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Road Kill Leads to Will Contest

Close to home, the four daughters of the founder of Griffin Industries, an animal rendering and food recycling company located in Greater Cincinnati, are suing 3 of their brothers for allegedly cheating them out of their inheritance.  They are also suing the law firm that advised the company and several family members.  To make their claim, they are relying on the federal RICO statute which was crafted to combat organized crime in the 1970s and alleging that their brothers were part of a racketeering enterprise.  Their mother died in 1985 and their father died in 1995.  The father had executed a trust in 1967.  Griffin Industries was sold for $840 million in 2010.

Many points:

1. In the interest of full disclosure, I used to work for the law firm being sued in the case.  I have no knowledge of the matter other than what is in the linked article.

2.  In the small world category, my law school professor, Robert Blakey, crafted the RICO statute when he was a Senate staffer and the issue of civil RICO actions was a frequent law review topic in the mid-80s.

3.  At some time between 1967 and 1995, the father should have revised his will and trust to reflect the current status of the business, his current finances, and the differing contributions of the family members to the business.

4.  The case is being litigated in federal court under a RICO theory presumably because the statute of limitations for litigating a will and trust contest has long since expired.

5.  With $840 million to be divided among family members, one would think that there were enough spoils for everyone to get along especially those not involved in the business operations and its success.

6.  $840 million is an incredible number for a business that started with collecting road kill.  Rendering seems to be the ultimate recycling business.  And most profitable, too.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, . . . . Forge? (No, Just Kidding).

This is out of a horror movie.  A Kansas City attorney was recently charged with murder for killing her father’s girlfriend of 20 years.  Her father was shot and his girlfriend was repeatedly stabbed then shot at their vacation home in 2010.  Her father did not die from his wounds.  The woman then allegedly forged a health care power of attorney so she could withdraw his medical support 4 days later.  She was charged with his murder a year ago.  Apparently, she was concerned that her father would leave all of his assets to his soon to be wife.  In an odd but clarifying footnote, her mother (her father’s first wife), had spent 11 months in jail for stealing $100,000 from her own mother by forging a power of  attorney 10 years ago.

Points?

1.  If the father had wanted to preserve assets for his daughter he could have executed a pre-nuptial agreement to set forth which assets he would leave his soon to be wife (and what would be left for his daughter).

2.  Along the same lines, he could have executed a trust to provide for his new wife while leaving the remainder to his daughter after the wife’s death.

3.  Preparing a health care power of attorney to address medical needs is essential.   So is ensuring that the person with that responsibility has a copy of the document and is aware of the duties.

4.  When a daughter resents her father and his girlfriend, and her biological mother has already stolen from her own mother, an active alarm system  and a multitude of security cameras would be a worthy investment.  And perhaps a Kevlar jacket.

Going for a Touchdown When a Field Goal Would Have Sufficed

Jim Carlen was one of the winningest football coaches at the University of South Carolina.  His children from his first marriage, which ended in 1980, are suing his 2nd wife of 29 years alleging that she influenced him to leave all of his estate to her. 
His 2007 will and all prior wills had included the children from his first marriage.  The 2010 will, executed one year after he was diagnosed with dementia, left everything to his widow.  In 2011, he executed a power of attorney in favor his wife which she purportedly used to transfer assets to herself prior to his death 
Several points:
1.  A will executed by an individual diagnosed with dementia that substantially changes his estate plan will always be challenged by the beneficiaries of the prior will.
2.  The coach could have provided for both his widow and children by leaving assets to her in a trust and having them distributed to the children upon her death.
3.  Proving that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered, the widow would have been better off ensuring that the children received something rather than seeing them disinherited entirely.
4.  45 wins constitutes the third most wins at South Carolina?  That might explain the one conference championship it its history.        

Questionable Planning, Terrible Reporting

James Gandolfini  of Sopranos fame was survived by a 13 year old son, an infant daughter, and his second wife.  His estate is reported to be worth $70 million.

His will, prepared in December, was filed in probate court yesterday.  It leaves his property in Italy equally to his children in trust, his clothes and jewelry to his son, bequests totaling $1.6 million to various individuals, and leaves 30% of the remainder to each of his sisters and 20% each to his wife and daughter.   The share for his daughter will remain in trust until she reaches 21.  The will states he has provided for his son elsewhere.  However, almost all media outlets have incorrectly reported that his son is the major beneficiary of his estate.

Many points:

1.  He should have used a funded living trust to ensure privacy of his net worth and his intentions which avoids Cincinnati attorneys from critiquing it .

2.  Giving the daughter unrestricted access to her share at 21 is a recipe for disaster.  He should have staggered her distributions over 10 or 15 years with the earliest one at 25.

3.  The testamentary trust will be expensive to administer for the next 20 years.  A living trust would be easier, less costly, and private.

4. Estate taxes will be painful and could have been delayed/minimized. The federal tax bill will be nearly $20 million while the NY bill will be over $4 million.  He could have delayed the payment of taxes by leaving assets in trust for his wife and giving his daughter her share from the same trust after the death of his wife.

5.  Odd to leave 60% of the remainder to his sisters and none of it to his son.

6.  Unless the clothes/jewelry and  Italian property comprise the majority of the assets, all media outlets from Fox News to HuffPo and from ABC to NY Post, and all others, are incorrect in reporting that the son receives the bulk of the estate.

7.  The linked article also states that it is unclear who will receive the proceeds of other properties once they are sold.  It must be too difficult for reporters to ask an estate planning attorney to read the will and inform them that the proceeds are the remainder and will be distributed to his sisters, wife and daughter.

8.  When the mainstream media ignores big stories like Benghazi and Presidential debate moderators get their facts wrong when interjecting themselves into debates (i.e. Candy Crowley), we should not be disappointed when they can not accurately report the contents of a will.  We should trust them less, though.

9.  I hope that Mr. Gandolfini provided generously for his son in a life insurance trust or some other vehicle.  Otherwise, the son’s trauma of finding his dying father will be compounded by receiving much less than his sister, step mom, and aunts.   Maybe someday he will grow into the clothes if he uses food as comfort.

Charitable Conflict

The estate of an elderly, childless  Fresno woman was officially closed this week when the bulk of her $2.4 million estate was distributed  to Fresno State and a smaller percentage including personal items was distributed to the retirement community in which she resided.   The estate is newsworthy because she had promised in 2001 to leave her entire estate (then valued at $4 million)  to Fresno State in exchange for it naming the education school after her and her late husband.  She changed her will multiple times with the final will leaving some assets to her retirement community and naming its foundation as her executor.

Several points:

1.  She would have been well served by a living trust to ensure privacy for this matter.

2.  Couples make planned gifts, but after the death of one of them,  the survivor is pressured by other charities to leave money to them.

3.  Fresno State seems to have conducted itself honorably by not contesting the will and executor appointment and not removing her name from the education school.

4.  The retirement home will receive 40 mens’ shirts, 70 ties, and 5 sport coats.  Apparently no one  cleaned out the husband’s belongings after his 1995 death.

5.  The retirement home will also receive 35 turtlenecks and 33 pairs of gloves.  I did not think that the weather in Fresno necessitated such a large collection of cold weather gear.

6.  I hope no one wants the 60 pairs of undergarments.

7.  See point 1.

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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.