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Give It Up or Turnit Loose

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, died in 2006. His estate is still unsettled due to myriad lawsuits. He had intended to leave $2 million for scholarships for his grandchildren, memorabilia to his children, and the rest to a charity for scholarships for children from SC and Georgia.

Lawsuits have involved whether a woman should have been trustee, whether people should have been removed as trustee, the paternity of a son, and the validity of Brown’s marriage (his wife reportedly was married at the time of their marriage) plus the run of the mill will contest suits. The most recent suit involves whether his wife could sell the rights to his songs.

Two points:

1. There are no good lessons here. If heirs want to fight, they will find reasons to fight and no planning can prevent that.

2. I always preferred the music of Brown’s contemporaries, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, both who died tragically young. One benefit of dying young is that there is no large estate to fight over nor large family to fight.

 

Photo Credit:  Michael Holahan/Augusta Chronicle, via Associated Press and linked NYT article
License:  Fair Use/Education

Don’t Do It His Way

When Frank Sinatra, Jr. died last March, he was embroiled in divorce litigation with his ex-wife, Cynthia.  When they divorced in 2001, he was ordered to pay her $5,000 per month for a year.  Sinatra continued to voluntarily make those payments for an additional 10 years until he was financially unable to do so.  Rather than show gratitude, his ex-wife filed for a second divorce claiming that they were in a common law marriage in Texas because he continued to refer to her as his wife both on stage and privately.  

Sinatra actually lived in California, paid California income taxes while he could have avoided taxes if he were a Texas resident (Texas does not have an income tax), and filed federal gift tax returns for the payment to his ex (transfers to spouses are not subject to gift taxes).  Nonetheless, a Texas court ruled that they were married and awarded her $500,000, half of his $4.5 million house, and $5,000/month for another year.  Sinatra died during the appeal which was ultimately decided posthumously in his favor.

So many possible points, but let’s stay with a few.

1.   Only 15 states recognize common law marriages.  Ohio is not one of them.

2.  To have a common law marriage, couples must agree that they are married, tell others that they are married, and live together in the state which recognizes common law marriages.

3.  If Sinatra was filing income tax returns as a California resident and filing federal gift tax returns for the payments to Cynthia, he did not consider her his wife.

4.  Being a gentleman got Sinatra nowhere – he was trying to be considerate of Cynthia by not referring to her as his “former wife.”  If he had to do it again, I suspect he would introduce her as “my EX-wife, hear that?  My EX-wife.”

 

Photo Credit:  Michael Ochs Archives
License:  Fair Use/Education

Two Words, George. Pre-Nup.

amber heard
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard settled their divorce case this week for $7 million which Heard has pledged to charity. She had reportedly been seeking spousal support and half of his net worth as a result of their 15 month marriage. During the proceedings, Heard alleged that Depp had abused her. The couple did not have a pre-nuptial agreement.
 
Several brief points:
 
1. Depp should have insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement which could have provided that he owed Heard nothing in the event of a divorce.
 
2. The absence of a pre-nup does not entitle Heard to half of Depp’s net worth, but only to what he earned during their 15 month marriage.
 
3. Anyone making bets on the length of a marriage between a hard partying heterosexual male and a declared bi-sexual woman 20 years younger than him should always take the under.
 
4. I have long told Janice that her crush on Depp was misplaced. I might finally be vindicated for that opinion.

That Is Not Amore

johns pizza

 

Madeline Castellotti was the co-owner of famed NYC pizzeria, John’s Pizzeria.  Prior to her death in 2004, she changed her will to leave her entire interest in the restaurant to her daughter, Lisa.  She allegedly did so because her son, Peter, was going through a divorce and she did not want his estranged wife to receive any interest in the restaurant.  Lisa was supposed to transfer half of her inheritance to Peter after the divorce was finalized.  When she did not, Peter sued Lisa.  An NY appeals court recently ruled that his 3 year old lawsuit may proceed.  

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Money Play

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.

 

 

 

 

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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.