Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lawsuit By Former Girlfriend Alleges That Sumner Redstone Is Unable To Make Decisions

Sumner redstoneA former girlfriend of billionaire Sumner Redstone has filed a lawsuit alleging that the 92-year-old media mogul is mentally impaired and unable to make decisions. The lawsuit questions his ability to continue to oversee Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., which are the two media companies that Mr. Redstone controls. An attorney for Sumner Redstone has called the lawsuit “meritless” and described it as an “invasion of privacy.” Mr. Redstone is currently estimated to be worth $5.5 billion and much of his wealth is tied up in Viacom and CBS stock. Manuela Herzer was in charge of Redstone's advance healthcare directive until his decision in October to expel her from his home and life. A preliminary hearing on the lawsuit was held Wednesday morning and the sitting judge has set a scheduling conference to be held on Monday.

See Meg James, Billionaire Sumner Redstone unable to make decisions, says lawsuit by ex-girlfriend, The Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2015.

November 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Guardianship, Television, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Superman Case Returns To 9th Circuit

Superman-9The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is once again hearing a case dealing with the rights to the “Superman” franchise.  In 2004, Laura Siegel Larson filed a lawsuit over a rights agreement that her father and franchise co-creator Jerome Siegel had entered into with DC Comics and Warner Bros. in 1938.  The 9th circuit court had held in January 2013 that Warner Bros. owned the Superman character and that a letter from a Siegel family attorney was sufficient to show a valid contract.  The issue on the table at this current hearing concerns whether Larson was entitled to a rescission of the agreement.  The 9th Circuit Court panel that is hearing the case has not given any indication about how they intend to rule. 

See Katherine Proctor, ‘Superman’ Rights Fight Returns to 9th Circuit, Courthouse News Service, November 3, 2015.  

November 5, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

How To Deal With Intellectual Property In Estate Planning

CopyrightIntellectual property is an umbrella term that can include different aspects of law dealing with things like trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.  The United States Constitution gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over patent and copyright laws to "promote the progress of science and useful arts."  Any copyright created after the year 1978 is generally good for the life of the author plus 70 years.  It is important to remember that when passing a copyright or patent to an heir the testator should specifically mention it.  Possessing a copyright can give a person the means to control how a work is used.  Owning a patent or copyright can be lucrative and it is essential to make sure the the estate planning for these tools are done right so that the heir can receive the full benefit. 

See Intellectual Property in Estate Planning, Wealth Management, October 29, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

November 1, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Music, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tolkien Estate Involved In Copyright Dispute With Warner Brothers

Peter jacksonA recent judicial memorandum filed Wednesday leaves the door open for Warner Brothers and the estate of legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien to continue a legal dispute over the marketing of products associated with ‘The Lord of The Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit.’  The Tolkien estate filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Warner Bros. claiming that the company exceeded the limits of the licensing agreement.  When Warner Bros. counter sued the Tolkien estate tried to get the claim dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP statute.  In 2013, a U.S. District Court denied the Estate’s request for dismissal and the 9th Circuit Court has recently upheld the district court decision. 

See Mark Sommer, Appeals court decision reopens Warner Bros. and Tolkien Estate battle, Examiner, October 29, 2015.

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

October 30, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trust Agreement Places Restrictions On Robin Williams' Likeness For 25 Years After His Death

Robin williamsWhen Robin Williams tragically passed away in 2014 the actor left behind an estate that was worth $100 million.  A trust agreement that was recently made public contains a clause that stipulates Robin William’s likeness will not be used to make money for 25 years after his death.  This restriction prevents his name, photograph, voice or signature from being used in any films, advertisements, or endorsements.  Hollywood celebrities are becoming increasingly conscientious about how their image will be used after they die.  Because of advancements in digital technology filmmakers are now able to find creative ways to use a deceased person’s voice or image.  It will become more important in the future for high profile celebrities to consider how their likeness will be used when creating an estate plan.  Planning ahead can give a person more control over how their likeness will be used.

