Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Brownstone's Bitter Inheritance Battle

BrownstoneBill Cornwell and Tom Doyle lived together as committed partners in a brownstone for over five decades. For most of their relationship, gay marriage was illegal, not allowing them to affirm their relationship. Two years ago, Mr. Cornwell died, bequeathing the valuable brownstone to Mr. Doyle, which is now in dispute. Mr. Cornwell’s nieces and nephews have ignored the bequest and claimed it as their inheritance, putting the brownstone up for sale at $7 million. 

Mr. Cornwell’s will was only witnessed by one person, which makes the will legally invalid because of the need for two witnesses. Without a valid will, the law requires that Mr. Cornwell’s assets pass to his next of kin—his nieces and nephews. Mr. Doyle’s argument is that the two of them were involved in a common law marriage, even though New York does not recognize this arrangement. This legal battle has left Mr. Doyle confused over those he once considered extended family.  

See Sarah Maslin Nir, A Brownstone and the Bitter Fight to Inherit It, NY Times, October 23, 2016. 

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


October 24, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Forum Non Conveniens Doctrine in Probate Litigation

Forum non conveniansThe forum non conveniens doctrine allows courts to defer jurisdiction when justice and convenience principles favor the action in another forum, further requiring a three-step analysis. In Shu v. Wang, a Taiwanese billionaire died intestate with three separate families. These families were litigating against each other over the distribution of his assets. Normally, an adequate alternative forum exists when the defendant is amenable to process in another jurisdiction and there is a cause of action that provides the plaintiff with a satisfactory redress. Ultimately, the court held that the plaintiffs could obtain a satisfactory remedy in Taiwan because two of the defendants lived there and the other consented to its jurisdiction. 

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Forum Non Conveniens in Federal Probate Litigation, Florida Probate Lawyers, October 18, 2016. 


October 20, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Heirs May Not Have to be Blood Related to Inherit Some of Prince's Estate

Prince estateIn recent legal developments, potential heirs are finding out that you may not have to be a blood relative to inherit some of Prince’s estate. Because Prince died intestate, his sister and five half-siblings will soon likely be declared as his rightful heirs. A legal wrinkle, however, will force the judge to decide whether a purported niece, grandniece, and nephew should be considered heirs. In Minnesota, there are incidents when someone can be viewed as a parent based on their familial relationship with the child. These potential descendants claim that Prince’s father treated one of Prince’s half-brothers as his son even though he was not his biological father, allowing them to inherit some of Prince’s estate. 

See Steve Karnowski, In Prince Estate Case, Blood Relation Might Be Unnecessary, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, September 29, 2016. 

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



October 1, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How to Keep Your Assets Private

PrivaterecordsThe most recent update on Prince’s estate allows the administrator to sell all six of late musician’s properties; however, this order does not protect the personal components of his life. Like Prince, when you die without a will your court filings are made public in probate court. There are several reasons why you might want this knowledge to be kept secret from the public. Particularly, heirs can be approached by scammers or targeted by criminals. Additionally, public records can invite will contests from unhappy family members. To avoid probate, you should consider probate alternatives, like revocable trusts and beneficiary designations.

 See Ettinger Law Firm, Keeping Your Life and Assets Private, New York Estate Planning Attorney Blog, September 14, 2016.

September 14, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Statute of Limitations for Adjudication of Paternity in Florida Probate

SOLIn Rose v. Sonson, a Florida court affirmed a dismissal of a petition for paternity in a probate proceeding in which the child’s paternity claim was time barred by the statute of limitations. An adjudication of paternity must be sought within four years from the time the child reaches majority, which is also permitted in a probate estate. The child in this case attempted to have his paternity adjudicated many years after the decedent’s death and after he reached majority. The case reminds us of the detriments individuals face when they sit on their rights.

See Brian Spiro, Statute of Limitations for Paternity in Florida Probate, Florida Probate Lawyers, September 12, 2016.

September 13, 2016 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Article on Effect of Adult Adoptions & Inheritance Rights

Adult adoptionRichard C. Ausness recently published an Article entitled, Planned Parenthood: Adult Adoption and the Right of Adoptees to Inherit, 41 Am. C. Tr. Est. Couns. L.J. 241 (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

This Article is concerned with the effect of adult adoptions on the inheritance rights of adult adoptees.  The Article contends many adult adoption statutes assume the existence of a parent-child relationship in which the adopter is the “parent” and the adoptee is a “child” even though this is not true of all adult adoption cases.  In addition, legislatures and courts frequently fail to differentiate between “quasi-family” adoptions and “strategic” adoptions, particularly where inheritance rights are concerned.

