Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rick Dees' Family Would Not Act This Way

The family of long time American Top 40 host, Casey Kasem, settled their dispute over his health care on Friday.  The children from his first marriage had requested a conservatorship because they alleged that their step-mother was not permitting them to see him.  A court appointed doctor had opined that Kasem, who is bed ridden and hospitalized with Parkinson's disease, would want to see his children.   Details of the settlement are undisclosed.  

Several points:

1.  These types of disputes are fairly common with second marriages and children from a prior marriage.  They are also common among siblings when one child lives out of town.

2.  To reduce the risk of conflict, an individual should execute a durable power of attorney for health care and a financial power of attorney.   Further, the attorney in fact under both documents should communicate with other family members.
3.  Because terms of the settlement are undisclosed, it remains unknown if the Kasem children are permitted to visit their father, or if they have to send him long distance dedications.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Love Means Never Having to Fight Over a Portrait

After Nick Saban declined the University of Texas  football job, the bad week for UT continued when a jury determined that a painting of Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol belonged to Ryan O'Neal and was not part of her art collection that she left to the university.  She left none of her estate to long time lover O'Neal which forced him to fight for the ownership of the painting which is estimated to be worth between $1 million and $12 million.  

Several points:

1.  Marriage can provide legal protection.  If Ryan and Farrah had married, he would have been entitled to one-third of her estate as a matter of law and could have skipped the drama over the painting.

2.  When one's former girlfriend/lover/companion leaves $100K to a college boyfriend and nothing to you, perhaps your relationship is not comparable to the idyllic "Love Story."  Love means never having to fight over a portrait of the deceased.

3.  A photograph with painted eyes and lipstick is worth seven figures?     

Monday, December 16, 2013

Who Wants to Make (or Receive) This Phone Call?

From today's Dear Prudence column on Slate:

Q. Death Around the Holidays: A man I work with and with whom I've had an affair the last two months died suddenly over the weekend. I am pregnant with his child. He didn't know. His current wife, now widow, doesn't either. How do I broach this subject? His estate is rather large.

A: I'd say I'm sorry for your loss, but since apparently you aren't, I won't bother. For your financial interests, contact a lawyer specializing in family law. I don't have any advice on where you go to get help for your lack of morals—or heart.

Several points:

1.  If the man left all of his assets to his wife, I do not think that there will be much available for the child other than Social Security because the widow is not obligated to leave assets to the child.

2.  If the man did not have a will, in Ohio the child would essentially share in 2/3 of the probate assets with the other children.

3.  If  the man left assets in a trust for his wife and children, which ultimately are to be distributed to his children, the child from the affair will likely inherit the same share as his other children because children are usually defined generically in wills and trusts not as "children from my relationship with my wife."

4.  I doubt Ann Landers and Dear Abby would have answered as tersely as Prudie did.

5.  Giving the woman the benefit of the doubt, which Prudie did not, the writer might have adapted her writing style to the 21st century blog post/Internet style and left out all perceived unnecessary adjectives (and emotion).  Or, she could be a Hemingway fan.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

R.I.P. Nelson Mandela

I remember this incredible Nightline closing clip featuring Tracy Chapman's "Freedom Now" from the week Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. 

Bonus music video - "Free Nelson Mandela" by Special AKA.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's All About Francesca

Julie Harris, the 5 time Emmy Award winning actress, died in August.  Her will named a minor soap opera actress, Francesca Rubino, as the co-executor of her estate.  Her will also contained a codicil stating that if her son, who lived on her property and who is to receive the bulk of his estate, threatened to harm the co-executor, he would be disinherited.  The son was unable to see his mother the last 3 years of her life.  Friends of Ms. Harris claim that Ms. Rubino wormed her way into Ms. Harris' life and fired all of her long time employees including the gardener, housekeeper, and attorney. The new attorney, who presumably would earn $100,000 as co-executor, maintains that they are merely disgruntled former employees.

Several points:

1.  Wills can generally be challenged on the grounds of lack of mental capacity or undue influence.  An indicia of undue influence is where a non-relative receives money to the exclusion of children or one child receives a disproportionate amount.

2.  The son has standing to contest the validity of the will, but if he still receives most of the estate and the only issue is who will serve as executor, he might not be inclined to contest the will and lose money in legal fees.

3.  I have never seen a codicil threatening to disinherit someone, much less a child, for threatening anyone.  Codicils usually change the amounts to be received by a beneficiary.

