Monday, May 22, 2017
Trailblazing Judge Sheila Abdus-Shaalam’s current husband will receive nothing from her estate. Judge Abdus-Shaalam died with an outdated will that left the entirety of her $2.05 million estate to her mother and siblings. The distribution of her property was intended to exclude her third husband from inheriting and was written during a contentious third divorce.
Rev. Gregory Jacobs, Abdus-Shaalam’s fourth husband, had a right to inherit under New York law, but he waived his claim. A close friend of Abdus-Shaalam commented regarding her surprise at the outdated status of the will but said the distribution of the assets fell in line with Abdus-Shaalam’s typical treatment of her family. The friend noted that the Judge was very helpful when it came to her relatives and was especially so when dealing with nieces and nephews and their education costs.
Police initially considered Judge Abdus-Shaalam’s death a suicide after her body washed up on the Hudson. The NYPD later opened an investigation after determining that the Judge’s death was suspicious. The probe ended earlier this month with no recorded cause of death.
See Julia Marsh, Judge Who Washed up Along Hudson Cut Husband out of Her Estate, New York Post, May 19, 2017.
Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.
Friday, May 19, 2017
The opening scene of “Simple Song” by The Shins, features a drab, melancholy living room as the camera pans to an old, tube TV. As the TV is turned on, the father-decedent begins to deliver his last will and testament. His final disposition to his children requires them to race through the house to find the deed he has previously hidden. As the now-grown children race through the home, the ensuing scenes flashback to their childhood and eerily similar scenes of them as kids racing through the house, causing chaos, and inflicting injury to each other. The closing scene ends with the grown children finding a fake deed with their father’s voice overlaying the action. He reminds them of their terrible memories in the home and tells them that he had already planned to have the house demolished; this demolition begins while they are still in the house. The actual video can be seen here.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Alan Thicke’s sons, Robin and Brennan, believe Thicke’s third wife, Tanya Callau, is attempting to carve out more of his estate than she deserves. The sons are claiming that Callau has threatened to go to the tabloids if she does not receive more than what Thicke left her in his will. As it is, Callau allegedly received 25% of Thicke’s personal assets, 40% of the remaining estate, a $500,000 life insurance policy, and a guarantee that she could remain at the ranch. The sons do not want Callau to receive any additional dispersion and want a judge to enforce the will and prenup.
See Alan Thicke: Sons Go to War with His Wife to Protect the Estate, TMZ, May 16, 2017.
The Florida legislature recently passed a bill through both houses authorizing electronic wills and electronic will execution. The purpose of the legislation is to aid in reducing fraud and misdeeds associated with paper wills. Paper wills will not be affected by the legislation, but they may be revoked by an electronic will.
A few key provisions, if the electronic will is signed by the testator electronically, then the witnesses must sign electronically as well; two witnesses are still required and they must be in the testator’s presence. The digital signature does not require a third party intermediary for the testator to establish an online identity. If the will contains a self-proving affidavit, both the will and the affidavit must be stored with an authorized custodian. There are a number of restrictions on who may be a custodian and their subsequent liability; persons drafting electronic wills should include the name of the custodian in the will.
This new bill will likely aid Internet-based will preparation companies. It is also reasonable to expect some attorneys to use electronic means to draft a will when it is not feasible for the client to come to the attorney’s office. While these attorneys may opt to create in-house custodians, the regulatory restrictions and liability may encourage more third-party firms to handle the digital storage. The larger question is whether this legislation will push more attorneys to utilize their option at drafting electronic wills, or if the status quo will remain unchanged.
See Charles Rubin, Florida Wills Go Electronic, Rubin on Tax, May 13, 2017.
Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.
Jeffrey Evans Stake recently published an Article entitled, Biologically Biased Beneficence, 48 Ariz. St. L.J. 1101 (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:
After death and after taxes, the laws relating to wills, trusts, and intestate succession determine what to do with a decedent’s assets. Much of that body of law is built upon the assumption that the law should help the decedent reach her goals if she has expressed them, or mimic her probable goals if she has not. As put by Daniel Kelly, “The organizing principle of succession law is testamentary freedom.” While the wishes of decedents are certainly relevant, as a normative matter there are other concerns deserving attention. This Paper discusses some biological reasons to worry about the behavior of benefactors. Various potential bio-biases in the hearts of donors will be identified, followed in each case by ideas for reforming the law. My main message is that testamentary freedom should be demoted from the organizing principle to an important consideration in the design of the law of succession.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Peter T. Wendel recently published an Article entitled, Wills Act Compliance—Strict Compliance vs. Substantial Compliance/Harmless Error: Flawed Narrative = Flawed Analysis?, 31 Probate & Property 22 (May/June 2017). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:
One of the more heated issues in the field of wills, trusts, and estates is what degree of compliance the courts should insist on when applying a state’s Wills Act formalities to a document and analyzing whether the document has been properly executed. The prevailing narrative is that there are only two options. In one corner is the traditional strict compliance approach: an old and tired combatant, but one that keeps hanging in there and can still put up a good fight. Strict compliance focuses on the formalities, insisting on absolute strict compliance with the Wills Act requirements, such that any defect, any failing in the execution ceremony, always and absolutely invalidates the instrument, thereby frustrating the decedent’s intent. In the other corner are Prof. Langbein’s substantial compliance/harmless error proposals: the young, up-and-coming combatant, who slowly but surely is winning bouts and many argue is the heir apparent to the crown. The substantial compliance/harmless error proposals focus on intent. So long as there is clear and convincing evidence that the decedent intended the document to be his will, the court should overlook any failings in the execution ceremony in the interest of promoting testamentary intent. The lines have been drawn, the states must decide: should they promote testamentary intent or the Wills Act formalities? Phrased that way, it seems like a rather simple choice. With apologies to Eddie Izzard, it is a bit like asking which you prefer: “cake or death?”
