I remember this incredible Nightline closing clip featuring Tracy Chapman’s “Freedom Now” from the week Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.
Bonus music video – “Free Nelson Mandela” by Special AKA.
Julie Harris, the 5 time Emmy Award winning actress, died in August. Her will named a minor soap opera actress, Francesca Rubino, as the co-executor of her estate. Her will also contained a codicil stating that if her son, who lived on her property and who is to receive the bulk of his estate, threatened to harm the co-executor, he would be disinherited. The son was unable to see his mother the last 3 years of her life. Friends of Ms. Harris claim that Ms. Rubino wormed her way into Ms. Harris’ life and fired all of her long time employees including the gardener, housekeeper, and attorney. The new attorney, who presumably would earn $100,000 as co-executor, maintains that they are merely disgruntled former employees.
1. Wills can generally be challenged on the grounds of lack of mental capacity or undue influence. An indicia of undue influence is where a non-relative receives money to the exclusion of children or one child receives a disproportionate amount.
2. The son has standing to contest the validity of the will, but if he still receives most of the estate and the only issue is who will serve as executor, he might not be inclined to contest the will and lose money in legal fees.
3. I have never seen a codicil threatening to disinherit someone, much less a child, for threatening anyone. Codicils usually change the amounts to be received by a beneficiary.
4. Who can blame the son for making a threatening gesture to someone described as “very alluring but very manipulative” and “who had a saintly look that was overboard”?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Donte Whitner, safety for the SF 49ers, has filed an application to change his last name to Hitner. The hearing in Cuyahoga Probate Court is set for Nov. 19. His application for the change says it will be commercially favorable to him in various business ventures (and presumably in terms of increased jersey sales).
Two quick points:
1. In a bit of irony, the 49ers play the Washington Redskins, a team under siege for not changing its name, in his first game after the name change.
2. Unless the white supremacist market is larger than I believe, I doubt there is huge demand for a jersey with a name that could easily be mistaken for “Hitler.”
An individual who is a beneficiary of his uncle’s estate asked the Ethicist at the NYT if he should follow his uncle’s instructions to donate several thousand dollars to various charities. The instructions were made in a letter accompanying the will. The beneficiary perceived the groups to be “extremely right wing” and was offended by some of them. The Ethicist instructed the beneficiary to make the donations or not take any money.
1. Leaving money to someone with the expectation that he will share it with someone else or a charity is not legally binding nor a good idea (see the comment about not legally binding).
2. Charitable bequests should be made in the will so they are carried out (and so charitable deductions are effective).
3. Expecting anyone from California to donate money to a conservative cause is tilting at windmills.
The estate of Herb Stern, the photographer famous for taking the Last Sitting photos of Marilyn Monroe 6 weeks prior to her death, is poised for a will contest. The 83 year old executed a will in 1997 which left half of his estate to his children from his first marriage with the other half establishing a foundation. He subsequently executed a will and a trust in 2010 which left his $10 million estate, save for a few cash bequests to his children, for the benefit of his 44 year old wife, whom he had secretly married in 2009.
1. It is perfectly logical for a man to alter his will to provide for his wife who was not in his life at the time of the will he signed 13 years prior.
2. The new will has a no contest provision stating that anyone contesting the will will forfeit their inheritance. If this clause is coupled with significant bequests to the children it could curtail a will contest by them.
3. Secret marriage? Perhaps Mr. Stern and his wife were channeling Marilyn Monroe film titles. Instead of “We’re Not Married” they decided to “Let’s Make it Legal” because Stern was only “As Young As You Feel” and followed the axiom that “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Once the facts are revealed, “Something’s Got to Give.” My apologies in advance.