Ella Mason Was the Reasonable One

When she died in 2003, a Maine woman left almost of all of her $200,000 estate for the care of the unwanted and abandoned cats in her hometown.  Her two page will appointed trustees to administer the funds but did not specify who should actually receive the funds.  Now, two women who run makes shift cat shelters have sued the trustees and the attorney who drafted the will.    The two women spend nearly all of their disposable income to provide for the cats.  One of the women has not visited family for 2 years because she is afraid to burden the other woman with all of the cat care in her absence.

Several points:

1.  Obviously, the trust is lacking in specifics about how the funds should be spent and should have included direct beneficiaries.

2.  Any two page will is lacking in many specifics without even incorporating a trust into it.

3.  The attorney should be dismissed from the lawsuit.  His legal duty was only to his client – he did not owe any legal duty to the people suing the trust.

4.  Need I point out that stories involving multiple cats never include a male?

Brenda Jarvis has been taking care of houses full of cats since 1974.

TML Again

Paul Daugherty once again graciously allowed me to guest write his The Morning Line blog for the Cincinnati Enquirer.  If you are a UC fan, you might enjoy it.

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The Man Who Sold the World

The will of David Bowie was filed in Manhattan Surrogate Court on Friday.  The will left $1 million of his reported $100 million estate to the former nanny of his son, $2 million to his long time personal assistant, 25% of his estate to his 44 year old son, 25% in trust to his 15 year old daughter, and the balance to his wife, Iman.

Three points of minimal importance:

1.  I was initially surprised that his estate is being administered in NY rather than in England.  By residing in NY, the estate tax benefit for his estate is $2 million while the NY income tax rates were also in his favor for years.

2.  Leave it to Bowie to do as he sees fit until the end whether residing where he wants regardless of lower taxation elsewhere, using his death as art, or bending gender and other rules during his career.

3.  I like this plan – everyone receives enough to make her comfortable for the rest of her life even if Iman’s best modeling days are behind her.


Credit:  Masayoshi Sukita

Feel the Burn?

Last week Bernie Sanders released his tax increase plan for paying for his $1.4 trillion annual single payer health care plan. Among other hefty increases, his plan would increase the estate tax on the “wealthiest .3% of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million” to raise an additional $21 billion annually. The specifics are lacking, but the plan resembles President Obama’s annual budget proposals which call for the same reduction in the estate tax exemption to $3.5 million from the current $5.45 million, an increase in the estate tax rate from 40% to 45%, and no indexing of the exemption amount to inflation.

Two quick points:

1. As an estate planner who lived through 12 years of uncertainty with the estate tax exemption, it is disappointing to see politicians inject uncertainty back into the estate planning arena which makes planning difficult for clients and their families.

2. A plan that equals 40% of the current federal budget does not have enough rich people to gouge to pay for it so of course Sanders has to resort to taxing the dead more to try to pay for it.



Solitaire Confinement

We have already traveled this road, but it is worth revisiting.  After the death of her husband in August, a Canadian woman was locked out of her husband’s Apple account because she did not know his Apple ID.  She discovered this when her favorite card game would not function and she was unable to reinstall the game. Apple told her she needed  a court order to change the password, or she could create her own Apple ID and repurchase the game.

Three quick points:

1.  I advise all of my clients to write down their on-line passwords and notify their executor of their location so their executor can access their digital assets after death.

2.  My wills authorize the executor to access any digital accounts.

3.  In this woman’s case, she would have been far wiser to spend $2.99 to download a new version of the game.

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Dead and Bloated

Scott Weiland was formerly the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots. At the time of his death last month, he had been married to his third wife for two years.  Meanwhile, his second wife, Mary Forsberg, filed his 2007 will in LA County probate court because it named her as executor of his $2 million estate.  The will was executed several months before they divorced.

Three brief points:

1.  Ohio law would remove the ex-wife as both a beneficiary of the will and as executor once the divorce is finalized.  It would also remove her as the beneficiary of any IRA or insurance policy.

2.  Even with the protection of a state law treating a divorced spouse as pre-deceased for estate planning purposes, it is best to update estate planning documents and beneficiary designations upon getting divorced.  If there is no such state law, it is imperative to update the documents.

3.  As always, I guess it is asking too much of someone whose divorce and death were both attributable to drug use to be pro-active in updating one’s estate planning documents.


The Will In the Front Yard

Antonio and Ann Yzaguirre died when a tornado hit their Tennessee home several days before Christmas.  Oddly, several pages of their will were found 55 miles away in the front yard of Sharon Thompson.  In looking for the owner of the will, she connected the will to the Yzagurirres through a Google search.  

Several quick points:

1.  It is best to not keep an original will where it can be destroyed in a natural disaster or fire (or thrown away accidentally with a poor screenplay).

2.  Of pieces of paper to find after a tornado, a will has to rank down there with credit card bills and junk mail.

3.  No word on whether the Yzaguirres lived in a mobile home.


Happy New Year

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The Will In the Cupboard

Melissa Mathison, who died last month at the age of 65, was renowned for being the screenwriter of E.T. and The Black Stallion.  She had also been married to Harrison Ford from 1983  until 2004.  She left an estate worth $22 million, most of which is in trust.  However, her original will cannot be located.

Several very quick points because this is the holiday season after all:

1.  A copy of a lost will can be admitted to probate in Ohio if there is proof it was validly executed and that it was not revoked.

2.  I offer to retain original wills for my clients so they cannot be accidentally misplaced.

3.  Mathison’s family might wish to search for the will among the presumably multitude of rejected drafts of The Indian in the Cupboard while she tried to make it into an enjoyable movie.



Merry Christmas From My Family to Yours


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