Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ancient Jerusalem Shrine Set For Makeover

ArticlePictureThe Church of the Holy Sepulchre was founded by Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and is one of the oldest and most important sites in Christendom. However, the part of the church which contains the site believed to be the tomb of Jesus has been in need of repair for many years though now an agreement has been reached for a Greek company to conduct extensive renovations. The work is expected to last through the remainder of 2016 and be completed sometime in 2017. The cost of the project will be shared between the various denominations that control the church under an agreement from the 19th century. The conflict between the six controlling denominations is notorious, with the most famous example being the "immovable ladder" which has been in place for over 250 years due to an inability to agree, which makes news of the renovation a pleasant surprise. Let us see if this ushers in a new era of cooperation in the management of one of the most historic sites in the Levant.

See Hili Perison, Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem To Undergo Major Restoration, Art Net News, March 24, 2016.

March 25, 2016 in Current Events, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Article On Resolving Church Property Disputes

Christian ChurchMichael W. McConnell (Stanford Law School) and Luke W. Goodrich (University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law) recently published an article entitled, On Resolving Church Property Disputes, Ariz. L. Rev. (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the article:

In recent decades, major religious denominations have experienced some of the largest schisms in our nation’s history, resulting in a flood of church property disputes. Unfortunately, the law governing these disputes is in disarray. Some states treat church property disputes just like disputes within other voluntary associations — applying ordinary principles of trust and property law to the deeds and other written legal instruments. Other states resolve church property disputes by deferring to religious documents such as church constitutions — even when those documents would have no legal effect under ordinary principles of trust or property law.

We argue that both courts and churches are better served by relying on ordinary principles of trust and property law, and that only this approach is fully consistent with the church autonomy principles of the First Amendment. Only this approach preserves the right of churches to adopt any form of governance they wish, keeps courts from becoming entangled in religious questions, and promotes clear property rights. By contrast, deferring to internal religious documents unconstitutionally pressures churches toward more hierarchical governance, invites courts to resolve disputes over internal church rules and practices, and creates costly uncertainty.

March 9, 2016 in Articles, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Longtime School Teacher Worth Millions, Leaves Estate To The Church

Christian ChurchWhen Anna Kurzweil died, she was a respected member of her community having served for 25 years as a teacher and a regular participant in many charitable functions. But she was also living with a secret, the fact that she was a multimillionaire. The unprepossessing old woman had managed to scrape together the next egg from years of simple living and wise investments made with her modest salary and an inheritance from her parents. This modest lifestyle was likely derived from the convent that she joined as a young women but from which she was forced to depart, before taking the final vows of the order, to care for her mother. But this commitment to religious life likely influenced her decision to leave almost the entirety of her estate to a local group of Jesuits who expressed surprise at the size of the bequest but not the fact it came from her. As someone always noted for her devotion to the Catholic faith and teaching, for her to make her last earthly wish be to endow an order known for education seems a way to tie up the last threads of her life quite nicely.

See Sally Morrow & David Gibson, Kansas City teacher astonishes with $2 million gift to Jesuits, Religious News Service, February 9, 2016.

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

February 16, 2016 in Current Events, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Family Embroiled In Legal Battle Over Megachurch Founder’s Estate

Detroit bishipThe family of a popular Pentecostal bishop is alleging that the Church that he helped build is preventing them from inheriting upwards of $10 million from his estate. “Bishop William Bonner’s two adult grandchildren say his survivors are being shut out of their inheritance and they believe officials with the Harlem, N.Y.-based Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ are hiding money and records about property that belongs to the family.” The lawsuit is seeking to get answers from the Church that Bishop Bonner founded in 1944 which started off as a 2,500-seat sanctuary on East Seven Mile in Detroit and later expanded to numerous cities across the country and around the globe. “Bonner’s real estate empire includes as many as 30 homes and other properties in Michigan, New York, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., his family says.”

See Oralandar Brand-Williams, Family battles over megachurch founder’s estate, The Detroit News, January 27, 2016.

January 27, 2016 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Malcolm X Letter Being Sold For $1.25 Million

MalcolmX-letter-1A long lost letter that was handwritten by the late activist Malcolm X is being sold through the Las Angeles-based website ‘Moments In Time’ for $1.25 million.  The six-page letter that was written after Malcolm X’s famous journey to Mecca in 1964 was discovered in a New York City locker by the seller Gary J. Zimet.  In the letter Malcolm X describes his experiences travelling to Mecca.  Malcolm X wrote the letter in his cursive handwriting using blue ink.  The full text of the handwritten letter can be viewed on the auctioneer’s website.  The same auction company is also selling a letter that was handwritten by the late rapper Tupac Shakur.     