4.  Who can blame the son for making a threatening gesture to someone described as "very alluring but very manipulative" and "who had a saintly look that was overboard"?

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Grand Disillusion

The author of this article in the New York Times discusses how little her deceased mother's personal belongings were worth.  She was fortunate in that some of the items - a silver German tea service, a French painting, and  a friend's Tiffany lamp - are more common in New York than in other places.  

Among the salient points:

1.  In a best case scenario, contents might be worth 1/10 the value of the house.
2.  Non-Baccarat crystal goblets are not worth packing up.
3.  English and Early American antiques are not as valued as they once were.
4.  Non-Steinway pianos are not very marketable.

My quick points:

1.  I always advise my clients to not argue with siblings over personal property - the sibling relationship is far more valuable than any particular item.
2.  Tastes in furnishings and household items change which leads to declining values in most items.  
3.  In addition to one's personal belongings being worth less than expected, one's children are probably not as smart as one believes either.   

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Road Kill Leads to Contested Will

Close to home, the four daughters of the founder of Griffin Industries, an animal rendering and food recycling company located in Greater Cincinnati, are suing 3 of their brothers for allegedly cheating them out of their inheritance.  They are also suing the law firm that advised the company and several family members.  To make their claim, they are relying on the federal RICO statute which was crafted to combat organized crime in the 1970s and alleging that their brothers were part of a racketeering enterprise.  Their mother died in 1985 and their father died in 1995.  The father had executed a trust in 1967.  Griffin Industries was sold for $840 million in 2010.     

Many points:

1. In the interest of full disclosure, I used to work for the law firm being sued in the case.  I have no knowledge of the matter other than what is in the linked article.

2.  In the small world category, my law school professor, Robert Blakey, crafted the RICO statute when he was a Senate staffer and the issue of civil RICO actions was a frequent law review topic in the mid-80s.

3.  At some time between 1967 and 1995, the father should have revised his will and trust to reflect the current status of the business, his current finances and the differing contributions of the family members to the business.

4.  The case is being litigated in federal court under a RICO theory presumably because the statute of limitations for litigating a will and trust contest has long since expired.

5.  With $840 million to be divided among family members, one would think that there were enough spoils for everyone to get along especially those not involved in the business operations and its success.

6.  $840 million is an incredible number for a business that started with collecting road kill.  Rendering seems to be the ultimate recycling business.  And most profitable, too.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No Signature, No Witnesses, No Worries

An Australian court recently ruled that a will typed in the notes section of an iPhone is valid.  The will was prepared by a man who committed suicide shortly thereafter.  The will was not witnessed nor was it signed.  Nonetheless, the court deemed it valid. 

Several points:

1.  Thanks to Charlie Young, the attorney who represented the estate of the deceased, for sending me this news.

2.  Such a will in Ohio would not be valid because it did not meet the requirements of being witnessed by 2 individuals and signed by the deceased.  Presumably, if 2 witnesses and the deceased had signed their names electronically, it would have a chance of being valid in Ohio.  I would not want to represent the test case, though. 

3.  If the will had been written on a Microsoft tablet, it would most likely not have been found valid because no one would have figured out how to use the tiles in Windows 8.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Catching Up

Slow times in the estate planning/probate news arena.  I have 3 quick hits tangentially related to estate planning and probate, albeit with minimal lessons.  

First, the estate of the Tin Man's son is suing Warner Brothers for the proceeds of a documentary about The Wizard of Oz.

The Tin Man's son died in 2001at the age of 68. Unlike humans, copyrights seem to last forever.

Second, last week was the 65th anniversary of the death of a Canadian man who wrote his will on the under side of a tractor under which he was pinned. The will which said "In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife" was valid.

In Ohio, the assets of a person survived by his spouse and children from that marriage who be distributed by law to the spouse. One less thing to worry about if ever pinned under a tractor.
Finally, the estate of sculptor Alexander Calder, who died in 1976, is suing the estate of his art dealer who died 5 years ago for fraud. The suit involves allegations of Swiss bank account, sale of forgeries, and payments of $5 million in hush money.
Yes, $5 million in hush money. Apparently, there is ample money to be made in high end art for artists and their representatives.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

His Mom Will Not Be Happy

Donte Whitner, safety for the SF 49ers, has filed an application to change his last name to Hitner.  The hearing in Cuyahoga Probate Court is set for Nov. 19.   His application for the change says it will be commercially favorable to him in various business ventures (and presumably in terms of increased jersey sales).

