Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lou Reed’s Executors Request Surprisingly Low Payment

Lou ReedAs I have previously discussed, the estate of Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed has increased to $20 million since his death last year and is now worth $30 million. Compared to executors of other famous estates, Reed’s executors will be paid a small sum for fees, as they are requesting a total of $220,000. In contrast, the executors for Michael Jackson’s estate are being paid 10 percent, which results in a huge sum considering just one business deal of the estate with Sony was for $250 million.

See Bonnie Kraham, Trusts Can Keep an Estate Private, Times-Herald-Record, Aug. 28. 2014.

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

September 2, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

New Case: Parker v. Benoist


A recent case from the Supreme of Mississippi held that forfeiture provisions in wills in Mississippi are enforceable unless the will contest has been founded upon probable cause and made in good faith. 

This decision comes after siblings Bronwyn Benoist Parker and William Benoist litigated the will of their father, who granted significantly more property to William and less to Bronwyn than a previous will executed in 1998.  Bronwyn alleged William had unduly influenced their father, who was suffering from dementia and drug addiction, into creating a new will, which included a forefeiture clause that revoked benefits to any named beneficiary who contested the will.  

The Supreme Court of Mississippi held that Bronwyn had sufficiently shown that their suit was brought in good faith and founded upon probable cause.  Thus, the Court reversed the decision of the Chancery Court, allowing Bronwyn to inherit in accordance with her father’s 2010 will.  Parker v. Benoist, 2014 WL 4243763 (Miss.)

Special thanks to Howard M. Zaritsky for bringing this case to my attention.

August 30, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Fiduciary Selection

BeyerI recently published an article entitled, A Guide to Fiduciary Selection, Estate Planning Developments for Texas Professionals (July 2014).  Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

Your clients must exercise great care in selecting fiduciaries such as executors, trustees, and agents. These decisions may affect the client and the client’s family members for many years. Decisions regarding the appropriate persons to select are, naturally, for your clients to make. However, you have a duty to explain to your clients the factors they should consider before making designations in wills, trusts and powers of attorney. This article focuses on these considerations.

The article begins with a discussion of legal criteria based on the law of Texas. 

The remainder of the article has general application and discusses the factors from a practical standpoint which a client should consider as well as the pros and cons of using a corporate fiduciary and of appointing co-fiduciaries.

August 30, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Professional Responsibility, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Understanding Probate Court Litigation


A recent case decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals serves as an important reminder that probate court litigation differs procedurally from other types of litigation.  Thus, when confronted with a will contest or other probate proceeding, it is best to consult with someone who specializes in that type of fiduciary litigation. 

In In re Estate of Loyd, an heir of Virginia Childs Loyd, Jack attempted to object to a petition to probate the will on grounds of undue influence.  The trial court dismissed Jack’s caveat as untimely and the appellate court subsequently agreed. 

After the petition to probate the will was filed, the probate court ordered heirs to file any objections to the petition within 13 days.  The executor sought to dismiss Jack’s caveat as untimely and it was dismissed because Jack missed the deadline. 

Although this was a short amount of time to answer, the court was persuaded by Jack’s argument that he was away from his residence and had no actual knowledge of the petition.  He was therefore barred from challenging the will.

See Luke Lantta, In Georgia, The Time to File A Caveat May Be Short And Unforgiving, Brian Cave Litigation, Aug. 27, 2014.

August 29, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The Most Litigated Will in History

Girard CollegeA Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas recently considered a request from the trustees of the Stephen Girard Trust, a charitable trust that created Girard College, to end the school’s residential and high school programs. Girard College was originally created through the detailed will of Stephen Girard to educate, house, clothe, and feed orphan boys. Over the years, the school has developed and changed away from Girard’s original intent for the school. The school now allows minority and female students. However, the Philadelphia court’s decision denied the trustees' request to cut the requested programs due to how inconsistent the changes would be to the intent reflected in what the court described as “the most litigated will in history.”

See Katherine C. Pearson, The Latest Ruling on “The Most Litigated Will in History,” Elder Law Prof Blog, Aug. 28, 2014; Neil E. Hendershot, Philadelphia Court Upholds Stephen Girard’s Intentions, PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog, Aug. 27, 2014.

August 29, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

UK Infographic Signifies Importance of a Valid Will

Last will and testament

While many people forego creating a will during their lifetime, this is especially true in the UK where almost 56 percent of the adult population does not possess a valid will. 

This shocking statistic caught the attention of Whitehead Monckton, a Kent law firm who subsequently teamed up with Reflect digital to create an infographic outlining the importance to UK citizens of having a will. 

