Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jackson's Estate: Major Debt and A Major Asset

Jacksontwo At this point, little is known about Michael Jackson's estate plan or will, but this is what is known:

  • Heirs include three children, well-known siblings, and his parents.
  • Jackson was plagued with large debts and multiple lawsuits seeking to recover back debts
  • Last year Jackson sold Neverland Ranch for $22 million to pay back debts.
  • Jackson's creditors and heirs will likely fight for their piece of his biggest asset: his 50% ownership interest in the Sony/ATV music catalog.
  • The music catalog owns the publishing rights to thousands of songs and Jackson's half is valued at up to $500 million.
  • Jackson's hit songs are also owned by his estate.

See Christopher Palmeri, Settling Jackson's Estate May Be a Thriller, Business Week, June 25, 2009; see also TaxProf Blog.

Special thanks to Christina Tippit (JD, Texas Tech University 2009) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 27, 2009 in Current Events, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estate of Third Wife of Drew Peterson Reopened

Drew_petersonAn Illinois Appellate Court recently upheld reopening the estate of a deceased ex-spouse of Drew Peterson.

At the time of Kathleen Savio's supposedly accidental drowning death in 2004, the final order in her divorce from Drew Peterson was pending.  A hand written will named James Carrol, the uncle of Peterson, as the executor of her estate and left all of her property to Peterson.  As executor, Carrol fired Savio's divorce attorney, appeared in the divorce pro se, and turned most of Savio's property over to Peterson. Carrol was discharged by the court upon completion of his duties and the estate was closed in 2006.

In March of 2008 Savio's father and siblings filed a petition to reopen the estate and remove Carrol as executor due to new evidence from Savio's exhumed body showing that her death was probably a homicide.  The petition claimed that a wrongful death claim against Peterson and Carrol's poor performance as an executor supported their request.  The trial court agreed and appointed Savio's father as the new executor.

The appellate court affirmed because the manifest weight of evidence supported the trial court's holding.  First, the court held that the estate could be reopened because the wrongful death claim was a newly discovered asset of Savio's estate under the state's Wrongful Death Act.  Under Illinois law, a newly discovered asset is one ground for reopening an closed estate.  Second, the court held that Carrol's removal was justified because his actions in Savio's divorce case were contrary to the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.  Finally, although Savio's children were next in line to be appointed executor under Illinois law, the appellate court felt that a court would not likely allow the minor children's guardian, Peterson, to be appointed as executor.  Since Savio's father was the proper choice after the children, the court upheld the appointment.

In re Estate of Savio, No. 04-P-118 (Ill. App. Ct. 3d Dist. Feb. 4, 2009).

Drew Peterson has since been charged with the death of Kathleen Savio. See AP, National Briefing: Midwest; Illinois: Ex-Officer Charged in Wife's Death, NY Times, May 8, 2009.

Thanks to James Krupp (Attorney, Krupp & Krupp, LLP, DeKalb, IL) for bringing this case to my attention.  

June 27, 2009 in Current Events, Estate Administration, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jackson's 'This Is It' Tour

Jackson Michael Jackson was slated to perform a 50-run show entitled This Is It in London beginning July 13th.  Now AEG, the concert promoter, will have to figure out how to refund more than $85 million in ticket sales and recover at least $20 million spent on production costs, which does not includes a $10 million advance already paid to Jackson. A Billboard article summarizes the problem nicely:

For AEG, "it's either horrible or really horrible," a concert business executive says.

[A] source familiar with the situation says a traditional nonappearance policy was never written. Billboard couldn't confirm that at press time. Even if AEG had a policy, that doesn't mean Jackson's death, and the losses incurred, would be covered. "If it was a pre-existing condition or drug- or alcohol-related, a normal cancellation policy would not cover that, even if he had passed a medical exam," the source says. AEG could be on the hook "if death was from something that's excluded in the policy."

Ultimately, AEG may have to file a claim against Jackson's estate. And since Jackson has hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, and a couple of multimillion-dollar lawsuits pending, the worth of that estate is very much in doubt.

Ray Waddell, Fortune at Stake on Michael Jackson London Concerts, Billboard, June 25, 2009.

The website promoting Jackson's tour says refund procedures will be released early next week.  See michaeljacksonlive.com.

June 27, 2009 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Ramifications of Post-Mortem Sperm Retrieval

Mary_Radford Mary F. Radford (Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law) has recently posted on SSRN her article entitled Post-Mortem Sperm Retrieval and the Social Security Administration: How Modern Reproductive Technology Makes Strange Bedfellows.

Here is an abstract of the article:

This article was prepared in conjunction with the Thurgood Marshall School of Law March, 2009 symposium on "Emerging Issues in Estate Planning, Probate & Trust Law." The article examines a relatively new assisted reproduction technique through which the sperm of a man who has recently died is retrieved after his death, cryopreserved, and then later used by a woman (spouse, partner, or other) to produce a child. While much has been written about posthumously-conceived children (children conceived from sperm that were banked by the father while he was alive), there has to date been little examination of the ramifications of post-mortem sperm retrieval. The article explores whether children who are born through use of this technique will be entitled to their father's property or governmental benefits as the father's surviving issue. The article examines in depth the arguments in Vernoff v. Astrue, a case that is currently under consideration by the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The child who is the subject of this case is reportedly the first child who was born using posthumously-retrieved sperm. Her mother has sought Social Security benefits for the child, citing numerous other cases in which the Social Security Administration or the federal courts have granted such benefits to posthumously-conceived children. The article explains how the interaction among state parentage law, state probate law, and the Social Security Act will be used by the court to make a determination in this and subsequent cases.   

