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.