Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Brothers Lose Their Inheritance over Legal Bid to Keep Stepmother from Getting an Extra $30,000

Farmers sonsRichard and Jonathan Powell, two brothers, were recently slammed by a judge after blowing their entire inheritance in a hopeless bid to stop their stepmother from getting an extra $30,000 from their father’s will. Initially, the brothers claimed that their disabled father did not have the proper capacity when making his final will and granting his second wife $155,000. Further, they argued that an earlier will was his final and true will, which would have awarded their stepmother $125,000. At the final ruling, the judge blasted the brothers as unreasonable and forced them to pick up the final $250,000 legal bill, which wiped out their own inheritances of $75,000 each. The judge was appalled that the Powell brothers would fight such a frivolous claim driven by personal issues.

See Richard Spillett, Farmer’s Sons Lose Their ENTIRE £200,000 Inheritance from Father’s Will in Doomed Legal Bid to Stop Their Stepmother Getting an Extra £25,000, Daily Mail, March 17, 2017.

Special thanks to Jin Xu Spinhirne for bringing this article to my attention.  

March 18, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Audrey Hepburn's Two Sons Agree to Split Her Memorabilia

HepburnAudrey Hepburn was known for her elegant style, and after her death in 1993, she left behind a treasure trove of memorabilia, which included costumes, jewelry, photos, scripts, and awards. This memorabilia, however, incited a legal battle over who would get what between her two sons. Hepburn had left her assets to her sons equally, but she presented no strict guidelines as to who received each particular item. After a two-year-long battle, it seems that the brothers might finally be coming to an agreement by attending mediation and signing a memorabilia agreement. 

While one legal battle ends, another is only beginning, as the eldest son was sued this past week over his interference with the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. The charity was planning to exhibit some of Hepburn’s dresses and other memorabilia, which is the organization’s main source of funding, but there are now claims that Hepburn’s son is halting the exhibition and potentially tarnishing the charity’s reputation. 

See Amanda Ulrich, EXCLUSIVE: Audrey Hepburn’s Sons Agree to Split Their Late Mother’s Treasure Trove of Belongings, Including Costumes, Jewelry, Scripts and Awards, After Two-Year Legal Dispute, Daily Mail, March 9, 2017. 

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


March 9, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Heirs Looking to Invoke New Act in Case over Nazi-Looted Art

Art lootingThe Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act was enacted to help Holocaust heirs recover art stolen from their families during World War II. The Act will finally be put to the test in a New York court, as the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum are looking to claim two valuable drawings by Egon Schiele. The heirs claim that Grunbaum’s collection, which included eighty-one Schieles, was confiscated by the Nazis. Countering that argument, collectors, dealers, and some museums argue that the Nazis did not steal it and that Grunbaum’s sister-in-law sold fifty-three of the Schieles to an art dealer in 1956. Further, the opponents argue that previous courts have found that they were not stolen. Ultimately, the heirs hope the Act will help them prove they are victims of Nazi art looting. 

See William D. Cohan, A Suit over Schiele Drawings Invokes New Law on Nazi-Looted Art, N.Y. Times, February 27, 2017. 

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


March 2, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Woman Wins Right to Die After Suffering from Eating Disorder

Right to die2A woman who battled a severe eating disorder for most of her life has died after winning the right to refuse forced feeding. A New Jersey judge granted her the right to “live free from medical intervention.” The legal battle began when her court-appointed guardian entered an order allowing her to join palliative care instead of being force fed through a feeding tube. The case brings attention to those who suffer from disorders and want to enforce their right to die. 

See Ellie Kaufman, Woman with Eating Disorder Dies After Court Grants Her that Right, CNN, February 22, 2017. 


February 24, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)