Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Queen’s clothes and jewels: Who inherits her enormous collection?

QueenWhile many have been talking about Queen Elizabeth’s $447 million fortune and how it will be divided amongst members of the Royal family, many are curious what will happen to her large collection of clothing and jewelry. Royal experts believe her wardrobe will be split primarily between Kate Middleton and Queen Consort Camilla, with Middleton having first choice.

The late Queen had a famously colorful sense of style and many of her most memorable outfits will be taken by a royal trust for future display in museums. It is anticipated that her wedding gown, coronation gown, Jubilee ensembles, and coats and hats worn for royal weddings will join the Historic Royal Palaces Collection which also preserves pieces from Queen Victoria and Princess Diana. 

For more information see Andrew Court “The Queen’s clothes and jewels: Who inherits her enormous collection?” New York Post, September 23, 2022.

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

September 24, 2022 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2022

Article: Inheritance in an Unequal Age

Jack Whiteley (Georgetown University Law Center) recently published an article entitled, Inheritance in an Unequal Age, Northwestern University Law Review (Forthcoming 2023). Provided below is the abstract to the paper:

For centuries, the common law limited aristocratic wealth. In the last three decades, that has changed. One by one, state legislatures have eliminated the Rule against Perpetuities, and now dynasty trusts can make carefully controlled payments to a trust settlor’s descendants for hundreds of years. This change occurred soon before a large and ongoing intergenerational wealth transfer in the United States. Trusts scholars have roundly criticized the Rule’s removal, and some have described it as charting a path to a new Gilded Age.

This Article draws a theoretical lesson from the Rule’s demise. I argue that part of the reason for the Rule’s end was its complexity: most lawyers, and most citizens, do not really know what the Rule is, or how it operates. Thus, in spite of its value, the Rule found too few defenders when special-interest advocates from financial industries competing jurisdictionally for trust fees sought to remove it. Complexity in inheritance law has this specific and timely cost: it can enable mechanisms for aristocratic wealth defense, even when it is meant to do the opposite. This is because rule complexity causes asymmetric information among future players. This dynamic should figure into proposals for reform.

September 23, 2022 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Article: The Slayer Rule: An Empirical Examination

Frederick E. Vars (Ira Drayton Pruitt, Sr. Professor at Law at the University of Alabama School of Law) recently published an article entitled, The Slayer Rule: An Empirical Examination, The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel Law Journal (Forthcoming 2023). Provided below is the abstract to the article:

Elmer Palmer murdered his grandfather. The undisputed motive was money. The grandfather’s will included a large gift to Elmer, which the grandfather was poised to eliminate. Elmer acted first. Under the law at the time, Elmer would inherit despite having intentionally killed his grandfather: the existing will controlled. Unfortunately for Elmer, the New York Court of Appeals announced a new equitable principle: Murderers cannot inherit from their victims. Since this famous decision in 1889, some version of the “slayer rule” has been adopted by nearly every state and lauded by nearly every commentator. Still, important questions about the proper scope of the slayer rule remain unanswered. Case law and scholarship identify multiple rationales for the slayer rule, which push in different directions in difficult applications.

This study is the first to empirically test key assumptions underlying the slayer rule. Over a thousand survey respondents answered the question “What’s fair?” or “What would the decedent want?” in twelve different scenarios. Some of the most significant conclusions are that the slayer rule should not apply to assisted suicide, killings in self-defense, or killings due to mental illness. On the other hand, the slayer rule should be expanded beyond murder in some circumstances, such as elder abuse and neglect. And the slayer rule should be converted from a mandatory rule into a default rule, which testators could opt out of in their wills. Carefully probing what people think about the slayer rule illuminates its many aspects and points toward needed reforms.

September 22, 2022 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Anne Heche estate battle begins as ex James Tupper claims he was left in charge, not her 'estranged' 20-year-old son

HecheThe dispute over Anne Heche’s estate has begun to heat up over who should be in charge after the actress died intestate. Her eldest son, Homer, requested to serve as special administrator last month, however, now her ex is contesting Homer’s appointment.

