Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Archbishop Sheen’s Body to Stay in New York, for Now

 Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who passed away in 1979, was best known for his role as the host on “Life is Worth Living,” an Emmy-winning television series broadcast during the 1950s. Now, years after his death, a dispute has erupted between rival dioceses claiming rights to Sheen's remains. Five days prior to his death, Sheen executed a will directing his remains be buried at Calvary Cemetery, which is the cemetery of the Archdiocese of New York. Cardinal Terence Cooke asked and was granted permission by Sheen's niece, Joan Sheen Cunningham, to instead place the remains in the crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. The matter of Sheen's final resting place would have been settled had it not been for a recent push to have him declared a saint. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, began investigating the issue of sainthood in 2002. He says that Cardinal Edward Egan granted him permission to sponsor the cause for Sheen's sainthood and also promised to have the body moved to Peoria. The controversy as to where Sheen's body should remain has become the impetus for a protracted legal battle. Cunningham, who is now 90, believes that if her uncle had known that he might be considered for sainthood, he would have been perfectly happy with the move to Illinois. For her, the best course of action would be to divide the body into relics, which has been a regular occurrence for saintly relics in the Catholic Church for centuries. 

See Sharon Otterman, Archbishop Sheen’s Body to Stay in New York, for Now, The New York Times, February 7, 2018.

February 19, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Article on Rational Patient Apathy

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-18/dd617d1d-65f1-461a-a109-f143350bd11e.pngBarbara A. Noah & René Reich-Graefe recently posted an Article entitled, Rational Patient Apathy, Elder Law Studies eJournal (2017). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

Patients with serious or life-threatening illness are frequently asked to make complex, high stakes medical decisions. The impact of anxiety, low health literacy, asymmetric information and inadequate communication between patients and health care providers, family pressures, rational apathy by health care providers, cognitive biases of both patients and health care providers, as well as other factors, make it quite difficult for patients in these circumstances to process and comprehend the strategic uncertainty and resultant risks and benefits of, and alternatives to, whatever therapeutic or life-prolonging treatment physicians are offering. All of these factors render the classic goal of “informed consent” unachievable in all but the rarest of circumstances: The effort to discuss and evaluate strategic uncertainty, its rational reduction into risks and benefits, and alternatives of treatment for purposes of optimizing decisional outcomes will have genuine intrinsic value only for ultrarational patients (and physicians).

In addition to these alterable barriers to rational decision-making — i.e., barriers that can, in theory at least, be overcome by ultrarational patients (and physicians) with sufficient time and persistent inquiry — there is a second decision-making realm in which the added complexities of bounded rationality, clinical uncertainty and, in particular, of overall Knightian uncertainty provide insurmountable, unalterable barriers to confident rational decision-making. Within this more fundamental human realm of irreducible uncertainty, even ultrarational decision-makers can never confidently calculate a highest-utility treatment option. In order to better describe this secondary realm of unalterable barriers to rational patient choice, including its usually subversive effect on end-of-life decisional behavior, by both average, minimally-rational patients and ultrarational patients, we coin the term “rational patient apathy” (and, relatedly, “rational patient ignorance”).

Given that confronting the absolute uncertainty inherent in facing one’s mortality is cognitively, psychologically and emotionally daunting, and thus largely left unexplored and unpracticed by most patients for most of their (healthier) decisional lives, rational patient apathy at the sudden onset of a serious or life-threatening illness overwhelmingly defaults to negative decision-making, i.e., an affirmative choice not to make any (balanced) decision on the merits but rather to remain rationally ignorant of some or all aspects of the choice situation. In the context of this persistent patient avoidance of substantive decision-making, empirical evidence demonstrates frequent reversion to a quantity-over-quality approach, allowing health care providers to “do everything” until the continued medical treatment reaches the point of obvious medical or economic futility. As a result — and as a largely discounted trade-off of choosing to avoid decisional burdens through non-careful consideration (or no consideration at all) — the overwhelming result of rational patient apathy in end-of-life decision-making is an irrational calculation and decision unto itself. Not only does rational patient apathy negate the classic (and utopian) goal of informed consent, it also exerts tremendous costs — on patients, on loved ones, on health care providers and on society at-large — in terms of adverse health effects, avoidable suffering, constantly recurring decisional commitment costs, and the wasting of scarce economic resources.

