Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Questions Remain in Joan Rivers' Death

Joan rivers

Although Joan Rivers passed away on September 4th, details surrounding her death are still unfolding.  According to the Guardian Liberty Voice of Las Vegas, Rivers was undergoing endoscopic surgery at a clinic in New York when her respiratory system became compromised.  She was then rushed into the emergency room where she fell into a coma and placed on life support.  Shortly thereafter, her daughter Melissa authorized medical staff to discontinue life support.  New York health officials are continuing to investigate the clinic where Rivers’ final surgical procedure occurred. 

“It is very likely that Melissa Rivers was following the wish of her mother when she took her off life support . . . In New York, relatives cannot make end of life decisions automatically.  An advance directive must be in place and proper procedure must be followed prior to execution.  In this case, we can assume that Rivers had planned ahead.”

Rivers was outspoken about aging, death and estate taxation.  She once said that show business had hardened her to the point that she was not afraid of dying.  Thus, it is fair to say that Joan Rivers was not shy when it came to estate planning.  While her death may have come as a shock to fans, it was something that Rivers was ready to face, and planned in advance.  

See UltraTrust.com Exposes Postmortem Why Joan Rivers Joked About Her Estate Plan and Paying Taxes—Now Estimated at $45M, Insurance News Net, Sept. 18, 2014. 

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

September 19, 2014 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tom Clancy's Estate in Dispute

Tom clancy

Tom Clancy left behind an estate worth $83 million when he died in 2013.  Now, his widow’s lawyers are in court disputing that she should be exempt from the $6 million in taxes. 

The lawyers argue that rather than have Clancy’s widow, Alexandra, pay the taxes, the burden should shift to the four children from his first marriage.  Alexandra Clancy is the “sole or main” beneficiary of two-thirds of the estate.  Clancy’s executor previously declared that the $6 million in taxes would be paid by Alexandra’s trust.  However, her attorneys allege that Clancy modified his will a few months before his death to protect his wife from paying the taxes. 

A lawyer for the four adult children commented, “Obviously, we would hope that the original determination by the personal representative is the correct one, because it would be more detrimental to my clients if it were not.”

See Carolyn Kellogg, Tom Clancy’s $83-Million Estate Prompts Family Tax Dispute, LA Times, Sept. 18, 2014.

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

September 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Prince Harry Inherits Remainder of Princess Diana's Estate

Princess diana

Prince Harry, the son of iconic Princess Diana, finally turned thirty.  While this is a significant milestone in itself, it is even more momentous because Harry is now entitled to receive the remaining half of his mother’s assets.

After Diana passed away in August 1997, her mother and sister were named the executors of her estate.  The probate filings revealed that Diana left behind assets valued around £21 million (about 31.5 million in USD at the time), netting £17 million after estate taxes. Although Diana’s will called for the assets to be held in trust for her sons, William and Harry, until they turned 25, Diana’s executors petitioned the probate court for a “variance” of the will.  They successfully obtained the variance, which included a delay of the distributions to William and Harry until they each turned 30. 

Diana also addressed the distribution of her personal property in her will, directing the executors “to give effect as soon as possible but not later than two years following my death to any written memorandum or notes of wishes of mine.”  Diana wrote a Letter of Wishes, requesting all of her jewelry and three-fourths of her chattels pass to her sons, with the rest to her godchildren.  The court allowed the executors to ignore the Letter of Wishes because it did not contain certain language required by British Law and Diana’s mother and sister had discretion whether or not to honor her wishes. 

 While we can only speculate on how Diana may have felt about this, the lesson to be learned is that no one should ever rely on a letter, not or other informal writing to pass along significant assets.

See Danielle and Andy Mayoras, As Remainder of Princess Diana’s Estate Passes To Harry, Troubling  Questions Remain, Forbes, Sept. 16, 2014.

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

September 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tom Clancy’s Estate Feuding Over Estate Tax

TomClancyRainbowSixThe family of the late techno-thriller author, Tom Clancy, is in the midst of a legal battle over estate taxes. Clancy’s wife, Alexandra Clancy, brought the suit in an attempt to have all taxes against Clancy’s estate, estimated to be $16 million, taken out of the share received by Clancy’s four children from a previous marriage. Alexandra Clancy claims that it was Clancy’s intention for her portion of his $83 million estate to fall under the marital exception and completely exempt her from tax liability. The personal representative for Clancy’s estate has until October 17, to respond.

See Scott Calvert, Tax Battle Brews Over Tom Clancy’s $83 Million Estate, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2014.

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

September 18, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

4 Essential Inheritance Skills


Wealth advisors often encourage parents to create a trust when leaving money to their children.  With a trust, you and your spouse can appoint a wise trustee who will be given discretion to assess whether children are able to handle receiving money from the trust.  Yet, the question then arises, what should trustees look for to make this assessment?  How do parents know if their children can handle substantial sums of money?  Below are four critical skills children need to develop before they are ready to receive money form their parents or a trust. 

  1. Earn their own money.  A number of grown children said it was not until they earned their own income and lived within their means that they reached the point they felt like their own person.
  2. Setting and pursuing goals.  Encourage children to find jobs that they enjoy, but stick through the rough patches early in their careers and stay in jobs long enough to learn what they love and what they do not love.
  3. Having a sense of self-worth.  Inheritors should have a sense of a core identity that was built upon their own accomplishments and choices in life rather than on what had been given to them. 
  4. Having resilience and determination.  Children must learn how to deal with setbacks and plow through them on their own.  Furthermore, they must understand the consequences on their own and figure out how to move on. 

