Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Final Goodbye

Alg-jack-kevorkian-jpgDoctor-assisted suicide remains a polarizing and difficult issue. Despite this, countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, and Sweden have already legalized voluntary euthanasia. Last year, Canada legalized medically-assisted death. A recent story from the US, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old from California suffering from a brain tumor, travelled all the way to Oregon to end her life. Using social media to say her final goodbye, Maynard received an outpouring of support and sympathy from the online community.

A recent study released by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the reason for terminal patients wanting to end their lives has more to do with psychological issues as opposed to physical suffering. Although discussions regarding assisted suicide commonly revolve around the unmitigated suffering endured by patients with diseases like cancer, this does not seem to be the primary impetus behind some individual’s desire to die.

While the psychological issues are complex, many terminal individuals wanting to end their lives early share similar characteristics. These people tended to be decisive and independent—in control of their lives. This attitude in life tended to correlate with a desire to control the manner in which they died.

Maynard’s final Facebook post expresses this idea as she wrote: “Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more.”

See Ariana Eunjung Cha, It’s Not Pain but ‘Existential Distress’ that Leads People to Assisted Suicide, Study Suggests, The Washington Post, May 24, 2017.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  

May 26, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet Sailor Killed at Pearl Harbor Finally Will Be Laid to Rest

FuneralAfter more than 75 years, Michael Galajdik, killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor while aboard the USS Oklahoma, will finally reach his ultimate resting place. Galajdik, a Navy Fireman 1st Class, will be buried at Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. Through the use of DNA and dental records, the Navy was able to successfully identify the previously unidentified corpse. George Sternisha, Galajkik’s nephew, will travel with the body from Hawaii to Joliet. Sternisha recalls his mother’s desire to bury her brother. Despite her passage in 1993, he is still happy to be able to fulfill her wish.

Ginger Dudek, a resident of Joliet, was concerned the funeral route would be bare. But, with the aid of social media, she was able to elicit a powerful response from the local community. Dudek asked residents to volunteer to line the streets as the funeral procession traversed its route. Calls soon came in with offers of aid. Dudek expressed her amazement and gratitude for those who were willing to honor the memory of Galajdik and his sacrifice.

See Alicia Fabber, Joliet Sailor Killed at Pearl Harbor Finally Will Be Laid to Rest, Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2017.

May 26, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fans Mourn Chris Cornell's Passing

ChrisCornellChris Cornell, best known as lead vocalist for the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, was cremated this past Tuesday. Those present included a small and select group of family and friends. The memorial service will be held on Friday and is also intended only for close friends and family. After the ashes are buried, fans will be allowed to enter Hollywood Forever cemetery in order to pay their respects. Officials at the cemetery are expecting a huge crowd after the service. Cornell joins legends like Mikey Rooney and Mel Blanc, who have also been laid to rest at the site.

See Chris Cornell Cremated, Private Service Planned but Fans Not Forgotten, TMZ, May 24, 2017.

May 25, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

For Whom Does the Bell Toll?

DeathFrank Ostaseski has travelled alongside over 1,000 hospice care patients as they have taken the final steps toward the end of life. Despite such a melancholy subject matter, Ostaseski encourages his audiences to learn about death; to sit down and face death to see what it can teach about life. The speech is available as a podcast or video. The content and the unique delivery contain a potent message that stands to shift any audience’s perspective on death and dying.

See Frank Ostaseski, What the Dying Teach the Living, The Long Now Foundation, April 10, 2017.

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

May 23, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Film, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Thief Steals Hearse

Hearse-CamperThis past Friday, Bryan police officers found themselves handling a macabre case. At a local McDonald’s on Friday morning, a funeral home employee parked a loaded hearse and left it unattended. Taking advantage of the abandoned vehicle, a thief jumped in and drove away. The thief, upon finding he was riding with an unwelcome passenger, dumped the body on the side of the road. The body was eventually reported found and returned to the funeral home. Police are still looking for the hearse. 

See Erica Young, Thief Steals Hearse, Dumps Body in Bryan, Police Say, Click 2 Houston, May 19, 2017.

May 22, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Judge's Estate Circumvents Husband

Judge ShaalamTrailblazing Judge Sheila Abdus-Shaalam’s current husband will receive nothing from her estate. Judge Abdus-Shaalam died with an outdated will that left the entirety of her $2.05 million estate to her mother and siblings. The distribution of her property was intended to exclude her third husband from inheriting and was written during a contentious third divorce.

Rev. Gregory Jacobs, Abdus-Shaalam’s fourth husband, had a right to inherit under New York law, but he waived his claim. A close friend of Abdus-Shaalam commented regarding her surprise at the outdated status of the will but said the distribution of the assets fell in line with Abdus-Shaalam’s typical treatment of her family. The friend noted that the Judge was very helpful when it came to her relatives and was especially so when dealing with nieces and nephews and their education costs.

