Monday, October 24, 2016

Between a Rock and Hard Place

Bill Cornwell lived in a Greenwich Village brownstone with his same sex partner for 50 years. When he died two years ago, his will left the building and all of his possessions to his partner. However, the will was only witnessed by one individual while NY law requires two witnesses. Without a valid will, his estate will pass to his closest living relatives who are his nieces and nephews who recently sold the building for $7 million. The partner has since filed suit trying to prove that he and Mr. Cornwell were actually married, although they were not, so he can be considered the closest heir.

So many points and such short attention spans:

1. All wills require two witnesses not related to the individual and who will not receive any assets under the will.

2. Using a DIY will kit could lead to problems with properly executing wills (among other issues)

3. The legal arguments made by the partner verge on stupid. One of them is that even though they lived in NY, which does not recognize common law marriage, they bought a dog in Pennsylvania in 1991 as a symbol of their commitment to each other and because Pennsylvania used to recognize common law marriage they should be considered as married.

4. The 85 year old partner would be better off dropping the law suit and accepting the offer of the nieces and nephews to live in the apartment for 5 years at a monthly rental of $10 and receive $250,000 upon the sale of the building.

5. The entire problem could have been avoided if they had simply married each other once gay marriage became legal.

6. One niece claimed, apparently with a straight face, that her uncle did not want his partner to inherit or he would have properly executed the will. She also suggested that perhaps the men were just friends or great companions. The address of the rock under which she lives is unknown.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Married Without Children

In lieu of much newsworthy, I will resort to the evergreen story of the seemingly penniless senior citizen who left a large bequest to a charity in his will. Ken Millen was born in Aberdeen, WA, attended Grays Harbor College there, worked as shoe salesman until the store went out of business in the '80s, and always lived in the house in which he was born. He inherited some funds 20 years ago from a brother who was an attorney in the South. When Millen died last year, he left some crappy personal property, including his 1979 car, to his neighbors who treated him like a family member. He left the remaining $1 million to his alma mater. The neighbors ended up hauling most of the personal belongings to the dump because they were worthless.

A few non-legal points:

1. As heart warming as these stories are portrayed, they are actually somewhat bothersome in that an individual who was treated decently and warmly by neighbors for years eschews leaving them any funds in lieu of giving it to an institution he attended 65 years ago but likely did not have much present contact with.

2. Estate planning attorneys need to do a better job with clients without living relatives to guide them to leaving some meaningful assets to important individuals in their lives rather than faceless institutions. 

3. Mercifully Grays Harbor College does not have a football team so the bequest cannot be wasted on an unnecessary scoreboard.

4. To quote Aberdeen's most famous resident: "I found it hard, it's hard to find, Oh well, whatever, never mind."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pet Cemetery

NY recently passed legislation permitting people to be buried with the remains of their pets. Only four states permit humans and pets to be buried together. Ohio law is silent on this matter although some cemeteries bury both humans and pets in separate sections. There is no word on whether Jennifer Lopez intends to be buried with Casper Smart.