Tuesday, July 28, 2015
When Whitney Houston died, no one expected that a battle over her estate would emerge as everything had been left to the her daughter Bobbi Kristina. However, tragedy struck and with Bobbi Kristina's death there is likely to be a battle over the estimated $20 million estate that is currently held in trust. Under Whitney Houston's will, the estate passes to her mother and brothers in the event that her daughter dies but it will not likely be as simple as that. Any money already distributed to Bobbi Kristina will likely pass to her father, Bobby Brown, as her sole heir, although Brown is not likely to have a claim on the trust corpus. But the greatest threat for an estate fight comes from her boyfriend, Nick Gordon, who claims that he and Bobbi were married although he has yet to produce any documentation of the marriage. I will keep you updated as this story develops.
See Maria Puente, Who will inherit Whitney Houston's millions?, USA Today, July 27, 2015.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Allegations of undue influence can often be a reason people contest a Will. This article is about an ongoing Will contest dispute in Ireland over an estate that could be worth “between €283,000 and half million.” The decedents sisters and brother-in-law are seeking to have the Will declared invalid claiming that Celine Murphy was subjected to duress and undue influence. Latin Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox along with the sole beneficiary Mary Butler are both seeking to have the Will declared valid claiming that Ms. Murphy was of sound mind. Bishop Cox testified before an Irish High Court that he signed and witnessed the Will when it was presented to him by the decedent.
See Tim Healy, Woman whose Will is contested by sisters had document prepared: ‘All we had to do was sign and witness it’- Bishop tells court, Independent.ie, July 23, 2015.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Things can get complicated when planning for the estates of blended families, and with the number of remarriages on the rise these issues are going to become more common. One of the biggest issues that people in blended families face is planning where their assets will be distributed after they die. This article offers some estate planning advice for blended families.
Getting the beneficiary designations right is crucial for making sure property is correctly distributed. It is common for remarried couples to use revocable or irrevocable trusts to spell out distributions. Having a prenuptial agreement is also good way to make sure estate planning is done right. People should also not forget to make plans for issues like guardianship or power of attorney in the event someone loses capacity. These are all issues a person needs to consider when designing an estate plan for a blended family.
See Judy Martel, Estate Planning Tips For Your Blended Family, Forbes, June 23, 2015.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
The recession has taken a toll on the amount of revenue that State governments are able to generate. States have been slashing spending in a number of different areas, including courts. Many states that have suffered from revenue shortages have been raising probate fees. Probate courts have been raising fees to stay open while states are losing revenue and cutting spending. Connecticut is currently the state with the highest probate fees, and New Jersey and North Carolina are up in the top as well. Probate fees are not the only court costs that have gone up, many other court fees have been increasing as well in order to cover operating costs.
See Liz Skinner, Cost of settling estates rising as states hunt for more revenue, Investment News, July 16, 2015.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The Georgia Supreme Court has recently ruled on the issue of virtual adoption. Virtual adoption involves a person orally agreeing to adopt someone and all parties acting on it. This type of adoption is not the same as legal or statutory adoption. The equitable doctrine of virtual adoption has no effect if a person disposes of their assets through a will, the decedent has to die intestate for it to apply. The Court stated that “intestacy requirement is completely consistent with the law of equitable or virtual adoption in other states.” The Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion can be read here.
See Luke Lantta, Virtual Adoption Requires Intestacy, Bryan Cave Fiduciary Litigation, July 15, 2015.
An Illinois Court has sentenced a man to six years in prison for failing to disclose that his niece was married at the time of her death in a tragic car accident. Bangaly Sylla was the court appointed executor of his niece’s estate when he falsely told the court that his niece was not married. Hawa Sissoko was killed when she was struck by a Roadway Express truck. Her family was able to secure a $4.25 million judgment for her loss. Sylla’s false claim was discovered when attorneys for Roadway Express began to suspect she was married and that her husband was the sole heir. This six year sentence is a unique situation where the court was given direct proof of Bangaly Sylla’s false claim, the court has sentenced him on contempt charges.
