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The Thrill Is Gone Part II

Since BB King died two weeks ago, some of his family members have accused his manager of poisoning him and have also threatened to challenge his will.  King allegedly left his 13 children $5,000 each and left $3,000 to his grandchildren.  He left the balance of his estate in trust for the education of future descendants.

Several points:

1.  When children make ludicrous accusations against a long time friend and confidante, it is easy to see why Mr. King would want to leave them a nominal amount from his estate.

2.  To ward off a will contest, Mr. King could have left them a larger sum i.e. $50K and tied the acceptance of it to not contesting the will.  If someone contested the will, she would not receive her inheritance.

3.  With their educations funded by Mr. King, perhaps his future descendants will realize that 89 year old diabetics in hospice care die naturally and not from poisoning.



Unfashionable Probate

Fashion designer Oleg Cassini became famous for designing Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats.  He was also known for marrying actress Gene Tierney, dating Grace Kelly, and dressing Marilyn Monroe.  He died in 2006 survived by a daughter from his marriage to Gene Tierney and by his secret wife of 35 years, Marianne Nestor, who most assumed was his employee.  His will left $1 million to his daughter and the balance of his $52 million estate to his widow.  His daughter was unaware of his marriage to Ms. Nestor until after his death.   His daughter successfully contested the will on the grounds that Cassini’s 1952 divorce decree from Tierney promised his daughter 25% of his estate.  Because his widow has not yet paid the sum to her, has spent estate funds without court authorization, and did not have insurance on a $30 million house that burned, the probate court has removed the widow as executrix of the estate.

Several points:

1.  Apparently a provision in a 50+ year old divorce decree where the other party is divorced trumps a will.

2.  When there is a secret marriage and the wife is only 5 years older than a daughter, I advise naming a neutral third party as executor for efficient execution of the will.

3.  When a secret marriage exists, it is doubly damaging for the child to find out about it from a hospital nurse the day her father died.

4.  In the fashion world, I doubt Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, and Gianni Versace had estate disputes between their wives and children.  Nor will Karl Lagerfeld.


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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.

Visits Trump Cards (Huguette Clark Estate Pt. 3)

I previously blogged about the will dispute over Huguette Clark’s fortune, here and here.  Now the issue is set for trial in the next week.  I snarkily  wrote “When a distant relative is a Gilded Age heiress, a Christmas card and occasional phone call provide a great return on investment.”  It turns out that her great-grandniece did send her a Christmas card for 33 years until her death and was still excluded from the will.  Actually, the great-grandniece and other distant relatives were included initially in a 2005 will but then excluded by a revised will she signed a month later.  However, no relative saw Ms. Clark between 1968 and her death in 2011.  The excluded relatives are challenging a will which left most of her fortune to her caregivers, her support network (including her attorney), and the hospital in which she resided for her last 20 years.

Several points:

1.  1968?  43 years before her death?  Those relatives were not important to Ms. Clark.  Nor was she to them.

2.  The grounds for challenging a will are either lack of mental capacity or undue influence.  If she was not competent to execute the second will, it is doubtful she was competent the prior month to leave everything to the relatives.

3.  The lawyer drafting a will should never be a beneficiary of the will.  He should bring in another attorney to prevent the appearance of undue influence by him.

4.  My guess (which based on my prior snark and other poor predictions in this blog is probably wrong) is that she reflexively signed a will leaving her assets to her relatives even though she had not seen them since the RFK and MLK assassinations and the moon landing, then reconsidered and decided to leave her assets to people who had made a difference in her life.

5.  More bloggers, and journalists, should admit their poor prognostication abilities.

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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.