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Maid For Trouble

The woman at the center of the U.S.’s most expensive probate battle died this week in Poland.   Barbara Piasecka Johnson was a maid who worked for J. Seward Johnson, Jr.’s family, of Johnson and Johnson renown.  Within 2 years, then 76 year old Mr. Johnson divorced his second wife and married the then 34 year old servant.  When Johnson died 12 years later, he omitted 5 of his 6 children from his will and left nearly all of his of $500 million to his wife.  The children contested the will alleging undue influence and settled for $40 million.

Several points:

1.  Mr. Johnson could have provided for both his widow and his children by creating a QTIP trust (a new trust back in 1983) which would have provided assets remaining after his wife’s death would be distributed to his children.

2.  Contesting a bequest to a maid on grounds of undue influence is easy.    Contesting a bequest to a maid who has been married to the deceased for 12 years on similar grounds is nearly impossible.

3.  Marrying someone younger than one’s children is rarely a good idea.  It might be better to date her and leave her a condo and a Bentley in a will and preserve family relations.

Jerry Buss the Sugar Daddy

Los Angeles Lakers owner, Jerry Buss, died in February at the age of 80.  He was known for epitomizing California cool and was often seen with one or more young women on his arm.  In his will, he left a Honolulu condo and a 2009 Bentley to his 20-something girlfriend, and the rest of his assets to his trust.

For privacy reasons, he could have transferred the condo and car to his trust, and made the bequest from the trust.  This also would have avoided the cost of ancillary probate in Hawaii.

Of course, privacy might have defeated the purpose of letting the world know that at the time of his death he was an 80 year old man with a late 20’s girlfriend.    Estate planning always has trade-offs.

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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.