Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Till Death Do You Part


After a three-year marriage and less than amicable break-up, a young couple finally moved on with their separate lives.  Now, a missing signature unites them in death. 

A 31-year-old man who died intestate left his entire estate to his estranged wife, even though the couple already split their assets.  The man’s grieving family has no rights to the assets.  At the heart of the legal battle is a missing signature.  The man’s estranged wife had served signed divorce papers on him months before his death but had not signed them.  Thus, upon the man’s death he was still legally married, and the remainder of his estate went to his estranged wife. 

The man’s new partner said his father was left “heartbroken” over the dispute.  She will ask the court to grant an order giving her a share of the estate.  “I’m not by any means money-driven but I think that [her late partner] would want what’s right to take place.”

See Michaela Whitbourn, Family Battle of Wills Over Missing Signature Exposes the Limitations of Estate Law, The Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 28, 2015.

March 1, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Helping Executors With Portability

WillElecting portability can be an important part of an executors duties, but the process can be daunting for executors that are not familiar with the process. In addition to the necessity to file Form 706 within nine months after the spouse's death, the length of the form alone, which totals 31 pages, can be intimidating for an executor. One way of reducing the shock and avoiding the problem of the executor simply not being aware of portability is to include a requirement for the executor to elect portability and for whom in estate-planning documents.

See Deborah L. Jacobs, The Tax Break That Doesn't Die With You, Morning Star, Feb. 27, 2015.

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

March 1, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Court Halts Proceedings in James Brown Estate

James Brown 2

I have previously discussed the ongoing estate battle between soul singer James Brown, and his alleged wife Tommie Rae Hynie.  The South Carolina Supreme Court has now ordered Aiken County court officials to stop all proceedings in the cases regarding Brown’s estate.  The order told the Aiken County Clerk to give the high court all orders issued in any action related to the James Brown estate and the marital status of Brown and Hynie. 

This order could indicate that the South Carolina Supreme Court wants to reevaluate the case, as there are many questions that need to be answered.  Yet, the lawyer for Brown’s family said the order “puts the whole case in limbo and stops everything in its tracks until the Supreme Court gives direction.”  The legal dispute has also put Brown’s foundation on hold, which was supposed to provide education to poor children in South Carolina and Georgia. 

See The Associated Press, SC Supreme Court Freezes James Brown Estate Case, The State, Feb. 26, 2015.

February 28, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Auctioning Bequest Creates Controversy for Gordon College

Gordon CollegeWhen a wealthy family bequeathed a collection of rare Bibles and Shakespeare folios to Gordon College in 1922, there was one caveat: the works must remain with the school. 

When a descendant of the late collector Edward Payson Vining learned that Gordon plans to auction off ten percent of the 7,000 volumes, he was shocked.  “I know [Vining] would want the books to be there,” said Vining’s great-granddaughter, Sandra Webber. 

The planned sale has spread unease among the campus, leading some faculty to question the leadership of the college’s president, D. Michael Lindsay.  The administration was left out of the decision to auction off the works.  Yet, some administrators say that selling a portion of the collection is necessary to afford preserving the rest of the books.

Meanwhile, the collection is listed in a full-color advertisement of the auction house Doyle New York.  The auction has been scheduled for April, but the college postponed it until the fall.

See Laura Krantz, Gordon College’s Bid to Auction Books Creates Uproar, Boston Globe, Feb. 26, 2015.

February 27, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Elizabeth Taylor's Diamond Dispute

DiamondsThe estate of Elizabeth Taylor is currently in a dispute with Christie’s auction house over the actress’s heart-shaped “Taj Mahal” diamond, which is set inside a ruby border of a pendant given to Taylor by then-husband Richard Burton in 1972 for her 40th birthday. 

In 2011, the auction house sold the piece of jewelry for $8.8 million to an anonymous buyer following Taylor’s death.  The buyer demanded the sale be canceled months later based on the belief that the stone was not from the Mughal period.  According to the lawsuit filed by trustees of Taylor’s estate, Christie’s canceled the sale even though the auction house never guaranteed the age of the diamond, only that it was of Indian origin. 

Court documents indicate that Christie’s had demanded the trustees return more than $7 million it received from the sale, while the trustees allege Christie’s violated its agreement to auction off the estate and did so only to keep relations with a “VIP customer.”  The trustees further claim they have not received money for other items that were auctioned.  All proceeds from the auction went to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

See Taryn Ryder, Elizabeth Taylor’s $8 Million Diamond Drama, Yahoo, Feb. 26, 2015.

February 27, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

L'Oreal Heiress Takes Center Stage in Courtroom Battle

Loreal Heiress

Liliane Bettencourt, the 92-year-old heir to the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune, is at the center of a courtroom battle in southwestern France, where prosecutors and defense lawyers paint vastly different portraits of Ms. Bettencourt. 

