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Knives Out

The film “Knives Out” is an award nominated dark comedy written by Rian Johnson, who is best (and actually only) known as the writer and director of “The Last Jedi”, the 8th installment of the “Star Wars” saga. The film involves the death of the patriarch of a family, his will, and the machinations of his family to obtain his estate. It also involves the Hercule Poirot-esque detective played by Daniel Craig investigating the death.

Without revealing any significant plot parts, I noticed a few estate planning points:

1. Will readings are entirely a creative device for Hollywood. I have never been part of one in 30+ years of practice.

2. The grandchildren were part of the angry family pining for an inheritance, but rarely would grandchildren inherit a meaningful sum from their grandparent unless their own parent were deceased.

3. The film did correctly reference the Slayer Statute.

4.Channeling my Gene Siskel, skinny, late middle-aged, bald man critic mode – if you are looking for something to stream, “Knives Out” is much more entertaining than the multitude of sequels and re-makes released by Hollywood last year.

Photo Credit (Unknown, but happy to give credit)

License:  Fair Use/Education (from linked article)

She Loved the Dough

Heather Mack is the “Body in a Suitcase” murderer who is serving time in a “notorious” Indonesian prison for killing her mother in 2015 in Bali and stuffing her body in a suitcase. The motive was money. A taxi driver who saw blood dripping from the suitcase notified authorities. Mack was sentenced to 10 years in prison. While in prison, she gave birth to a daughter, Stella, with whom she was pregnant at the time of her conviction.

The trustee of her mother’s trust refused to pay Mack her inheritance due to Illinois’ slayer statute. The trustee and Mack finally agreed that Mack’s daughter, Stella, will receive the $1.6 million instead. Despite her incarceration, Mack has been seen lounging around prison with her boyfriend while also posting photos on social media of herself in restaurants with her boyfriend.

Not much new ground to cover.

1. Slayer statutes prevent a murderer from financially benefitting from her crime.

2. My definition of “notorious” differs from that of others when prison involves having a boyfriend and going out to restaurants with him.

3. 10 years for murdering her mother? The Menendez brothers wish they had committed their crimes in Bali.

Photo Credit:  Instagram/thisischriswhite (from linked article)
License:  Fair Use/Education

Shooting and Drowning, Oh My

John Chakalos was a Connecticut octogenarian worth $40 million when he was murdered in 2013. No one has been charged with his killing although he was shot with the same type of gun his then 20 year old grandson had recently purchased.

Chakolos’ estate is to be distributed equally among his 4 daughters. However, last year one of his daughters, the mother of the gun owning grandson, disappeared at sea after the boat she was in with her son sank at sea after some holes were improperly repaired. The son/grandson was found 8 days later on a life raft. Now the 3 surviving daughters have asked the Connecticut probate court to declare the grandson as the murderer of Chakalos which they hope will prevent him from inheriting his mother’s share of the estate (and leave more for them).

Several points and one question:

1. The grandson should inherit his mother’s share of the estate. Slayer statutes apply when someone has been convicted of murder not merely suspected of murder.

2. Getting a bit wonky, the share of the now deceased daughter vested in her so technically she will inherit it and her estate will receive it and distribute it pursuant to her will.

3. If the Slayer Statute were to be applied, it should be applied to her estate although once again the son/grandson has not been convicted of her murder.

4. Is a 20 year old really capable of pulling off a perfect crime then repeating his success three years later?

5. If not, bad luck and odd coincidences certainly seem to follow the grandson.

Photo Credit:  Facebook?

License:  Fair Use/Education

No Winning Here

Barbara Schwartz was a Manhattan socialite who was stabbed to death by her shut-in son, Jonathan, in 2011. She was survived by second husband, Burton Fischler, the son who killed her, and a second son, Kenneth. Her estate was estimated at $6 million at the time of her death.

In the six years since her murder, her widower allegedly lost $4.3 million of her estate in six months due to poor financial management including day trading, Kenneth committed suicide in 2013 when he learned of the financial losses, and Jonathan was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Schwartz’s first husband is now in charge of the estate and has sued to stop Kenneth from inheriting her estate. Got it? Jonathan killed her and survived. Kenneth did not kill her and committed suicide.

As if that is not complicated enough, Fischler is now challenging the pre-nup he and Schwartz signed in 2000. He claims that he signed it under pressure from her family and that he received bad legal advice. He also claims that Schwartz promised him she would tear it up later. His share of the estate under the pre-nup is $1.25 million which is in trust.

There are so many fun issues, let’s address a few:

1. The inheritance of the mentally ill son is being challenged under NY’s Slayer Statute which prohibits individuals from inheriting due to killing someone.

2. The ex-husband is not a truly disinterested party in trying to stop his son from inheriting from Mrs. Schwartz. If the committed son does not inherit, his share will go to the share of the son who committed suicide. Because that son is deceased and did not have children, his share will go to his father (the ex-husband).

3. I think that Fischler might have a statue of limitations issue with his challenge to the pre-nup. Post-2008, NY has a 3 year statute of limitations for such challenges which does not apply to prior pre-nups. That statute was six years although it did not start running during the marriage during some areas of NY. Either way, the statute is most likely applicable to challenges from divorce, not death.

4. Fischler’s arguments for contesting the pre-nup seem to be in the “let’s throw a bunch of mud and hope something sticks” vein. The poor legal advice line might work in a death penalty case with a court appointed attorney but should not work in a pre-nup matter where Fischler chose his own attorney. President Trump would likely call Fischler a “loser.”

Photo Credit:  Unknown for NY Daily News

License:  Fair Use/Education

This Never Works, So Why Try – Redux

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A Penn State professor was allegedly murdered last week by the woman to whom he offered shelter and her friend. The professor was allegedly pushed off a cliff because he had recently revised his will and they thought they would benefit from his death. The woman was also miffed because he had criticized the parenting of her child. One of the reasons cited by the police in their arrest of the couple was they were “known drug users.”

 One legal point and two “I can’t believe this” points”:

1. Most states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, have “slayer statutes” which preclude murderers from benefiting from the will of someone they murdered.

 2. It is incredibly presumptuous of the woman and her friend to assume that they were named as beneficiaries of the professor’s new will.

 3. If “known drug user” is a marker for a criminal, then half of the adult population of Colorado are suspects for crimes there.

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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.