See Covie Edwards-Pitt, 4 Critical Skills Your Child Needs to Develop Before Inheriting Your Money, Forbes, Sept. 15, 2014.


September 17, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

End of Life Plans Made Easy With LastingMatters Organizer


End of life decisions are difficult conversations to have with family and friends, and thus, avoided by many people for fear of placing an undue burden on their loved ones. While children, attorneys, and financial advisors often ask, people still find it difficult to discuss medical and financial directives.  They simultaneously overlook significant issues frequently arising after death. 

Barbara Sedoric has crafted a innovative solution to help families decipher the important details when the unthinkable does occur.  The LastingMatters Organizer enables individuals to document and leave all-inclusive and easy-to-use instructions (in print or online) that can inform and guide their loved ones after death.  Topics covered range from funeral plans and obituaries, to online passwords and details concerning family traditions and genealogy. 

The Organizer is a tool that can help anyone, at any age, by diminishing the costs, time, and the stress of family pressures surrounding the grieving process. Conversely, the graphics, the pointed questions, and the Organizer’s thoroughness make it easy and intuitive for someone to complete.

Special thanks to Barbara Sedoric (LastingMatters President and Founder) for bringing this to my attention.

September 16, 2014 in Books, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Planning With A Bypass Trust


The bypass trust is a common estate-planning tool for marital estates where the couple’s potential combined taxable estates exceeds the exemption equivalent for one of the spouses. 

Utilizing the bypass trust involves balancing the estates in terms of value pre-death and then each spouse having a will that mirrors the other spouse’s will.  The wills then divide each spouse’s property into two shares.  One share is tied to the size of the applicable exclusion and the other is left outright to the surviving spouse and qualifies in the first spouse’s estate for the marital deduction.   This strategy zeroes out the estate tax in the first spouse’s estate and minimizes the tax in the survivor’s estate. 

While the bypass trust is an effective strategy, it may not be best for you or your client.  There are several things to look for that may make utilization of portability and a simple will a better approach.  If the children are all adults and can handle large bequests, a trust may not be necessary.  Moreover, portability may be the way to go if the parents reside in a state that does not have an estate or inheritance tax.

See Roger A. McEowen, Should a Bypass Trust be Used as Estate Planning Tool? Agriview, Sept. 5, 2014.

September 16, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Shocking Depositions Taken in Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ Lawsuit Against Marvin Gaye’s Estate

GavelAs I have previously discussed, after Marvin Gaye’s estate threatened legal action against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for intentional copyright infringement of Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up”, Thicke and Williams replied with a preemptive lawsuit. Depositions for the lawsuit were taken from Thick and Williams in April. In Thicke’s deposition, he explains under oath that he had little to do with the creation of the song "Blurred Lines", but chose to take credit for the hit after the fact. Thicke blamed his behavior and comments made to the press regarding wanting to make a song like Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up,’ on heavy drug and alcohol use at the time.

See Sean O’Neal, Robin Thicke Says He Can’t be Blamed for “Blurred Lines” Because He Was High, AV Club, Sept. 15, 2014.

September 16, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sibling Rivalry Over Secret Probate of Inheritance

Gavel2Thomas and Terrance Bean, two sons of the late Gerald Bean who owned Toyota Kendall and Lexus Kendall car dealerships, recently won a victory in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The legal fight involves the $250 million to $400 million Bean estate.  When Gerald Bean died in 2011, he left a large trust to his wife with instructions for his children to get a share after she died.  Thomas and Terrance allege that their sister, Lorraine Bean, unduly influenced their mother who suffered from dementia, and had their mother disinherit all of her children except Lorraine. The brothers also accused Lorraine of going behind their backs , misrepresenting to a probate judge that they agreed with the will, and having the court file sealed. The brothers’ successfully had the file unsealed.

See John Pacenti, Siblings at War Over Kendall Toyota Inheritance, Daily Business Review, Sept. 12, 2014.

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

September 16, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Common Estate Planning Mistakes


While creating an estate plan is not at the top of everyone’s to-do list, it is important.  Yet, oftentimes when people do get around to making their after-death arrangements, there are a multitude of ways they can stumble.  Below are some classic estate planning mistakes people tend to make, so you will know what not to do when it comes to your own plan.

  1. Assuming Estate Plans Are Only for Wealthy.  Estate planning is for anyone who wants to know what will happen to their end-of-life medical care, assets, children or private affairs if they become incapacitated or die.  In other words, this includes all of us.  “Absolutely everyone, 18 and older, needs an estate plan, no matter his or her net worth.”
  2. Thinking Your Finances Are Too Simple for an Estate Plan. No one’s life is as simple as it may seem, and even if it is, you should still consider putting protections in place to help ensure your wishes are known.
  3. Procrastinating on Your Estate Plan.  For peace of mind, it is best to start the process earlier.  It is a great way to reduce familial stress when you are no longer in a position to make decisions.
  4. Neglecting Digital Assets.  Do not forget to tell your loved ones about your digital assets.  This may include making arrangements to transfer passwords and digital copies of important documents.
  5. Forgetting About Your Pets. Your pets are personal property so you should take the time to spell out who will be responsible for them.  Pet trusts can help you set aside money to outline how you will pay for their care. 

See Sheryl Nance-Nash, 7 Common Estate-Planning Blunders Not to Make, Forbes, Sept. 15, 2014. 

September 15, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)