Two quick points:

1.  In a bit of irony, the 49ers play the Washington Redskins, a team under siege for not changing its name, in his first game after the name change.

2.  Unless the white supremacist market is larger than I believe, I doubt there is huge demand for a jersey with a name that could easily be mistaken for "Hitler."

Monday, October 7, 2013

If You Have to Ask, . . . .

An individual who is  a beneficiary of his uncle's estate asked the Ethicist at the NYT if he should follow his uncle's instructions to donate several thousand dollars to various charities.  The instructions were made in a letter accompanying the will.  The beneficiary perceived the groups to be "extremely right wing" and was offended by some of them.   The Ethicist instructed the beneficiary to make the donations or not take any money.

Several points:

1. Leaving money to someone with the expectation that he will share it with someone else or a charity is not legally binding nor a good idea (see the comment about not legally binding). 

2.  Charitable bequests should be made in the will so they are carried out (and so charitable deductions are effective).

3.  Expecting anyone from California to donate money to a conservative cause is tilting at windmills.   

Friday, September 27, 2013

Something's Got to Give

The estate of Herb Stern, the photographer famous for taking the Last Sitting photos of Marilyn Monroe 6 weeks prior to her death, is poised for a will contest. The 83 year old executed a will in 1997 which left half of his estate to his children from his first marriage with the other half establishing a foundation. He subsequently executed a will and a trust in 2010 which left his $10 million estate, save for a few cash bequests to his children, for the benefit of his 44 year old wife, whom he had secretly married in 2009.  

Several points:

1.  It is perfectly logical for a man to alter his will to provide for his wife who was not in his life at the time of the will he signed 13 years prior. 

2.  The new will has a no contest provision stating that anyone contesting the will will forfeit their inheritance.  If this clause is coupled with significant bequests to the children it could curtail a will contest by them.  

3.  Secret marriage?  Perhaps Mr. Stern and his wife were channeling Marilyn Monroe  film titles.  Instead of "We're Not Married" they decided to "Let's Make it Legal" because Stern was only "As Young As You Feel" and followed the axiom that "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."  Once the facts are revealed, "Something's Got to Give." My apologies in advance.     

Thursday, September 19, 2013

If At First You Don't Succeed . . . . ..Forge? (No, Just Kidding).

This is out of a horror movie.  A Kansas City attorney was recently charged with murder for killing her father's girlfriend of 20 years.  Her father was shot and his girlfriend was repeatedly stabbed then shot at their vacation home in 2010.  Her father did not die from his wounds.  The woman then allegedly forged a health care power of attorney so she could withdraw his medical support 4 days later.  She was charged with his murder a year ago.  Apparently, she was concerned that her father would leave all of his assets to his soon to be wife.  In an odd but clarifying footnote, her mother (her father's first wife), had spent 11 months in jail for stealing $100,000 from her own mother by forging a power of  attorney 10 years ago.


1.  If the father had wanted to preserve assets for his daughter he could have executed a pre-nuptial agreement to set forth which assets he would leave his soon to be wife (and what would be left for his daughter).

2.  Along the same lines, he could have executed a trust to provide for his new wife while leaving the remainder to his daughter after the wife's death.

3.  Preparing a health care power of attorney to address medical needs is essential.   So is ensuring that the person with that responsibility has a copy of the document and is aware of the duties.

4.  When a daughter resents her father and his girlfriend, and her biological mother has already stolen from her own mother, an active alarm system  and a multitude of security cameras would be a worthy investment.  And perhaps a Kevlar jacket.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Visits Trump Cards (Huguette Clark Pt. 3)

I previously blogged about the will dispute over Huguette Clark's fortune, here and here.  Now the issue is set for trial in the next week.  I snarkily  wrote "When a distant relative is a Gilded Age heiress, a Christmas card and occasional phone call provide a great return on investment."  It turns out that her great-grandniece did send her a Christmas card for 33 years until her death and was still excluded from the will.  Actually, the great-grandniece and other distant relatives were included initially in a 2005 will but then excluded by a revised will she signed a month later.  However, no relative saw Ms. Clark between 1968 and her death in 2011.  The excluded relatives are challenging a will which left most of her fortune to her caregivers, her support network (including her attorney), and the hospital in which she resided for her last 20 years.

Several points:

1.  1968?  43 years before her death?  Those relatives were not important to Ms. Clark.  Nor was she to them.

