Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bail Bondsman and Defense Attorney Accused of Will Forgery

JailBail bondsman Ray Zapata of San Angelo, Texas, has been indicted in connection to allegations that he forged the will of John Edward Sullivan, who died last year. Defense attorney John Young has also been indicted in the case, which charges the two men with multiple offenses including forgery, aggravated perjury, and theft. Young was named in Sullivan's allegedly forged will as the sole beneficiary of Sullivan's estate valued at over $5 million. At the time of Sullivan's death, Young was his defense attorney in a case regarding child pornography and online solicitation charges against Sullivan.

See Chelsea Reinhard, San Angelo Bail Bondsman, Defense Attorney Accused of Forging Will of Alleged Pedophile, San Angelo Live, March 26, 2015

Special thanks to Blair Park (Texas Tech University School of Law, J.D. Candidate, 2016) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 29, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Elder Abuse Investigator Sued Over Husband's Will

Gavel2A former Medford, Oregon police detective who specialized in investigating elder abuse has been accused of using her expertise to exploit the dementia of a Portland lawyer before his death last year. 

The daughter of Victor Calzaretta says that she was in line to inherit her father’s estate until Calzaretta married Sue Campbell after only a brief courtship.  In 2011, Calzaretta changed his will to make his wife the executor and sole beneficiary.

The $4 million dollar lawsuit filed on behalf of Diane Miller alleges the detective was familiar with the signs of dementia and married Calzaretta to gain access to his estate.  Campbell denies the allegations.

See Steven Dubois, Daughter Sues Elder Abuse Investigator Over Father’s Will, Statesman Journal, March 27, 2015.

March 27, 2015 in Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Undue Influence Ruling Upheld

Gavel2Patty Carlman successfully challenged her father's will in a Florida probate court, alleging that her father's surviving spouse, Demetra Blinn, asserted undue influence in having his will changed to leave all assets to Demetra. Demetra married Richard Blinn when he was 82 years old and suffering from dementia. Evidence was heard regarding Demetra giving the drafting lawyer for the new will proof of Richard's sound mental state that was nine-months old, and taking steps to isolate  Richard from his family. Demetra appealed the probate court's ruling.

In Blinn v. Carlman, a Florida appeals court found that there was "substantial competent evidence" of undue influence relied on by the probate court and affirmed the invalidation of the will.

See Anya Van Veen, Florida Will Overturned On Finding of Undue Influence By Surviving Spouse, Clark Skatoff, March 19th, 2015

March 23, 2015 in Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tax Court Limits Charitable Deduction For Estate

GavelWhen Eileen Belmont died, the bulk of her estate was left to charity including a post-death cash distribution from her retirement plan. But a legal challenge by her brother caused the money to be used to defend the will but after the estate claimed a charitable tax deduction on the amount.

In Estate of Belmont v. Commissioner, the Tax Court denied the deduction because the amount had not been permanently set aside for future distribution to the charity. To be considered permanently set aside, the court stated, the possibility the money would not go to the charity must be “so remote as to be negligible.”  Since there were many indicators the money would be required to fend off the brother’s challenge the estate should have known the set aside would not be permanent and waited to make the deduction until a later taxable year.

See Jillian Merns, Estate Loses Out On Charitable Deduction, Wealth Management, March 16, 2015.

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

March 23, 2015 in Estate Administration, Income Tax, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Oregon to Consider Digital Communication After Death

Computer 2As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, what becomes of a person’s online life in the event of their death?  This is an issue that Oregon lawmakers are facing this legislative session. 

The issue is under what circumstances an executor can gain access to the contents of personal, private digital communications after a person dies—including emails, chats, social media messages, online dating profiles, and other conversations with friends and family.  Senate Bill 369, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), sets exposure of communication as the default unless a person has hired an attorney to state in a will what is to be done with digital communication accounts.  Without privacy protections outlined in a will, the estate executor receives unfettered access to digital communications upon the individual’s death. 

Contrastingly, Oregon House Bill 2647, the Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act (PEAC), protects user choices and keeps privacy as the default.  If a person indicates what is to be done with an account in a will, the choice is respected.  However, if no such choice was made, an executor can gain access to digital records, but only “outside the envelope.”  This means that the online communication provider will release information related to whom a person has received emails from, but will not release the content of those emails.  Technology companies urge Oregon lawmakers to respect the choices people make and pass HB 2647 this session.

See Megan Schrader, Protecting Oregonians’ Privacy in Life—and Death, Blue Oregon, March 20, 2015.

March 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Doctor's Estate Embroiled in Legal Battle

Last will and testamentThe death of Wayne Breen, a New Orleans physician, is still being investigated by the sheriff’s office; however, the battle over his estate has already begun. 

Whether Wayne’s wife, Kacie, committed murder when she shot her husband twice in the early morning of March 1st, is still unknown.  But just five days after Wayne was shot, attorneys working for Kacie filed a motion in state district court to appoint an attorney to try to find Wayne’s will.  The filing included a copy of the most recent will that Kacie possessed, which was signed in 2013. 

