Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Brownstone's Bitter Inheritance Battle

BrownstoneBill Cornwell and Tom Doyle lived together as committed partners in a brownstone for over five decades. For most of their relationship, gay marriage was illegal, not allowing them to affirm their relationship. Two years ago, Mr. Cornwell died, bequeathing the valuable brownstone to Mr. Doyle, which is now in dispute. Mr. Cornwell’s nieces and nephews have ignored the bequest and claimed it as their inheritance, putting the brownstone up for sale at $7 million. 

Mr. Cornwell’s will was only witnessed by one person, which makes the will legally invalid because of the need for two witnesses. Without a valid will, the law requires that Mr. Cornwell’s assets pass to his next of kin—his nieces and nephews. Mr. Doyle’s argument is that the two of them were involved in a common law marriage, even though New York does not recognize this arrangement. This legal battle has left Mr. Doyle confused over those he once considered extended family.  

See Sarah Maslin Nir, A Brownstone and the Bitter Fight to Inherit It, NY Times, October 23, 2016. 

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


October 24, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Unrestricted Bequests

Will restrictionsRecently, the University of New Hampshire inherited nearly $4 million from a quiet librarian, and the university decided to spend $1 million of the inheritance on a new football scoreboard. Most saw this use of the money as unfit because the librarian’s passion was literature. The university defended its choice by saying that the funds were given to it without restriction. Indeed, most wills make bequests with no restrictions; in fact, most courts do not favor conditions because some of the time they are unenforceable. The danger of not having restrictions is that there is no guarantee the funds will be used in the way the testator intended. On the other hand, a trust will ensure that inheritances are distributed in a way the creator intended. 

See Ettinger Law Firm, The Danger of Unrestricted Bequests and Gifts, New York Estate Planning Attorney Blog, October 11, 2016. 

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


October 22, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Incentivizing Inheritances

Large inheritancesMoney is a true motivator, but how do you draft a will leaving inheritances that still encourages your children to work hard? This is becoming more and more of a concern as the baby-boomer generation is set to pass on $59 trillion, the biggest wealth transfer ever. The top American tycoons suggest cutting your children out all together because large sums of money works more for injury than good. Striking a balance between spending and saving is undoubtedly difficult when a massive inheritance comes your way. One economists argues that varying the level of inheritance to each child by creating incentive trusts is beneficial for forcing them to take your wishes seriously. These trusts include clauses that encourage educational success, hard work, and good behavior. Whatever the strategy, the upcoming years will stress the need for incentivizing inheritances. 

See Richard Davies, How to Make Inheritance an Incentive, 1843 Magazine, October 13, 2016. 


October 21, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Survey Reveals Helpful Insights for the Future of Estate Planning

Estate planning3In recent findings by WealthCounsel, the Estate Planning Awareness Survey helped to reveal estate planning insights that will impact the legal industry on both the firm and client levels. Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) believe that estate planning is largely for the wealthy, and 49% report feeling that their assets are not worth enough to consider an estate plan. Subsequently, the survey report addressed some of the major reasons why Americans are not planning, including feeling that their assets are not worthwhile (37%) and that they are not wealthy enough (29%). Additionally, only 27% of participants have talked with family members about creating an estate plan. Perhaps, this misinformation stems from the fact that 53% reported that it was difficult to find an advisor they trust in helping out with their estate planning needs. This Survey insightfully brings attention to the need for improvement in America’s awareness and understanding of estate planning, allowing for future opportunities to extend services to all Americans in need of these services. 

See What Do Americans Think About Estate Planning?: Key Findings of WealthCounsel’s Inaugural Estate Planning Awareness Survey, WealthCounsel (2016).

Special thanks to Peter MacKellar (Vice President, Financial Services (Communication Strategy Group)) for bringing this article to my attention.  


October 21, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Resource Links | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daughters Confess to Burying Father in Yard

Buried in yardApproximately four to five years ago, two daughters panicked when they found their father dead in his home, so they decided to bury him in the yard. Recently, police received a tip that there was a body buried near the home and, when investigating the matter, the daughters told police that their father had “moved up north.” Eventually, the daughters confessed and DNA testing was done on the body to confirm their dad’s identity.  

