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Gambling On Intestacy

Famous and infamous people are dying every day – Hugh Hefner, Malcolm Young, Charles Manson – but there is nothing newsworthy in their estates. Digging somewhat deep, it has been reported that notorious Las Vegas mass murderer, Stephen Paddock, did not leave a will to dispose of his reported $5 million estate. A Clark County, Nevada court had a hearing last week to determine who should administer his estate. Paddock’s 89 year old mother has declined to serve as administrator. It is likely that the Clark County Public Administrator, an elected official, will fulfill the responsibilities. The court will eventually determine who is to receive the estate proceeds.

Several points:

1. The complexities of dealing with the issues in this case are certainly above the ability of an 89 year old woman.

2. As meticulous as Paddock seemed, it might appear surprising that he did not have a will. However, maybe that is one more facet he thought through – he did not want to burden a familu member with the task of administering his estate.

3. With respect to who will eventually receive his estate, I am betting on the lawyers.

Photo Credit:   AP/Eric Paddock

License:  Fair Use/Education

 

“Who Wants Flowers When You Are Dead? Nobody.”

Lamont Buchanan, the reputed role model for the second greatest fictional character of all-time (Holden Caufield of “Catcher in the Rye”) died without a will two years ago. A woman claiming to be his long-lost 80 year old niece was located by several heir hunting firms and has now stepped forward and filed documentation to prove that she is his closest living kin. Buchanan was an author who lived in an NYC rent controlled apartment and essentially stopped working in the mid-50’s. His estate is valued at $15 million.

A few points:

1. A childless widower worth $15 million should take the time and splurge on legal fees to prepare a will so his fortune ends up with those charities or people important to him rather than defaulting to a woman who was unaware of his death.

2. After estate taxes, a $15 million estate in NY is worth $10 million.

3. Perhaps the owners of his rent controlled apartments should share in his estate because the mandatory low rents likely contributed to his accumulated wealth.

4. It would be ironic if the woman claiming to be Buchanan’s niece is a phony.

Photo Credit:  NY Daily News

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

Gronk Would Not Do This

 
Aaron Hernandez is the former New England Patriot who committed suicide last month while imprisoned for murdering a friend.  He had only recently been acquitted of the murder of two other individuals and was still appealing his prior murder conviction.  Since his suicide, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has vacated his murder conviction because his appeals were still in process.  Within hours after his arrest in 2013, the Patriots terminated his contract and did not pay the remaining guaranteed money owed to him.  
 
In his suicide note addressed to his fiancé, Hernandez wrote “you’re rich.” Many reporters have interpreted that to mean that he was thinking not only of what money he still owned but also that she would collect $6 million owed to him by the Patriots under his last contract.  Some think that the Patriots would be on the hook if they terminated Hernandez’s contract because he was convicted of murder but was later exonerated due to this peculiarity of Massachusetts law.  
 
A few points on the intersection of two of my favorite topics – probate law and the NFL:
 
1.  Hernandez and the Patriots actually settled his grievance for unpaid guaranteed money under his last contract for $1 million in 2014 likely meaning there is no further money to collect from the Pats.
 
2.  The victims of Hernandez have filed lawsuits against him.  Any judgments against him would be paid from his estate probably rendering it insolvent.  
 
3.  Unless Hernandez signed a will, his fiancé will not receive any portion of his estate because fiancés are not statutory heirs.  His daughter would inherit his estate if he did not leave a will.
 
4.  Drafting a will and thinking about the application of an obscure Massachusetts law involve long term planning and thinking which seem beyond the acuity of a guy seemingly lacking impulse control. 
Photo Credit:  AP/Elise Amendola
License:  Fair Use/Education

Fountain of Youth = Deprivation and Sorrow?

 
Besides people battling over the release of Prince’s music, there is not much happening in the wills and trusts arena.  Somewhat related, Emma Morano was the last living person born in the 19th century when she died last month at the age of 117.  The NYT has a brief piece on her possessions and possible reasons for her longevity.  
 
Morano had been married briefly before separating in her late 30s, had a son who died before turning one, and worked until she was 75.  She lived in a two room apartment for the past 27 years, had not left the apartment in years, ate 3 raw eggs per day for 100 years, and usually ate pasta with raw ground beef until she stopped cooking five years ago.   
 
No points of any significance, just two observations:
 
1.  The article did not mention a will but I doubt she had any assets any than a few tchotchkes left in her name.
 
2.  If eating three raw eggs and raw ground beef daily while staying housebound is the secret to longevity, count me out.  I will gladly live a shorter life to enjoy cooked food and going outdoors.
 
Photo Credit:  Gianni Cipriano for New York Times
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.