Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When Dad is Accused of Murder

A Rhode Island man was accused of drowning his wife.  His conviction in the British Virgin Islands was later overturned.  However, his wife's parents sued him for wrongful death and won a $2.8 million judgment against him.  The man was the designated beneficiary of his wife's will.  His children from a prior relationship were the contingent beneficiaries.  

After the wrongful death judgment, the estate executor sought to have the man removed as a beneficiary of his wife's will under the RI Slayer Statute.  The executor also sought to have the man's children removed as beneficiaries under the theory that they should not benefit from the misdeeds of their father. 

The RI Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling against the children which prohibits them from inheriting under their step-mother's will.   One of the rationales in the decision is that the children continued to maintain their father's innocence and said they would use the assets to defend him.  

Several points:

1.  I think the  court is wrong.   The children were specifically listed as beneficiaries if their father were to pre-decease them (or allegedly kill his wife).     As such, they are not "inheriting through him" which is prohibited under RI law.

2.  Is it me, or does it seem that anytime a female US citizen drowns in a foreign country that a murder allegation arises against the husband?  You will not see me swimming outside the US.

3.  If your father allegedly murders someone and you will benefit from his misdeed, do not tell people you will spend the inheritance on his defense. Keep your mouth shut and spend the money quietly.    

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mindy McCready's Sons

In the aftermath of Mindy McCready's suicide, a key legal question is who will receive custody of her children - six year old Zander and   10 month old Zayne?  The issue is complicated by Zayne's father pre-deceasing Mindy last month while Zander's father, Billy McKnight, lost custody of him years ago.     
When there is a surviving parent, a court will usually award custody to the surviving biological parent.  When there is no surviving parent, a court will generally award custody to the person designated in the deceased's will.  I have not read anything indicating whether Ms. McCready left a will, although I doubt a woman living in a garbage and feces strewn house would provide for her post-death affairs.  Here, the commentariat believes that Ms. McCready's mother and step-father will receive custody of both boys.  I wish them all luck, love, and peace moving forward.  They all deserve it after the tumult in their lives.

This news should serve as a reminder for everyone to prepare a will so that their wishes for the custody of children post-death are not left to chance.     

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Morning Line

Paul Daugherty graciously allowed me to guest write his blog this morning.  Link is here.    

Monday, February 18, 2013

Prepare a Will Not a Letter

I confess to never having heard of Latin music and Mexican TV personality Jenni Rivera prior to her death in a plane crash in December.  I similarly confess to never having heard of her estranged 3rd husband, Esteban Loaiza, who plays for the Detroit Tigers.  So why am I blogging about them?

Rivera and Loaiza separated two months prior to her death.  After separating, River left a detailed letter to her sister asking her to take care of her children and business enterprise valued at $25 million in the event of her death.  It is unknown if she had other estate planning documents or a pre-nuptial agreement.

What lessons can be learned from her estate?

1.  When marrying for a 3rd time, one should definitely have a pre-nuptial agreement.  If Dennis Hopper can do this, others should, too.   

2.  When leaving on a trip, consult an estate planning attorney about preparing a will/revised a will.  A handwritten note is generally not effective.  

3.  When separated from a spouse, revise the estate plan immediately and implement a trust to preserve the assets for the children.

4.  $25 million net worth?  Apparently there is money to be made on Mexican TV and Latin radio for tumultuous personalities. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where Are They Now? Collecting an Inheritance.

An Illinois man who lived alone in a farmhouse with no running water, bathed in a creek, and did not bathe when it was frozen, died last summer of a heart attack.  His will left his estate to two actors he had never met - Kevin Brophy and Peter Barton.  Brophy's biggest role was as a man who had been raised by wolves in "Lucan" while Barton  had been on the "Young and Restless."  Apparently the deceased had written the actors in the past and they had responded with a thank you and watch me in my upcoming appearance note.  The deceased considered them friends.

Several points:

1.  Simple acts of kindness and respect reap dividends.

2.  For will purposes, there is a difference between eccentric and mentally incompetent. 

3.  I am not sure that either Brophy or Barton would qualify for an episode of VH1's "Where Are They Now?"

4. Lucan?  I vaguely remember it from my youth.  I certainly did not have a poster from it for years as did the decedent.  This was the poster in my teenage room.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Talking Loud and Saying Nothing

James Brown died in 2006.  His estate moved a step closer to settlement this week after  a federal lawsuit filed by his former business partner was dismissed.  After years of litigation, the estate was to be divided between his wife, his heirs, and his "I Feel Good Trust."

However, his former pr woman and song writer claimed to have worked with him on the child welfare trust in the 1980s and that his intent was to leave all of his assets to it.  She claimed that the South Carolina attorney general had ignored her, that 100 attorneys had refused to take her case because they were politically intimidated, and that she has a right to be heard and to exert control over the distribution of funds.

Several points:

1.  The court was correct to dismiss the case.

2.  How a probate related case which is handled at the state level lasted 16 months in a federal court is perplexing.

3.  An estate plan can easily change multiple times over 20 years so what James Brown wanted in 1980 could differ greatly from what he wanted in 2006.

4.  It is advisable to ensure that estate planning documents reflect current wishes.

5.  Sorry, sweetheart, but no one has "a right to be heard"  nor do they have the right to exert control over funds unless they are the trustee.   You were simply channeling one of James Brown's hits.