what Congress has passed.

Three quick points:

1.  Typically debts die with a person and the heirs of an individual are not liable for his debts.  This is an exception. 

2.  If you want to point fingers for this law punishing innocent taxpayers for the alleged sins of their parents, point to Todd Platts, a former Republican Congressman; a Democratic House and Senate in 2008; and a legislative process that allows crap like this to get inserted into a Farm Bill.

3.  It is nice of the WaPo to take a breath from its anti-Trump obsession and to focus on the injustice caused by this process.  


Photo Credit:  Evelyn Hockstein for the Washington Post
License:  Fair Use/Education

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Gronk Would Not Do This

Aaron Hernandez is the former New England Patriot who committed suicide last month while imprisoned for murdering a friend.  He had only recently been acquitted of the murder of two other individuals and was still appealing his prior murder conviction.  Since his suicide, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has vacated his murder conviction because his appeals were still in process.  Within hours after his arrest in 2013, the Patriots terminated his contract and did not pay the remaining guaranteed money owed to him.  

In his suicide note addressed to his fiancé, Hernandez wrote “you’re rich.” Many reporters have interpreted that to mean that he was thinking not only of what money he still owned but also that she would collect $6 million owed to him by the Patriots under his last contract.  Some think that the Patriots would be on the hook if they terminated Hernandez’s contract because he was convicted of murder but was later exonerated due to this peculiarity of Massachusetts law.  

A few points on the intersection of two of my favorite topics - probate law and the NFL:

1.  Hernandez and the Patriots actually settled his grievance for unpaid guaranteed money under his last contract for $1 million in 2014 likely meaning there is no further money to collect from the Pats.

2.  The victims of Hernandez have filed lawsuits against him.  Any judgments against him would be paid from his estate probably rendering it insolvent.  

3.  Unless Hernandez signed a will, his fiancé will not receive any portion of his estate because fiancés are not statutory heirs.  His daughter would inherit his estate if he did not leave a will.

4.  Drafting a will and thinking about the application of an obscure Massachusetts law involve long term planning and thinking which seem beyond the acuity of a guy seemingly lacking impulse control. 


Photo Credit:  AP/Elise Amendola
License:  Fair Use/Education

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fountain of Youth = Deprivation and Sorrow?

Besides people battling over the release of Prince’s music, there is not much happening in the wills and trusts arena.  Somewhat related, Emma Morano was the last living person born in the 19th century when she died last month at the age of 117.  The NYT has a brief piece on her possessions and possible reasons for her longevity.  

Morano had been married briefly before separating in her late 30s, had a son who died before turning one, and worked until she was 75.  She lived in a two room apartment for the past 27 years, had not left the apartment in years, ate 3 raw eggs per day for 100 years, and usually ate pasta with raw ground beef until she stopped cooking five years ago.   

No points of any significance, just two observations:

1.  The article did not mention a will but I doubt she had any assets any than a few tchotchkes left in her name.

2.  If eating three raw eggs and raw ground beef daily while staying housebound is the secret to longevity, count me out.  I will gladly live a shorter life to enjoy cooked food and going outdoors.


Photo Credit:  Gianni Cipriano for New York Times
License:  Fair Use/Education

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faking Amnesia Does Not Pay

Tommy Thompson is a treasure hunter known for locating the wreck of the SS Central America.  The ship, laden with 3 tons of gold, sank in 1857 off the coast of South Carolina killing 425 passengers.  Thompson, with the backing of 160 investors, located the wreck in 1988 and was able to bring some items to the surface.  The value of what remained underwater was reported to be $400 million making it the most valuable ship wreck discovery in history.

By the early 2000s, some of his investors sued him claiming that Thompson had sold the gold and kept the profits to himself.  An arrest warrant was issued in 2012 but he was able to stay on the lam until early 2015.  As part of a plea deal, Thompson said that some gold was in a trust account in Belize.  He now claims to have no knowledge of the location of the gold.  A federal judge has ordered him held in prison for the past 16 months for contempt of court.  The judge has asked him to sign a power of attorney so attorneys for the investors can examine trust documents.  Thompson has refused to do so.

One wonky point, one consequence, and one observation:

1.   The trust is what is known as an asset protection trust.  It is used by people to shield their assets from creditors.  There is likely a provision in the trust that prohibits the trustee from revealing anything about the trust without the consent of the grantor.  Thompson has refused to give that consent so the terms remain private.  And he remains in jail.

2.  Asset protection trusts are great in concept until a court forces the grantor to reveal the contents of the trust or to bring the assets back to the U.S.  They then became no more valuable than the paper they are written on.

3.  Salvage operations and justice both move equally slowly.



Photo Credit:  AP File Photo/Delaware Sheriff's Office
License:  Fair Use/Education

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Don't Be Like John B. (Estate Planning Tips From “S-Town”)

“S-Town” is the critically acclaimed successor podcast to “Serial.”  The anti-hero, John B, lives in a Faulkner-esque house on 128 acres in Woodstock, Alabama with his octogenarian mother who suffers from dementia.  He is a genius horologist (clock repairman), builder of a “Shining” type maze on his property, hypocrite about tattoos, and so obsessed with climate change and other problems that he makes Thomas Malthus seem optimistic.

John B. was thought to be worth a large amount of money by residents of Woodstock.  During the podcast he mentions that he wants to leave $20,000 to his friend, Tyler.  He also tells Tyler (spoiler alert) on the night that he commits suicide that Tyler can have his property.  Sadly, John B. died without writing a will or without having a plan for someone to take care of his mother.  Mystifyingly, John B. claims to have been unbanked which led Tyler and others to search his property for locations where he could have buried gold and cash.  He did leave instructions with a friend about what to do and whom to contact after his death.

Several points:

1.  If one has to choose between leaving a will or instructions about what to do after death, one should choose a will.

2.  Embrace the power of “AND”.  One should be able to leave a will AND instructions about what to do after death.

3.  Without a will, John B’s assets if found legally will go to his mother.  Without a health care power of attorney, the care of his mother will go to a relative willing to serve as guardian.

4.  Being unbanked might make sense for someone of little financial means.  For someone who might have made hundreds of thousands dollars annually and is prone to suicidal threats, being unbanked can only lead to one’s property looking like a scene from “Holes.”    

 
Photo Copyright:  James Breeden for Daily Mail (?)
License:  Fair Use/Education