Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One of England's Most Evil Killers Is Fighting for His Right to Die

Right to dieThe Moors Murders have haunted England since the 1960s, but now, one of the killers is fighting for his right to die. Ian Brady is currently in poor health and fighting to be removed from a secure hospital back to a prison in his native Scotland. Scottish prisons do not force-feed inmates, so Brady would like the chance to refuse food and die. However, the hospital where he is currently staying claims that his chronic mental illness is keeping him from being transferred. Brady lost his first legal fight to move locations back in 2013 and his most recent one earlier this week. 

See Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, UK’s ‘Most Evil’ Serial Killer Is Fighting for Right to Die, Fox News, February 22, 2017. 


February 23, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Michael Jackson Estate Tax Case

JacksonThe executors of Michael Jackson’s estate filed an estate tax return with a value of $7 million, but the IRS issued a deficiency that reported a value of $1.32 billion, further demanding additional estate taxes of $505.1 million coupled with $196.9 million in penalties and interest. As is the problem for many celebrities, valuing Jackson’s name and likeness after his death proved controversial—his estate valued this asset at $2,105 due to his tainted reputation, while the IRS pegged the value at $434 million, as the singer was rehearsing for his comeback tour when he passed. The valuation of a celebrity’s name and likeness at death is not supposed to consider post-death events, but these can inevitably inform a court’s judgment. The Jackson estate did an excellent job of exploiting the late singer’s name and likeness after his death. As the case proceeds, all eyes will certainly be on Jackson’s name and likeness.  

See Michael Jackson Estate Tax Case Moving Forward, Rubin on Tax, February 19, 2017. 

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


February 20, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Porsche Employee Celebrated Carrera Wrecks Before Paul Walker Death Lawsuit

Paul walkerA Porsche employee has been happily sharing news to fellow employees about the slew of crashes the Porsche Carrera GT has experienced recently, hoping that the news would boost the value of the remaining cars. Paul Walker died in a Porsche Carrera, and his daughter’s wrongful death lawsuit reveals that Porsche concealed emails about the Carrera from them. One email confessed that up to 200 of the 1280 Carreras produced between 2004 and 2006 had been totaled in the first two years after being sold. The Porsche employee then stated that this would be great news for the remaining Carreras as they become more rare. The lawyers for Walker’s daughter are asking a judge to impose sanctions on Porsche for deliberately hiding the emails.  

See Paul Walker Death Lawsuit: Porsche Celebrated Carrera Crashes, TMZ, February 15, 2017. 


February 16, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ex-Spouse Receives Bulk of Insurance Death Benefit

Life insurance divorceIn 1997, Gary Vassil named his wife as the beneficiary of 83% of his group life insurance, while his three children were to receive the rest. The couple divorced in 2003, but the policy was not mentioned in the proceedings. Thirteen years later in 2016, Vassil passed away with his ex-wife still named as a beneficiary of the policy; she refused to waive her status. The federal law governing insurance programs directs the death benefits to go to the beneficiaries named by the employee. Further, for divorced employees, it requires that the divorce decree expressly revoke the spouse’s beneficiary status. After finding out that federal law did not help their case, Vassil’s children turned to state law. Unfortunately, state law proved to be unhelpful, and the judge ruled that the bulk of Vassil’s government life insurance be awarded to his ex-wife. 

See Julianne Tobin Wojay, Despite Divorce, Woman Still Gets Ex’s Insurance, Bloomberg, February 14, 2017. 

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


February 15, 2017 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

DNA Test Saves Dog from Death Penalty

JebJeb, a service dog for an elderly man, was placed in animal control after a judge ruled that he would be put to death for killing a neighbor’s dog. The family could not believe that Jeb was being accused of killing, so they used a forensic technique that often helps human defendants to save their dog from death row. After sending DNA samples to be tested, the results came back and the DNA in the wound did not match Jeb’s DNA. Jeb was eventually released from custody after nine weeks, but his owners were left wondering why the tests were not done sooner. The answer is simple—dogs do not have criminal due process rights. Hopefully, this case will allow courts to reconsider making DNA analysis part of the criminal process for dogs just as it is for humans.   

See Elizabeth Cohen, DNA Saves Dog from Death Penalty, CNN, February 9, 2017. 


