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Something’s Got To Give

The estate of Herb Stern, the photographer famous for taking the Last Sitting photos of Marilyn Monroe 6 weeks prior to her death, is poised for a will contest. The 83 year old executed a will in 1997 which left half of his estate to his children from his first marriage with the other half establishing a foundation. He subsequently executed a will and a trust in 2010 which left his $10 million estate, save for a few cash bequests to his children, for the benefit of his 44 year old wife, whom he had secretly married in 2009.

Several points:

1.  It is perfectly logical for a man to alter his will to provide for his wife who was not in his life at the time of the will he signed 13 years prior.

2.  The new will has a no contest provision stating that anyone contesting the will will forfeit their inheritance.  If this clause is coupled with significant bequests to the children it could curtail a will contest by them.

3.  Secret marriage?  Perhaps Mr. Stern and his wife were channeling Marilyn Monroe  film titles.  Instead of “We’re Not Married” they decided to “Let’s Make it Legal” because Stern was only “As Young As You Feel” and followed the axiom that “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”  Once the facts are revealed, “Something’s Got to Give.” My apologies in advance.

All About Domicile

This is complicated. Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 in California after she was fired from the film ‘Something’s Got To Give.” For then estate tax reasons, her executors claimed she was a NY resident. The rights to make money from her estate and likeness have been passed down to her estate heirs (and their heirs) over the past 50 years.

Several years ago, her estate sued a photographer for using her likeness for commercial purposes. A court ruled in favor of the photographer and said that there was no right to publicity at the time of her death. The State of California quickly passed a law authorizing a right of publicity and deeming it retroactive and transferable to heirs. The estate returned to court to have the previous verdict overturned. The court acknowledged the new law, but said that it was available only to residents of California. Because the estate had said that Ms. Monroe was a NY resident at the time of her death, the law did not benefit her estate.

In summary,the estate could not have it both ways – taxed as a NY estate, but utilize California laws for protection. Something had to give.

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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.