See Natalie Robehmed, Why Robin Williams Won’t Be Making Millions Beyond The Grave, Forbes, October 27, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

October 28, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Technology, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Netflix Being Sued Over ‘Bicycle Thief’

Bicycle thiefNetflix is now involved in an international lawsuit concerning the classic Italian film Bicycle Thief.  Director Vittorio De Sica’s work is considered by many film critics to be one of the greatest films of all time.  The movie has been in the public domain for over three decades because two parties that were involved in a dispute failed to renew the film’s copyright.  The lawsuit that Corinth Films has filed acknowledges the 1985 ruling, but it points out that the judge in that time left open the possibility that a dubbed or subtitled version of the film might still be under copyright.  The plaintiffs are seeking both an injunction and monetary damages from the defendants.

See Eriq Gardner, Netflix Hit With Copyright Lawsuit Over Classic Italian Film ‘Bicycle Thief,’ The Hollywood Reporter, October 22, 2015.

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

October 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Settlement Reached In Copyright Dispute Over 'Mr. Holmes'

Mr holmesThe estate of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle has arrived at a settlement agreement with the creators of the recent movie "Mr. Holmes."  The estate claimed that the recent film infringed on stories that were still under copyright.  The lawsuit was filed against Miramax, Roadside Attractions, and Condon in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.  The movie starring Ian McKellen depicts an elderly retired Sherlock Holmes looking back on his life and getting involved in a new case.  Benjamin Allison, an attorney for the Doyle estate, announced in September that a settlement had been reached between the estate and the makers of the film.  Most of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes works are in the public domain, but there are currently ten works published between 1923 and 1927 that remain under copyright.  

See Ted Johnson, 'Mr. Holmes' Copyright Lawsuit Settled, Variety, October 9, 2015. 



October 10, 2015 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Celebrities Should Be Careful When Planning Their Estates

Oscar-statueThis article discusses some of the unique financial situations that wealthy celebrities often find themselves in.  Often times drafting a simple will is not enough when there are vast amounts of assets that are at stake in a probate dispute.  This article provides a few examples of famous deceased celebrities that had bitter estate battles because they did not adequately plan for their death.  In many circumstance celebrities will fail to accurately measure the value of their name and likeness.  There are also many examples of young celebrities who make bad estate planning decisions because they came into wealth so suddenly.  Some of the estate planning tools that young newly rich celebrities should consider using include things like revocable trusts and having prenuptial agreements if they happen to get married.  

See Anthony Greco, Woe The Weak-Willed Celebrity, Private Wealth, September 11, 2015.

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

September 11, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Music, Television, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Estate Planning For Wealthy Celebrities

HollywoodThe unique financial situation that many wealthy actors and musicians face often requires sophisticated advanced planning strategies.  Because of the media spotlight a wealthy celebrities spending habits can become public knowledge.  Celebrities often derive their wealth from many different sources that can include copyrights, trademarks, interests in certain productions, and royalties.  Heirs of celebrities can face many problems if the decedent did not plan properly.  Captive insurance companies can be a useful way to address certain risks with the wealth celebrities generate.  There are many ways a celebrity can structure the terms of their insurance plan in order to obtain certain tax benefits.  It is important for celebrities to work with a high caliber estate planner to develop a plan that fits with their individual needs and circumstances. 

See Russ Alan Prince, Ultra-Wealthy Entertainers Need Specialized Estate And Asset Protection Planning, Forbes, September 9, 2015.

September 10, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Music, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Murderer’s Family Faces Court Battle Over Inheritance

Beautiful and twistedIt has been six years since businessman Ben Novack Jr. was found brutally murdered in his hotel room in Westchester New York.  The businessman’s wife, Narcy Novack, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for hiring hit men to murder both her husband and her husband’s 86-year-old mother.  The brutal killings were inspiration for the 2015 Lifetime movie “Beautiful & Twisted,” which starred both Rob Lowe and Candice Bergen.  The probate court had initially treated Narcy as having predeceased Ben as stipulated by Florida’s Slayer Statute.  According to Ben’s will the estate would then pass to Narcy’s daughter from a previous marriage as well as her two children.  The businessman’s cousins are now trying to challenge the will in court, alleging that Ben was coerced into altering the will so that her progeny could inherit the estate. 

See Izzy Kapnick, Murderer’s Family Faces Roadblock To Inheritance, Courthouse News Service, August 07, 2015.  

August 12, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)