Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dead Could Be Brought 'Back To Life' in Groundbreaking Project

Universal-Frankenstein-07-11-16Health watchdogs approved a groundbreaking trial aimed at regenerating brain tissue in individuals who have been declared clinically dead. Scientists plan to inject comatose patients with stem cells and a combination of peptides, along with implementing some nerve stimulation techniques, in order to repair brain damage. These techniques have had some past success in reviving patients from comas.

The trial participants have been certified as being brain-dead and are kept alive through life-support. The team undertaking the experiment has officially received approval for their first twenty subjects. They are currently working with the hospital to identify any potential conflicts with patients' families who may oppose the endeavor due to religious or other medical concerns. Dr. Sergei Paylian sees the possible benefits of the study: “Through our study, we will gain unique insights into the state of human brain death, which will have important connections to future therapeutic development for other severe disorders of consciousness, such as coma, and the vegetative and minimally conscious states, as well as a range of degenerative CNS conditions, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.”

See Sarah Knapton, Dead Could Be Brought 'Back To Life' in Groundbreaking Project, The Telegraph, May 3, 2016.

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

July 19, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Prince Estate’s $31 Million Distribution Deal Is Rescinded

PrincePrince's estate had been working with Universal Studios to cement a deal that would give Universal distribution rights to a substantial portion of the music artist's vast catalog. The deal has been turbulent at best, with Universal accusing estate representatives of fraud and misrepresentation. Thursday, Judge Kevin W. Eide issued an order approving Universal's request to rescind a finalized deal filed by Commercial Bank & Trust, the bank acting as administrator of Prince's estate. The order leaves Prince's estate absent the $31 million agreement and also burdens it with a fair degree of uncertainty. Warner Bros. disputed Universal's claims to distribution rights and argued they were entitled to those rights based on a prior contract with Prince. Due to a confidentiality clause, Universal was not aware of the conflict until the final papers had been signed. Because it remains unclear as to who really owns what rights and until when, industry lawyers believe the estate may have a difficult time finding future buyers.

See Ben Sisario, Prince Estate’s $31 Million Distribution Deal Is Rescinded, The New York Times, July 13, 2017.

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

July 19, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Gentler Symptoms of Dying

GentleDeath can be a difficult process to watch; some deaths more so than others. The death rattle, the sound of the lungs attempting to draw in air through a layer of inhaled saliva, can cause alarm in  many witnesses. With terminal agitation, a dying patient will inexplicably scream and yell in anger, muscles may twitch or spasm, and the body can appear tormented. While terrible to view, difficult and belabored deaths are not necessarily the norm.



The human body's parts are mercifully dependent on one another; the failure of one organ reverberates throughout the entire system. As organs in the torso begin to fail, the direct effect is a similar failing of function in the brain. With this final loss of function, the dying tend to slip slowly into unawareness and then from life. A mysterious exception to this process is known as "terminal lucidity". This is characterized as a short period of lucidity and vibrancy preceding death. This near-miraculous occurrence has been well-documented. In 1922, a 26-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with severe mental disabilities suddenly began singing for half an hour prior to her death. The patient had not spoken a single word for years. The event was witnessed by two prominent physicians and later recounted, separately and during multiple interviews, with identical descriptions. Events of terminal lucidity date back as far as Hippocrates and Plutarch. Nearly 90% of these incidents occur within a week of death. Of these, almost half are witnessed within a day of death. There are a number of theories that attempt to explain the event, but like death itself, terminal lucidity remains shrouded by a fog of mystery.



See Sara Manning, The Gentler Symptoms of Dying, The New York Times, July 11, 2017.



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

July 17, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

American Pilot's Remains Found in Tree

Gray1st Lieutenant William J. Gray Jr., an American fighter pilot during WWII, lost his life while attempting to carry out a bombing mission near Lindau, Germany in 1945. The family he left behind endured their grief without Gray's body as nothing could be recovered after Gray's plane clipped a tree and crashed. Over seventy years later, investigators working on a separate recovery mission happened upon Gray's bones embedded in the roots of a tree in Lindau. The remains were flown to Seattle, Washington and are now buried next to Gray's best friend, Jim Louvier. After the war, Louvier married Gray's sister and fulfilled a pact the pair had made to care for the other's family if one did not make it home.

See Jessica Chia, Remains of WWII Fighter Pilot Who Died During a 1945 Mission over Germany Are Found Embedded in the Root of a TREE and Returned to His Family More than 70 Years Later, DailyMail.com, July 15, 2017.

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

July 17, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pre-paid Funeral Plans Failing to Cover the Cost of Dying

Funeral planThe advent of pre-paid funeral plans has led to an industry boom fueled primarily by individuals aged fifty and over. There is a growing concern that this new market has attracted high-pressure salespeople that are forcing potential clients to make semi-involuntary purchases. Industry leaders have sounded the familiar call seeking the benevolent hand of government to reach down to protect these unwitting babes who cannot fend for themselves.