James Tupper, the father of Heche’s youngest son, claims he has a “will” from January 2011 that was given to him “in case [Anne] dies tomorrow.” Additionally, he has expressed numerous reasons why he does not believe Homer is equipped for the job, one being that he was estranged from his mother when she died.

The 2011 “will” is an email sent from Heche to Tupper and entertainment attorney, Kevin Yorn, with the request that it serve as her final wishes until formal papers could be drawn up. This email dictates that her assets would go to Tupper to manage and divide amongst her sons equally until they reach the age of 25. At that time, they could sell her real estate and split the money.

Another shocking claim to arise from Tupper's filing is that Homer has changed the locks on his mother’s apartment where she and her younger son resided, and has listed the residence as “vacant” in the court filing. Tupper notes this is “concerning as her home had previously been full of furnishings, jewelry, valuables, files, and records and their removal was in no way authorized by the Court.”

For more information see Suzy Byrne “Anne Heche estate battle begins as ex James Tupper claims he was left in charge, not her 'estranged' 20-year-old son” Yahoo! Entertainment, September 16, 2022.

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 21, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Dead woman talks to mourners at her own FUNERAL: New AI-powered 'holographic' video experience allows grieving loved ones to engage in two-way conversation with deceased grandmother

Estate planningMarina Smith passed away in June, but thanks to technology now available in the UK, she was able to talk to those in attendance at her funeral through AI-powered ‘holographic’ video technology. Mrs. Smith gave a brief speech about her life and responded to questions from family members at the ceremony. 

The technology was created by her son, Stephen Smith, co-founder and CEO of Storyfile, a Los Angeles-based AI company. Storyfile created a digital clone of Mrs. Smith by using 20 synchronized cameras used to record her answering a series of questions. The footage was later used to train AI so that it could provide responses to questions in Mrs. Smith’s natural way of speaking. The AI is then able to provide the illusion of a real-time conversation with users. 

Unlike “deepfake” videos, the AI does not put words into the individuals mouth. Rather, if the subject had not answered the question in the video recording session, the AI will encourage the inquisitor to ask something else.

For more information see Jonathon Chadwick “Dead woman talks to mourners at her own FUNERAL: New AI-powered ‘holographic’ video experience allows grieving loved ones to engage in two-way conversation with deceased grandmother” The Daily Mail, August 16, 2022.

Special thanks to Stephen Saunders (Saunders & Associates, Austin, TX) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 20, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Battle Over the Women’s Center at D.C.’s Sibley Hospital

SibleyWhat do nonprofit institutions owe donors who have given money for a specific project? That is the key question at the core of the battle over the Women’s Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

The Johns Hopkins Women’s Health Center was supposed to break ground in the summer of 2018, largely due to the fundraising efforts of many women in the Washington D.C. area who were excited to support a Sibley-based center that would serve their entire community. However, four years later, the center has still not come to fruition. 

Sibley Memorial Hospital has a reputation as being Washington’s “hospital for the stars,” and spent several years raising funds that many donors believed were “restricted funds” for a Women’s Center. This type fundraising sets aside monies for a designated purpose and is to be used for this designated purpose only. However, after accepting these donations, the hospital decided to go in another direction. While the hospital is permitted to change direction, best practices dictate that the hospital should have contacted donors to either offer refunds or re-direct their donations.

Many donors have reported that they have not been given this opportunity and instead have been left feeling devastated. The volunteers put in hundreds of hours of their own time working on the plans for the center, putting together fundraising events, and soliciting donations from the community and felt that their reputations were now put on the line.

“I don’t want my money back, I just want them to be held accountable.”

For more information see Alicia Mundy “The Battle Over the Women’s Center at D.C.’s Sibley Hospital” The Washington Post, September 7, 2022.

Special thanks to Deborah Matthews (Virginia Estate Planning Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 19, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Article: The Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Act 2018: A Shariah Appraisal of Self-Perceived Gender Identity and Right of Inheritance of The Transgender

Afrasiab Ahmed Rana (International Islamic University, Islamabad) and Hafiz Muhammad Siddique (University of Oxford) recently published an article entitled, The Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Act 2018: A Shariah Appraisal of Self-Perceived Gender Identity and Right of Inheritance of The Transgender. Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

The national legislature of Pakistan enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 with the aim to provide rights to the transgender community and also for their welfare. This act contain as many 11 rights including the right to self-perceived gender identity and right of inheritance of property. This article aims to study appraise the Shariah side of the right of self-perceived gender identity and right of inheritance.