See Officials: Daughters Confess to Burying Father, 94, in Yard, Fox News, October 21, 2016. 


October 21, 2016 in Current Events | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Man's Obituary Says "He'd Rather Die than Watch the Debate"

Norman davisA retired long-haul trucker recently passed away hours before the first presidential debate, saying that he would “rather die than watch the debates.” After his passing, his obituary has attracted substantial attention, pinning his blunt humor on the candidates’ argumentative debates. He was a confirmed non-voter, and the obituary does not give any insight on his views of either candidate. 

See Chris Summers, He Said He’d Rather Die than Watch the Debates . . . and He Kept His Word! Hilarious Obituary of Pennsylvania Trucker Who Worried ‘the Nation Is Going Someplace in a Handbasket’, Daily Mail, October 20, 2016. 


October 20, 2016 in Current Events, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Electronically Stored Information Inspected for Evidence in Will Contest

EsiRecently, during discovery in a will contest, a New York Surrogate court forced the drafting attorney of a will to fork over his computer. In In re Nunz, the court found that there was a “proper basis” for the attorney to turn over of his computer, helping to resolve uncertain issues regarding the execution of the will. The decedent had drafted a will leaving out five of his six children from a previous marriage; accordingly, they contested the will when documentation for the will’s preparation went allegedly missing from the drafting attorney’s computer. At a hearing, the court held that the electronically stored information was “clearly discoverable” for the children to obtain the material and necessary information. This case represents another example of how electronically stored information finds its way into a proceeding.  

See Brian Spiro, Drafting Attorney’s Computer Inspected for Evidence in Will Contest, Florida Probate Lawyers, October 18, 2016. 


October 19, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

CLE on Estate Planning for Family Business Owner

CLEThe American Law Institute is holding a CLE entitled, Estate Planning for the Family Business Owner, which will take place Thursday–Friday, November 3–4, 2016, at Dallas Marriott City Center in Dallas, Texas. Provided below is a description of the event:

Don’t miss this comprehensive conference on estate planning for family businesses! It will help you become better prepared to recognize and evaluate family business issues and, as a result, better skilled than ever at designing customized succession plans for your family business clients.

Featuring updates on the hottest topics, including the new proposed Section 2704(b) regulations, this nationally recognized program examines:

  • Income tax issues and planning strategies for business entities
  • Incentive or deferred compensation
  • Practical uses of life insurance for the family business
  • Buy-sell agreements
  • Valuation of a family business
  • Family rivalries and divisive reorganization planning
  • Trust advisors, trust protectors for business interests

Register today for this webcast or in-person program on November 3-4. You can also register two or more from your organization and SAVE!


October 18, 2016 in Conferences & CLE, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tupac's Estate Threatens Suit Over Sale of Bullet-Dented Pendant

Tupac pendantTupac’s gold and diamond pendant that he was wearing when he was shot in 1994—two years before his death—is up for sale. Moments in Time, a memorabilia dealer, is selling the bullet-dented pendant for $125,000. A Tupac family member gave the company the item to sell in exchange for a majority of the profits. Tupac’s estate, however, is strongly against the sale, stating that no one has authority to sell Tupac’s memorabilia, not even a family member. They are determined to file suit against anyone forking over a Tupac item for sale and anyone purchasing one.  

See Tupac Bullet-Dented Pendant . . . Up for Grabs for $125k!, TMZ, October 16, 2016. 


October 18, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Who Will Inherit Your Digital Collections?

Itunes libraryOur digital collections of music and books can expire at our death, causing family members to lose a huge chunk of change. Normally, customers for digital content own a license to use the digital files without actually owning them. For example, Apple grants users nontransferable rights to use their content, according to your specific account. One lawyer is trying to combat this issue by creating software that acts as a legal trust for client’s online accounts, managing digital accounts and passwords. With such a significant portion of our assets being digital, this type of technology will become essential over the coming years. 

See Quentin Fottrell, Who Inherits Your iTunes Library?, Market Watch, August 23, 2016. 


October 17, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)