See Eileen Kinsella, Long-Lost Malcolm X Letter Up for $1.25 Million, artnet, October 21, 2015.

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

October 21, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Special Considerations To Keep in Mind When Estate Planning For The Devout

ReligionWhen planning the estate of a religiously devout person, there are special concerns that will often arise as the client seeks to plan within the confines of their beliefs. For some, this might manifest itself in the need to have any philanthropic inclinations be tailored to make sure that the beneficiaries will use the gift in a manner consistent with the beliefs of the donor. Many religions require special care of a body upon death which will require advanced planning to make sure the body is handled properly. One key consideration is an advanced care directive which is imperative in order to make sure that the client's final medical care is dictated by the doctrines of their beliefs. Ultimately, the most important step is to communicate with the client about what restrictions they might need imposed on their estate due to personal beliefs since it allows the most time to prepare sometimes difficult arrangements.

See Martin M. Shenkman, Catholic Considerations and Estate Planning, Wealth Management, October 1, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

October 5, 2015 in Estate Administration, Religion, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Russia Considers Plans To Bury Tsar Nicholas II’s Heirs

TzarThis past Friday Russia has announced plans to finally bury the two children of Tsar Nicholas II, Alexie and Maria, with their family in St. Petersburg.  According to a government spokesman the plan has yet to receive final approval.  “A high-level government task force put forward a proposal for the burial to take place in Russia’s former imperial capital on October 18.”  There are some reservations from the Russian Orthodox Church because some doubts that the remains were accurately identified.  The Church stated that it would like more testing done on the remains of Alexie and Maria that were discovered in 2007.  Russia would like the dispute over the remains solved as soon as possible so that they can proceed with the burial plans.

See Russia announces plan to bury last Tsar’s heir and daughter, The Citizen, September 11, 2015.

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

September 13, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Headstones Provoke Fight Between Catholic Church And Monument Association

HeadstoneThe Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark New Jersey operates almost a dozen cemeteries which contain the remains of over one million people.  Therefore it was a natural step when the diocese began to sell headstones for use in the cemeteries, however, the program quickly fell afoul of the Monument Builders Association of New Jersey. The association brought the diocese to court arguing the church had an unfair advantage due to its tax exempt status but lost at trial and on appeal. But the association managed to convince legislators to craft a bill that, while neutral on its face, would solely prevent the church owned cemeteries from selling headstones. Currently the issue is before a federal court with the diocese arguing that the bill is an unconstitutional act of economic cronyism and protectionism that serves no government interest. This case, if resolved in favor the diocese, could have a big impact nationwide as non profit cemeteries enter into new zones in order to increase revenue for the upkeep of cemeteries.

See Kelly Phillips Erb, A Grave Decision: Archdiocese Files Suit Against New Jersey Over Headstone Statute, Forbes, August 21, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

August 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Estate Planning For Those That Follow Traditional Inheritance Rules

TorahThe rules of inheritance vary across the globe, between cultures and religions, and have been that way since the dawn of humanity. When it comes to planning an estate in the modern world, many clients will want to follow their traditional inheritance practices even if they conflict with current estate laws. In those cases, closely working with an expert in the laws of the religion or culture can assure that the client is well protected legally in a manner that conforms with their way of life. A good example of this can be found with Halachic, or traditional Jewish inheritance laws, which calls for a distribution of a persons wealth in a manner much in conflict with state intestacy laws which requires a carefully drafted will.  Anyone that wants to follow both temporal and spiritual inheritance rules does not, in almost all cases, have to choose one or the other as long as good communication occurs between planner and client concerning the requirements of tradition.

See Isaac Yedid & Raymond Zeitoune, Halachic Estate Planning, Yeshiva World, July 17, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

July 22, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Religion, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Effect a Faith Based Arbitration Clause Has On Taxes

Jewish courtPlacing faith-based arbitration clauses into trusts has recently been growing in popularity.  When a Florida couple claimed the gift tax exclusion for money that they placed into a faith-based irrevocable “Crummey” trust, the IRS challenged them.   The IRS argued that because the trust required beneficiaries to arbitrate disputes before a “beth din” (a rabbinical court in Judaism), the beneficiaries did not possess the “present interest” necessary for the gift-tax exclusion.  The Tax Court overruled the IRS, ruling that including a faith based arbitration clause does not disqualify a settlor from claiming the gift tax exclusion.  Resolving disputes through faith based arbitration is becoming increasingly popular in Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other religious communities.  

See Juan C. Antunez, Will a Faith-Based Arbitration Clause Disqualify Your Trust For Tax Purposes?, Probate & Trust Litigation Blog, April 20, 2015. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

May 11, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, Religion, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)