Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Monday, August 11, 2014

Article on Restriction of Natural Gas Conveyances

Natural gas

Mark T. Wilhelm (Villanova University School of Law) recently published an article entitled, “All” Is Not Everything: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Restriction of Natural Gas Conveyances in Butler v. Charles Powers Estate Ex Rel. Warren, 59 Vill. L. Rev. 375-407 (2014).  Provided below is a portion of the article’s introduction:

This Note examines the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion in Butler and argues that the court examined the incorrect line of cases in its analysis. Further, this Note argues that the Commonwealth should now adopt a new definition of minerals that is more in line with the vast majority of jurisdictions. Part II explains the conceptual background of mineral rights and the two approaches to mineral right presumptions in the United States. Part III addresses how the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania arrived at its decision in Butler and explains how the state supreme court misapplied past precedent in favor of a traditional scheme that supports natural gas companies. Part IV examines the questionable status of the Dunham Rule as a rule of property in Pennsylvania and the need for departing from the Rule. Finally, Part V explains how Pennsylvania citizens and practitioners can navigate the Butler decision in past and future land transactions.

August 11, 2014 in Articles, New Cases, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CLE on ART Law

CLEThe American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education (ALI CLE) is presenting a CLE webinar entitled, ART Law: The Intersection of Assisted Reproductive Technology Law with Family Law & Estate Planning, Wednesday July 23, 2014, 12:00 – 1:30pm.  Here is why you should attend:

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) law is not the niche practice most attorneys believe it to be. Understanding ART issues is vital for family law and estate planning attorneys.

Join our expert faculty for a discussion that will:

  • Create the necessary awareness for you to inquire about--and properly address--ART issues in your everyday practice

July 1, 2014 in Conferences & CLE, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Pest of a Will


Carl J. Drake, who spent the last eight years of his life working as a research assistant t the Smithsonian, also spent his life studying bugs.  When he died in 1965, the entomologist left his lift savings and vast insect collection to the Smithsonian.  Now, after almost fifty years, the Smithsonian Institution says it’s having a difficult time carrying out Drake’s wishes, including buying more bugs. 

Over the years, the Smithsonian has used the money Drake has left in his will to the Institution to purchase about a dozen insect collections.  However, purchasing new bugs is tough due to changes to an environmental law made in the 1980s.  Those changes increased the red tape surrounding insect collecting, such as documents needed to prove the collections were made legally. 

The Smithsonian wants to use the income from Drake’s investment (now about $4 million) to not only purchase insects, but to support scientific research on Drake’s collection and other “True Bugs” it owns. 

For now, the petition to make changes lies in a federal judge’s hands, and it is unknown when she will rule.

See Associated Press, Smithsonian Museum is Bugging Out Over Insect Inheritance, The Guardian, June 12, 2014. 

June 16, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Article on Addressing the Claims of Posthumously Conceived Children to Survivor Benefits

Stork-babyJennifer Foor (University of Hawai’i Law Review) published an article entitled, Beeler v. Astrue: Addressing the Claims of Posthumously Conceived Children to Survivor Benefits, 34 U. Haw. L. Rev. 309-327 (2012).  Provided below is an excerpt from the introduction:

Innovations in reproductive technology provide couples facing infertility or terminal illness with previously unimagined possibilities for family planning. "[A]ssisted reproductive technologies enable conception to take place even after the provider of the gamete has died. Gametes can be harvested and cryopreserved . . . prior to the provider's death or retrieved from him post-mortem, and then used . . . to impregnate a woman with genetic material . . . whose providers are no longer alive." 1 These medical developments have made it possible for a child to be conceived after the death of a parent with few regulatory obstacles. 2 Many couples are choosing to cryogenically preserve gametes in anticipation of infertility caused by medical treatments, 3 or death from disease or war. 4 While preserving reproductive material for conception at a later time is no longer on the cutting edge of medical development, the legal consequences of posthumous conception continue to work their way through the courts, and federal legislators have yet to address the resulting issues head-on. 5

A number of cases springing from the birth of posthumously conceived children have risen to the federal courts of appeal. These cases result from disputes over a posthumously conceived child's rights to Social Security survivor's benefits. In the absence of applicable regulation, this collision between technology and law has led to circuit splits and at least one case pending review by the United States Supreme Court. 6

Beeler v. Astrue 7 is one such case rooted ...

