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Griffin Appeal Is Road Kill

A slow news cycle finally ended today with a local story. The Griffins are a large Northern Kentucky family which owned a rendering business (think road kill and restaurant grease) that was sold for $840 million in 2010. The business was operated along traditional gender roles with the males running the business and the women not participating.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $584 verdict against two of the Griffin brothers in favor of three of their sisters. The verdict stemmed from the brothers’ handling of their parents’ estates two and three decades ago. The sisters became aware that something might have been amiss with the way the estates were handled when a piece of real estate they should have inherited was transferred to the family company for $1 in 2010 to facilitate the sale of the company. A federal court’s award of $178 million to each daughter was the subject of the appeal.

Four points and one disclaimer:

1. In the interest of full disclosure, half of my life ago I worked for the firm which represented the Griffin sons although I have no knowledge of the family or the matter.

2. I remain surprised that some of the claims by the sisters are not barred by the statute of limitations because the parents died 20 and 30 years ago respectively and their estates were probated then.

3. Good estate planning documents and/or a buy sell agreement which provided that the family business was to be transferred to the sons would have prevented most of this dispute.

4. The Supreme Court only hears cases involving questions of law or where courts differ on legal interpretation of an issue. Neither seems to apply here so this case is likely over.

5. Sale of real estate for $1? One would think that people in the rendering business would certainly know the mantra that pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.

Photo Copyright:  Bruce Crippen/Cincinnati Business Courier 

 

 

The Persistence of Illegitimacy

Salvador Dali died in 1989 and left his entire estate to the Spanish government. Pilar Tabel is a Tarot card reader and fortune teller who claims that she is Dali’s daughter due to a brief romance between her mother and the famous artist in the mid-50’s. She has tried for 10 years to prove that Dali is her father. A DNA test conducted from his death mask was inconclusive. She alleged that she did not receive the results of a DNA test conducted the next year. Dali was allegedly gay or simply preferred masturbation or voyeurism so the paternity claim of this woman seems far fetched. She also sued an author for supposedly basing a fictional character on her. Nonetheless, a Spanish court has ordered the exhumation of his body.

Several points:

1. If you read the entire article, you might wish to shower afterwards. A guy who is turned on sexually by Hitler is abnormal.

2. I would think that a case brought 28 years after someone’s death would be barred by the statute of limitations or the principle of laches.

3. In the U.S., Dali would not be obligated to leave his daughter, legitimate or illegitimate, anything.

4. It is unlikely that the woman did not receive the results of the second DNA test – I believe that they were negative and she simply waited another 9 years before pursuing this claim.

5. I doubt I am the only person who finds this matter incredibly surreal.

Photo Credit:  Salvador Dali/Government of Spain

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

Rock and Roll Lawsuits Never Die

Bill Graham was a famous concert promoter who died in a helicopter crash in 1991.   His estate sold his company, Bill Graham Enterprises, in 1997.  Prior to selling the company, the estate transferred his copyrights and trademarks, including the rights to famous concert posters, to the company.  His sons, who each inherited $10 million, sued the executor in Federal Court in 2010 for not disclosing the sale to them.  The sons allegedly discovered the sale while rummaging through their father’s business records in ’09.  The suit was initially dismissed because the 4 year statute of limitations had long expired, but the 9th Circuit said that the case may proceed to trial.

Several points:

1.  Probate is a state court matter.  I do not know why this is in federal court unless the attorneys were counting on the 9th Circuit to make an out of left field ruling in their favor.

2.  Of course a business transaction that looks good in 1997 might be viewed as less savvy in 2010.

3.  I suspect that the sons had depleted most of their inheritance and were actually rummaging for dollars when they “discovered” the sale of the property.

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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.