2.  The grounds for challenging a will are either lack of mental capacity or undue influence.  If she was not competent to execute the second will, it is doubtful she was competent the prior month to leave everything to the relatives.

3.  The lawyer drafting a will should never be a beneficiary of the will.  He should bring in another attorney to prevent the appearance of undue influence by him.

4.  My guess (which based on my prior snark and other poor predictions in this blog is probably wrong) is that she reflexively signed a will leaving her assets to her relatives even though she had not seen them since the RFK and MLK assassinations and the moon landing, then reconsidered and decided to leave her assets to people who had made a difference in her life.

5.  More bloggers, and journalists, should admit their poor prognostication abilities.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sports, Not Death

Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer has once again graciously allowed me to write his blog today. Link is here.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I See Gullibility

An English woman is a key witness against a Florida psychic on trial for defrauding people of $25 million.  The woman sought the assistance of the psychic when her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after leaving her.  The psychic was supposed to prolong the estranged husband's life by two years and have him return to her if the woman divested herself of  the "tainted" money she made when selling the castle she and her husband owned. In a future plot line from Downton Abbey, when the husband died six months later, he left his wife no money in his will and authorized a servant to use his frozen sperm to have an IVF child.  In spite of the failure of the psychic to accomplish her goals, the woman continued to give money to the psychic ($900k  total) to prevent the servant from bearing a child with her late husband.    

Several points:

1.  In Ohio, a husband may not disinherit his wife.  The wife is entitled to at least 1/3 of the assets under his will.    

2.   When a deceased spouse has left a mess of his personal affairs, it is best to seek the counsel of an attorney, not the psychic whose shop is across the street from one's hotel.  

3.  Never tell a psychic how much money one has, do not believe in tainted money, giving money to a psychic does not untaint it . . . Heck, just avoid psychics in general. 

4.  When an estranged husband wants out of a marriage then dies shortly thereafter authorizing a servant to conceive his child and tries to disinherit his spouse, and one ends up with $2 million plus one -third of his estate, do not be mournful and hire a psychic.  Be thankful the cad is out of one's life.       

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Don't Stop 'Til You Pay Enough

I previously blogged about the income earned by Michael Jackson's estate since his death.  His estate is now embroiled in a dispute with the IRS over the value of his estate and the commensurate estate taxes owed.  His estate representatives claimed a total estate value of $9 million on his estate tax return while valuing his image and likeness at only $2,000, while the IRS values the image and likeness at $434 million and the total estate at more than $1 billion.

Several points:

1.  This issue is different than paying income taxes on the earnings since his death.  Those taxes have presumably been paid.

2.  The IRS valuation seems very high while the estate value seems too low.  MJ had borrowed extensively prior to his death to support his lifestyle, including his zoo, and was planning  a series of London concerts to pay off the debt.   The debt would reduce the value of his estate by $500 million or so.

3.  I would love to negotiate with the estate and buy the right to market MJ's image at their stated value of $2,000.

4.  Estate taxes are levied on the value of assets at the time of death. At the time of his death, MJ was not listed as a billionaire by Forbes, had not had an endorsement since 1993,  and was not on Forbes' list of top earning musicians in 2008 the year prior to his death.  No one could predict how popular he would be in death.  Child molestation rumors, erratic behavior, dangling babies from balconies, and continual disfiguring plastic surgery have a way of frightening advertisers, shrinking a fan base, and reducing earnings.

5.  The Police earned $115 million in 2008 and were Forbes top earning artist of the year. Huh?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Going for a Touchdown When a Field Goal Would Have Sufficed

Jim Carlen was one of the winningest football coaches at the University of South Carolina.  His children from his first marriage, which ended in 1980, are suing his 2nd wife of 29 years alleging that she influenced him to leave all of his estate to her. 

His 2007 will and all prior wills had included the children from his first marriage.  The 2010 will, executed one year after he was diagnosed with dementia, left everything to his widow.  In 2011, he executed a power of attorney in favor his wife which she purportedly used to transfer assets to herself prior to his death 

Several points:

1.  A will executed by an individual diagnosed with dementia that substantially changes his estate plan will always be challenged by the beneficiaries of the prior will.

2.  The coach could have provided for both his widow and children by leaving assets to her in a trust and having them distributed to the children upon her death.

3.  Proving that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered, the widow would have been better off ensuring that the children received something rather than seeing them disinherited entirely.

4.  45 wins constitutes the third most wins at South Carolina?  That might explain the one conference championship it its history.         

