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Sir Jeff

While we wait for the impending China crackdown in Hong Kong, the Jeffrey Epstein death remains the other big news topic. Epstein was not married nor did he have any alleged children. It is not known if he left a will or other estate planning documents.

Epstein was survived by his younger brother, Mark, who has two children. Epstein owned houses in NYC, Palm Beach, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. His net worth is reported to be $500 million although no one knows for certain nor the source of the wealth.

A few brief points:

1. Epstein supposedly made his money by assisting his clients with the minutiae of tax planning and other life details so it is hard to believe he did not leave a will and trust.

2. It is way too early to know his actual net worth and what claims will be brought against his estate.

3. For the sake of his heirs, they should hope that he was legally a resident of Florida or the U.S. Virgin Islands, neither of which has an estate tax, rather than New York which would tax his estate at a rate of 16%.

4. These complex estate issues will likely be determined sooner than the circumstances surrounding his death.

5. There might be some truth to the line “the person most surprised by the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein was Jeffrey Epstein.”

Photo Credit:  Unknown (from slideshow from linked article)

License:  Fair Use/Education (from linked article)

Dial Down The Pressure

This is a terribly sad story. Kelly Catlin, a 23 year old who won an Olympic silver medal as a cyclist in 2016, killed herself last weekend in her dorm at Stanford. She was working on her masters in Computational Mathematics after majoring in Biomedical Engineering and Chinese at the University of Minnesota. Kelly suffered a concussion in January from a bike crash. She previously had tried to commit suicide in January but police found her in time. In the week before her death she wrote about balancing time and taking time for oneself in Velonews.
 
As the father of a 23 year old daughter, the father of a son who suffered a concussion two years ago while competing in cross country, and as a recreational cyclist, Kelly’s death hits particularly close. I have three quick points:
 
1. Take concussions seriously. Give the brain all the time it needs to heal. It might be a long time but that is relative.
 
2. Help your children manage internal pressure (although it seems Kelly put incredible pressure on herself to succeed) and relieve it as much as possible.  In the long run, the source of perceived pressure is likely not that important.
 
3. Hug your children tonight and tell them you love them.
 
Photo Credit:  Wil Matthews
License:  Fair Use/Education (from linked article).

Mini-Me and Maximum Bill

Verne Troyer is the actor famous for playing Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies. He committed suicide by alcohol poisoning in April. After ingesting the alcohol, he called 911 and told dispatchers he wanted to die. He was rushed to the hospital but died 3 weeks later. He left an estate valued at $150K. Just recently the hospital which treated him filed a claim against his estate for $360K.

Three small points:

1. In Ohio, a creditor has six months from the date of death to file a claim for payment against the estate. If the claim is not made, the estate does not have to pay the debt.

2. Debts must be paid before the beneficiaries receive any assets. Troyer’s heirs will not receive anything from his estate.

3. If there are insufficient assets to pay debts, the debts die with the decedent. The heirs are not responsible for them.

4. No snark when someone commits suicide.

Photo Credit:  REX/Shutterstock 

License:  Fair Use/Education (from linked article)

This Explains Vegemite

In Australia, a man who was despondent after his wife left him drafted a text message to his brother saying that he wanted his brother and nephew to keep all that he had, told him where his cash was stashed, provided the PIN to his bank accounts, bashed his wife, then signed it “my will.” He did not send the message. After the man killed himself, a friend found the unsent message on his phone. A court has admitted the text message as the will of the deceased man.

A few points:

1. Although digital wills are around the corner, this would not work in Ohio because it was not witnessed nor signed.

2. Unsent? I find it similar to an unsigned will – there is not enough proof that this is his intent.

3. A court in Australia previously held that a will typed on an iPhone was valid.

4. At this rate, Australian courts will soon declare wills written with all emojis as valid.

Photo Credit:  news.com.au (?)

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

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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.