Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jury Finds Robin Thicke and Pharell Guilty of Blurring Lines

Robin Thicke

A lawyer for the estate of Marvin Gaye says that he is attempting to block all future sales of the single “Blurred Lines” until an agreement is reached. 

A Los Angeles jury determined that when writing the hit “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. noticeably ripped off Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up.”  Now, Williams, Thicke, and T.I. must pay Gaye’s family $7.3 million as part of the ruling.  The verdict puts to rest a year of legal battles between Thicke and Gaye’s estate, which originally sought $25 million in damages. 

“While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” Williams, Thicke and T.I. said in a joint statement.  “’Blurred Lines’ was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin and T.I. and not taken from anyone or anywhere else.  We are reviewing the decision, considering our options and you will hear more from us soon about this matter.”

See Kory Grow, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Lose Multi-Million Dollar ‘Blurred Lines’ Lawsuit, Rolling Stone, March 10, 2015.

March 11, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lost Will

WillPrior to divorcing in Texas, Robyn Lewis and James Simmons executed mirror wills, and Lewis' will left everything to her husband, and in the event of her husband's death named her husband's father as executor and heir. After Lewis's death her family did not find a will and her brothers obtained Letters of Administration.

However, after her ex-husband found out she had died his father applied for letters Testamentary in New York using the pre-divorce will. As part of the Lewis brothers' challenging to the ex-father-in-laws request, Lewis' neighbor testified that she has been given a new will by Lewis that named the brothers as beneficiaries, but that she lost the will. The brother's Letters of Administration were revoked and the pre-divorce will was admitted. The case is now going before the New York State Court of Appeals.

See Philip Bernstein, Court of Appeals to Hear Missing Will Case, The New York Probate Litigation Blog, March 2, 2015.

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

March 11, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Probate Court May Review Attorney's Fees


In Faulkner v. Woodruff, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 3185 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Mar. 6, 2015) the court concluded that if an attorney for a personal representative of an estate charges excessive fees, the probate court has the jurisdiction to review the propriety of such fees, and the burden of proof is on the attorney to establish that such fees are reasonable.  The probate court may review attorney fees even if they are paid from nonprobate assets. 

In this case, a probate estate was opened with under $5,000 in personal property and a homestead residence.  The attorney for the executor charged $39,869 in attorney fees for work performed in the “uncontested proceeding.”  The executor of the estate filed a petition to review the attorney’s compensation as an interested person.  Although the probate court dismissed the petition, the appellate court came to a different conclusion, holding the executor has the same right to have the probate court review compensation paid to the estate’s attorney.

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Probate Court Has Jurisdiction to Review Attorney Fees, Burden of Proof on Attorney, Florida Probate Lawyers, March 8, 2015.

March 10, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bank May Be Liable for Elder Abuse

Bank of America 1In Ginder v. Bank of America, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25562 (M.D. Fla. 2015), the court held that a bank could be liable for the failure to stop elder abuse arising from the draining of a senior’s bank account by an abuser. 

Mrs. Ginder, an 81-year-old woman, deposited her life savings into various Bank of America accounts, valued at about $175,000.  Mr. Knight, who is the alleged exploiter, portrayed himself as an employee of Bank of America and caused Mrs. Ginder to write checks and transfer funds to other people.  Mrs. Ginder argued that Bank of America opened suspicious activity reports on the accounts, but failed to notify her to stop the activity.  She also said that her daughter had been in contact with the bank and warned them of the activity. 

The court stated, “Plaintiff attempts to establish a duty by showing that BOA violated Florida’s Adult Protective Services Act (the “Act”).  In relevant part, the Act requires any bank ‘who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being exploited’ to report such exploitation to the Florida Department of Children and Families.”  Thus, the court was able to infer that the bank was aware of Mrs. Ginder’s exploitation but failed to report it, consequently placing common law negligence on the bank for the abuse.

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Bank May be Liable for Failure to Stop Elder Abuse, Florida Probate Lawyers, March 9, 2015.

March 9, 2015 in Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mississippi Court Addresses Forfeiture Clause in Wills


In a case of first impression the Mississippi Supreme Court’s recent decision in Parker v. Benoist, No. 2012-CA02010-SCT (February 19, 2015), held that in terrorem clauses are unenforceable when a will contest has been brought in good faith and based upon probable cause. 