Shortly thereafter, a different attorney filed a motion to disqualify the lawyers representing Kacie.  The allegation was that the firm (Talley, Anthony, Hughes & Knight) had a conflict.  One of the firm’s partners, Chuck Hughes, also provides legal counsel to the same sheriff’s office investigating Wayne’s death.  The motion stated that the firm’s close relationships with both the sheriff’s office and the subject of the homicide investigation created a “glaring conflict of interest” that applied to all the members of the firm.

The firm disputed the allegations, calling the claims “meritless.”  “The sheriff is not a participant in the succession proceedings, and Mrs. Breen has not instituted any action against the Sheriff’s Office. Were charges ever to be brought against Mrs. Breen, those charges would be brought by the district attorney — not the sheriff,” the motion said.  Yet after refuting the claims, the firm withdrew as counsel of record and moved to enroll a different attorney, “out of respect for the sensitive nature of these proceedings.”

See Faimon A. Roberts III, Legal Battle Begins Over Slain Covington Doctor’s Estate, The New Orleans Advocate, March 19, 2015. 

March 20, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Man Defrauds Brother-In-Law's Estate

MisappropriationA sixty-year-old man admitted to misappropriating $510,000 from the estate of his brother-in-law to use in his personal business. 

Bernard W. Ozarowski pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Morristown, New Jersey to a charge of second-degree misapplication of entrusted property.  When Ozarowski’s brother-in-law died in December 2011, Ozarowski was appointed as executor of the estate, which contained significant assets.  Ozarowski was in charge of distributing the assets to the beneficiaries of the will and although he made a few payments to beneficiaries, he transferred the remaining assets of the estate to his own company.  Ozarowski misapplied over half a million of his brother-in-law’s assets by spending the money on personal business expenses in an effort to keep his company afloat. 

Under the plea agreement, the state is recommending a three-year state prison sentence for Ozarowski and he must pay $510,00 in restitution to the designated beneficiaries.  Ozarowski has made an application to be admitted to the Drug Court program.

See Ben Horowitz, Man Admits Misappropriating $510K from Brother-In-Law’s Estate, NJ.com, March 19, 2015.

March 20, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Robin Williams' Potential Planning Pitfall

Robin Williams

Following Robin Williams’s tragic death, a quarrelsome court battle over his estate exploded between his widow and his three children from two previous marriages.  Not only are they arguing over the division of wealth, but also over Williams’ personal effects and belongings. 

According to court documents, both sides want the majority of Williams’ memorabilia.  Furthermore, his children claim that their father’s widow acted against wishes outlined in his estate plan. Williams’ will, filed after his death, left his entire estate to a trust, which included his three children as beneficiaries.  After he married his third wife, she signed a prenuptial agreement and the trust was updated. 

Although Williams did good planning, his estate still ended up in a court battle.  One of these reasons may be Williams’ use of a will to set up a trust.  One of the main benefits of a “living” trust—one that is created and funded while you are alive—is to avoid probate.  If Williams had set up a living trust, there would be no probate for the assets in the trust; thus, it would be more difficult to contest the trust.

See Bonnie Kraham, Bonnie Kraham: Living Trust Can Help Avoid Problems, Times Herald Record, March 18, 2015.

March 20, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dispute Over Reynolds Fortune Heads to Court

Reynolds MetalsA legal battle over the estate of the late Virginia Sargeant Reynolds, an heir to the Reynolds Metals fortune, has poured into a Richmond Circuit Court. 

Virginia Reynolds, who died in January 2014 at age 99, was the widow of Richard S. Reynolds Jr., former chairman of Reynolds Metal Co. She also was the mother of the late J. Sargeant Reynolds, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia.  In her will, she left a “token gift” of $200,000 to her son, Richard S. “Major” Reynolds.

According to a court filing, Major Reynolds is now seeking more — a piece of an additional $1.8 million that has yet to be divided. The trustees of the estate are asking a judge to decide whether that is a violation of the will, which contains a no-contest clause that says if any party contests or disputes the will, he or she receives nothing.  If a judge rules that Major should be stripped of his inheritance, the trustees also want advice on how Major’s $200,000 should be redistributed among Reynolds’ heirs.

See Ned Oliver, Dispute Over Reynolds Fortune Spills into Court, Style Weekly, March 17, 2015.

March 18, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Four Indicted for Robbing Elderly Clients

Atlantic County JusticeA New Jersey grand jury indicted the owner of an in-home senior care company and her sister, alleging they stole more than $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients to buy a Mercedes, a swimming pool and a Florida condo.

The duo posed as caregivers, while at the same time plotted to steal their clients’ life savings.  "In some cases, these sisters allegedly deprived their vulnerable victims of the ability to live out their final days in comfort and dignity, callously draining away the victims’ funds to pay for their own pets, swimming pool, expensive cars and Florida condo," said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. 

The defendants robbed their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses.  They would then add their names to the victims’ bank accounts or transferred the victims’ funds into accounts they controlled.  When one of them prepared a will for a victim, she typically named herself as executor of the estate and named a co-conspirator as a beneficiary.    

See Grand Jury Indicts 4 for Conspiring to Rob Elderly Clients, Press of Atlantic City, March 17, 2015.

March 18, 2015 in Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)