February 18, 2018 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Woman Who Was Mistakenly ‘BURIED ALIVE’ Tried to Fight ‘Her Way out of Sealed Coffin’ After Being Laid to Rest 11 Days Before

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-18/7ac9238d-8d54-4a59-bc6f-008c8ea98340.pngRosangela Almeida dos Santos suffered from cardiac arrest in late January and passed away after being rushed to the Hospital do Oeste in Barreiras, a city in eastern Brazil. Her family held a wake in her honor that night and her body was buried the following day in a concrete coffin. Soon after, locals started reporting screams, moans, and groans coming from the tomb. Natalina Silva, a local resident who heard noises coming from the supposedly deceased Santos stated: “When I got there right in front of the tomb, I heard banging from inside it. I thought the kids who play around the cemetery were playing a joke on me. Then I heard her groan twice, and after those two groans she stopped.” Eleven days after her burial, family members attempted to save Santos. When they managed to reach the coffin, they noticed the nails surrounding the lid had been pushed outward and there was blood and scratches inside. The family reported the incident to the police and a spokesman from the hospital said they will “provide all necessary information requested from them to the family and authorities.”

See Matt Roper, Woman Who Was Mistakenly ‘BURIED ALIVE’ Tried to Fight ‘Her Way out of Sealed Coffin’ After Being Laid to Rest 11 Days Before, DailyMail.com, February 16, 2018.

Special thanks to Molly Neace for bringing this article to my attention.


February 18, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why Is James Brown’s Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-12/e0461b2a-415e-4890-a460-a5536f189336.pngJames Brown, the King of Soul, tragically passed away on Christmas Day, 2006. Since his death, over a dozen lawsuits have been filed relating to the disposition of his estate. Brown’s carefully crafted estate plan originally sought to provide millions of dollars to underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. To this day, eleven years after his death, not one intended beneficiary of his will has seen a single penny. Part of the problem with settling the estate stems from a dispute between Brown’s children and grandchildren and his spouse, Tommie Rae Hynie. The grandchildren and children are alleging that Hynie has engaged in illegal, behind-the-scene dealings with the estate involving copyrights for a number of songs Brown wrote. Another issue is Hynie’s status as Brown’s legitimate heir. There is some evidence indicating that Hynie was married to another man in 2001, the year she was wedded to Brown. Marc Toberoff, an attorney for the grandchildren and children, stated that Brown’s estate “has long been marred by dubious back-room dealings between the Estate and James Brown’s putative wife, Tommie Rae Hynie, as described in our lawsuit.” However this issue is eventually settled, it looks as though the needy children in Georgia and South Carolina will have to wait for aid until Brown’s family settles their disputes against his estate.

See Steve Knopper Why Is James Brown’s Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers, The New York Times, February 4, 2018.

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

February 13, 2018 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Woman’s Body Held in Ohio Mortuary for More Than a Year

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-11/e1d3ddb7-7db5-45b3-8a37-7b813be84676.png

Nancy Jo Roberts died with no family in Cincinnati to take care of her remains. After her death, her body was taken to a funeral home in Colerain Township, Ohio. Once the staff at the funeral home realized that Roberts was an indigent case, they passed her on to Premium Mortuary Services (Premium) located in Carlisle, Ohio. Premium was limited by Ohio law on what it could do with the body. Poul Lemasters, a death care attorney who represented Premium, said that all they could do was “accept a body. ... Can't cremate. Can't bury. You hold her and keep her in the most dignified way you can.” In all, Roberts’s corpse has been in storage for over a year. The family, once too busy to check regularly on Roberts, are now demanding answers. This is a valuable lesson for those with loved ones who have been relegated to once-in-a-decade visits in that it may be a good idea to pick up the phone every so often so they do not find themselves in a similar situation.

See Woman’s Body Held in Ohio Mortuary for More Than a Year, Fox News, February 2, 2018.

February 12, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Student, 21, Flushed Her ‘Emotional Support’ HAMSTER Pebbles Down the Toilet and Drowned It After Spirit Airlines Banned It from Traveling with Her (and Now She’s Suing)

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-08/8e69020f-e5af-4cff-b830-08e871c4c629.pngBelen Aldecosea, 21, was attempting to fly home toting her beloved and cherished support animal, her hamster, Pebbles. Aldecosea claims that she called Spirit Airlines prior to her flight to make sure Pebbles would be allowed on the plane. When she attempted boarding with innocent bright-eyed Pebbles though, staff told her rodents were not allowed to fly. At this point, Aldecosea alleges that Spirit employees told her she could either release Pebbles into the wild or flush him down the toilet. Her flight leaving, Aldecosea was forced to take the heart-breaking measure of disposing of the support pet via an unceremonious, ultimate swirly. She is now considering suing the airline for emotional trauma.