Islam has set standard for the perception of gender identity with no room to the self-perception. On the other hand, Islamic law does not recognize the share on the basis of self-perceived gender identity.

This article is made up of the 5 parts, first part introduces the transgender in Pakistan and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 providing its background, the next part discusses the definitions of the transgender in the act and Shariah. The third section discusses the issue of gender identity, followed by the next section discussing the issue of inheritance and final section of conclusion.

September 19, 2022 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Article: Sticky Omitted Choice-of-Law Clauses: The Case of Heir Hunters

David Horton (Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law) recently published an article entitled, Sticky Omitted Choice-of-Law Clauses: The Case of Heir Hunters. Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

Commentators once thought that contracts were the product of natural selection. Supposedly, over time, drafters learned to keep useful clauses and delete the others. More recently, though, scholars have challenged this assumption by demonstrating that contractual provisions and gaps can be resistant to change, or “sticky.”

This symposium Article adds to this literature by examining the puzzling absence of choice-of-law clauses in heir hunting contracts. Because states disagree about whether heir hunting is legal and most heir hunters hail from permissive jurisdictions, one would expect heir hunters to select the law of their domicile. However, the Article’s review of 558 contracts reveals that heir hunters rarely use choice-of-law provisions. The Article then explores potential explanations for this discovery and analyzes how they inform the debate over sticky terms.

September 17, 2022 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2022

Texas homicide investigation underway after possible casket discovered buried under property near Houston

FuneralA Texas woman, who is being referred to as Mrs. Soza, purchased a plot of line adjacent to a cemetery in Crosby, TX last year. On a visit to the property she discovered a “fresh mound of dirt," and on a subsequent visit she found lanterns and fresh flowers.

She confirmed that this piece of land was her property and confirmed with the cemetery that it was not a misplaced grave. Mrs. Soza left a note in the area requesting that whoever left the flowers contact her, but has received no response. 

The Sheriff’s office has conducted an examination of the site and confirmed that an object, consistent with a burial vault or casket, is located below the surface. Based on the flowers and proximity to the cemetery, the Sheriff’s office believes it was either accidentally buried on the wrong side of the property line or that it was put there intentionally. 

Rather than immediately digging up the casket and searching the contents, authorities are hoping someone will see the story and come forward to identify their loved one.

For more information see Michael Ruiz “Texas homicide investigation underway after possible casket discovered buried under property near Houston” Fox News, September 14, 2022.

September 16, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company

Yvon ChouinardYvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, has given away the company. Rather than selling or taking it public, Chouinard and his family have transferred their ownership to a specially designed trust and nonprofit organization.

Valued around $3 billion, company’s voting stock was transferred into the Patagonia Purpose Trust, equivalent to two percent of the overall shares. It will be overseen by members of the family and their closest advisors with the intention of running a socially responsible business dedicated to giving away its profits.

The remaining 98 percent of Patagonia was donated to the nonprofit, Holdfast Collective, which will be the recipient of all profits to be put towards battling climate change. The family chose to do so with no charitable deduction, receiving no tax benefit from this move. They did so with the hope of influencing a new form of capitalism.

The company has given away 1 percent of sales to grass roots environmental activists for decades, but as sales have soared, the Chouinard family wanted to make a change. A small group of Patagonia lawyers and board members explored a range of options, which included selling the company, turning it into a cooperative with employees as owners, or becoming a nonprofit. However, none of these options could accomplish all of the Chouinard’s goals until they reached the current solution.

For Mr. Chouinard, it provides a peace of mind about what will happen to the company once he is gone. “I feel a big relief that I’ve put my life in order… For us, this was the ideal solution.”

For more information see David Gelles “Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company” The New York Times, September 14, 2022.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  

September 15, 2022 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)