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Shooting an Airball

Lorenzen Wright played in the NBA for 13 years and earned $55 million.  Shortly after his retirement, he was the victim of an unsolved murder in a suspected drug deal.  He was survived by his ex-wife, Sherra Wright,  and their 6 children.  After his death, his ex-wife received $1 million in insurance proceeds in trust for the children.  Within 10 months of receiving the proceeds, she was accused of having spent nearly all of them on housing, furniture, cars, and travel.  She is now subject to probate court action to remove her as trustee.

Several points:

1.  It is never a good idea to have a former spouse serve as trustee for the children.  A financially savvy third party is a much better choice.  Newly divorced individuals should quickly revise their wills and trusts to remove the former spouse and to keep him/her away from assets for the children.

2.  In some defense of Sherra Wright, purchasing real estate with trust assets is not spending them, it is re-allocating the type of investment.

3.  I suspect that Mr. Wright is not the only former NBA player to have significant career earnings and to die with less than 2% of them remaining.  Annual child support and alimony payments of $330,000 tend to rapidly diminish one’s net worth.

 

 

Fast, Furious, and Guardianship Settlement

As mentioned previously, Paul Walker designated his mother as the guardian of his minor daughter, Meadow Rain, even though Rebecca Soteros, Meadow’s mother, was still alive.  His mother filed probate documents asking to be named guardian.  According to Bela Lugosi Jr, attorney for Mrs. Walker, the parties recently agreed to allow Meadow to live with Soteros once Soteros completes a stint in alcohol rehab.

Several points:

1.  This would have been a difficult fight for Mrs. Walker to win because the birth parent is presumed to get sole custody of a child regardless of provisions in the deceased’s will.

2.  Mrs. Walker probably leveraged the will provision to ensure that Soteros sought treatment before gaining sole custody of Meadow, although she might have been tempted to fight for custody by the trust funds available to her.

3.  Who knew that Bela Lugosi (Jr.) was practicing law?  I thought Bauhaus said “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”

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.

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.

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.

Greed Will 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cincinnati Pride

No celebrity wills and probate today, instead a bit of love for Cincinnati.  National Geographic Traveler noticed all of the energy and happenings in town from 21 C Hotel to OTR and from Rhinegeist Brewery to the American Sign Museum.  A former NYC resident now living in town said, “Cincinnati has gone from musty to must see.”  So true.  Walk taller and with your chest out, Cincinnati.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman Will

The will of Philip Seymour Hoffman was admitted to probate this week.  Despite sloppy media reporting about a trust for his son (I am looking at you Reuters and New York Daily News), the will left all of his $35 million estimated estate to his girlfriend, and mother of his 3 children, Mimi O’Donnell.  The will also had an unusual request that his son be raised in NYC, San Francisco, or Chicago.  The will was signed before the birth of his 2 daughters.

Several points:

1.  Wills should be reviewed after the birth of a child to ensure that the new baby is included and to ensure that the proposed guardian can adequately care for the additional child.

2.  Hoffman’s estate will owe approximately $12 million in federal estate taxes on the 9 month anniversary of his death.  The tax could have been delayed until the death of Mimi O’Donnell due to the use of the marital deduction if they had been married.

3.  If the mainstream media will not employ fact checkers, I am available for $300 per hour to review and advise them on wills of famous people.

4.  The 55 unused bags of heroin in his apartment were not addressed by the will.

5.  NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco?  Apparently diversity is good, but does not include being exposed to Republicans.

Fast, Furious, and Thriller

As noted earlier, when Paul Walker’s executor filed his will with the probate court, he estimated his future income at $8 million and this total estate at $25 million.  Also, as noted last Fall, the Executors of Michael Jackson’s estate are battling the IRS over the value of his estate, which they declared to be only $7 million but the IRS contends is worth more than $1 billion.  The discrepancy stems largely over the value of MJ’s likeness for commercial purposes (t shirts, merchandise) and the value of his musical catalog which also includes Beatles songs.  His estate valued them at $2,100 and $0 respectively.  The IRS valued them at a combined $900 million.

Several points:

1.  If Paul Walker will earn $8 million post-mortem, a $7 million valuation for Jackson’s estate is ludicrous.

2.  The King of Pop grossed $160 million in 2013, more than any other celebrity belying the low valuation of his music if not his likeness.

3.  I doubt that the image of a deceased entertainer with MJ’s murky past is worth $450 million, but it is worth more than $2,100.