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mubarak and Marshall

Anthony Marshall, the 89 year old son of Brooke Astor, was paroled from prison after serving 8 weeks of a 1 -3 year sentence for stealing millions from his socialite mother when she was suffering from Alzheimer's.   Mr. Marshall’s health problems include Parkinson’s disease and congestive heart failure. His lawyers said recently that he could not walk, stand, clean himself or dress himself and had potentially life-threatening swallowing issues. One of the issues for Mr. Marshall was whether he should have been incarcerated at all given his age.   

Estate planning lessons?

I am not really certain.  Stealing from a disabled mom is obviously a bad idea and is subject to punishment. Beyond that?   Incarcerating an 89 year old seems unwise although given the amounts involved it was probably necessary.  The early release seems humane. If Egypt can release former president Mubarak this week, NY can certainly release Mr. Marshall.          

Friday, July 26, 2013

"What Is Per Stirpes?"

After I ask clients if they have reviewed drafts of their wills, the question they most often ask me is "what does per stirpes mean?"  It helps that the term is underlined. In short, it means by representation.  If a beneficiary dies before the decedent, that beneficiary's heirs will divide his or her share.  

A recent Nebraska case, Estate of Evans, recently interpreted per stirpes in the context of an individual who died without a will and was survived by a nephew from a pre-deceased brother and 2 nieces from another pre-deceased brother. The court held that the 3 individuals would share equally because the division into shares began at the generation with living heirs.  

Several points:

1.  In Ohio, the division would be made at the level of the pre-deceased brothers so the nephew would receive half and the nieces would each receive one quarter.

2.  A common fallacy among non-attorneys is that if an individual does not have a will, the assets will escheat to the state.  States have statutes that provide who will inherit assets if there is no will.  Only if there is no one somewhat directly related to the decedent will the assets escheat to the estate.  

3.  It is always better to prepare a will to determine who inherits assets rather than leave the distribution to a state statute.

4.  It is rare to be able to use the term escheat twice in the same post.                      

Monday, July 22, 2013

What in the Name of Tony Oliva?

Carl Pohlad was the owner of the Minnesota Twins.  He died in early 2009.  His estate is currently embroiled in a $121 million dispute with the IRS about the value of his ownership interest and the commensurate estate taxes owed.  The IRS claims that his interest was worth $293 million while his executor claims it was only worth $24 million.  The executor's value is much lower because it claims that even though Mr. Pohlad owned a majority interest in the team through several entities, he owned only 10% of the voting shares and he died when the stock market was at a 12 year low.       

Several points:

1.  Fractional interests of privately held businesses are difficult to value.

2.  Voting control of an entity is worth significantly more the non-voting interests.

3.  Mr. Pohlad died when the financial markets had collapsed and the stock market was being pummeled. However, baseball teams with television contracts and other revenue streams have different business cycles than financial institutions, and should not be valued in the same manner.  

4.  As if the Twins habitually losing to the Yankees in the regular season and the playoffs is not ignominious enough, it has be to be more galling to the Pohlads and Twins fans that George Steinbrenner's estate did not pay any federal estate taxes on his $1.6 billion (yes, with a B) interest in the Yankees because he died in 2010 when there was no federal estate tax.          

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Just the Team for the Job

Short and sweet (and no lessons) after last week's Gandolfini treatise.  A Cleveland Browns fan requested six Browns players to serve as pall bearers at his funeral this week.  The reason?    "So the Browns can let him down one last time."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Questionable Planning, Terrible Reporting

James Gandolfini  of Sopranos fame was survived by a 13 year old son, an infant daughter, and his second wife.  His estate is reported to be worth $70 million.

His will, prepared in December, was filed in probate court yesterday.  It leaves his property in Italy equally to his children in trust, his clothes and jewelry to his son, bequests totaling $1.6 million to various individuals, and leaves 30% of the remainder to each of his sisters and 20% each to his wife and daughter.   The share for his daughter will remain in trust until she reaches 21.  The will states he has provided for his son elsewhere.  However, almost all media outlets have incorrectly reported that his son is the major beneficiary of his estate.

Many points:

1.  He should have used a funded living trust to ensure privacy of his net worth and his intentions which avoids Cincinnati attorneys from critiquing it .

2.  Giving the daughter unrestricted access to her share at 21 is a recipe for disaster.  He should have staggered her distributions over 10 or 15 years with the earliest one at 25.

3.  The testamentary trust will be expensive to administer for the next 20 years.  A living trust would be easier, less costly, and private.