May 21, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Article on The Limits of Survivor’s Benefits in Response to Reproductive Technology

Test tubes

Jeffrey Sheehan (Vanderbilt University Law School) recently published an article entitled, Late Fathers’ Later Children: Reconceiving the Limits of Survivor’s Benefits in Response to Death-Defying Reproductive Technology, Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, Vol. 16, No. 983, 2013.  Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

When Congress instructed the Social Security Administration to begin paying a social insurance benefit to “widows and orphans” in the 1930s, it simplified the process of determining an applicant’s relationship to an insured decedent in two significant ways: First, Congress ordered the agency to honor the intestate laws of each state when determining whether an applicant was actually the child of a decedent, and second, it ordered the agency to treat any child who could qualify as an intestate heir as if that child actually depended on the parent financially at the time of the parent’s death. Three-quarters of a century later, advances in reproductive technology make it possible for a child to be born decades after the death of one or both of her genetic parents. As the law begins to explore the rights and responsibilities of the parents who choose postmortem reproduction and the children whose lives come into being through those procedures, the heuristics that facilitated efficiency in the 1930s may yield unintended consequences. This Note explores some of those consequences and suggests minor alterations to the rules governing survivor’s-benefits eligibility intended to preserve the program’s social insurance function as reproductive technology transforms life after death from a hope or a fear into a choice.

May 20, 2014 in Articles, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Health Importance of Social Interaction

FriendsExtreme loneliness can have serious health effects according to a research study out of the University of Chicago. Loneliness can decrease life expectancy and increase rates of depression. Additionally loneliness can negatively affect sleep, blood pressure, and stress levels.

 John Cacioppo, University of Chicago Professor of Psychology, recommends that individuals create and maintain meaningful social relationships to improve health. Individuals should work to have strong social connections by having regular in-person social interaction, and working to maintain existing relationships. However, extreme loneliness is more than being isolated, and it is important for a person to also feel like a member of a group and emotionally supported. Cacioppo suggests that maintaining healthy social relationships should be a consideration when making big life decisions, such as whether to move to another state for retirement, since moving away from existing social networks may leave the person without the social interaction and support needed for a healthy life.

See Christopher Bergland, Maintaining Healthy Social Connections Improves Well-Being, Psychology Today, Feb. 18, 2014.

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

March 27, 2014 in Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Life Insurance Industry Called Out for Discrimination


Robyn Ward, an eminent Australian geneticist at the University of New South Wales, is slamming the life insurance industry for their continued practice of discriminating against people with genetic predispositions to diseases like cancer.

Her comments follow a recent Medical Journal of Australia article reporting the story of a young Brisbane father with a genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer.  The father approached the insurance arms of the four major Australian banks and was denied each time for his predisposition.  He received insurance from one company after going to the Australian Human Rights Commission and claiming discrimination.

In Australia, health insurers cannot use an applicant’s genetic information in assessments, but life insurance companies can.  Ward believes this discrimination could dissuade patients from getting tested for their diseases, thus decreasing preventative measures.

See Chris Johnston, Life Insurers Slammed for Treating Genes as Destiny, The Canberra Times, Sept. 2, 2013.

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

September 4, 2013 in Death Event Planning, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Early Retirement May Boost Health


According to a recent study by the Tinbergen Institute of VU University Amsterdam, male civil servants who retire earlier significantly decrease the probability of dying within the next five years.

Researchers based their findings on a one-time policy decision which allowed certain Dutch civil servants to retire at age 55 instead of the typical retirement age in the early 60s.

Although retiring earlier could make people healthier, early retirement poses a longevity risk to pension funds as well as the risk of dementia, which a recent French study shows to decline the longer a person works.

See Elizabeth O’Brien, Study: Early Retirees Less Likely to Die, Market Watch, Aug. 23, 2013.

August 31, 2013 in Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Doctor Believes Advances Imminent in Resuscitation Science


Critical care physician Sam Parnia believes breakthroughs in resuscitation research will be made within the next 20 years that would enable doctors to restore people to life in 12, or even 24, hours.

Today’s medicine allows resuscitation to occur up to two hours after a patient’s heart has stopped beating.  The average resuscitation rate in the US is 18%, but at Parnia’s resuscitation research base that number jumps to around 35%. 

Parnia believes there is a “widely-held misconception” that the brain undergoes massive oxygen-deprived damage three to five minutes following cardiac arrest.

See Doctor Claims Patients Can Someday Be Revived 24 Hours After Death, Fox News, July 31, 2013.

August 1, 2013 in Death Event Planning, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Is Death?


As I have previously discussed, Lifeline of Ohio recently won the right to harvest the organs of Elijah Smith, a 21-year-old Columbus man who ended up on artificial life support after being struck while riding his bicycle.  Smith’s family fought against the donation, arguing death does not occur until all organs have ceased functioning.

This tragic case raises the question of what exactly constitutes death.  Most doctors agree death occurs when the brain ceases to perform its essential functions.  Doctors have a list of tests they must run to conclude death has occurred and must cancel out all other explanations.

Ohio law agrees with the widespread belief that the absence of brain activity equals death.  Those donating organs and their families should be aware that the majority of donated organs come from those who are brain dead, because their organs are still being supplied with oxygen-rich blood.  They should know that bodies of the brain dead are kept on life support for an average of 24 hours before organ removal, a time that can be especially difficult for their loved ones.

See Misti Crane, Dispute Over Organ Donation Brings Attention to Defining Death, The Columbus Dispatch, July 22, 2013.

July 24, 2013 in Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, New Cases, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)