4.  It might seem like the IRS “won’t stop ’til it gets enough” and the issues are “black or white,” but the estate’s stated values are “bad” if not “dangerous” and could make his family “scream” if they do not “beat it.”

Fast, Furious, and Admitted to Probate

The will of “Fast and Furious” star, Paul Walker, was admitted to probate last week.  The 2001 document has garnered some media attention because it appoints his father as executor of his $25 million estate which he left to a trust and designates his mother as guardian of his daughter, Meadow Rain, even though her mother survived her.   His estate consists of $10 million of investments, a house with $8.5 million equity, and projected $8 million residuals from his movies.

Several points:

1.  In split household situations, the biological parent will almost always be the sole guardian of a minor child even if the will designates someone else.

2.  In split household situations, I always designate a guardian for the minor children, although I condition it on the other parent being unable  to provide a stable home environment.

3.  Mr. Walker could have avoided the probate process on his investments by adding a transfer on death (TOD) designation to his trust.

4.  Meadow Rain?  In the annals of names of celebrity children it is probably better than Apple Martin and Blue Ivy Carter, and definitely better than Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof, Fifi Trixibelle Geldof, Moon Unit Zappa, and Diva Muffin Zappa but falls short of Tallulah Willis and Scout Willis.

 

Rock and Roll Lawsuits Never Die

Bill Graham was a famous concert promoter who died in a helicopter crash in 1991.   His estate sold his company, Bill Graham Enterprises, in 1997.  Prior to selling the company, the estate transferred his copyrights and trademarks, including the rights to famous concert posters, to the company.  His sons, who each inherited $10 million, sued the executor in Federal Court in 2010 for not disclosing the sale to them.  The sons allegedly discovered the sale while rummaging through their father’s business records in ’09.  The suit was initially dismissed because the 4 year statute of limitations had long expired, but the 9th Circuit said that the case may proceed to trial.

Several points:

1.  Probate is a state court matter.  I do not know why this is in federal court unless the attorneys were counting on the 9th Circuit to make an out of left field ruling in their favor.

2.  Of course a business transaction that looks good in 1997 might be viewed as less savvy in 2010.

3.  I suspect that the sons had depleted most of their inheritance and were actually rummaging for dollars when they “discovered” the sale of the property.

On the Back of the Working Class. Kind Of. (Huguette Clark Part 4)

I have previously blogged about the estate of Huguette Clark and the resulting litigation.  Her heirs, will beneficiaries, day nurse, attorney, and accountant reached a settlement last September in which the nurse forsook a $30 million bequest and agreed to return $6.7 million of the $31 million she had previously received, the accountant and attorney agreed to waive their rights to the $1 million they were to receive, and the heirs agreed to share $38 million after being left out of the will.  Now, the night nurse, who made $131K annually and received gifts of $1 million and was not a party to the settlement is suing the estate for being left out of the will after she was allegedly promised money by Ms. Clark.  The estate is suing her to return some of the gifts.

Several points:

1.  On its face, it does seem unfair that the day nurse received gifts of $30 million while the night nurse received $1 million while both worked 12 hour days, but then the night nurse only had limited hours to discuss gifts with Ms. Clark due to Ms. Clark’s sleep needs.

2.  Ms. Clark had no obligation to leave her nurse anything in her will.  Cases trying to enforce promises to leave a bequest are extremely difficult to win.

3.  Even without receiving anything in the will, the nurse made out fine with her six figure salary and seven figure gift for sitting next to a sleeping woman for 20 years.

4.  In what looks like the 1% exploiting the 99%, the nurses either received nothing under the will and had to  return prior gifts while the attorneys shared fees of $24 million.  In actuality, it was the rich exploiting the less rich because her night nurse’s income and assets placed her in the top 4% in the U.S.  Sympathies are hard to place in this story.

 

 

 

Back In The Office

Time away from the office is chewing up blogging time.  My son and I were skiing together last weekend in Colorado.  Picture below.  New post to follow.

You Are Only As Good As Your Surrogate

I am sure you have seen this, but it is still worth commenting on.  A 13 year old California girl suffered tragic complications after undergoing sleep apnea surgery and was declared brain dead by the physicians at the hospital where the surgery was performed.  Her family has contested the “brain death” declaration and has had her transferred to an disclosed facility with beliefs similar to theirs.

Two major points (no snark with these horrible circumstances):

1.  Adults can avoid the ramifications of a similar situation by executing a living will about their intentions if declared brain dead and by designating a health care surrogate to act in their stead via a health care power of attorney.