4. Estate taxes will be painful and could have been delayed/minimized. The federal tax bill will be nearly $20 million while the NY bill will be over $4 million.  He could have delayed the payment of taxes by leaving assets in trust for his wife and giving his daughter her share from the same trust after the death of his wife.

5.  Odd to leave 60% of the remainder to his sisters and none of it to his son.

6.  Unless the clothes/jewelry and  Italian property comprise the majority of the assets, all media outlets from Fox News to HuffPo and from ABC to NY Post, and all others, are incorrect in reporting that the son receives the bulk of the estate.

7.  The linked article also states that it is unclear who will receive the proceeds of other properties once they are sold.  It must be too difficult for reporters to ask an estate planning attorney to read the will and inform them that the proceeds are the remainder and will be distributed to his sisters, wife and daughter.

8.  When the mainstream media ignores big stories like Benghazi and Presidential debate moderators get their facts wrong when interjecting themselves into debates (i.e. Candy Crowley), we should not be disappointed when they can not accurately report the contents of a will.  We should trust them less, though.

9.  I hope that Mr. Gandolfini provided generously for his son in a life insurance trust or some other vehicle.  Otherwise, the son's trauma of finding his dying father will be compounded by receiving much less than his sister, step mom, and aunts.   Maybe someday he will grow into the clothes if he uses food as comfort.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

King of Pop Still Reigns

When Michael Jackson died 4 years ago, his net worth was negative $500 million.   Since then, his estate has earned $1.1 billion and grows larger daily.  A new Vegas show, Michael Jackson One, opened last week and is expected to run for 10 years.  A prior show, Michael Jackson - the Immortal World Tour,  has run for 2 years and is expected to run for at least 2 more.  Jackson has earned more money since he died than during his life and is the biggest selling artist on iTunes.  He is survived by 3 children of either debatable paternity or unknown maternity, all of whom have unusual or odd names.

Several points:

1.  Estates can continue to earn money after the death of the individual.

2.  Estate administration can be simplified if the earnings rights are transferred to a trust.

3.  Biggest selling artist on iTunes?  Do baby boomers still not know how to rip their CD collections, nor share them with their children?

4.  Negative $500 million net worth?  A personal amusement park and zoo are expensive.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Priorities When Expecting a Child

Zoey Perkins is the 1 year old daughter of former Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins.  Belcher killed Kasandra last December before killing himself.  As the daughter of a former football player, Zoey will receive $1 million in structured payments over the next 22 years.  A Missouri probate court recently awarded custody to Kasandra's first cousin instead of Belcher's mother after a 3 day hearing.

Three points:

1.  When a couple is expecting a child, they should prepare wills to designate a guardian for their children so their wishes are followed instead of  giving the  decision to a stranger.

2.  When a couple dies without designating a guardian, sometimes the potential guardians are motivated by the financial status of the child.

3.  It is easy to overlook a will in the excitement of having a child, but the impact of designating a guardian is far more important than decorating a baby's room.

Monday, June 24, 2013

This Was a Good Idea?

Claudia Cohen was an NYC gossip columnist whose family owned Hudson News outlets.  She was married to Ron Perelman, an NYC business tycoon, from 1985-1994.   Their daughter was born in 1990.  Claudia died of cancer in 2007.   Shortly before her death, she changed her will to name her ex-husband as executor of her estate which was estimated to be worth $68 million.

As executor of her estate, Claudia's ex-husband has been locked in battles with her brother and now deceased father for the past five years.   The battles range from the valuation of Claudia's interest in the family business which was set by a partnership agreement, an alleged broken oral promise to leave Claudia half of her dad's estate, and whether Claudia's dad needed a guardian.  The estate has lost all of these battles and incurred at least $5 million in legal fees, if not more, plus had to repay a $10 million loan to Claudia's father.

Several points:

1.   A value set in a partnership agreement or buy sell agreement will be enforced, even it is not the true value of the interest.

2.  It is nearly impossible to win a law suit to enforce a promise to leave someone an inheritance.

3.  It is never a good idea to name a former spouse as executor or trustee, much less one embroiled in litigation with 2 ex-wives at the time of the designation and known for being disputatious.

