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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

Daddy Knows Best (But His Daughters Are Resentful)

Following up on the most recent post.  The 21 and 17 year old daughters of Maurice Laboz, who left them each $10 million in trust but provided that they can receive the funds earlier if they meet certain conditions, are reportedly going to court this week to challenge the list of conditions. Their mother is also set to contest the will of her estranged husband.

Several quick points:

1.  As stated ad nauseam here, the grounds for contesting a will or trust are two:  lack of mental capacity or undue influence.  The detailed conditions imposed by Mr. Laboz show a clarity of thought which rules out lack of mental capacity.

2.  Infrequently, the terms of a trust can be challenged because they are against public policy such as when a trust prohibits a beneficiary from marrying a person from a different faith or race.

3.  Rather than being against public policy, some would argue that it is good public policy to keep millions out of the hands of 21 and 17 year old beneficiaries.

4.  Others would also argue that it is good public policy to prohibit teens and 20-somethings from adding to the national tattoo epidemic.

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Daddy Knows Best?

Maurice Laboz was a NYC real estate investor worth $37 million when he died earlier this year.  He left $10 million in trust for each of his daughters and provided that they will receive their inheritance when they reach 35.  However, they may receive funds earlier if they abide by his wishes of signing a pre-nuptial agreement prior to marriage ($500K) and graduating from an accredited college and describing the use of trust funds distributed early ($750K).  They will also receive a distribution of 3x their annual salary each April 15 and distributions for staying at home with children born in wedlock (3% of the trust value annually).   He also disinherited his wife whom he was in the process of divorcing.

Several quick points:

1.  Funded trusts are a great vehicle for disinheriting a spouse in the midst of a divorce proceeding.  Otherwise, the estranged spouse is entitled to a percentage of the estate at death (1/3 in Ohio).

2.  Incentive trusts such as Mr. Laboz’s are good for imposing one’s wishes and values from the grave upon one’s descendants.

3.  Personally, I favor a trust clause that distributes 10% of my children’s inheritance to charity for each tattoo that they have, visible or not.

 

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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.