Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Questions Surrounding Joan Rivers' Net Worth

Joan rivers

The recent death of Joan Rivers has led to a multitude of questions regarding the iconic comedian’s net worth.  Yet, Rivers’ lavish funeral serves as indicator that her daughter Melissa and the rest of the family will be well cared for. 

Rivers’ extravagant funeral was no surprise.  In the years before her death, Rivers displayed no signs of a declining net worth.  She left behind a New York City penthouse that was once compared to Marie Antoinette’s castle.  The 5,000 square foot home could sell form more than $30 million.  Between this, her Fashion Police salary, and her reported $1 billion of merchandise sales on QVC, Rivers’ net worth may even be above the rumored $150 million.

Like all other wealthy individuals, some of Joan Rivers’ net worth will go back to the government in the form of taxes.  How much of the estate will go to her daughter is still unknown.

See Melissa Siegel, Joan Rivers’ Net Worth Inherited By Melissa? ‘Fashion Police’ and QVC Income, Opulent NYC Penthouse Part of Substantial Estate, Hollywood Take, Sept. 9, 2014. 

September 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Body Donation Program Under Investigation

Crime scene tape

Authorities are investigating programs in at least three states that accumulate bodies donated for scientific research, medical training and other purposes. 

A Detroit FBI official confirmed that the bureau is looking at an Oregon research center, and investigators have stormed facilities in Michigan and Arizona.  Aside from confirming the existence of an investigation, authorities have been secretive regarding what they are examining and why. 

In February, Michigan suspended the mortuary license of Arthur Rathbum, alleging that he embalmed bodies at a Detroit address that does not have a funeral home license. 

Authorities subpoenaed records from Portland, Oregon-based Legacy Health, a hospital chain that also operates Legacy Research Institute in Portland.  The institute uses cadavers for research and to train doctors and nurses for surgery.  FBI officials will say little about their investigations.

See Associated Press, Feds Investigating Body Donation Programs in Three States, Fox News, Sept. 11, 2014.

September 12, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Florida Funeral Home Mix-Up


When Marvel Freeman and her family arrived at the Stevens Lakeside Chapel in West Palm Beach, Florida for the funeral of her mother, Mary Anderson, she looked in the coffin only to find a stranger. 

An hour before the public viewing was to commence, Freeman and her family where shocked to find the person was someone else in her mother’s belongings.

The funeral home had allegedly prepared the wrong body with Anderson’s clothing.  “It took us a whole day for us to find what we wanted her to be buried in.  To take her undergarments and put on somebody else, and then take them off her, and put them back on her, come on, come on.  That’s not right.” 

The Florida funeral home subsequently offered the explanation that both women had a first name of Mary. 

See Erik Sherman, Funeral Home Puts Wrong Body in Casket for Wake, AOL, Sept. 10, 2014.

September 12, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

End of Life Lessons from Joan Rivers

Joan rivers

Joan Rivers, an iconic comedian, passed away last week, and her death seemed to shock the hearts of many.  But why was her death so alarming?  Perhaps it was her vivacity, zest, and boldness that made her seem anything but eighty-one.  Perhaps it was because Rivers, unlike many of us, was not uncomfortable with the notion of growing old or dying.  She told jokes about death—even her late husband’s suicide was not out of bounds. 

Rivers was never afraid to face the reality that she was growing older.  Losing her memory because of aging was one of her go-to comedy sources, “I must admit I am nervous about getting Alzheimer’s.  Once it hits, I might tell my best joke and never know it.” 

While estate planning is about wills and trusts, it is also so much more than that.  End of life planning is a critical aspect of this field of law, evidenced by Rivers.  On September 4, Melissa Rivers made the decision to take her mother off life support.  Although a difficult decision, she knew it was the right one, as this was a conversation she and her mother had previously had. 

Advance directives allow family members to make medical and termination of life support decisions for someone who becomes unable to do so.

See Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Joan Rivers Can Help With Difficult End-Of-Life Conversations, Forbes, Sept. 10, 2014. 

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

September 10, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Joan Rivers' Funeral Could Be a Big Deduction

Joan rivers

As I have previously discussed, Joan Rivers laid out the intricate, yet humorous, wishes for her funeral in her 2012 book, “I Hate Everyone . . . Starting With Me.” 