See Hannah Parry, Student, 21, Flushed Her ‘Emotional Support’ HAMSTER Pebbles Down the Toilet and Drowned It After Spirit Airlines Banned It from Traveling with Her (and Now She’s Suing), Daily Mail.com, February 8, 2018.

February 8, 2018 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Cleaning up After the Dead

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-06/87faf96b-4805-41b0-9b37-e208ce1bb4cd.pngAkira Fujita leads a clean-up crew for Next, a company specializing in scouring and disinfecting the former living spaces of individuals who die alone and whose bodies are left to decompose. While all nations have some portion of their populations die in isolation, Japan is experiencing this phenomenon at incredible levels. Part of this trend stems from aging demographics. More than 25% of the population of the island nation is currently over the age of 65. This figure is expected to increase to 40% by 2050. A dramatic shift in family dynamics is also a likely contributor. A short time ago, it was common for Japanese households to contain three generations of family members. Now, younger adults are remaining single and couples are having fewer children, if any. Masaki Ichinose, working at the Center for Life and Death Studies at the University of Tokyo, notes that the “general concept of family in Japan has fallen apart. The overall number of people who are alone is growing, so it’s inevitable that the number of people dying without anyone’s support is also growing.” Next is one of numerous firms that have popped up in response to this ever-increasing need for cleanup after “lonely deaths”.

See Anna Fifield, Cleaning up After the Dead, The Washington Post, January 24, 2018.

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

February 7, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Funeral Home Offering Free Pizza To Those Who Pre-plan Their Funerals

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-05/db0042f0-d503-4884-9962-29992a9d212a.pngA Wisconsin funeral home is offering an unconventional (at least for the industry) incentive to those willing to come and consider pre-planning their funeral: free pizza. Fliers advertising the latest promotion read, “Enjoy free pizza on us as we discuss how pre-planning your funeral helps ease the emotional and financial burden for you and your family.” Mark Krause, the funeral home owner, noted that with funeral expenses constantly increasing, pre-planning is appealing to many as it offers the possibility of big savings. The free pizza simply provides a more relaxed and comfortable environment that encourages people to discuss a topic that is traditionally uncomfortable. The company offered a similar incentive last year and over 100 people showed up to the event.

See Michelle Gant, Funeral Home Offering Free Pizza To Those Who Pre-plan Their Funerals, Fox News, January 29, 2018.

February 5, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Family’s Fabulous Pet Chicken Gets Own Obituary in Local Newspaper

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-05/9e0a4c46-23b9-4a10-98a5-234f87b98597.pngWhen considering chicken, most people mentally meander toward fancies of delicious, deep-fried wings and thighs or sweet memories of summer barbeques with family and friends permeated by the tantalizing scent of slow-cooked delicacies. But, for a family in Bryan, Texas, their thoughts of chicken return them to memories of their recently deceased and beloved pet: Big Mama. So dearly loved was this winged creature that her family wrote a formal obituary for the 6-year-old, Rhode Island Red. The family saved Big Mama in 2013, after her original owners grew tired of her and left her at a veterinary clinic to be euthanized. Fortunately, Big Mama was saved. With her new family, she quickly “discovered how beautiful life could be walking in the grass, being a member of a flock, and having 24-7 love.”

See Hilary Hanson, Family’s Fabulous Pet Chicken Gets Own Obituary in Local Newspaper, Huffington Post, January 27, 2018.

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  

February 5, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Charles Manson's Alleged Grandson Shut Down in Bid to Get Remains

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-01/9f3280fe-698c-405d-9fc3-a4706bfb1b58.pngFor now, Jason Freeman, Charles Manson’s alleged grandson, will not be able to take possession of his grandfather’s remains. Freeman is one of three claimants to the murderer’s corpse and estate he left behind. The judge apparently rejected the claim because the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

See Charles Manson's Alleged Grandson Shut Down in Bid to Get Remains, TMZ, January 29, 2018.

February 1, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)