Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tom Benson Speaks Out

Tom Benson speaksFor the first time on Tuesday, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson talked about the difficult decisions he had to make by ousting his former heirs from the family business.  Benson said he feels strongly about the state of both the franchises during an interview in Phoenix. 

Benson explained how his wife of ten years, Gayle, has been sitting in on more league meetings than ever before, including one Tuesday when she was allowed to join Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton in a session that is normally limited to just three per club.  Although Benson’s heirs have questioned Gayle’s lack of experience and success in her former interior design business, Tom Benson pointed to that history as a plus.  "We got married about 10 years ago and before that she was in business. So it's nothing new to her. It's not like somebody who was never in business. She knows the difference. You've got to make a profit against a loss."  Benson stressed that the plan with Gayle in charge would keep things running the way they are now, with a mostly hands-off ownership allowing the bulk of decisions to be made by the vice president.

See Mike Triplett, Benson Defends Call to Shut Out Heirs, ABC News, March 24, 2015.

March 26, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

House Committee Approves Estate Tax Repeal

CongressA bill approved Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee would repeal the 99-year-old U.S. estate tax. 

The legislation was backed on a 22-10 party-line vote and would benefit about 5,500 families who pay the tax each year plus thousands of others who organize their finances to avoid the 40 percent tax on their estates.  The caveat: it would deprive the U.S. government of $269 billion in revenue over a decade. 

Despite passing in the Ways and Means Committee, the measure will likely not become law under President Barack Obama, who would like to impose higher estate taxes.  Rather, the bill places a marker for business groups that have been pressing Congress to act and could possibly foreshadow what Republicans might do if they control both Congress and the White House in 2017. 

The bill, H.R. 1105, is sponsored by Texas Republican Kevin Brady and would levy a gift tax on transfers made during one’s lifetime.  The existing $5.43 million lifetime exemption would remain, and the rate would be reduced to 35 percent from 40 percent.  Under Brady’s bill, there would be no estate tax, but heirs would still owe capital gains taxes on the amount exceeding $20 million.

See Richard Rubin, Wealthiest Win as U.S. House Panel Advances Estate-Tax Repeal, Bloomberg Business, March 25, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 26, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Latest Battle in Ernie Banks' Estate

Ernie BanksThe caregiver in charge of Ernie Banks’ estate wants the late Chicago Cubs player’s estranged wife to turn over records of any assets he left behind in the couple’s California home when they separated.  In a court filing, Regina Rice said Banks had “attempted to retrieve” assets from the home after he moved out in 2012 but that he was unable to get them back from his wife.  Rice has asked Cook County Probate Judge James Riley to order Banks’ wife to turn over records of any assets in her control so Rice can complete a full accounting of the estate.  A hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday. 

See Jason Meisner, Ernie Banks’ Caretaker Wants List of Assets from Ex-Cub’s Estranged Wife, Chicago Tribune, March 24, 2015.

March 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nevada Considers Physician Assisted Suicide

Death with Dignity

Nevada is joining several Legislatures across the county in considering the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. 

State Senator David Parks (D-Las Vegas) introduced Senate Bill 336 on March 16, which would authorize “a physician to prescribe a controlled substance that is designed to end the life of a patient under certain circumstances.”  Currently, Nevada law gives terminally ill patients the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment, but SB336 extends those rights by giving patients the right to “self-determination concerning medically assisted, informed, voluntary decisions about dying with dignity and avoid unnecessary suffering.” 

The bill will require patients to be diagnosed by two physicians, make two verbal requests at least fifteen days apart, make a written statement and be mentally competent.  Only the patient can administer the suicide drug(s). 

See Laney Olson, Nevada Mulls Legalizing Assisted Suicide, Courthouse News Service, March 24, 2015.

March 24, 2015 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What Will Happen to Robert Durst's Inheritance?

Robert durstRobert Durst is now in a Louisiana prison waiting to be sent back to California to face charges alleging that he killed a friend who may have uncovered why his first wife vanished thirty years ago.  Durst, 72 and a trust fund baby, could be facing the death penalty.  Yet, the biggest question is where all his money will go.

Durst grew up in a family that effectively built modern midtown Manhattan and most recently partnered in the new $3 billion World Trade Center.  Durst inherited $65 million to which he invested in his own properties and are now likely worth $100 million.  Yet, Durst soon became involved in multiple death and disappearances over the years.  The first person to vanish was Durst’s wife in the early 1980s.  Then, in 2000, a friend was shot in her home.  A year later, Texas cops found a dead neighbor’s driver’s license in Durst's car.  Durst admitted to killing the man, but only served time for jumping bail and parole.

Regardless whether or not Durst goes to prison, he would still be entitled to trust distributions.  A trust officer might need to make mandatory payments into a convicted beneficiary’s prison account simply because it is the only place the money can go.  As long as the money is not otherwise subject to outright confiscation for being earned directly through criminal activities, it theoretically adds up until parole or the remaining cash gets passed down to heirs.  But fortunately for family members, Durst was cut out of the family trust by the Durst Organization when he got out of jail in 2006.

See Scott Martin, JINX: Can Robert Durst Lose His $100 Million Inheritance? The Trust Advisor, March 22, 2015.