Brownyn and William Benoist are siblings who litigated the will of their father, Billy Dean “B.D.” Benoist, in the Chancery Court of Yalobusha County. In 2010, B.D. executed a will that significantly altered the distributions provided by a previous will that B.D. had executed in 1998. Bronwyn alleged that William had unduly influenced their father, who was suffering from dementia and drug addiction, into making the new will, which included a forfeiture clause that revoked benefits to any named beneficiary who contested the will. Bronwyn lost the will contest and her benefits under the new will were revoked by the trial court. In the appeal, the court determined whether Mississippi law should recognize a good-faith and probable-cause exception to a forfeiture in terrorem clause in a will. The court held that it should, and that Bronwyn had sufficiently shown that her suit was brought in good faith and was founded upon probable cause.

Special thanks to Brandon C. Dixon for bringing this article to my attention.

March 9, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

PLR on GST and Gift Tax Consequences of Trusts Selling Farm

Gavel2A recent IRS private letter ruling considered the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax, and Estate consequences of a proposed sale of a farm owed by two trusts. The two trusts had different grantors, but essentially the same beneficiaries. The trusts had worked out a proposed sale of the farm to a limited partnership, which was owned by a descendent of both trusts' grantors.

In Private Letter Ruling 201509002, it was found that the trusts would not lose their GST tax-exempt status as a result of the sell, the sale would not be considered a taxable gift, and would not add to the amount the beneficiaries must claim in their estates

See Dawn S. Markowitz, GST Tax Exemption Preserved in Sale of Farm, Wealth Management, March 4, 2015.

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

March 9, 2015 in Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trust Attorney Did Not Owe Beneficiaries Fiduciary Duty

TrustIn a recent trust case from Florida and appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, life insurance trust beneficiaries brought a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the trustee's attorney.

In Bain v McIntosh, the Eleventh Circuit held that the attorney did not have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, reasoning that under the Florida Evidence Code and Rules of Professional Conduct the trustee and not the beneficiaries was the attorney's client. However, the court dropped a footnote stating that the beneficiaries abandoned the argument that they were intended third-party beneficiaries by not including it in their initial brief.

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Attorney for Trust Owes No Fiduciary Duty to Beneficiaries, Clark Skatoff, March 4, 2015.

March 5, 2015 in New Cases, Professional Responsibility, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lawsuits Against Iowa Attorney's Estate Claim Over $9 Million

Gavel BWAs I have previously discussed, the estate of late Iowa attorney David Roth is facing multiple lawsuits from Roth's former clients. Additional claims have been brought, including a $1.89 million claim from VerJean and Eugene Walther who allege that the money from their 2012 car crash settlement is missing. The lawsuits against Roth claim over $9 million against his estate. Additional lawsuits may add to this total as those claiming to be victims of wrongdoing doing by Roth can file their cases until March 6.

See Ron Steele, Claims against Roth estate surpass $9-million-Deadline Approaches, KWWL, Feb. 25, 2015.

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

March 3, 2015 in Estate Administration, New Cases, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Court Upholds Finding that Herman Hemsley Had Testamentary Capacity

HemsleyActor Herman Alexander Hemsley passed away in 2011, and named his business manager Flora Isela Enchinton Bernal as independent executrix and his sole beneficiary. A Texas appeals court recently heard a challenge to the probate court's admittance of his will and authorizing issuance of letters testamentary to Bernal.

In In re Estate of Sherman Alexander Hemsley, the El Paso Court of Appeals upheld the probate court's orders, finding that the evidence heard on Hemsley's testamentary capacity was legally sufficient. The court further found that the appellant's right to challenge the disposition of Hemsley's remains by Bernal was extinguished when she acted on the order and had him buried.

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

March 2, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Television, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 27, 2015

French Criminal Case Gives Glimpse Into Life Of L’Oréal Heiress

Gavel BWThe criminal trial in France involving allegations by prosecutors that trusted advisers of the second wealthiest woman in the world exploited her mental state and schemed her out of over €1 billion, concluded Wednesday and a verdict is expected on Saturday. The prosecution accused a long list of individuals close to 92-year-old L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, of taking advantage of her as she aged and began to develop dementia.

See Doreen Carvajal, In Case of L’Oréal Heiress, a Private World of Wealth Becomes Public, The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2015.

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

February 27, 2015 in Disability Planning - Property Management, Elder Law, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)