Thursday, March 27, 2014

As Tears Go By

L'Wren Scott was the fashion designer girlfriend of Mick Jagger.  When she committed suicide 10 days ago, rumors swirled that she was in financial trouble.  After her will leaving her entire estate to Mick was filed in NY Surrogate's Court this week, media outlets are reporting that she was not financially stressed because the probate documents listed her as the owner of an $8 million condo and $ 1 million of personal belongings.

Several points:

1.  The media outlets are incorrect and Ms. Scott could have been financially strapped.  NY (and Ohio) requires initial probate documents to reflect gross value of assets.  Debts and liabilities are not required to be listed so it is doubtful that she had a condo with $8 million equity.

2.  Leaving money to Mick Jagger?  No matter how much she wanted to show love for him, L'Wren might have been better off selecting a charity important to her and Mick, assuming she had assets to leave. Mick does not need a nickel from her which will only be taxed at his death (although he and Keith Richards might have a deal with the devil to live forever).

3.  As I have mentioned before, I remain available for media consultation on will and probate interpretation matters.  Someone has to assist in getting these stories reported correctly.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Love or Exploitation?

A couple, who resided together for 4 years, met with a lawyer to discuss executing wills.   The lawyer allegedly advised them it would be cheaper if they simply married.  Seven months later, after the woman had suffered her second stroke and had been declared incompetent by her physician, the man removed her from the nursing home and married her in a civil service.  When the woman died intestate 3 months after the wedding, her sister and step-children from her first marriage contested the validity of the marriage due to her alleged lack of capacity.  If the marriage were invalid, the sister would inherit the $450,000 estate.  If the marriage were valid, the husband would inherit.  The step-children were listed as the beneficiaries of an unsigned  1999 will.  After the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the marriage could be challenged on the grounds of legal incapacity, the husband and relatives agreed to split the estate.

Several points:

1.    There are many "will substitutes" which include trusts, beneficiary designations, and jointly owned assets.  Marriage is not one of them.  In 27 years of practice, I have never advised a couple to get married instead of executing wills.    

2.  Carpe Diem!  If you pay for a will in 1999, sign it and let your family know where the original is.  If you want to prepare a will in 2008, follow through.  If you want to get married instead, get married then not seven months and two strokes later.
3.  The Wisconsin marriage statute does not address the ability to void a marriage after someone has died.  However, in an era where courts interpret statutes to permit same sex marriage it was easy for the Wisconsin court to create its own rule on voiding a marriage.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Bitter Apple

A British woman died and left her iPad to her children.  She used it for e-mail and games after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Her children  have been unable to access all of the content on it because they do not have her Apple ID and password.  Apple has requested a court order proving that she was the owner of the iPad and the account.  The legal fees for obtaining the court order would exceed the value of the iPad.

Several points:

1.  I advise all of my clients to write down their on-line passwords and store them safely so that heirs can access their digital assets if necessary.

2.  When one is terminally ill, tasks such as making a will, discussing funeral arrangements, sharing passwords, etc.,  that can be done today should be done today.  There is no reason to delay because there might not be a tomorrow.

3.  The iPad will work without the Apple ID so what is likely happening is that the family does not know the iPad's 4 digit lock code.  With 10,000 combinations and a five minute lock after 3 incorrect guesses, the family should be able to crack the code in 11.5 days with methodical guessing.  Their time might be better spent working to buy a new iPad and forgo listening to mom's music and playing her Angry Birds.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Greed Does Not Brake for Tragedy

A Milwaukee attorney and another  law firm represented the family of a couple innocently killed in a horrific DUI accident.  After reaching a settlement with one insurance company for $250,000, the attorney committed suicide.   The executor of his estate found the $250,000 check payable to the attorney and the other firm and sent it to other firm for safekeeping. The other firm cashed the check but then refused to give the deceased attorney's share of the attorney fees to his estate alleging he breached the fee sharing agreement by committing suicide.

Several points:

1.  Checks payable to someone who subsequently dies are part of the probate estate.

2.  I am not sure how the law firm was able to cash a check payable to two parties.

3.  The legal fee in this matter was clearly earned when the settlement was received so the law firm's theory for non-payment has no grounds.

4.  With business partners like the law firm, I can see why the attorney thought the world was bleak.