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.