The problem is, the narrative is flawed and has been from the start. There has always been a third option: a formality-based, court-created, flexible strict compliance approach.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
The American Bar Association is holding a webinar entitled, Airbrushed Heirs: The Problem of Children Omitted from Wills, which will take place May 16, 2017 at 12:30 PM ET. Provided below is a description of the webinar:
While most countries offer children a mandatory share of their parents’ estates, U.S. law does not. American parents have free rein to disinherit any or all of their children. U.S. law is more protective, however, of children when circumstances indicate that a parent failed to include them in a will inadvertently. Throughout U.S. law, children enjoy some sort of legal safeguard against an estate plan that omits them contrary to the inferred wishes of a parent, though the form of this safeguard varies from state to state.
Our panel will address this problem, highlighted in Professor Hirsch’s article “Airbrushed Heirs: The Problem of Children Omitted from Wills,” which featured in Volume 50 of the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal (2015). Professor Hirsch will describe the different forms of American statutes protecting children of a testator who fails to provide for them in his or her will, as well as some of the shortcomings of these statutes. Professor Scalise, a member of the Louisiana Law Institute who has written extensively on inheritance issues, will discuss these issues from a civil law perspective. Professor Taite will discuss her recent work in which she has argued that the best interest of the child is better served by the statutory forced share of the parent’s estate over the parent’s testamentary freedom.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
The Iowa Law Review & ACTEC Foundation are holding a symposium entitled, Wealth Transfer Law in Comparative & International Perspective, which will take place Friday, September 8, 2017, at the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City, Iowa. Provided below is a description of the symposium:
Please join us for a discussion on wealth transfer law with our outstanding speakers and enjoy free attendance! Panel 1 will discuss the comparative and international perspectives on succession, beginning at 9 AM. Next, Panel 2 will speak on comparative and international perspectives on trusts and other will substitutes, beginning at 10:45 AM. Up next, Panel 3 will engage the audience about comparative and international perspectives from Asia, beginning at 1:45 PM. And finally, Lionel Smith will present the final lecture on wealth transfer law, followed by a reception.
Attendees must pre-register by Friday, September 1, 2017, as day-of registration will not be allowed.
From 2007 to 2016, the percentage of people over 50 years old who cohabit with an unmarried partner jumped 75%. Even so, the number over age 65 doubled. This trend can partly be attributed to the sheer size of the baby boomer cohort and its rising divorce rate. Cohabitation in later life brings companionship, sexual intimacy, and wider social circles at ages when isolation is more common. Economic stability is also improved, as these elders pool their resources into a common household. On the other hand, marrying or remarrying can negatively affect government and pension benefits. Other issues like documenting end-of-life intentions, designating health care decision-makers, and writing wills are more important for married couples due to the potential of state laws not carrying out specific preferences. So, married or not commitment in later life represents hope for the future.
See Paula Span, More Older Couples Are ‘Shacking Up’, N.Y. Times, May 8, 2017.
Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) & Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.
It is common for people to remarry later in life after amassing wealth, but how do you plan for your estate to provide for your new spouse and adult children? It is essential for spouses to spend the time necessary to create an estate plan that protects their children’s interest. One way to safeguard your children’s inheritance is to bequeath a specific gift to them through your will. You can also make them beneficiaries of assets that are not governed by a will, like IRAs, 401(k)s, and insurance policies. Similarly, making inter vivos gifts during your lifetime are a great way to protect your children’s legacy. An easy way to protect your children’s inheritance is to create a trust, which gives your spouse some interest during his or her lifetime with the assets distributed to the children at their death. Additionally, creating a prenuptial or marital property agreement can help clarify your inheritance wishes. Overall, an estate plan should be a necessary part of protecting your legacy for your children.
See How to Safeguard Your Children’s Inheritance if You’ve Remarried, Forbes, May 3, 2017.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.