Monday, March 30, 2015

May Your Children Always Be Safe

Max Maisel, the college age son of Sports Illustrated writer Ivan Maisel, disappeared last month in Rochester and is presumed to have committed suicide by drowning.  The family held a memorial service for him last Friday.  His father posted his touching eulogy on Twitter today.

Among the humorous anecdotes and moments of parental pain, as the parent of a college freshman, this is the most frightening:  "No parent knows how a child lives at college. Clearly, the disaster we have on our hands is an indication of that. We didn’t recognize the downward spiral Max was in, and that is the burden that psychologists tell us we can’t carry. As much as we tried, as great a job as our friends and family tell us we did, it wasn’t enough."

Give your children an extra hug tonight.  I will.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Always About the Team

Former University of North Carolina basketball players received $200 checks this week from the trust of their coach, Dean Smith, who died last month.  The legendary coach instructed his trustee to distribute that sum to each of the players who lettered for him.  The letter accompanying the checks asked the players to enjoy a dinner out on Coach Smith.

No points today - I simply wanted to recognize a final classy gesture by a classy man.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

She Didn't Know

As news breaks that Bobbi Kristina Brown will be  moved to a long term care facility, one wonders what will become of her estate.  Or at least those of us in the estate planning field wonder.  Her mother, Whitney Houston, left her reportedly $20 million estate in trust for Bobbi Kristina per the terms of her 1993 will.   Bobbi Kristina should have received 10% of that on her 21st birthday last year under the terms of the trust.  Bobbi Kristina's assets will go to her closest living relatives i.e. her father, Bobby Brown.  The remaining 90% of the trust will be distributed per the terms of Whitney's will which means to her mother and her two brothers.  Bobby Brown was also listed as a trust beneficiary, as was her father who died in 2003, but is precluded from inheriting from Whitney due to their 2007 divorce.

Several points:

1.   Whitney should have updated her will multiple times - as her daughter aged, after the death of her father in 2003, and after her divorce in 2007.

2.  Distributing trust assets to a child at the age of 21 is a bad idea.  I never draft a trust that permits a distribution prior to age 25.  I also have a clause prohibiting distributions to beneficiaries suffering from drug use, alcohol abuse, or a gambling problem.

3.  Recreational drug use is expensive.  In an age where Lou Reed's estate was valued at $20 million primarily based on one song ("Walk on the Wild Side"), a $20 million estate seems small for an artist of Whitney's stature recording in an era of larger royalties and multi-platinum CDs, with a film career to boot. Not that Lou Reed did not do drugs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Know Thy Neighbor (Before Giving Her Your Will)

A couple prepared wills leaving all of their assets to each other.  The husband's father was the beneficiary if they both died.  The couple subsequently divorced.   The woman allegedly prepared a new will, which she gave to her neighbor, leaving her estate to her brothers.  That will has not been found.  After the woman died, her ex-husband produced the will from their marriage.  Although the divorce precluded the ex-husband him from inheriting from her, his father was still considered a valid beneficiary.  Courts have ruled that the will from her marriage controls and that the former father-in-law will receive her estate.  The New York Court of Appeals will hear her family's appeal.

Several points:

1.  Most states have laws treating a divorced spouse as a pre-deceased beneficiary of a will, trust, insurance, and retirement plan.  Those laws do not affect the contingent beneficiaries.

2.  Divorced individuals should immediately update their wills and beneficiary designations as soon as possible during the divorce process.  This is more imperative for those without children.

3.  My policy is to retain my clients' original documents,  send them copies, and urge them to notify their designated executor of the location of the copies (which have my name on them).

4.  In desperate times, leaving a copy of the will in the refrigerator is always preferable to giving the original will to a neighbor even if it ends up smelling like rotten vegetables, spoiled mayo, or Green Goddess salad dressing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

No Longer "Blurred Lines"

Following up on a previous post, earlier today a California jury awarded the estate of Marvin Gaye over $7 million in damages to be paid by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for their infringement of Gaye's song "Got To Give It Up"  in their "Blurred Lines" hit.  Their song has made $17 million,of which $5.5 million was paid to Thicke and $5 million was paid to Williams.

Two quick points:

1.  I still believe that it was silly of Thicke and Williams to initiate this lawsuit to prove their ownership of the song.  It is usually best to let sleeping dogs lie.

2.  I doubt that Williams will be "Happy" with this verdict.

Sunday, March 1, 2015