Rivers passed away on September 4th and with all her millions, her funeral arrangements, including “Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents” should be fairly easy to arrange.  What’s more, is the fact that the expenses associated with her funeral are tax deductible for federal estate tax purposes. 

While neither Congress nor the IRS has stepped in to provide specific limitations on funeral expenses, the IRS does offer some general guidance via memos and their positions in court cases.  The cap on deductions is largely interpreted in accordance with state and local laws but is also subject to a reasonableness standard based on facts and circumstances.  Thus, if Rivers really did have the funeral of her dreams, the associated expenses are likely deductible because they reflect her lifestyle and position, and we expect a bigger than life from Joan Rivers.    

See Kelly Phillips, Saying Goodbye to Joan Rivers: The Bigger the Funeral, The Bigger the Tax Deduction? Forbes, Sept. 7, 2014.

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

September 8, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Joan Rivers' Funeral Plans

Joan rivers

Joan Rivers is famous for her ability to turn anything into a joke, including her own funeral.  Unearthed by Mashable’s Brian Ries, the comedian concocted a specific (and funny) burial service wish list in her 2012 book entitled, “I Hate Everyone . . . Starting With Me.”

Rivers explained, “When I die . . . I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action . . . I want Craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way.”  Furthermore, Rivers would rather have “Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing ‘Mr. Lonely.’  I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive.  I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag.”

As a woman who has been a trailblazer for others in entertainment, we can only hope Rivers gets her wish.  As of Friday, Rivers’ service was set for Sunday at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El.

See Breeanna Hare, What Joan Rivers Wanted at Her Funeral, CNN Entertainment, Sept. 5, 2014. 

September 6, 2014 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friends and Family Said Goodbye to Robin Williams in Private Ceremony

Robin_WilliamsRobin Williams, who died early last week, was reportedly put to rest through a private ceremony near his home in California. Williams was cremated and his ashes scattered in the San Francisco Bay.

See Jackie Willis, Robin Williams’ Ashes Reportedly Scattered in San Francisco Bay Last Week, Fox News, Aug. 21, 2014.


August 22, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Film | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Online Toolkit Offers Estate Planning Help

ToolkitA comprehensive on-line estate planning toolkit service called Final Roadmap can assist with various estate planning needs, including storing and sharing estate planning documents. Membership to the site is available with a one-time purchase. Here is a description of the toolkit from the website:

Misunderstanding and confusion result from neglecting to plan ahead, leaving a painful and costly legacy to those you care about most.  Final Roadmap was created to make end of life planning manageable and affordable. The Toolkit allows you to create, compile and safely store documents and directives  – with the option to share the documents you select, with the individuals you choose, in the equivalent of an electronic vault.

August 21, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Planning - Generally, Resource Links | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Casey Kasem to be Buried in Norway


According to reports in the Norwegian Newspaper VG, the body of Casey Kasem is to be moved to Oslo. 

Kasem’s body was moved by his wife, Jean, to Ontario after he died in Washington State this June.  Kasem’s children from a previous marriage contend that their stepmother is keeping his remains from them. 

Kasem’s daughter, Kerri, has accused Mrs. Kasem of abusing her father prior to his death.  Kerri wants a full autopsy to be performed on the body.  Kerri’s spokesman stated that it is not clear what Jean Kasem plans to do with her husband’s remains, “We just know that she wants to keep Casey away from family and friends and by the looks of it, [is] hiding from law enforcement.” 

If Kasem is laid to rest in Norway, it will be the end of a journey for a great man.

See Casey Kasem to be Buried in Oslo, Says Norway Press, BBC News, Aug. 15, 2014.

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

August 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Men Charged with Abuse of Corpse


Three Maine men have been charged with abuse of a corpse after they were found digging up the cremated remains of two relatives and moving them to another cemetery within the state.  Police say the men dug up the remains of Richard Lewis and the son who shared his name from a cemetery last fall, subsequently reburying them in the family plot.  The remains were returned to their original resting place. 

See Associated Press, Men ‘Just Thought We Had A Right’ To Move Family Members’ Graves, The Huffington Post, Aug. 15, 2014.

August 18, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)