Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Will of Princess Diana is now available online as part of a vast archive of wills dating back to 1858. “Qadir Ahmed runs the secure Iron Mountain facility in a leafy suburb of Birmingham where row upon row of the documents are kept in temperature-controlled storage, under tight security.” The new system means that people no longer have to order wills by post or at their local registry office. The wills of other famous individuals including Winston Churchill and George Orwell are also included in this expansive archive.
See Will from Princess Diana That Explained How She Wanted Her £21.4m Estate Distributed Now Available Online With 41 Million Others, Daily Mail, April 19, 2015.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.
The American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education (ALI CLE) is presenting a CLE entitled, Estate Planning in Depth, on June 21-26, 2015, at the University of Wisconsin School of Law. Here is why you should attend:
Hear the country’s most experienced practitioners share strategies, tips, and insights on some of the most complex challenges estate planners encounter, including:
- using trusts to manage inherited wealth
- what every domestic estate planner should know about international estate planning
- estate planning for digital assets
- selecting, educating, and protecting trustees
- estate planning with life insurance
- estate planning for business owners, including succession planning
- assisting elderly and disabled clients with their planning needs
- charitable planning from simple to sophisticated
Monday, April 20, 2015
The issues surrounding late Soprano’s actor James Gandolfini's estate provide another example as to why proper estate planning is so important. Below are six mistakes that people often make that could cause headaches:
- You are not too young for a will. Not having a will can create a lot of hassle when it comes to naming a guardian for yourself or your children. Creating an estate plan is not that costly when contrasted with the consequences of not having one.
- Avoid placing property into joint ownership. Adding a person’s name to an asset like a bank account can create problems, thus, it is better to designate in a will.
- A will is not the final word. You might forget about other assets like a 401(k), insurance policies, or an IRA.
- Avoid letting the beneficiary squander the inheritance. Creating a trust can be a good way to manage the allocation of estate assets.
- Avoid creating sibling rivalry. Disputes between children over a decedent’s estate often cause rifts in families. It is good to plan ahead to avoid these types of problems.
- Do not make over-complicated plans. Using complex estate planning techniques, like creating a bypass trust, has its own set of problems. Speak with an attorney about the different viable options.
See 6 Costly Estate-Planning Minefields, and How to Avoid Them, Consumer Reports, Apr. 14, 2015.
George Holmes (Louisiana State University) recently published a comment entitled, Testamentary Formalism in Louisiana: Curing Notarial Will Defects Through a Likelihood-of-Fraud Analysis, 75 La. L. Rev. 511-541 (2014). Provided below is a portion of the article’s introduction:
Before James Holbrook died, he thought that his last will and testament was valid. The document that he prepared for probate appeared to have all of the requisite formalities for a notarial will required by Louisiana Civil Code article 1577. Unfortunately for Mr. Holbrook’s potential legatees, the date recorded on the attestation clause of the will included the year and the month, but not the day—contrary to the strict requirements of Louisiana law. Although the will was properly dated on every other page, the omission of the date on the attestation clause was due to the fault of the notary who executed the document. Mr. Holbrook’s daughter challenged the validity of the will on the basis of its lack of form; she did not claim the existence of another will. Although the document complied with the statutory formalities of a notarial will in every other respect, a Louisiana circuit court declared his will null for lack of form because of a seemingly minor flaw.
Many people die leaving behind instruments that, although intended to be wills, contain errors that deviate from the statutory requirements. Much like the circuit court that decided Mr. Holbrook’s case, courts across the United States have historically regarded any deviation from the formal requirements of wills as fatal to a will’s validity. One basis for these decisions is that will formalities exist to provide unequivocal evidence of testamentary intent. A conflict arises, however, when the testator’s intent is evident despite the testator’s non-compliance with the formalities. In such cases, wills are often invalidated notwithstanding the clear intent of the testator to leave a will.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Last year 92-year-old William Collins was found dead; and on Wednesday, a six-person jury ruled the cause of death a homicide. Collins was killed by blunt force trauma to the head and his caretaker, Judith Marc, was found to be responsible. “He had a will naming her the executor and all the inheritance of the house and a bunch of other things of his. She also had two other people she had also taken care of in the past that were also dead,” coroner Robert Allen said.
See Monroe County Coroner’s Inquest Finds Caregiver Responsible For Death, 69 News, Apr. 15, 2015.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Disputes over the legendary musician Muddy Waters’ financial legacy has spawned a legal battle between Waters’ heirs and representatives of estate executor Scott Cameron, who managed Waters during his career.
