Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Man Jailed For Insurance Fraud After Faking Death


Before running his successful furniture business, Jose Lantigua emigrated from Cuba and had a heroic military career.  Lantigua owned a Florida beachfront condo and a new home atop a North Carolina mountain. 

Yet in 2012, as his Circle K Furniture store slid into debt, Lantigua made some odd decisions: he ordered tons of new furniture on the company dime for his family’s homes.  He built a panic room with steel doors inside his North Carolina hideaway.  And, he and his wife began planning to fake his death in order to scam almost $8 million from insurance companies. 

Now Lantigua and his wife, Daphne Simpson, are charged with insurance fraud after being arrested by federal agents last weekend.  His arrest ends a long time court battle between Lantigua’s family and insurance companies that refused to pay off his life policies because they did not think he was dead. 

Lantigua’s family claimed that while on a trip to Venezuela, he died of a heart attack.  His body was cremated rather than returned home and the physician who signed Lantigua’s death certificate never received or examined the body.  The passport Lantigua used to get back into the United States proved his downfall.  The man whose name Lantigua was trying to steal was black and the photo Lantigua submitted showed he is white.  Moreover, the Social Security number he used was from a woman born in 1917.  The State Department agents then used facial recognition software to find his true identity.

See Associated Press, Suspicion Surrounded Florida Businessman Who Faked His Death, Tampa Bay Times, March 27, 2015.

March 30, 2015 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

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)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

PNC to Appeal $391M Verdict

PNC BankPNC Financial Services Group Inc. intends to appeal an order to pay $390.5 million in damages from the alleged National Prearranged Services Inc. insurance scheme for prepaid funeral services.  “PNC respectfully disagrees with the jury regarding the liability of its predecessor bank, Allegiant, and we intend to appeal this verdict,” said Fred Solomon, PNC senior vice president.

On Monday, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis said PNC must pay $355 million in compensatory damages and $35.5 million in punitive damages. According to the lawsuit, funeral homes and consumers were led to believe the funds entrusted to NPS, a St.Louis-based company that sold prepaid funerals, would be safeguarded in a trust and backed by life insurance policies. However, the defendants allegedly siphoned off money from the funds.

See Patty Tascarella, PNC to Appeal $390.5 Million Order for Trustee Role in Prepaid Funeral Scam, St. Louis Business Journal, March 11, 2015.

March 11, 2015 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Forgotten Body

Capital healthAfter suffering from fibromyalgia and primary biliary cirrhosis, Marlene Newhook passed away at age 66.  Yet, before these diseases took her life, the Dartmouth woman helped others who also battled health issues.  Her last wish was that her organs be harvested for donation and that her body be given to science. “Maybe I can help someone to understand and find some solutions,” she wrote in her will in 2009.

Marlene’s son, Ray Desjardins, wanted to make sure her final wishes were fulfilled.  So, one week after she died he called the Dalhousie University Medical School to see if it had received her body.  That is when he discovered her body was not there—the school’s body donation program had no record of Marlene’s death.  Desjardins says he and one of his sisters, her power of attorney and legal executor respectively, had signed the necessary paperwork the day before she died.  Yet, he was told those documents were missing from her file.  A call from the school forced the hospital to then find her body. 

Staff soon discovered Marlene was still in the hospital morgue, forgotten.  “To me it feels like she was left alone, you know.  It feels like they diminished her in some way,” said Desjardins.  “Knowing that she was lying in that morgue . . . and I could not do anything about it.  I think that’s what hurts the most.”

Shortly thereafter, Capital Health issued a statement apologizing for the “communication breakdown that resulted in a delay in notifying the patient’s family that the donation process could not be completed.”  Despite the apology, Desjardins says this whole experience has left him without closure as he struggles to grieve and honor his mother’s memory.

See Elizabeth Chiu, Capital Health Apologizes for Failure Over Donated Body, CBC News, March 6, 2015.

March 8, 2015 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Funeral Home Mix-Up

Bushbury crematorium

Shortly after Philip Bradbourn was re-elected as a conservative politician in England, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer.  Sadly, Mr. Bradbourn lost his battle against the disease and died at age 63.  The politician’s funeral took place a month later at Bushbury Crematorium. 

However, it recently emerged that a mortuary had accidentally released the body of another man who had wrongly been cremated in Mr. Bradbourn's place.  This occurred after another man, named Philip Bradburn who had no close family or relatives, died at a nearby hospital around the same time.  It is thought that his body was taken to the same funeral care mortuary as Mr. Bradbourn where the mix-up occurred. 

Mr. Bradbourn’s devastated family was told about the blunder the next month, and a second funeral was held on February 23rd.

In a statement, Dr. Andrew Catto, from Heart of England NHS Trust, which runs Good Hope Hospital, apologized for the “incredibly distressing situation,” adding, “we are very sorry that this has happened - we are carrying out a full and urgent investigation between all the parties involved.”

See Hospital Apologizes After Wrong Body Was Cremated At Funeral of Conservative MEP, Express, March 6, 2015. 

