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shele-covlinon New Year’s Eve in 2009.  The estranged couple was in the midst of divorce when Shele Covlin was found dead in a bathtub.  An autopsy revealed she had been strangled.  Ms. Covlin reportedly feared for her safety and had an appointment with an attorney to change her will the next day according to court filings.  Since her death, her husband, an unemployed backgammon expert, has been blocked from receiving any of her $1.0 million estate.  She changed the beneficiaries of her $1.6 million insurance policy to her children the month before she died.

There are a litany of estate planning issues, but let’s focus on the major ones:

1.  Changing a will and other documents during a divorce proceeding is always advisable if not prohibited by agreements between the parties or the domestic relations court.

2.  Simply changing a will can allow the other spouse to inherit up to one third of the probate estate if the spouse elects to take the elective share provided by statute.  Transferring the assets to a trust would be a more effective means of disinheriting a divorcing spouse.

3.  If convicted of murder, the husband will lose all benefits to his deceased wife’s estate under NY’s Slayer Statute.

4.  Am I the only one who doubts that Shele Covlin had an appointment on New Year’s Day to change her estate plan? The day after perhaps, but not on New Year’s Day.

 

 

 

 

Clear and Present Estate Taxation

When Tom Clancy died two years ago, he distributed his real estate to his 2nd wife, then left the remainder of his $83 million estate in equal thirds as follows:

1.  In trust for his wife,

2.  In trust for his wife and adult children from his first marriage, and

3.  In trust for his adult children from his first marriage.

The  primary asset was his 12% interest in the Baltimore Orioles which was valued at $65 million.  The last codicil signed by Clancy directed that his wife should receive her inheritance “estate tax free.”  His wife and adult children then proceeded to fight over whether the trust for her and them (Trust No. 2) should pay any estate taxes.  A Maryland court recently decided that the trust for the children (Trust No. 3) should pay the entire estate tax bill.

Several points:

1.  Poor drafting leads to expensive disputes.  I have never used the vague term “estate tax free” in any document I have drafted.

2.  If a trust for a surviving spouse is carefully drafted, it can postpone the taxation of its assets until the death of the surviving spouse which is what seems to have occurred here at least with respect to the trust for the spouse only (Trust No. 1).

3.  Shed no tears for anyone in this dispute.  Clancy’s adult children will presumably also inherit the substantial assets his first wife received upon their divorce while his 2nd wife is reportedly an heiress to a Pepsi bottling fortune.  Even the IRS receives nearly $12 million with significantly more millions coming when the 2nd wife dies.

4.  The second wife aka Evil Step-Mom likely cannot die soon enough for his adult children.

(Thanks to Chip Workman for bringing this to my attention).

 

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Procrastination Is Not Discrimination

An older woman adopted her younger girlfriend/partner in the 1970’s so the girlfriend could inherit the trust fund created by the older woman’s father.  When the older woman died in 1997, the girlfriend inherited a substantial sum from the trust.  The younger woman died in 2009 without a will.   Her brother staked a claim to her $25 million estate as her closest living relative.  However, NY law (and Ohio law) provides that once someone is adopted, they lose all relationships with their prior family, including the ability to inherit from them, and the ability to leave them assets without a will.  The woman’s estate will escheat to the State of NY because she has no relatives.

Several points:

1.  Lawyers in this case are arguing that the older woman adopted her girlfriend because same sex couples did not have the same rights as traditional couples in the 1970s.  However, that argument is a red herring because the funds were in a trust which could only be left to a descendant which caused the woman to adopt her girlfriend.  Funds not in trust could be left to anyone she pleased – girlfriend, charity, or relatives.

2.  I draft trusts to prevent this type of adoption chicanery by including only children who were adopted prior to the age of 18.

3.  In an era of Obergefell and Kaitlyn Jenner’s reality show, it is easy to create a legal smokescreen by arguing discrimination from 40 years ago, when the real culprit is simple neglect by a wealthy person to create a will.  

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Daddy Knows Best (But His Daughters Are Resentful)

Following up on the most recent post.  The 21 and 17 year old daughters of Maurice Laboz, who left them each $10 million in trust but provided that they can receive the funds earlier if they meet certain conditions, are reportedly going to court this week to challenge the list of conditions. Their mother is also set to contest the will of her estranged husband.

Several quick points:

1.  As stated ad nauseam here, the grounds for contesting a will or trust are two:  lack of mental capacity or undue influence.  The detailed conditions imposed by Mr. Laboz show a clarity of thought which rules out lack of mental capacity.

2.  Infrequently, the terms of a trust can be challenged because they are against public policy such as when a trust prohibits a beneficiary from marrying a person from a different faith or race.

3.  Rather than being against public policy, some would argue that it is good public policy to keep millions out of the hands of 21 and 17 year old beneficiaries.

4.  Others would also argue that it is good public policy to prohibit teens and 20-somethings from adding to the national tattoo epidemic.

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Daddy Knows Best?

Maurice Laboz was a NYC real estate investor worth $37 million when he died earlier this year.  He left $10 million in trust for each of his daughters and provided that they will receive their inheritance when they reach 35.  However, they may receive funds earlier if they abide by his wishes of signing a pre-nuptial agreement prior to marriage ($500K) and graduating from an accredited college and describing the use of trust funds distributed early ($750K).  They will also receive a distribution of 3x their annual salary each April 15 and distributions for staying at home with children born in wedlock (3% of the trust value annually).   He also disinherited his wife whom he was in the process of divorcing.

Several quick points:

1.  Funded trusts are a great vehicle for disinheriting a spouse in the midst of a divorce proceeding.  Otherwise, the estranged spouse is entitled to a percentage of the estate at death (1/3 in Ohio).

2.  Incentive trusts such as Mr. Laboz’s are good for imposing one’s wishes and values from the grave upon one’s descendants.

3.  Personally, I favor a trust clause that distributes 10% of my children’s inheritance to charity for each tattoo that they have, visible or not.

 

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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.