A probate hearing is scheduled on a petition filed by Waters’ daughter, Mercy Morganfield, on behalf of Waters’ widow, Marva Morganfield. After three decades, the heirs are asking the court to reopen Waters’ estate, appoint Mercy as administrator and distribute any remaining assets (primarily copyrights to music). The petition alleges that Cameron missed a regular royalty payment in December and failed to provide proper estate accounting. Furthermore, Cameron should have turned over all of Waters’ assets when the courts closed the estate.
See Clifford Ward, Late Bluesman Muddy Waters At Center of Legal Dispute in DuPage, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 15, 2015.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Because many wills from the 18th and 19th centuries can now be accessed electronically, fascinating details about the final wishes of history’s most influential figures may be discerned. These wills are a unique record of the people and things valued in life, and reveal that some things transcend over time—one being the extent to which colleagues become our closest friends.
For example, Charles Darwin stated in his will, “I give and bequeath to each of my friends, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and Thomas Henry Huxley Esquire, the legacy or sum of one thousand pounds sterling free of legacy duty as a slight memorial of my life-long affection and respect for them.” Economist John Keynes named his Cambridge University colleague and friend Richard Kahn as an executor and trustee in his will, asking him to care for and protect his professional and personal legacy.
See Ben Rossi, The Digitised Wills of Alan Turing and Charles Darwin Reveal a Surprising Similarity in Their Final Wishes, Information Age, Apr. 10, 2015.
Dr. Hannah Stirling was a passionate campaigner and founder member of the Friends of Loch Lomond in Scotland, and dedicated much of her life to preserving the loch. Dubbed, “The Queen of Loch Lomond,” Dr. Stirling left more than £1 million of her £2 million estate in her will to help conserve the area.
As a staunch conservationist, Dr. Stirling was bestowed a multitude of awards, including the Europa Nostra Award for her outstanding work. Before her death, Dr. Stirling stated, “My fight for Loch Lomond started in 1978 and, although the nature of the problem has changed, the object remains the same—to restore to this most beautiful and historic of places the tranquility which it deserves.”
See Stuart MacDonald, “Queen of Loch Lomond” Leaves Huge Bequest to Help Preserve the Beauty of the Area, Herald Scotland, Apr. 11, 2015.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Mark Glover (University of Wyoming College of Law) recently published an article entitled, A Taxonomy of Testamentary Intent, 23 George Mason Law Review (2016), Forthcoming. Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:
Testamentary intent is consistently heralded as the cornerstone of a will. Moreover, judges and scholars explain that the decedent’s intent should guide probate courts as they supervise the distribution of the decedent’s estate. But despite the importance of testamentary intent within the law of wills, a clear and consistent testamentary intent doctrine has failed to develop. Courts frequently espouse the significance of testamentary intent without explaining what testamentary intent is, and when they do give more detail regarding the meaning of testamentary intent, their explanations are often vague and at times confusing and contradictory. Likewise, legal scholars have done little to untangle the specifics of testamentary intent.
The lack of a clearly defined testamentary intent doctrine has caused both practical misapplication and theoretical misunderstanding of various aspects of the law of wills. The need for a clear understanding of testamentary intent will continue to grow as the law of wills moves away from formalistic approaches to the validation, interpretation, and construction of wills and toward approaches that grant courts greater discretion to decide issues related to the decedent’s intent. Without a firm grasp of testamentary intent, greater judicial discretion could lead to inconsistent and unpredictable outcomes, thereby promoting costly probate litigation.
The goal of this Article is therefore to cultivate a better understanding of testamentary intent. It pursues this goal by developing a taxonomy of testamentary intent that clearly distinguishes the primary issues related to the court’s task of fulfilling the intent of the decedent and that identifies the major rules and doctrines that courts should apply when deciding these issues. With this taxonomy in place, a more consistent testamentary intent doctrine might emerge and a deeper understanding of the role of the decedent’s intent within the law of wills can develop.
As the value of collectables steadily increase, the difficulties that may arise with their distribution after the death of the owner grows. Some steps that may be taken to prevent disputes include ensuring equitable distribution through settlement agreements or having potential beneficiaries with an interest in the same hobby take the collection in lieu of other property. However, any planner must take into account the variability in the collectables market when it comes to valuation for estate and tax purposes. To compensate, bring experts in the field to appraise the items or use dealers to sell the items on consignment.
See David Ringold, Daddy Wanted ME to Have The Honus Wagner!, Wealth Management, Mar. 25, 2015.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.