Police initially considered Judge Abdus-Shaalam’s death a suicide after her body washed up on the Hudson. The NYPD later opened an investigation after determining that the Judge’s death was suspicious. The probe ended earlier this month with no recorded cause of death.

See Julia Marsh, Judge Who Washed up Along Hudson Cut Husband out of Her Estate, New York Post, May 19, 2017.

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

May 22, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Roger Ailes's Estate Under Pressure

18-roger-ailes.w710.h473Roger Ailes, former Fox News chairman, died this past Thursday. While this is certainly a tragedy for his family, the tumultuous times for his estate will not end soon. Two former Fox News hosts, Andrea Tantaros and Julie Roginsky, have lawsuits pending against his estate. According to Debra S. Katz, an employment and civil rights attorney, the lawsuits will continue to move forward. She believes that Ailes’s estate will now be more likely to seek quick closure of the suits as Ailes is no longer able to defend himself in court. 

Tantaros’s lawsuit alleges that Ailes made repeated, inappropriate sexual comments to her involving speculation regarding sexual contact between other employees at the station. Roginsky alleges that Ailes made explicit comments about her dating and sex life and would insist that she give him a kiss while sitting so that she would have to bend down. Both women claim their refusals of Ailes’s advances negatively impacted their careers at Fox.

Prior to his death, Ailes denied all wrongdoing and dismissed the complaints as unfounded. The fact that Ailes is unable to personally refute the women’s claims may hint that his estate will be much more willing to settle the lawsuits as quickly as possible.

See Lisa Ryan, What Will Happen to the Sexual-Harassment Lawsuits Against Roger Ailes?, The Cut, May 18, 2017.

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

May 21, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nick Carter's Father Dies

0518-bob-nick-carter-getty-tmz-9Nick Carter, notable for his membership as a Backstreet Boy, recently suffered the loss of his father, Bob Carter. It is believed that Bob Carter died from a heart attack. The family intends to adhere to the wishes of the deceased and will follow through with cremation. It is understood that Carter wanted his ashes spread in the Gulf of Mexico by the Florida Keys. Interestingly, the family intends to reunite father and daughter postmortem. Nick’s sister, Leslie, died in 2012 at the age of 25 from an overdose. Her husband kept the ashes and the family desires to spread the ashes of father and daughter together. It is believed the ceremony will occur later in the year.

See Nick Carter's Father's Ashes to Be Spread with Late Daughter, TMZ, May 19, 2017.

May 21, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

10 Tips for Tumultuous Tax Times

RK_Post_-_Death_and_Taxes_1024x1024The only things that ever seemed to be certain were the inevitability of death and the persistent and ever-present burden of taxes. Now, taxes are coming into question (sort of). President Trump and the Republican-dominated congress are expected to change the laws concerning estate and gift taxes. Unfortunately, for estate planners, neither the extent nor the scope of these changes are actually known. John O. McManus, founder of an estate planning firm in New York, has some helpful strategies to deal with the uncertainty. McManus’ friendly tips push flexibility in planning and he says these strategies work in both the long and short term, and are beneficial for the mass affluent as well as the ultra-wealthy.

See Karen Demasters, Fidgety About Tax Reform? Here Are 10 Things Estate Planners Can Do Now, Private Wealth, May 12, 2017.

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

May 20, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 19, 2017

I'd Bet the Farm on It!

Farm-familyThe succession of the family farm has changed in the face of an increasingly mobile society. With more and more family members choosing alternative career paths, commodity volatility, increased regulations, a tighter lending environment, and liability for farm owners, the chosen successor for a family farm is integral to protecting the long-term viability of the business. Farming, especially on larger scales, requires knowledgeable, skilled leadership that not all beneficiaries are able to provide. With corporate and estate planning, a viable leader may be chosen from among willing and able family members; if needed, a successor may also be chosen from an outside source.

Aside from choosing a competent individual as a leader, the retention of key employees is another major concern. If the future of the farm becomes uncertain, highly qualified employees may take the disruption as a chance to find more stable employment. A lack of leadership or uncertainty may also be a cause of concern for suppliers, lenders, and customers. By having a well-defined plan for succession, potential problems among these groups may be mitigated or avoided entirely.

A clear and intelligent plan for succession also avoids intra-family litigation. Many family farms have fallen subject to lawsuits borne from family squabbles. These suits can negatively affect the land usage as parcels are divided among family members to resolve their disputes. Careful design for future land ownership may circumvent future litigation. Finally, a paramount concern, federal estate taxes. Properties valued over a set threshold may be subject to a 40% estate tax due within nine months of the decedent’s passing. This can be unduly burdensome for a grieving family without a succession plan. If unprepared, the beneficiaries of the estate may be forced to sell the land to any bidder in order to pay the taxes.

Farm families take pride in their land and it tends to form a part of the family’s identity. For continued prosperity, a comprehensive succession plan provides the best chance for the property’s future.

See E. Bradley Evans & Matthew W. Thompson, Succession Planning—Bet the Farm on It, Ward and Smith, P.A., May 12, 2017.

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

May 19, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)