The case is the universal story of any wealth family with an elderly relative who fluctuates between independence and vulnerability.  Prosecutors allege that her age, the beginnings of dementia, and a daily medical regimen of 56 pills, invited exploitation.  So when French photographer, Francois-Marie Banier gained the largest share of her fortune ($1.13 billion), eyebrows raised.  “Liliane wanted to do things for me, to ease my life,” testified the photographer, who is facing three years in prison.  Mr. Banier’s lawyers argued that Mrs. Bettencourt made calculated choices and challenged the notion she was showing signs of dementia when she gave away lavish gifts. 

Also on trial are Mr. Banier’s friend, Martin d’Orgeval, Patrice de Maistre, and Jean-Michel Normand.  The list also includes a lawyer, a businessman, the former manager of Mrs. Bettencourt’s private island and her onetime nurse, Alain Thurin.  Investigators say they believe the amount of money taken from Mrs. Bettencourt totals more than €1 billion from a variety of schemes. 

The trial ended on Wednesday, and a panel of judges said it would announce its verdict on May 28. 

See Doreen Carvajal, In Case of L’Oreal Heiress, a Private World of Wealth Becomes Public, The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2015.

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

February 27, 2015 in Disability Planning - Property Management, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Reintegrating the Wealth Transmission System

Melanie_LeslieMelanie B. Leslie (Professor of Law and Vice Dean, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law) and Stewart E. Sterk (Mack Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law) recently published an article entitled, Revisiting the Revolution: Reintegrating the Wealth Transmission System, 56 B.C.L. Rev. 61 (2015). Provided below is the abstract from the article:

Thirty years ago, John Langbein published “The Nonprobate Revolution and the Future of Succession.” The article celebrated testators’ newfound ability to avoid the expense and delay of the probate court system by holding assets in a variety of non-probate devices, such as retirement and bank accounts with beneficiary designations and revocable trusts. Langbein highlighted problems the revolution might generate and predicted how they might be resolved. Since then, significant problems have indeed developed. First, wills law doctrines designed to effectuate intent of testators have not been universally extended to non-probate transfers. Second, the fragmentation of the wealth transmission process has created coordination problems that did not exist when almost all of a decedent’s assets passed through the decedent’s probate estate. This has increased opportunities for attorney error. Even when attorneys get it right, rogue clients can easily undermine a carefully constructed estate plan, and the law does not always allow courts to correct these errors. Third, the non-probate system increases the potential for wrongful takers to dissipate assets before rightful beneficiaries have an opportunity to make claims to those assets. As we explain, neither lawyers, financial institutions nor the legal system have successfully resolved these issues. We advance several proposals that might ameliorate the costs of the non-probate system, such as conferring broader power on estate executors to coordinate non-probate assets, and a voluntary registration system that would reduce the risk of inadvertent conflicts among wealth transmission documents.

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

February 27, 2015 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fitness Star Greg Plitt Dies Intestate

Greg plitt

When Bravo T.V. fitness star Gregg Plitt was tragically hit and killed by a commuter train while shooting a sports drink commercial last month, he did not have a will.  Now, Plitt’s family is trying to ensure his $800,000 estate ends up in the right hands. 

The 37-year-old did not have a spouse or child when he died, and according to court documents, his father filed a petition to control his son’s estate. Regardless as to whether a petition is filed, the California intestacy statute requires that his parents will share his estate.

See Bravo’s Greg Plitt Had $800K in the Bank…But No Will, TMZ, Feb. 24, 2015.

See also Jay Brinker, Greg Plitt’s Final Run, Jay Brinker, Attorney, Feb. 24, 2015.

Special thanks to Jay Brinker (an Ohio attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 26, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Family Discovers Forged Will

Last will and testament

The family of a man who died of cancer said he would be “turning in his grave” if he knew his partner had forged his will for her benefit. 

Terence Powell’s family feels “violated” by the fraud committed by the late man’s partner, Ingrid Lee and her ex-husband, Chris Lee.  Mr. Powell’s children say the forged will stripped them of their inheritance and did not reflect their father’s dying wishes.   The family is still unsure as to what has happened to the bulk of his estate, and have been told to “expect nothing.” 

Mr. Powell told his son Simon that he created a will in 2007 and that “everyone would be looked after.”  Yet, this will was never found.  When Mr. Powell passed, Lee had a piece of paper claiming it was her partner’s wishes.  Mr. Powell’s family became suspicious after they saw some of his possessions for sale on eBay.  A handwriting expert looked at the will, and ultimately determined it was not the handwriting of Mr. Powell. 

See James Connell, “Dad Would Be Turning in Grave” Over Forged Will, Malvern Gazette, Feb. 24, 2015.

February 26, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

When a Will Double Gifts

WillIt is unknown exactly what Mr. King intended to happen to his real property when he died as his will seemingly left it in fee simple to both his wife and then to his son when his wife died. After Mrs. King's death, the double gift by Mr. King's will created a legal battle between the executors of  Mrs. King's estate and Mr. King's grandchildren.

In Thompson v. Blackwell, the bequests to Mrs. King was interpreted as a life estate by the Georgia Supreme Court, which reasoned that the contradictory language and the order of the gifts showed that Mr. King intended that his wife receive only a life estate in the property.

See Luke Lantta, Giving the Same Property Twice in a Will, Bryan Cave Fiduciary Litigation, Feb. 25, 2015.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 26, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)