See Man gets 6 years in prison for lying about niece’s heirs, My Fox Chicago, July 14, 2015.
Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.
Monday, July 6, 2015
When Thomas Carroll died, the will left the estate to his wife and, if she were dead, the residuary to a trust created for the benefit of the wife's niece and nephew. However, he died a month after the couple divorced which, under Florida law, voided any provisions in favor of the spouse and treats the former spouse as having predeceased on the date of the dissolution. His mother sought to take Carroll's estate under intestacy but two lower courts ruled the wife legally predeceased the husband and the niece and nephew would inherit.
In Carroll v. Israelson, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court ruling that state law clearly voids any provisions in favor of the former spouse. A court will not be allowed to use the legal fiction created in the statute, which treats the former spouse as predeceasing, as a get around to a voided will provision. As a result, the niece and nephew would not be the beneficiaries of a trust and the estate would pass under other provisions of the will or intestacy.
See Brian Spiro, "Legal Gymnastics" Not Allowed to Re-Write Will After Divorce and Death, Clark Skatoff, July 2, 2015.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The American Bar Association is presenting a CLE entitled Live From Skill Training: Planning for the Probate Contest, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 5:00-6:30 p.m. Eastern, online. This is a webcast of one of the sessions of the Skills Training for Estate Planners program held at the New York Law School.
Here is why you should attend:
Although many estate planning arrangements are implemented without controversy, given family dynamics involved in such planning, drafting attorneys should be mindful of the possibility that family members will disagree. Those who are dissatisfied with an estate plan may resort to court proceedings. This segment of the STEP program will introduce attendees to the essential concepts of probate litigation, including will and trust disputes, contests, and fiduciary litigation. Those engaged in the estate planning process should be aware of the manner in which probate litigation arises so that they can plan to avoid such disputes (as much as possible). After reviewing those concepts, this segment will explore some of the planning approaches that can be pursued to avoid probate litigation.
Monday, June 29, 2015
David Horton (Professor, University of California, Davis - School of Law), recently published an article entitled, In Partial Defense of Probate: Evidence from Alameda County, California, 103 Georgetown Law Journal 605 (2015). Provided below is an abstract of the article:
For five decades, probate — the court-supervised administration of decedents’ estates — has been condemned as unnecessary, slow, expensive, and intrusive. This backlash has transformed succession in the U.S., as probate avoidance has become a booming industry and contract-like devices such as life insurance, transfer-on-death accounts, and revocable trusts have become the primary engines of intergenerational wealth transmission. Despite this hunger to privatize the inheritance process, we know very little about what happens in contemporary probate court. This Article improves our understanding of this issue by surveying every estate administration stemming from individuals who died in Alameda County, California in 2007. This original dataset of 668 cases challenges some of the most entrenched beliefs about probate. For one, although succession is widely seen as a tranquil process in which beneficiaries settle disputes amicably and pay a decedent’s debts voluntarily, both litigation and creditor’s claims are common. In addition, attorneys’ and personal representatives’ fees are far lower than assumed. The Article then uses these insights to critique the demand for probate avoidance, to contend that probate’s cautious approach to creditors should also govern non-probate transfers, and to suggest reforms to the probate process.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
The Tuareg people of North Africa have evolved unique customs when it comes to women's rights, among them being an emphasis on the female bloodline for inheritance. Any children from a marriage are considered to be of the mother's line and will have inheritance privileges based on that connection. The female line is favored due to the belief that a child's paternity is without doubt when it comes to a mother and is a more reliable method to track bloodlines than through the father. This is in stark contrast to the use of male preference inheritance rights that dominates the surrounding regions and truly sets the Tuareg apart in a unique way.
See Flora Drury, Sex and the Sahara: Striking photographs of the mysterious Islamic tribe..., Daily Mail, June 24, 2015.
Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.