4.  Claudia's daughter will be fine financially even if her inheritance from her mother is entirely consumed by legal fees.  Her father is reportedly worth $1.8 billion.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Even Rappers Need Wills (and Life Insurance, Trusts, and Condoms) Pt. 3

previously blogged about rapper Nate Dogg who died in 2011 survived by 6 children of unascertainable ages and different mothers.  His estate is back in the news again because the mother of one of his children filed a claim against his estate for unpaid child support from the date of the child's 2006 birth, plus support since Dogg's death in 2011.   Two other women, one of whom also has  a child Dogg fathered in 2006, are arguing in court over the amount of support they are supposed to receive from his estate.

Several points:

1.  In Ohio, claims against an estate must be filed within six months of the date of death.  The claim for Dogg's unpaid back support would be invalid due to untimely filing.

2.  In Ohio, child support obligations terminate at death.  Adding money for post-death support to an already late claim just makes the claim doubly improper.

3.  Dogg's children are entitled to social security payments until they turn 18.

4.  For divorced couples, a life insurance policy is recommended to cover any future child support payments.

5.  Dogg could have established a trust to provide for his children upon his death.   However, that would have required foresight and planning.  For a guy who did not make child support payments nor who wore a condom, such planning would be inconceivable.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Double Indemnity Fail

A SC woman murdered both of her 20 something sons, her ex-husband who lived next door, and her step-mother.  She tried to blame the crime on her oldest, murdered son.   She was the beneficiary of insurance policies on the victims in the amount of $680K.  She had previously killed an alleged intruder and kept 3 guns in the house.  She recently plead guilty but mentally ill and was sentenced to life in prison.

What are the estate planning and other issues in this crime?

1.  The killer is precluded from inheriting under the state slayer statute which prevents a murderer from benefiting financially from her crime.

2.  Without valid wills, the sons' policies will benefit their grandparents, or aunts and uncles if the grandparents are deceased.

3.   If a mother takes out a large life insurance policy on a child, the child should sleep with one eye open.

4.  It is never a good idea to live next door to a mentally ill ex-wife, much less one who has already killed a man and who has a life insurance policy on one's life.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beneficiary Designation and Pyrrhic Victory

A Virginia man died of a rare leukemia survived by his 3rd wife.  One of his assets was a $125K insurance policy he received while employed by the federal government.  The policy listed his second wife as the beneficiary.  The surviving spouse contested the former wife's right to the policy proceeds.

Virginia has a statute which precludes divorced spouses from inheriting from a   deceased former spouse.  Nonetheless, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the former spouse was entitled to the proceeds because the 1954 federal law establishing the insurance program and providing that beneficiary designations must be followed trumped the Virginia statute which omits former spouses.   

Several points:

1.  Ohio has a similar statute to Virginia. 

2.  After a divorce, individuals MUST revise all of their estate planning documents and update their insurance and retirement plan beneficiary designations.

3.  After a leukemia or cancer diagnosis, no matter how positive the treatment options, individuals need to review their estate planning documents and their beneficiary designations.    

4.  I suspect this was a Pyrrhic  victory for the former wife with most of the policy proceeds being consumed by legal fees during the 5 year dispute.  But then, most disputes between former spouses are Pyrrhic.   

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Into the Ground, Then Into Thin Air

A Pennsylvania attorney and his wife, a successful dentist, perished in a private plane crash in 2007. They had no children so they left their assets to various relatives in their wills.  The estates were comprised of a law practice, dental practice, various real estate holdings, and medical businesses in South Carolina and initially estimated to be worth $40 million.  After six years and a will contest action, the estate has incurred administrative fees of $3.75 million and has $3 million remaining.

Several points:

1.  With their varied investments, the couple should have used a trust to minimize probate administration expenses.

2. Legal and medical practices are personality dependent and are not worth much without the contribution of the individual who built the practice.

3.  $3 million left after an initial $40 million estimate?  The 2008 financial crash was brutal on everyone.

4.  Private planes are known as doctor and lawyer killers for a reason.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Charitable Conflict

The estate of an elderly, childless  Fresno woman was officially closed this week when the bulk of her $2.4 million estate was distributed  to Fresno State and a smaller percentage including personal items was distributed to the retirement community in which she resided.   The estate is newsworthy because she had promised in 2001 to leave her entire estate (then valued at $4 million)  to Fresno State in exchange for it naming the education school after her and her late husband. She changed her will multiple times with the final will leaving some assets to her retirement community and naming its foundation as her executor.

Several points:

1.  She would have been well served by a living trust to ensure privacy for this matter.

2.  Couples make planned gifts, but after the death of one of them,  the survivor is pressured by other charities to leave money to them.

