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Don’t Be Like John B. (Estate Planning Lessons From “S-Town”)

 “S-Town” is the critically acclaimed successor podcast to “Serial.”  The anti-hero, John B, lives in a Faulkner-esque house on 128 acres in Woodstock, Alabama with his octogenarian mother who suffers from dementia.  He is a genius horologist (clock repairman), builder of a “Shining” type maze on his property, hypocrite about tattoos, and so obsessed with climate change and other problems that he makes Thomas Malthus seem optimistic.

John B. was thought to be worth a large amount of money by residents of Woodstock.  During the podcast he mentions that he wants to leave $20,000 to his friend, Tyler.  He also tells Tyler (spoiler alert) on the night that he commits suicide that Tyler can have his property.  Sadly, John B. died without writing a will or without having a plan for someone to take care of his mother.  Mystifyingly, John B. claims to have been unbanked which led Tyler and others to search his property for locations where he could have buried gold and cash.  He did leave instructions with a friend about what to do and whom to contact after his death.

Several points:

1.  If one has to choose between leaving a will or instructions about what to do after death, one should choose a will.

2.  Embrace the power of “AND”.  One should be able to leave a will AND instructions about what to do after death.

3.  Without a will, John B’s assets if found legally will go to his mother.  Without a health care power of attorney, the care of his mother will go to a relative willing to serve as guardian.

4.  Being unbanked might make sense for someone of little financial means.  For someone who might have made hundreds of thousands dollars annually and is prone to suicidal threats, being unbanked can only lead to one’s property looking like a scene from “Holes.”      

 
Photo Copyright:  James Breeden for Daily Mail (?)
License:  Fair Use/Education

Between a Rock and Hard Place

greenwich village new

Bill Cornwell lived in a Greenwich Village brownstone with his same sex partner for 50 years. When he died two years ago, his will left the building and all of his possessions to his partner. However, the will was only witnessed by one individual while NY law requires two witnesses. Without a valid will, his estate will pass to his closest living relatives who are his nieces and nephews who recently sold the building for $7 million. The partner has since filed suit trying to prove that he and Mr. Cornwell were actually married, although they were not, so he can be considered the closest heir.

So many points and such short attention spans:

1. All wills require two witnesses not related to the individual and who will not receive any assets under the will.

2. Using a DIY will kit could lead to problems with properly executing wills (among other issues)

3. The legal arguments made by the partner verge on stupid. One of them is that even though they lived in NY, which does not recognize common law marriage, they bought a dog in Pennsylvania in 1991 as a symbol of their commitment to each other and because Pennsylvania used to recognize common law marriage they should be considered as married.

4. The 85 year old partner would be better off dropping the law suit and accepting the offer of the nieces and nephews to live in the apartment for 5 years at a monthly rental of $10 and receive $250,000 upon the sale of the building.

5. The entire problem could have been avoided if they had simply married each other once gay marriage became legal.

6. One niece claimed, apparently with a straight face, that her uncle did not want his partner to inherit or he would have properly executed the will. She also suggested that perhaps the men were just friends or great companions. The address of the rock under which she lives is unknown.

Purple Reign?

prince son
The Santa Monica Observer, a weekly newspaper, is reporting that a DNA test shows that a Washington man in his 30’s is the illegitimate son of Prince. The man’s mother reportedly played in the same clubs as Prince in the 1980’s. He and his mother are reportedly estranged due to her contacting him after Prince’s death by a Facebook message imploring him to call her by saying “Prince might be your, father call me.”
 
Several pithy points:
 
1. If the story is true, the man would be Prince’s closest living relative and in position to inherit his entire estate.
 
2. However, if the man had been adopted by another man, his right to inherit from Prince would be closed off because Prince would not be considered his father.
 
3. Odd that this story is reported only by the Santa Monica equivalent of City Beat which is known for concert listings, hating all Republicans and the local and state government, and for classified ads of men seeking men and women seeking women.
 
4. Perhaps the national media is too busy asking about Hillary’s missing e-mails, her health, and her refusal to hold a press conference in 2016 to bother themselves with updating the search for Prince’s heirs

Float Like a Butterfly, Get Stung By a Bee

snoopThe ever not so eloquent, Snoop Dogg, was asked this week if he had a will or estate plan. His NSFW response was, “I don’t give a f— when I’m dead. What am I gonna give a f— about? This goin’ on while I’m gone, you know?”

And continuing in his non-King’s English, he added, “Hopefully, I’m a butterfly, I come back and fly around and look at all these motherf—–s fighting over my money and s–t, like, ‘Look at all these dumb motherf—–s.’ Ha!”

Only four sentences, but so many points. Minimizing them:

1. Snoop can make life easier for his loved ones if he spends a bit of time deciding who should inherit the wealth accumulated from his questionable talents. He could eliminate any people claiming to be his illegitmate child by naming people in his will.

2. Prince reportedly has had 900 people come forward for DNA testing claiming to be his haIf-siblings while anyone who can establish that he is Prince’s child, will hit the jackpot and inherit all of Prince’s wealth.

3. Raise your hand sheepishly if you think Snoop has fewer illegitmate children than Prince. You would be wrong.

4. I doubt Snoop views his family as loved ones when he refers to them as “dumb motherf—–s.”

5. Maybe it is just me, but if I were reincarnated, unlike Snoop I would prefer to return as something more fierce and substantial than a short lived insect with pretty wings.

Purple Mess?

prince.slave_-660x352

Reports are surfacing that Prince did not leave a will. Of course, it is ludicrous to expect someone to present his will one business day after his death. Still, his longtime attorney and friend said that he did not prepare a will for his Purple Majesty because Prince thought he would live to be 1,999. It is unlikely another attorney prepared a will for Prince. He is survived by a sister and three half-siblings.

Three quick points:

1. Live to be 1,999? At some point the attorney/friend has to say, “Dude, the average American lives to be 78. Add fifteen years for taking care of yourself. Tell me who should inherit your sizable estate and let’s write it down.”

2. Under Ohio law, his estate would pass equally to his sister and half sister (plus any children of his dead half-siblings).

3. If the attorney for Harper Lee were appointed as Executor, we would see various outtakes released as newly discovered material and presumably titled “1998.”

 

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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.