Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Muhammad Ali's Will Set to Ignite "World War Three"

Ali world war threeMuhammad Ali’s will is set to ignite “World War Three” within his family due to the inheritance amounts his nine children will receive. Ali’s $80 million estate will be divided between his widow and children. His widow is expected to inherit double what the children have been given, which is likely to cause some family squabble. Ali’s children have reportedly been left $6 million each, but their grievances over his widow inheriting double stem from her preventing them from seeing their father before his death. 

See Revealed: Muhammad Ali’s Widow Will Receive DOUBLE the $6M Inheritance Awarded to Each of His Nine Children, Sparking ‘World War Three’ Between the Warring Relatives, Daily Mail, January 3, 2017. 


January 4, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Sports, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Problem with the Chinese Not Having Wills

Chinese willsChina is the world’s most populous nation with the second-largest economy, but almost no one has a will to pass on their estate. Only 1% of Chinese seniors have created an inheritance plan. The reason is cultural—the subject of death is taboo, and writing a will is thought to put a curse on the testator. Now thirty years after communist China allowed individuals to accumulate wealth, that first generation to benefit is starting to die, creating inheritance disputes that are clogging up the court system. To remedy this problem, the government is requesting that local authorities establish free legal centers for seniors. 

See Hannah Gardner, Chinese Don’t Have Wills – and Now It’s a Big Problem, USA Today, January 2, 2017. 


January 4, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Learn from These Celebrities' Estate-Planning Mistakes

Celebrity deathsAverage Americans make estate-planning mistakes all the time, but when a celebrity makes them, we are sure to hear about it, and each story can leave us with some estate-planning wisdom. The biggest lesson of 2016 is one that we can all learn from Prince—you must have an estate plan! The singer died without his own estate plan, which gave large sums of money to attorneys, banks, and the government. Further, it is important to update your estate plan to account for your beneficiaries’ life situation. Whitney Houston never updated her estate plan after her daughter was born, which left her daughter with large sums of money at an early age, and she died shortly after. Another lesson for your estate plan is that when you create a trust, you must retitle the assets in the name of the trust. Michael Jackson’s estate dealt with this issue for many years because he did not properly “fund” his trust. Also, you must plan for the possibility of new heirs in your estate plan. Heath Ledger had an estate plan, but after his sudden death, all of his fortune went to his parents and sister, not his daughter. Finally, you must keep your estate plan in a safe place and communicate to your family where that is. Florence Joyner had a will but never told anyone where it was located, so her family spent the next four years in litigation before coming to a settlement. These are just some of the many estate-planning lessons we can learn from celebrities. 

See Matthew Talbot, Avoid These Celebrity Mistakes with Your Estate Plan, Lamorinda Weekly, December 28, 2016. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.


December 29, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Intestate Succession, Music, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

George Michael's Godchildren Set to Inherit Millions

George michael2George Michael’s godchildren are expected to receive substantial inheritances from the late singer’s will. Michael was a godparent to several of his celebrity friend’s children, who could now walk away with part of his $120 million estate. He made his fortune from his singing career and royalties, investing a portion of it into properties and art. In addition, Michael was a long-term supporter of many charities, including Childline and Macmillan Cancer Support, which could see future bequests from the megastar. His two older sisters, his boyfriend, and his cousin’s two children are also expected to be named in his will. 

See Richard Spillett & Alex Matthews, George Michael’s £100m Fortune ‘Will Go to His Godchildren’: Offspring of His Celebrity Friends Could Inherit Tens of Millions EACH After Star Died Without Heirs, Daily Mail, December 27, 2016. 

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


December 27, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Article on New York Will Drafting

Will drafting2Gerald Lebovits recently published an Article entitled, Will of Fortune: New York Will Drafting – Part 2, 89 N.Y. St. B.J. 64 (2017). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

Part 1 of this two-part column, which appeared in the last edition of the New York State Journal, outlined the basics of New York will drafting. This column is about the importance of clarity in will drafting.


December 26, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Article on Law of the American Dead

Law of the deadRay D. Madoff recently published an Article entitled, The Law of the American Dead, 3 Savannah L. Rev. 1–14 (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

This Essay outlines my journey to and through the law of the dead: what brought me to this subject and what I found along the way. 

The subject of the Law of the Dead is not really one that most people think of when they think of legal scholarship. Most think of Contracts, Telecommunications, Criminal Law, and other subjects of that ilk. All of those subjects have their dedicated academics, who have all sorts of events in which everyone gets together to discuss their shared interest in these topics. But we Law of the Dead people really had not had this opportunity before. The Savannah Law Review Colloquium was our very first meeting. 

So you might wonder what first brought me to this topic. 