March 6, 2015 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Problems With Boilerplate Advance Directives

Hospital care

An advance directive is a legally valid form that enables a person to choose the type of medical care he or she wishes to receive.  It goes into effect when that person is no longer able to speak for himself.  Nursing homes typically highlight advance directive completion rates with pride, as an attempt to show they are concerned about patients’ preferences. 

However, advance directives that come from nursing homes are cookie-cutter similar.  Almost all indicate that a patient has stated that all attempts to prolong life should be pursued and no treatment is unacceptable—regardless of prognosis.  The witnesses are typically the admissions clerk and the social worker, hardly ever the physician. 

Unfortunately, this is the reality for many individuals.  Discussing values, preferences and goals in the event of debilitation is difficult and time consuming.  Since nursing homes are paid to care for patients in perpetuity, their employees may not be the right people to oversee the completion of these ever-important forms.  It may be time to begin questioning our blind trust in patient autonomy.  This may be in fact harming, rather than helping patients nearing the end of their lives.  Thus, in order to obtain better care, and to provide it, directives need to be created, updated, accessible and incorporated into treatment.

See Jessica Nutik Zitter, When ‘Doing Everything’ Is Way Too Much, The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2015.

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

March 3, 2015 in Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Article on Potter's Field

Potters FieldJason N. Summerfield (New York Attorney) recently published an article entitled, Comments on the Potter’s Field: The Future of Mass Graves, 28 Quinnipiac Prob. L.J. 23-47 (2014).  Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

The paper addresses burial policy with respect to city cemeteries and, in particular, New York City’s Hart Island, the so-called 'potter’s field,' which is currently operated under the Department of Corrections. The institution is the target of a significant amount of recent scrutiny, including litigation, New York City Council oversight committees, and public criticism. These converging debates culminated in an overhaul of DOC policies regarding access to Hart Island, formation of an online database of burial records in April, 2013 and proposed legislation that would transfer jurisdiction over the island to New York City's Parks and Recreation. The paper outlines the pressing need for an understanding of the city cemetery as a global institution, noting how burial processes can change over time. It looks at New York City's own mass grave in addition to other variations throughout the world and history. The essay reviews the city cemetery in the context of three ‘criticisms’ raised by Hon. Elizabeth S. Crowley’s ‘Briefing Paper’ on the subject and recently proposed legislation that affects the institution.

February 21, 2015 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Disposition of Remains Act and Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks

I have previously discussed the court battle that erupted over the final disposition of the remains of legendary Chicago Cubs baseball player Ernie Banks.

In 2006 Illinois enacted the Disposition of Remains Act (DORA).  This law provides that “a person may provide written directions for the disposition or designate an agent to direct the disposition, including cremation, of the person’s remains.”  Written directions or designation of agent can be made in a:

  • Cremation authorization form that complies with the Crematory Regulation Act;
  • Prepaid funeral or burial contract;
  • Statutory Power of Attorney for Health Care that contains the power to direct the disposition of remains;
  • Written instrument that satisfies the provisions of DORA; or
  • A will.

In the absence of a written instruction or designation of agent, under DORA, priority to direct the disposition of remains is first given to “the individual who was the spouse of the decedent at the time of the decedent’s death.” 

Thus, unless Ernie Banks employed one of the recognized written methods of instruction or designation of agent, his estranged wife would have legal priority to direct the disposition of his remains.

See Jeffrey R. Gottlieb, Ernie Banks and the Illinois Disposition of Remains Act, Plan for the Road Ahead, Feb. 16, 2015.

February 17, 2015 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ernie Banks Estate Battle Intensifies

Ernie_Banks_cardAs I have previously discussed, a dispute over the treatment of the remains of the late Baseball Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks has arisen between his family and his caretaker Regina Rice. The battle over whether to have Banks' remains cremated has turned into a full will dispute, with Banks' twin sons alleging that Rice manipulated Banks' into changing his will to cut out his wife and children and give Rice power of attorney and all of his possessions. Banks' remains have not been cremated, but the location of his remains is currently uncertain.

See Associated Press, Suitability of Banks' Caretaker Faulted, ESPN Chicago, Feb. 16, 2015.

Special thanks to Jason Smith (Texas Tech University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 17, 2015 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dispute Over Ernie Banks' Remains

Ernie Banks

The cherished Chicago Cubs great, Ernie Banks, who once said he wanted to have his ashes scattered at Wrigley Field, is at the center of a battle over his remains as his estranged wife has gone to court to prevent a longtime friend from having his remains cremated. 

According to court records, Elizabeth Banks filed a petition to prevent a woman who describes herself as a longtime friend of Ernie Banks, his caretaker and the executor of Banks’ estate from having him cremated.  The woman, Regina Rice, asserted her right to dispose of Banks’ remains after his death last month. 

A document titled “Last Will and Testament” and signed by Ernie Banks on October 17 of last year says he was in “the process of finalizing divorce” from his wife and that he had appointed Rice as the executor of his will.  Nowhere does Banks discuss what he wants done with his remains.

See Don Babwin and Andrew Seligman, Court Fight Arises Over What to Do With Remains of ‘Mr. Cub’ Ernie Banks, Daily Reporter, Feb. 13, 2015.

February 15, 2015 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)