2.  The declaration of intent and designation of a surrogate are only as good as the person tasked with carrying out one’s wishes.  Be sure that the surrogate shares one’s intellect and values, and respects one’s wishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake Tan, Fake Debts, Short Marriage

An NYC heiress has accused her estranged husband of duping her into giving him $750K of her trust funds which he allegedly spent on his mistress.  The 39 year old woman met her 30 year old husband at a tanning salon in 2010, married him in 2011, and soon ended up withdrawing funds to pay his alleged “gambling debts.”  At one time she withdrew $150K cash from a bank and placed it in a duffel bag.  She alleges that her husband used the funds to take his mistress to  Vegas and the Dominican Republic and to purchase gifts from Bloomingdales, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier.

Three quick points:

1.  A trust fund that allows a beneficiary to withdraw $150K and place it in a duffel bag is not very effective.

2.  A trust beneficiary capable of being duped to the tune of $750K in 2 years needs more restrictive trust terms.

3.  In ranking questionable locales for meeting prospective spouses, a tanning salon ranks below AA but only slightly above a rehab facility.

Happy New Year

 

I hope the new year is treating you well.  I am back in town after some time in Florida with my family.  Blog post to follow soon.  In the meantime, here is a picture of my children.

 

 

Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year.

 

Rick Dees’ Family Would Not Act This Way

The family of long time American Top 40 host, Casey Kasem, settled their dispute over his health care on Friday.  The children from his first marriage had requested a conservatorship because they alleged that their step-mother was not permitting them to see him.  A court appointed doctor had opined that Kasem, who is bed ridden and hospitalized with Parkinson’s disease, would want to see his children.   Details of the settlement are undisclosed.

Several points:

1.  These types of disputes are fairly common with second marriages and children from a prior marriage.  They are also common among siblings when one child lives out of town.

2.  To reduce the risk of conflict, an individual should execute a durable power of attorney for health care and a financial power of attorney.   Further, the attorney in fact under both documents should communicate with other family members.

3.  Because terms of the settlement are undisclosed, it remains unknown if the Kasem children are permitted to visit their father, or if they have to send him long distance dedications.

 

 

 

Love Means Never Having to Fight Over a Portrait

After Nick Saban declined the University of Texas  football job, the bad week for UT continued when a jury determined that a painting of Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol belonged to Ryan O’Neal and was not part of her art collection that she left to the university.  She left none of her estate to long time lover O’Neal which forced him to fight for the ownership of the painting which is estimated to be worth between $1 million and $12 million.

Several points:

1.  Marriage can provide legal protection.  If Ryan and Farrah had married, he would have been entitled to one-third of her estate as a matter of law and could have skipped the drama over the painting.

2.  When one’s former girlfriend/lover/companion leaves $100K to a college boyfriend and nothing to you, perhaps your relationship is not comparable to the idyllic “Love Story.”  Love means never having to fight over a portrait of the deceased.

3.  A photograph with painted eyes and lipstick is worth seven figures?

Who Wants to Make (or Receive) This Phone Call?

From today’s Dear Prudence column on Slate:

Q. Death Around the Holidays: A man I work with and with whom I’ve had an affair the last two months died suddenly over the weekend. I am pregnant with his child. He didn’t know. His current wife, now widow, doesn’t either. How do I broach this subject? His estate is rather large.

A: I’d say I’m sorry for your loss, but since apparently you aren’t, I won’t bother. For your financial interests, contact a lawyer specializing in family law. I don’t have any advice on where you go to get help for your lack of morals—or heart.

Several points:

1.  If the man left all of his assets to his wife, I do not think that there will be much available for the child other than Social Security because the widow is not obligated to leave assets to the child.

2.  If the man did not have a will, in Ohio the child would essentially share in 2/3 of the probate assets with the other children.

3.  If  the man left assets in a trust for his wife and children, which ultimately are to be distributed to his children, the child from the affair will likely inherit the same share as his other children because children are usually defined generically in wills and trusts not as “children from my relationship with my wife.”

4.  I doubt Ann Landers and Dear Abby would have answered as tersely as Prudie did.

5.  Giving the woman the benefit of the doubt, which Prudie did not, the writer might have adapted her writing style to the 21st century blog post/Internet style and left out all perceived unnecessary adjectives (and emotion).  Or, she could be a Hemingway fan.

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All Posts By Jay Brinker

I am an attorney located in Cincinnati, Ohio who practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, asset protection, and small business advice. I make a difficult and bewildering process as simple as possible. Most importantly, I provide "more for less" for my clients.