- Monday, 19 June 2017 17:13
The suspicious April death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Black woman to serve on New York’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) has been ruled a suicide. Her body was pulled from the Harlem River the day after her fourth husband reported her missing. Video recorded her walking near the banks of the river.
This is not a whodunnit piece. Instead, the interesting info is that Judge Abdus-Salaam left an estate worth $2 million and a 2004 will that pre-dated her most recent marriage by 10 years. The will left 25% of her estate to her mother who died in 2012 and the balance equally among her siblings, including her brother who died in 2014. The primary asset in her estate was a Harlem brownstone valued at $2 million which she purchased in 1980 for $6,000. Her husband is a minister and has blessedly waived his statutory right to inherit part of her estate even though he was not included in her will.
Several points, some salient:
1. Judge Abdus-Salaam missed many opportunities to update her will – the death of her mother, the death of her brother, and her subsequent fourth marriage.
2. I advise my clients to review their estate plan every five years to assure that key events like the death of a beneficiary or the divorce of the designated guardian are taken into account in the documents.
3. The widower of Judge Abdus-Salaam might have waived his rights to inherit due to a pre-nuptial agreement between him and the judge although he might simply be an honorable man and waived the rights so her family could benefit.
4. I doubt that I am the only person who wishes he had invested de minimis amounts in Harlem real estate in 1980.
5. I am aware of the Hudson River and the East River, but the Harlem River is new to me.
Photo Credit: AP
License: Fair Use/Education
- Thursday, 25 May 2017 07:55
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
- Thursday, 30 March 2017 10:11
A British farmer died and left his second wife of nine years the sum of $155,000. He left each of his sons from a prior marriage the sum of $81,000. The sons contested the will by arguing that their father, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 20 years, was incompetent when he made the will. The argued that his prior will which left his wife the sum of $125,000 was his real will. After years of litigation, and $250,000 of legal fees, the court ruled that his last will was valid and that all of the legal fees for the will contest were to be paid by the sons, not the estate
. In his ruling, the judge stated the sons were unreasonable and frivolous for fighting over such a small amount which was motivated by their dislike of their mother.
Several non-pithy points:
1. The sons were simply expressing their disdain for their dad’s second wife by fighting over such a small amount and likely hoping to force their step-mother to spend her entire inheritance on legal fees. Bleed her dry, if you will.
2. Unlike the U.S. where each party is responsible for his own legal fees, the British system allows the loser to pay the legal fees of all parties.
3. Editorializing a bit here, I have never understood the visceral dislike or animosity towards second spouses. From a child’s point of view, I embraced my mom’s second husband because he was able to provide her companionship, someone to travel and dine with, a social life, and mental stimulation. He was also able to assist her with her medical needs, whether they were doctor appointments or recovering from surgeries or illnesses (the same applies times two for the woman my father in law has dated for five years – she is an angel). I never viewed him as a replacement for my father, but simply as a good man in the next chapter of my mom’s life. Sadly, I do not think enough children view their parent’s second spouse in a similar manner. These British guys were twits in not appreciating the woman who took care of their ailing father to the best of her abilities.
Photo Copyright: Paul Keogh
License: Fair Use/Education