I first came to this subject by way of the courses I teach: Trusts and Estates, Estate Planning, and Estate Gift Tax. All of these courses are grounded by the principle of freedom of testation. Freedom of testation generally means that in the United States, people can leave their wishes about what they want done with their property, and the law will expend significant effort to actually carry out those wishes. Well, of course, you might think, “yeah, that’s obvious.” But it is not that way everywhere, and it is really not so obvious that it would have to be that way. We could come up with all other rules about what happens to people’s property after death. For example, in some countries, as much as eighty percent of a person’s property must be distributed to the spouse and children after death, allowing that person to control only twenty percent of value to us. 


December 22, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Case Summary on Will Beneficiary's Cause of Action Against Drafting Attorney

Will contest prPROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY: Disappointed will beneficiary has a cause of action against the drafting attorney as a third-party beneficiary. The testator instructed her attorney to draft a will leaving her estate to her mother and if her mother predeceased, to a named charity. The mother predeceased but subsequent litigation determined that her will gave only tangible personal property to the charity and failed to dispose of her real property which therefore passed through intestacy to her heirs. The charity brought an action against the attorney on a third-party beneficiary theory and prevailed both at trial and on appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. In Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 786 S.E.2d 453 (Va. 2016), the court held that under Virginia common law, third-party beneficiaries can sue on oral contracts; that the applicable three-year statute of limitations begins to run on the testator’s death, and that the evidence was sufficient to show the testator contracted with the lawyer to draft a will benefitting the testator’s mother and the charity. One justice dissented arguing that abolition of the common law privity requirement is a policy issue to be decided by the legislature and not by the court.

Special thanks to William LaPiana (Professor of Law, New York Law School) for bringing this case to my attention.


December 19, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Professional Responsibility, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Corona Beer Tycoon Keeps Hometown Alive

Spanish townAfter the recent death of a Corona beer founder, his will went viral because it was believed that he left his fortune to a tiny Spanish village, Cerezales del Condado, where he was born. According to the rumors, each resident of the village would receive $2 million from Antonino Fernandez’s will. Upon interviewing some of the villagers, they stipulated that Fernandez did not leave a will detailing how is fortune was to be divided, but he did invest millions in the small town during his lifetime, which many locals say kept the town alive. For example, near the end of his life, Fernandez donated $8 million to his namesake foundation, which finds its roots in his hometown.  

See Lauren Frayer, A Spanish Village Stays Afloat, Thanks to Corona Beer Tycoon, npr, December 5, 2016.  

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


December 18, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Case Summary on Gift Implications of Testamentary Scheme

Testamentary schemeINTERPRETATION: Testamentary scheme supports gift by implication. The decedent’s will made gifts of $2,000 to each of her eight children and two stepchildren, gave the largest amount that could pass free of federal estate tax to her nominated trustee in trust for her spouse for life, remainder to the 10 children and stepchildren and to the descendants of any who did not survive, and the residue to her spouse. The will made no provision if the spouse predeceased the decedent which happened. At the decedent’s death, the trust could not be funded because the decedent’s applicable exclusion amount had been consumed by lifetime gifts made by her agent, one of her eight children. Had the trust been funded, the remainders in the children, all of whom survived the decedent, would have accelerated. The failure of the residuary gift meant that the residue passed under the intestacy statute to the decedent’s eight children. One of the stepchildren began a proceeding to construe the will and prevailed in the Surrogate’s Court. On appeal, a New York intermediate appellate court affirmed, holding that the decedent’s general testamentary plan as evidenced in the will shows that the decedent intended to treat her children and stepchildren equally, does not show that the decedent intended a different result if her spouse predeceased, and therefore the general plan must be carried out by implying a will provision giving the residue of the estate equally to all ten children. In re Estate of Warren, 39 N.Y.S. 3d 282 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).

Special thanks to William LaPiana (Professor of Law, New York Law School) for bringing this case to my attention.


December 15, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Case Summary on Attestation of a Will

AttestationATTESTATION: Witnesses’ signatures on loose page did not prevent finding of due execution. The decedent’s will consisted of six loose pages, numbered consecutively with a running footer declaring the pages to be 1 of 6, 2 of 6 and so on. The font and typeface were consistent from one page to the next and the document consisted of 11 consecutively numbered paragraphs. The decedent signed at the foot of page 5 and the witnesses’ signatures appear on page 6. Page 5 ends with “an inarticulate sentence fragment” which does not connect grammatically with the first sentence of page 6. The rest of the text on page 6 is not a complete attestation clause because it omits to state that the witnesses signed in the presence of the testator. Nevertheless, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that in these circumstances the witnesses signatures were part of the will and the presumption of due execution applied. Castruccio v. Estate of Castruccio, No. 1665, 2016 WL 5462966 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Sept. 29, 2016).

Special thanks to William LaPiana (Professor of Law, New York Law School) for bringing this case to my attention.

December 10, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)