3.  Fresno State seems to have conducted itself honorably by not contesting the will and executor appointment and not removing her name from the education school.

4.  The retirement home will receive 40 mens' shirts, 70 ties, and 5 sport coats.  Apparently no one  cleaned out the husband's belongings after his 1995 death.

5.  The retirement home will also receive 35 turtlenecks and 33 pairs of gloves.  I did not think that the weather in Fresno necessitated such a large collection of cold weather gear.

6.  I hope no one wants the 60 pairs of undergarments.

7.  See point 1.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Even Rappers Need Wills Part 2

Rapper Heavy D died in late 2011 survived by a now 13 year old daughter, parents, and siblings.   His brother, Floyd, recently filed a copy of  1999 will which unsurprisingly left the entire estate to Floyd.  The original was allegedly lost years ago.

Several points:

1.  Missing and lost wills are presumed to have been destroyed.

2.  Always tell your executor where the original will (and copy) are located.  I keep the originals for my clients and provide them copies with instructions to notify their executor of the location of the copy (which is stamped with my name).

3.  Without a will, Heavy's daughter would inherit the entire estate.

4.  Birth of children should be the primary reason for executing a will

5.  One report said the rapper died before he could revise his will to include his daughter.  It stinks when 11 years sneak up on you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

All Cats (and Shelters) Look Gray in the Dark

An animal shelter in Collinsville, Oklahoma which always struggled financially received a $188K check from the estate of an unindentified deceased animal lover.  Two weeks later, it received a request from the law firm administering the decedent's estate to return the check because the bequest was intended for a shelter with the same name in Collinsville, Illinois.  The shelter has not yet returned the check, although it has said it will. 

Several points:  

1.  In making charitable bequests, I always list the address of the charity to prevent this type of confusion.

2.  Because of its error, the law firm has stated it will donate $12K to the Oklahoma shelter, which is 6x more than the shelter usually has in the bank.

3.  Apparently the Oklahoma shelter spent some of the $188K, perhaps $12K, or else it would have returned the funds last month.   

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Selling the House From Under Her Feet

An LA woman might lose the house she shared with her common law husband of 27 years.  He allegedly hand wrote a will leaving the house to her.  Nonetheless, the Los Angeles County Public Administrator is proceeding with a sale of the house for non-payment of debts and potential buyers traipse through the house while she is present.

Several points:

1.  Even with a handwritten will, the will must be probated.  Leaving it in a drawer does not transfer any assets.

2.  The common law husband could have added her to the deed as a joint tenant to immediately transfer the house to her upon his death.

3.  Some like to decry notions of traditional marriage, but spouses have more rights and protections under law than non-spouses including the right to inherit when there is no will and the right to remain in a house.

4.  Even people of modest means and limited assets need estate planning.

5.  Newton's First Law applies to government - a government procedure in motion stays in motion. Someone should pause the bureaucratic machine until the woman's rights can be ascertained.  If banks were behaving this way, there would be an outcry, protests, Congressional hearings, and a class action suit.  Because it is a governmental agency, people shrug and figure "that is government."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Agatha Christie Revisited

Urooj Khan is the Chicago man who died of cyanide poisoning after winning $1 million in the lottery.   He had dinner with his wife, father in law, and his teen daughter from a previous marriage the night before he died although his wife and father in law did not allegedly eat the meal.  He did not have a will.  The Cook County Probate Court has frozen his dry cleaning businesses while it determines whether they are part of his estate or were transferred to his widow via other agreements.

Several points:

1.  A document disposing of assets at death would have to comply with the requirements for executing a will.

2.  Exceptions to the will requirement would be a buy sell agreement or provisions within an LLC operating agreement.  However, in this case that would suppose that Mr. Khan's wife was a business partner with him.

3.  It has been more than six months and no arrests have been made in the death by cyanide where the wife and father in law did not eat the same meal and stood to benefit from the new windfall?  Agatha Christie novels are not this obvious.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Made for Hollywood - Wealth, Murder, Gangs, and Prostitutes

I wish I had the screen rights for this story.  A wealthy tech investor was murdered by gang members who were related to the harem of prostitutes who spent considerable   time in the house he shared with his ex-wife.  In addition to 2 adult children, he had 2 children with a former prostitute who are now seeking support and half of his estate.    

Only two points:

1.  The claims of the prostitutes's daughters will depend on how he defined children in his will.

2. Not to be Puritanical, hanging with unsavory characters and living a hedonistic life might be fun, but it rarely ends well.