Louise Eaton-Terry, a funeral expert at insurer Royal London, has argued that tough action is needed to protect customers from misleading sales practices. “It’s absolutely right that consumers should be protected from misleading sales practices when purchasing a funeral plan,” she said.

See Angela Monaghan, Pre-paid Funeral Plans Failing to Cover the Cost of Dying, The Guardian, July 8, 2017.

July 10, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Infant's Casket Was Dumped on Sidewalk by Funeral Home Employee

CasketPhiladelphia police have confirmed that a small casket containing the embalmed remains of an infant was left on the sidewalk by an employee of a New Jersey funeral home. The remains were the organs of a child aged three to four months. They had been removed as part of a previously ordered autopsy. The director of the funeral home in question called the Philadelphia police on Tuesday and let them know one of his employees admitted to dumping the casket.

It is believed that the casket originally held both the organs and the body of the infant. When attempting to bury the first casket, funeral workers noticed a broken hinge and transferred the infant’s body to a new casket. It is unclear why the organs were left in the damaged casket. It is even less clear as to why they were left on a sidewalk in Philadelphia. The police have contacted the infant’s family and they are understandably upset. Though there are plans to reunite the infant’s organs with the body, an exhumation will be required.

See Crimesider Staff, Cops: Infant's Casket Was Dumped on Sidewalk by Funeral Home Employee, CBS News, July 6, 2017.

July 9, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Patient Is 93 and Has Pneumonia. It's Time to Talk About Her Death

Mrs. S. is 93 years old. She is suffering from severe pneumonia. The unwieldy respirator strapped to her face is the only thing keeping her from lapsing into a coma and dying. Working as a medical registrar at a large hospital involves difficult conversations with patients and families about their options for treatment. In some cases, treatment is available and recovery is realistic. In other cases, recovery is a near impossibility and the cost in dollars and pain is onerous. This can be a difficult balance to consider for many doctors who are trained to prioritize the life of the patient. Their goal is to save a life regardless of cost. While this is an admirable quality, and certainly one we desire in most circumstances, there are occasions where this mentality can be detrimental to both the patient and their family. For Mrs. S., it is time to go. She asks that her family be sent away and the cumbersome ventilator removed; she knows what she wants and she is ready to go.

See My Patient Is 93 and Has Pneumonia. It's Time to Talk About Her Death, The Guardian, July 6, 2017.

July 6, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pet Cremation Industry Gains Popularity

Puppy iiFor many, pets are a cherished member of the family. But, when a beloved dog, cat, bird, etc. passes away, what options are available? It is currently estimated that Americans will spend nearly $70 million on their pets this year. While there is no data available to show exactly how much of that money is going towards final expenses, the pet cremation industry is currently booming. Depending on pet size, cremation service costs vary from $200 to $300 and up. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, at least 17% of funeral homes in the U.S. now offer pet cremation services, and another 13% plan to do so soon.

See Kelly Choate, Pet Cremation Industry Gains Popularity, PA Homepage, June 23, 2017.

July 6, 2017 in Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Priceless Burden: Indigent Burials at Leon County's 'Pauper's Cemetery'

636338247022519562-IMG-0578Resting behind a rusting red gate and situated just off a dry dirt road is Leon Serenity Cemetery. The landscape is markedly absent engraved marble headstones and bright bouquets of flowers decorating gravesites. This barren resting place is reserved for the unidentified and the indigent.

The death of a loved one is always an emotional struggle, but that struggle is many times paired with financial strain. Funerals are expensive. In 2014, the national median cost of a funeral was $7,181. Embalming and preparation of a body may cost as much as $1,000 alone. With costs increasing, Leon County has seen a rise in those passing without the necessary funds even for a simple burial. To accommodate, the county’s 2017 burial budget was raised from $34,415 to $64,400. While this measure helps alleviate some issues, there are still considerable difficulties in covering the funeral costs of the poor and unidentified.

See Nada Hassanein, A Priceless Burden: Indigent Burials at Leon County's 'Pauper's Cemetery', Tallahassee Democrat, June 24, 2017.

July 5, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Crematory Is Booked? Japan Offers Corpse Hotels

Japansese funeralThe minimalist rooms at the Hotel Relation in Japan are simply furnished with twin beds and a flat-screen television on the wall. Each room offers plastic-wrapped toothbrushes and cups in the bathroom. A short jaunt across the hall brings you to the rooms with the corpses; this particular hotel is shared by both the living and the dead.

Many Japanese families try to avoid the expense of a large funeral and the cost of a traditional service by seeking out places like the Hotel Relation. Here, families may stay overnight with their deceased loved ones while saving on costs. These hotels starting appearing about five years ago in some of Japan’s largest cities in response to high funeral prices, the ever-growing number of deaths per year, and an overburdened system that is poorly equipped to handle the aging Japanese population. While some neighborhoods have protested the proximity of these hotels to their homes, their proliferation is likely to continue as the need for their services continues to grow.

See Mokoto Rich, Crematory Is Booked? Japan Offers Corpse Hotels, The New York Times, July 1, 2017.

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

July 3, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)