March 24, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Overseers of Benson's Trust Seek to Pay Debts

Tom Benson

Since being appointed to temporarily oversee the trust of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, a former San Antonio mayor and an estate lawyer asked a Texas judge for permission to pay off $206,997 owed to the holding company that includes New Orleans’ NFL team. 

Phil Hardberger and Art Bayer also filed a separate motion asking Bexar County Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff to pay $3,853 to an accounting firm the pair retained to help them prepare a list of assets and liabilities related to the trust created by Benson’s first wife, Shirley, for the benefit of daughter Renee Benson.  That inventory is due to Judge Rickhoff on March 25th

The $206,997 mentioned in the motions forms a portion of almost $9 million the trust owes to a company called Benson Football LLC.  The only amount that was due on that debt was an interest payment.  The annual interest due on the $9 million owed to Benson Football LLC is about $103,498. 

See Ramon Antonio Vargas, Overseers of Texas Trust at Center of Benson Family Dispute Seek Permission to Pay Debts, The Advocate, March 21, 2015.

March 23, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Funeral Fit for a King

King RichardMichael Ibsen is a furniture maker who often crafts custom-made pieces for his clients.  Yet, a request to construct a coffin for his royal ancestor is by far his most unusual commission.  The public will soon see Ibsen’s hand-carved coffin carrying the 530-year-old remains of King Richard III.

“I’ve had the opportunity, a couple of times, to stand next to the remains, and you think ‘How extraordinary, I am standing next to this figure from history,’” Ibsen said.  “And then it filters through in your mind, and you think, ‘Wow, I’m related.’” 

Ibsen is a 58-year-old Canadian who moved to Britain 30 years ago, and is a central figure in the story of the discovery of King Richard’s remains.  His DNA helped to confirm that the skeleton excavated from a parking lot in central Leicester three years ago were indeed that of England’s last Plantagenet king.  The remains will be reburied in a televised funeral led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

See Karla Adam, England Prepares a Funeral Fit for a King, The Washington Post, March 21, 2015.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret for bringing this article to my attention.

March 23, 2015 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Oregon to Consider Digital Communication After Death

Computer 2As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, what becomes of a person’s online life in the event of their death?  This is an issue that Oregon lawmakers are facing this legislative session. 

The issue is under what circumstances an executor can gain access to the contents of personal, private digital communications after a person dies—including emails, chats, social media messages, online dating profiles, and other conversations with friends and family.  Senate Bill 369, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), sets exposure of communication as the default unless a person has hired an attorney to state in a will what is to be done with digital communication accounts.  Without privacy protections outlined in a will, the estate executor receives unfettered access to digital communications upon the individual’s death. 

Contrastingly, Oregon House Bill 2647, the Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act (PEAC), protects user choices and keeps privacy as the default.  If a person indicates what is to be done with an account in a will, the choice is respected.  However, if no such choice was made, an executor can gain access to digital records, but only “outside the envelope.”  This means that the online communication provider will release information related to whom a person has received emails from, but will not release the content of those emails.  Technology companies urge Oregon lawmakers to respect the choices people make and pass HB 2647 this session.

See Megan Schrader, Protecting Oregonians’ Privacy in Life—and Death, Blue Oregon, March 20, 2015.

March 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Potential Suit Against Marvin Gaye's Estate

Johnnie Taylor

Just after Marvin Gaye’s estate won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the writers of the hit “Blurred Lines,” the estate of Gaye could be headed back to court.  Fonda Bryant, the daughter of soul singer Johnnie Taylor and heir to his estate, contends that Taylor’s number one hit in 1976 inspired Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.”  “Obviously, he took our fathers song, twisted it, made a lot of money off it and didn’t give my father credit,” Bryant said.  Gaye’s own biography even mentions that Taylor’s hit, “Disco Lady,” influenced “Got to Give it Up.”  Bryant plans on contacting attorneys soon. 

See Sarah-Blake Morgan, Charlotte Woman Considering Suit Against Marvin Gaye’s Estate, WBTV, March 19, 2015. 

March 21, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Laws of Inheritance?

Estate tax

During the Congressional hearing on Wednesday that examined the estate tax, Democratic Representative Linda Sanchez offered a baffling defense of the tax that sometimes places an unbearable burden on family farms and businesses. 

Sanchez reasoned that since people receiving food stamps must pass drug tests or meet work requirements to receive taxpayer dollars, it is only fair that those “lucky” enough to inherit wealth should have to do something to earn it, in this case, pay a tax.  “Why is it that [a single mother] should be drug tested, which is an unrelated requirement to receive food assistance, to make sure that her family has enough to eat,” she asked, “and people who are lucky enough to inherit millions of dollars are literally required to do nothing to the federal tax benefit with their inheritance?”

Sanchez acknowledged that Americans should value hard work, but lamented the “paradox” that occurs when individuals want to work hard so they can accumulate wealth to live off of in retirement and pass on to their children.  These remarks were made after hearing a witness describe the heartbreak her family is enduring after watching her father try to find an alternate route in passing his business to his children without breaking it up in order to pay the death tax. 

See Rachel Stolzfoos, Congresswoman Says Kids Should Be Drug-Tested Before They Can Inherit, The Daily Caller, March 18, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 20, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)