June 26, 2009 in Articles, Scholarship, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oral contract barred by statute

Alaska Alaska Statute 13.12.514 (identical to UPC § 2-514) requires that all contracts to make a will or devise be in writing.

In its opinion in Cragle v. Gray, 206 P.3d 446 (Alaska 2009), the Alaska Supreme Court held that an oral agreement between a grandmother and her granddaughter providing that the grandmother would give her house to her granddaughter if the granddaughter cared for her for until her death was a succession contract and there void because not in writing.

June 26, 2009 in New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Unclaimed Ashes Despite Next-of-Kin

Urn I recently wrote about the change in traditional funeral and burial practices, due in part to the high cost of traditional practices.  For some, however, any burial or funeral costs too much.  As a result, one funeral home is storing the ashes of unclaimed bodies in a supply closet.  The families have been contacted but cannot afford the cost of cremation to retrieve the remains.

See P.J. Huffstutter, The unclaimed ashes of hard times, LA Times, Feb. 22, 2009

June 26, 2009 in Death Event Planning, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Financial Adviser 101

Finance_money_chart Here are some things to consider to protect yourself when picking a financial advisor:

  1. The advisor's background: start with http://www.finra.org, http://www.adviserinfo.sec.gov/, www.cfp.net, and www.fpanet.org.

  2. References from other clients: remember to rely more on references with similar investing goals.
  3. The advisor's payment method: this could help you tell if the advisor is pushing something out of self-interest.
  4. Checks and balances: is your investment going straight to the advisor or to a thrid-party custodian?
  5. The advisor's track record: ask about specific situations and the combination of all clients the advisor handles
  6. Get it in writing: whatever the agreement, spell it out!
  7. Check with other professionals: what other professionals think about your advisor can be helpful.


See Shelly Banjo, Seven Questions to Ask When Picking a Financial Advisor, April 13, 2009.

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

June 26, 2009 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Class Gifts in the the New Restatement of Property

Schwartz Frederic S. Schwartz (Professor of Law, Oklahoma City University School of Law) has recently published The New Restatement of Property and Class Gifts: Losing Sight of the Testator's Intention, 22 Quinnipiac Prob. L.J. 221(2009).

The following are excerpts from the introduction to the article:

Division V of the new Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers will soon be published in final form. In addressing a very common issue, this part of the Restatement violates the most fundamental principle in the law of wills: that the testator's intention is paramount.

The issue is this: When a devise is made to a plurality of beneficiaries, some of whom predecease the testator, who is entitled to the subject matter of the devise? Does it pass entirely to the beneficiaries who survive the testator? Or do the shares that the predeceased beneficiaries would have taken had they survived pass to the residuary beneficiaries? The correct approach to this allocational issue (as I will call it) seems obvious enough: The court should determine which outcome the testator likely intended.

Yet, most of the courts (and now the Restatement) have endorsed a different approach, in which a gratuitous conceptualism interferes with the inquiry into the testator's intention. * * *

In Part I of this article, the correct (and non-conceptualist) resolution of the allocational issue will be described. Part II will show briefly how the courts have substantially endorsed the conceptualist method. Part III will describe and criticize the Restatement's treatment of the allocational issue and the afterborn issue.

June 25, 2009 in Articles, Scholarship, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tainted Organ Transplants Lead to Litigation

Organ donor More than 300,000 organ transplants have occurred in America since 1994, with fewer than 30 of these cases involving transmission of a disease not identified prior to transplant.  But in those few cases, there have been devastating results:

  • In 2002, a man died of a rare brain cancer one year after receiving an organ from a donor who had the same cancer. 
  • In 2006, A New Jersey man received a lung from a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with cancer a few months later.
  • In 2007, five people contracted HIV from a donor with a history of high-risk sexual behavior.
  • In 2007, several people died after receiving rabies-infected organs from the same donor.

The federal Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which was designed to create informed consent, uniform laws, and protected donors, appears to provide immunity donor banks and donor who act in good faith.  This hasn't stopped the litigation, and a Massachusetts court recently held that the provision does not protect against common law tort actions based on decisions about organs suitable for transplant that are not made in good faith. 

The demand for organs leads some to conclude that the acceptable range for transplantable organs should be expanded with informed consent requirements being more stringent.

See Carmel Sileo, Tainted-organ transplants trigger legal action, immunity challenged, Trial, March 2009, at 16.

June 25, 2009 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Basics of Trust Administration CLE

Cle Planning For Estates is sponsoring a CLE a teleconference on July 16, 2009, entitled Basics of Trust Administration

Here is a description of the program:

This teleconference will provide an overview of basic principles of trust administration under U.S. law, including powers and duties of trustees; relations with beneficiaries; removal and replacement of trustees; the use of directed trustees, protectors and investment managers, etc., to 'slice and dice' trustee powers; probate court involvement in trust administration; and concepts in fiduciary accounting and income tax reporting. The materials and the speaker will focus on general concepts and principles shared by the laws in most U.S. states with an emphasis on the considerable deviations that written trust instruments can make from state law. The materials will provide citations to the Uniform Trust Code and to the laws of two non-UTC states (New York and Indiana) to illustrate each general principle or issue.

This teleconference will be a useful introduction to trust administration principles or a refresher course in those principles for professionals who will begin working or will work more with trusts, or who may be called upon to advise clients about the design and drafting of trusts and the selection of trustees.

June 25, 2009 in Conferences & CLE | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)