February 9, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Intent to Levy Sustained in Late-Filed Gift Tax Return Case

Gift tax irsIn United States v. Estate of Lillian Beckenfeld, the Tax Court sided with the IRS, upholding that a collection action against an estate was valid. In 2013, Beckenfeld’s estate filed a late gift tax return for the year 2007. Accordingly, the IRS assessed additions to the tax, which added up to $951,411.34. Upon sending in the check to pay additional payments and interest, Beckenfeld’s estate included instructions that the IRS followed but ultimately left the gift tax liability unpaid. After an appeal, the IRS issued a notice, sustaining its intent to levy.   

See Dawn S. Markowitz, Collection Action for Late-Filed Gift Tax Return Upheld, Wealth Management, February 6, 2017. 


February 7, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Atlanta Businesswoman's Estate in Limbo After Her Death

Diane mciverDiane McIver, a wealthy, prominent Atlanta businesswoman, was allegedly killed by her husband on September 25, 2016. McIver’s husband has been charged with involuntary manslaughter; he claims that his gun accidentally discharged in the car after he was startled by a bump in the road. Not only has the case made public headlines, but now, there is also a legal battle ensuing over McIver’s estate. U.S. Enterprises has filed a lawsuit, claiming that the $1 million loan they lent to one of McIver’s companies was personally guaranteed by her. This lawsuit will likely delay probate proceedings for some time. McIver’s situation should serve as a warning for everyone to ensure that their estates are properly planned.     

See Karen Demasters, Estate in Limbo After Atlanta Man Is Charged with Killing His Rich Wife, Private Wealth, February 2, 2017. 

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


February 4, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Upcoming Court Decision May Decide if Employers Can Reject Older Job Seekers

Texas roadhouseTexas Roadhouse, a nationwide steakhouse chain, has a practice, according to officials, of discriminating against potential employees over forty and rejecting them for jobs where the customers will be in contact with them. This particular suit, which resides in a Boston federal district court, is the first its kind for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—which is responsible for enforcing job discrimination laws—because for the first time, it has conducted its own investigations and filed suit rather than waiting for individuals to complain and giving them permission to sue on their own. Age bias cases remain less clear, as the idea of pitting the young against the old has been notoriously unpopular with juries and society. The EEOC has presented several pieces of evidence in its directed investigation that show company officials have continuously discriminated on the basis of age in their hiring practices. On the other hand, the restaurant’s argument hinges on the 25-year-long reading of the ADEA that has shifted age discrimination from being categorically compared to race and gender to being of lesser consequence with a greater legal burden to prove. With closing arguments aside, a jury verdict will soon come down and, perhaps with it, new grounds for age discrimination or even new barriers.     

See Peter Gosselin, Federal Court May Decide if Employers Can Reject Older Job Seekers to Protect ‘Image’, Pro Publica, January 31, 2017. 

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


February 3, 2017 in Current Events, Elder Law, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Johnny Depp Spent $3 Million to Shoot Hunter S. Thompson's Ashes Out of a Cannon

Johnny depp2What price would you pay to send off a cherished friend? Johnny Depp paid $3 million to fire Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a cannon in an absurd tribute to the late writer. Thompson’s funeral was attended by names like John Kerry, Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, and Sean Penn. This information was recently revealed in a lawsuit that Depp filed against his management group, alleging that they defrauded him by mismanaging his money, taking out loans without approval, and hiding the extent of his own spending from him. 

See Christopher Hooton, Johnny Depp Spent $3 Million Blasting Hunter S. Thompson’s Ashes Out of a Cannon, Ex-Managers Claim in Lawsuit, Independent, February 2, 2017. 


February 1, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Anna Nicole Smith Judge Finally Relieved from Billionaire's Estate Dispute

Judge mike woodOver the past twenty years, a legal battle has ensued over the estate of late billionaire J. Howard Marshall all on the docket of Judge Mike Wood, or as some might know him the “Anna Nicole Smith” judge. Anna Nicole was married to the elderly billionaire briefly before he passed and afterward sought a piece of his fortune. Judge Wood, however, awarded it all to Marshall’s son. Upon the death of his son, in 2015, Marshall’s grandson filed a separate action, requesting access to the family trusts. The litigation seemingly had no end. In fact, during a hearing, in which the grandson filed a last-minute restraining order against his mother, Judge Wood stated, “I beg you to rescue me. I don’t want to deal with you people anymore.” On January 24, Judge Wood relieved himself of the case by granting a mandamus relief, which voided the restraining order, and passed the case on to a new judge in probate court. The judge ultimately claimed that the case was holding himself and his staff hostage, not allowing them to accomplish anything else. 

See John Council, ‘I Beg You to Rescue Me’: Anna Nicole Smith Judge Finally Gets His Wish, Law.com, January 26, 2017. 


January 27, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)