The article describes various adoption scenarios.  In the case of minors, this includes the adoption of unrelated children, the adoption of descendants and collateral relatives and stepchild adoption.  All of these involve a parent-child relationship that integrates the child into the adoptive family and gives rise to rights and duties on the part of both parent and child.  This is not the case with adult adoptions.  To be sure, there may have been a parent-child relationship between the parties in the past, there is no present parent-child relationship, at least in the legal sense, and the adoption does not necessarily give rise to any rights or duties.  Instead, adult adoptions are usually concerned with inheritance rights.

The article also examines the use of adult adoption in Roman law, in the civil law systems of continental Europe and the United States.  In addition, it discusses the right of an adult adoptee to inherit in cases of intestacy and to take as the beneficiary of a class gift in a will or trust.  Finally, the Article identifies various types of adult adoption and proposes a series of rules to determine when adult adoptees should be allowed to take by intestacy or benefit from class gifts in will and trusts created by their adoptive parents or by members of their adoptive parents’ family.

September 8, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Focus on Legacy Management for Artists

PicassoArtist Mark Rothko wrote a will that firmly documented the desire for his estate to remain out of the vaults of the extremely wealthy. After both he and his wife died, however, large parts of his estate were sold to a gallery for deflated prices. The next year, Rothko’s daughter sued and won the case, but most of the damage had already been done with several of the paintings already sold. With cases like Rothko’s, artists and dealers are beginning to focus on legacy management, securing an artistic afterlife. There have been several instances of trustees fighting with inheritors. Consequently, art galleries are making it a point to talk to artists about proper estate planning.

See Harriet Fitch Little, How an Artist’s Legacy Became Big Business, Financial Times, August 26, 2016.

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

August 28, 2016 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pills Containing Fentanyl Found at Prince's Estate

Prince6Several of the pills taken from Prince’s estate were counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more powerful than heroin. Officials say the pills were falsely labeled but are still unsure of how Prince obtained the drugs. Prior to his death, Prince’s tests showed no fentanyl in his system, leading officials to believe he was not a long-time abuser of the drug that caused his fatal overdose.

See Official: Pills Found at Prince’s Estate Contained Fentanyl, Fox News, August 21, 2016.

August 24, 2016 in Current Events, Intestate Succession, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Avoiding These Eight Red Flags in an Estate Plan

RED-FLAG-1A true estate planner is able to foster trustworthy relationships with their clients while serving them in the fullest capacity. If you notice a gap in an estate-planning document, realize this red flag and know how to solve it.

When creating an estate plan, one goal many clients have is to avoid probate; on the other hand, a lot of clients draft a properly written will. Make sure that your clients goals are met and fill any gap in this estate-planning document. If a trust is in the estate plan, make sure that there is proper funding. Also, protect your client’s assets from creditors by never leaving valuable assets exposed. Similarly, do not leave inheritances in the hands of uninformed beneficiaries who can expose their gifts to creditors as well. Another good idea is to appoint trustees in a manner that gets the job done; you do not want fighting or miscommunication to burden future heirs. Furthermore, a planner should make sure that all account beneficiaries are updated along with any estate-planning documents. Accordingly, life insurance should be right for your client’s situation, determining whether too little or too much insurance can pose a problem. Finally, emphasize to your clients that they need a long-term care arrangement, helping with any unforeseen medical expenditures.

See Eight Red Flags That Your Client’s Estate Plans Are Out of Whack, Wealth Management, August 5, 2016.

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

August 11, 2016 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Professional Responsibility, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A New Heir to Prince's Estate?

Prince33Prince’s $300 million estate may now only have a single heir, a man coming forward with DNA proof that he is the son of the musician. If this man’s claim is legitimate, he will inherit the entire estate according to Minnesota law. This man claims that his mother was a singer who performed in the same club as Prince in the 80s.

See Karen Demasters, Heir to Prince’s Estate May Have Been Found, Private Wealth, August 1, 2016.

Special thanks to Rob Robertson (Attorney, Austin, Texas) & Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this Article to my attention.  

August 4, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)