The infographic, entitled, Do You Hold a Valid Will?, conveys a powerful message regarding the significance of obtaining a will.  Through numbers, questions, and omnipotent realities, the infographic poses thought provoking concepts including the repercussions of passing away without a will.  This infographic is a positive step towards educating individuals about the positive and negative implications of estate planning.

Special thanks to Aedan Kiernan (Reflect Digital) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 28, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Look Into Inheritance Demographics


According to a 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances, the median inheritance for Americans is about $69,000.  Yet an eye opening study from Maury Gittleman and Edward N. Wolff examined the prosperity of households between 1989 – 2007, and found the most likely Americans to inherit were those who needed it the least.  On average, 38 percent of households earning $250,000 a year or more received an inheritance compared with only 17 percent of households with an income of $15,000 or less.  Furthermore, the study indicated that wealthier households are not more likely to inherit and they receive larger sums. 

Racial and ethnic differences were widespread as well.  Twenty-five percent of non-Hispanic whites said they had received an inheritance in 2007, but 10 percent of African-Americans and 6 percent of Hispanics said the same.  These gaps have stayed constant since 1989. 

While it may be true that inheritance and other transfers have a sizable effect on reducing the inequality of wealth, this is just one study.  There are other studies in the U.K. and Paris that have reached different conclusions.  Moreover, inheritors may not be receiving wealth in the form of cash.  Businesses and homes are also common inheritances not provided for in this study.

See Mona Chalabi, A Dear Mona Follow-Up: Who Inherits? FiveThirtyEight, Aug. 26, 2014. 

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

August 27, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Anna Nicole Smith's Twenty Year Battle Finally Ends

Anna nicole

After nearly twenty years of contentious debate in the courtroom, a federal judge recently ruled Anna Nicole Smith’s estate would not receive millions of dollars from the estate of E. Pierce Marshall, the son of Anna Nicole’s late husband, J. Howard Marshall II.

Judge Carter ruled that there was “just no evidence before the court that justifies awarding sanctions against Pierce Marshall’s estate.”  The judge further added it is time for this suit to no longer “drag its weary length before the court.”

After Howard Marshall II died in 1995, he left his $1.6 billion estate to his son and nothing to Smith.  According to NBC news, Smith asserted her husband vowed to leave her more than $300 million; yet, a Houston jury ruled that Marshall was mentally fit when he wrote the will.  Over the course of twenty years, local and federal courts have rejected Smith’s attempts to overturn Marshall’s will and trust in order to obtain money from his estate. 

See Mike Vulpo and Claudia Rosenbaum, Anna Nicole Smith’s Estate Denied Again: Judge Says Dannielynn Birkhead Won’t Receive $44 Million, E News, Aug. 20, 2014. 

August 27, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Will of Woman Murdered During Vacation in Bali Filed in Cook County

WillTwo weeks ago, the body of Sheila von Wiese-Mack from Chicago was found in Bali, and her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend may be charged with her murder. Last week, a will of Wiese-Mack, signed Aug. 1, 2006, was filed in a Cook County court. However, it is still unclear who will inherit from Wiese-Mack’s estate, as the will leaves her property to a trust without naming the beneficiary in the will.

See Jon Seidel, Will of Chicago Mother Slain in Bali Filed in Court, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 25, 2014.

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

August 27, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Hampshire Law Untangles Probate Process

Last will and testament

Everyday there is a new headline regarding wills, inheritances, and disinheritances that have gone badly.  Recently, the estate of late city resident Geraldine Webber is in dispute to the point that it involves the Portsmouth Police Commission.  During a recent hearing, the situation was described as “a disgusting mess.” 

A new state law in New Hampshire involving the active role of Portsmouth lawyer Sally Mulhem at Mulhem & Scott PLLC, is designed to prevent future messes of this type.  It allows a will to be probated, therefore legal and binding, before a person passes away.  “I saw an alarming increase in the number of probate and trust litigation cases.  It was just devastating families, and the attorneys’ fees were just consuming whatever estate was there.  I didn’t want to see this trend continue.  I wanted to do something to get this under control.” said Ms. Mulhem.

Five years ago, Ms. Mulhem began working with the New Hampshire Trust Council to address the situation regarding wills, estates and trusts, and how to address the legal ramifications of trust law.  Their efforts produced SB 289, with passage of the measure by the Senate and House.  The bill was signed into law on July 11, with a start date of July 1, 2014. 

With the new law, a person with what is likely to be a controversial will can opt to hold a hearing before a probate court judge to determine the validity of what they have done.  “It allows the person to have a definitive say while they’re still here.”

See Paul Briand, New Granite State Estate Law Designed to End Shenanigans, Seacoast Online, Aug. 25, 2014. 

August 25, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)