Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Heir to Art-Dealing Estate Faces Major Tax Fraud Scandal

GuyOn Thursday, the heir, Guy Wildenstein, to a major art-dealing dynasty appeared in court for one of the biggest tax fraud trials ever in France. Wildenstein is accused of hiding a billion-dollar family fortune in offshore tax havens. If convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison and a substantial bill for back taxes. Wildenstein denies these accusations. 

See Kim Willsher, Heir to Art-Dealing Estate in Court in Major French Fraud Trial, Guardian, September 22, 2016. 

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


September 22, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Mob Informant with a $100 Million Inheritance

SaganLee Power, a wealthy widow, would eventually sign away more than $100 million in her will to a man she had known for two years, Alben Sagan or, as he was also known, The General. The two met in late 2008, and Sagan soon became her ever-present companion. Over the next few years, Sagan became the president of her real estate companies, negotiating multi-million-dollar sales. Upon Power’s death, her family was curious as to why 90% of her fortune was left to a man they barely knew. Shortly after, her sister wrote a scathing letter to the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court objecting to the will. 

So who is Alben Sagan? Sagan was a ex-military officer who had given testimony on several organized crime figures, eventually forcing him into the witness protection program. Eventually, Sagan could not handle the lifestyle and reverted back to his old lifestyle in New York with longtime friends. Trying to keep his past a secret, he was unable to hide when he was set to inherit $100 million. 

Currently, Sagan’s past life is at the forefront of a fierce legal battle over the validity of Power’s will. Lawyers for Power’s nieces allege that Sagan preyed on a wealthy woman suffering from dementia to gain control over her real estate portfolio, which is estimated to be worth around $80 to $120 million. Sagan claims that Power was of sound mind when she drafted her will.     

See James Fanelli, How a Mob Informant Who Left Witness Protection Got $100M from a Widow, dna info, September 20, 2016. 

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


September 22, 2016 in Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2016

SEC Seeks $101.2 Million Fraud Payment from Texas Billionaire's Estate

Charles wylyThe United States SEC wants the executor of Charles Wyly’s estate held in contempt for failure to pay the $101.2 million bill for the late Texas businessman’s fraud. Wyly’s son-in-law, Donald Miller, has not paid the sum in his role as executor, which he was ordered to do back in February 2015. Wyly and his brother were involved in fraud, earning millions in undisclosed profits through trading using offshore trusts. The SEC is insisting on payment of the sum or for his executor to be held in contempt.

See Nate Raymond, SEC Eyes Contempt for Wyly Estate’s Failure to Pay $101M, Private Wealth, September 7, 2016.

September 16, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Florida Slayer Statute Denies Inheritance Without Murder Conviction

Slayer statuteA slayer statute denies an inheritance to a beneficiary who killed the deceased individual. More specifically, is a murder conviction required to trigger the statute? In Stephenson v. Prudential Insurance Co., a deceased Mr. Rigby owned a life insurance policy that named his partner, Mr. McGriff, as the beneficiary. Rigby ended up dying after a physical altercation between the two. The insurance company in charge of the funds filed an interpleader, allowing the court to determine the outcome of the competing claims between McGriff and Rigby’s estate. At trial, McGriff argued that because he was not charged in the death of Rigby, the slayer statute did not apply to him. The court ruled that a murder conviction is not required to determine the applicability of the slayer statute, only the court’s determination that the beneficiary “more likely than not” wrongfully caused the death of the decedent.

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Florida Slayer Statute in Federal Interpleader, Florida Probate Lawyers, September 14, 2016.

September 15, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Non-Probate Assets | 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)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Personal Representative of Estate Cannot Waive Privilege Between Guardian & Attorney

Attorney client privilegeAttorney-client privilege might be the most ancient of the confidential communication privileges. The privilege was codified in Florida at § 90.502. As time passed, the law evolved, creating an exception to privilege—the fiduciary-duty exception for when the client was a fiduciary and the lawyer’s services were for a third party. In 2011, however, Florida enacted § 90.5021, the fiduciary-lawyer client privilege, which appeared to infringe on the exception. This Section defines who qualifies as a fiduciary and further explains that the fiduciary-lawyer relationship would be protected just the same as a non-fiduciary relationship. Additionally, the Section explains that only the fiduciary is considered a client of the lawyer.

In Bivins v. Rogers, the plaintiff was the personal representative of his father’s estate. The defendant was one of several guardians appointed to exercise the father’s rights. After his father’s death, the plaintiff sued, seeking production of communication between the defendant and his attorneys and accountants. The question to the court was whether § 90.2051 precludes someone besides the client from waiving privilege when the client is a fiduciary. The court held that it does. This ultimately suggested that there was no ambiguity about the statute’s validity, making the fiduciary-duty exception irrelevant.

 See Jordan Hammer, Personal Representative Cannot Waive Privilege Between Guardian and Attorney, Florida Probate Lawyers, September 8, 2016.

September 10, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, New Cases, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Rockefeller University Wins Legal Battle Over Will Restrictions

Rockefeller universityRockefeller University petitioned the court to release restrictions set forth in a will that bequeathed generous institutional funds to the university, arguing that the restrictions became impracticable, wasteful, and an impediment to the prudent management and investment of the proceeds of the bequest. The Attorney General expressly concurred with the university's position that the release of the restrictions would further the testamentary intent of the donor. The donor estate did not oppose the petition. The court granted the petition, releasing the university from the obligation to comply with the sale and investment restrictions of the will.

See In re Rockefeller University, Supreme Court, New York County, August 15, 2016.

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

September 3, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 29, 2016

RICO Claims Can be Brought Against Estate Executor

RICO claimRICO charges are normally used as a civil remedy in claims of significant criminal activity and provide for treble damages. Recently, the Second Circuit ruled that RICO claims can also be brought in connection with unlawful activities by an executor of an estate.

In King v. Wang, before and during the administration of Wang’s estate, the Defendant allegedly engaged in a scheme to deprive the Plaintiffs of their expected inheritance. The Plaintiffs filed RICO claims. The Second Circuit affirmed federal jurisdiction over the claims, determining that the claims fell outside the probate exception. 

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Can a RICO Claim be Brought Against an Executor of an Estate?, Florida Probate Lawyers, August 27, 2016.

August 29, 2016 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Professional Responsibility, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Duke University Files Claim Seeking Promised Pledge Funds

Duke universityDuke University filed a claim on Aubrey McClendon’s estate, asserting that the oil magnate died before he could fulfill roughly $10 million of pledges. McClendon had pledged funds for athletics, scholarships, and campus improvements. Lawyers for McClendon’s estate claim that the once billionaire left behind more debt than assets. Duke University’s claim is the first that focuses on the mogul’s charitable giving. In the upcoming suit, the main question will be whether there was a legally binding contract.

See Ryan Dezember & Kevin Helliker, Duke University Makes Claim on Estate of Aubrey McClendon, Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2016.

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

August 26, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Heir-Location Firm Charged with Conspiring to Allocate Customers

AntitrustIn a federal antitrust complaint, an heir-location services firm and its co-owner were charged with conspiring to allocate customers with a competitor. The firm had a 15-year-long streak of allocating customers to co-conspirators “to suppress and eliminate competition.” Similar cases have included a criminal fine of $890,000.

See Jonny Bonner, Heir-Location Firm Charged in Antitrust Probe, Courthouse News Service, August 22, 2016.

Special thanks to Deborah Matthews (Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia) for bringing this Article to my attention.  

August 24, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)