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Miscellany

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.

His Mom Will Not Be Happy

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.”

Agatha Christie Revisted

Urooj Khan is the Chicago man who died of cyanide poisoning after winning $1 million in the lottery.   He had dinner with his wife, father in law, and his teen daughter from a previous marriage the night before he died although his wife and father in law did not allegedly eat the meal.  He did not have a will.  The Cook County Probate Court has frozen his dry cleaning businesses while it determines whether they are part of his estate or were transferred to his widow via other agreements.

Several points:

1.  A document disposing of assets at death would have to comply with the requirements for executing a will.

2.  Exceptions to the will requirement would be a buy sell agreement or provisions within an LLC operating agreement.  However, in this case that would suppose that Mr. Khan’s wife was a business partner with him.

3.  It has been more than six months and no arrests have been made in the death by cyanide where the wife and father in law did not eat the same meal and stood to benefit from the new windfall?  Agatha Christie novels are not this obvious.

Maid For Trouble

The woman at the center of the U.S.’s most expensive probate battle died this week in Poland.   Barbara Piasecka Johnson was a maid who worked for J. Seward Johnson, Jr.’s family, of Johnson and Johnson renown.  Within 2 years, then 76 year old Mr. Johnson divorced his second wife and married the then 34 year old servant.  When Johnson died 12 years later, he omitted 5 of his 6 children from his will and left nearly all of his of $500 million to his wife.  The children contested the will alleging undue influence and settled for $40 million.

Several points:

1.  Mr. Johnson could have provided for both his widow and his children by creating a QTIP trust (a new trust back in 1983) which would have provided assets remaining after his wife’s death would be distributed to his children.

2.  Contesting a bequest to a maid on grounds of undue influence is easy.    Contesting a bequest to a maid who has been married to the deceased for 12 years on similar grounds is nearly impossible.

3.  Marrying someone younger than one’s children is rarely a good idea.  It might be better to date her and leave her a condo and a Bentley in a will and preserve family relations.

Jerry Buss the Sugar Daddy

Los Angeles Lakers owner, Jerry Buss, died in February at the age of 80.  He was known for epitomizing California cool and was often seen with one or more young women on his arm.  In his will, he left a Honolulu condo and a 2009 Bentley to his 20-something girlfriend, and the rest of his assets to his trust.

For privacy reasons, he could have transferred the condo and car to his trust, and made the bequest from the trust.  This also would have avoided the cost of ancillary probate in Hawaii.

Of course, privacy might have defeated the purpose of letting the world know that at the time of his death he was an 80 year old man with a late 20’s girlfriend.    Estate planning always has trade-offs.

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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.