Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wills: The Amusing and Bizarre

This post is supplied courtesy of Aedan Kiernan at aedan@reflectdigital.co.uk:

Wills are usually a pretty morbid and solemn subject and they are commonly not spoken about unless someone has passed away.  Will are one of the most important documents you will ever fill out and leave behind when you pass. When you do pass it is the duties of a probate lawyers to follow your last will and testament on your behalf and help you distribute your estate. Probate lawyers like Thomson Snell and Passmore from Kent are use to a fair share of wills but we have found here some of the most will’s left behind by some famous and historical figures.

 It is the duty of a probate lawyers to fulfil these last wishes of the deceased where ever possible. But sometimes these wishes cannot be carried out because there are disputes again the wills and this is known as a contentious probate and we will see some examples below.

Baur & Bowman

Fred Baur - who invented Pringles – asked for some of his body to be left in a tube of Pringles. It was buried with the rest of his body. John Bowman believed that he would be reincarnated with his family, so put $50,000 away for the maintenance of his mansion. A meal was to be cooked every day to ensure that they would have something to tuck into when they returned. This occurred until 1950 when the trust ran out of money.

Napoleon and Houdini

Meanwhile, Napoleon’s hair was shared out amongst his friends after he passed away and Harry Houdini asked his wife to hold a séance every Halloween, agreeing a word with her that he would use to prove his presence if he was able to visit her after his death. Houdini – who did not believe in séances – never appeared during one.  Roman poet Virgil asked his friends to destroy his work-in-progress poem Aeneid after his death because it wasn’t complete. However, his friends begged him to remove this request from the will and it became one of the most cherished poems of all time.

Dickens and Franklin

Not all requests are honoured. Charles Dickens had asked for muted ceremony and that the details about it weren’t given to the public. However, a huge funeral took place and was a national event. Benjamin Franklin hated jewellery and called the wearing of jewels “expensive, vain and useless”. He had received a portrait of King Louis XVI which came come complete with 408 diamonds. His request was apparently prompted by a desire to prevent his daughter from removing the diamonds from the frame.

A Womanless Library

T M Zink – who apparently hated women – left $50,000 in order to create a womanless library. He hoped that the figure would have swelled to $3 million after 75 years, meaning that the library could be created. The Zink Womanless Library was to feature signs reading “No Women Admitted” and the library was to feature no artworks, books or decorations created by women. He said that his hatred for women was built on his experiences with and observations of them as well as his studies. The will was challenged by his family, who were victorious.

The Will of an Atheist

George Bernard Shaw was a renowned atheist and demanded that no religious service took place to mark his death. His will outlined his belief in the theories of Charles Darwin. Some funds he left behind were to be used to promote a new alphabet that he had designed, but a court overruled this, branding it “impossible”. Instead the funds were given to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, The National Gallery of Ireland and The British Museum. A great number of famed historical figures have used wills to make strong statements about the way that they viewed the world.

October 30, 2014 in Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Family Claims Patrick Swayze's Will Was Forged

Patrick swayze

A legal battle may be brewing between Patrick Swayze’s family members and his widow, Lisa Niemi, as questions regarding his estate remain.  Swayze’s family members are claiming that the second, updated will that surfaced shortly after the actor died from pancreatic cancer in September of 2009 was forged. 

The second will, which was filed in a New Mexico court shortly before the actor died, shocked family members.  According to the family, the will had several flaws; it was signed when he was very ill and in the hospital and when he was unable to understand or sign anything.  Furthermore, the entire family was excluded from the will, and did not receive any part of Swayze’s $40 million estate. 

The family had the documents reviewed by a handwriting expert, who revealed that the documents and signatures were likely to be forged.  The family will go to court to for a ruling on the alleged fraud, hauling with them Lisa and her brother, who was made co-executor of the estate. 

See Patrick Swayze Family Claims Will was Forged, Examiner, Oct. 29, 2014.

October 30, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Estate Planning Fears

Inheritance 3

Now that tax rates are falling and exemptions rising in many jurisdictions, state and federal estate and inheritance taxes are not what keep people up at night.  Rather, most people spend their time worrying about the impact the money they leave will have on heirs. 

While your favorite grandchild may spend her inheritance going to med school and finding a cure for cancer, what about your nephew who has been in and out of rehab?  This is just one of many situations that people fear.  However, it is difficult to build an estate plan that anticipates every scenario. 

The “death tax” rates have been the subject of much debate notoriously unreliable in recent years, making it difficult to gauge a long-term estate-plan.  To complicate matters even more, as of this year fifteen states and the District of Columbia impose their own estate tax and six states also impose an inheritance tax.  Yet, many states have been raising their exemptions to align themselves with the federal level, or have eliminated their inheritance taxes altogether. 

This is good news for parents who want to leave their children, other heirs and charities as much money as possible.  But concerns arise as to whether wealth could sustain and enrich the lives of heirs, or cripple them.  People worry that the money will end up mismanaged, and if their legacies, experiences, and beliefs will survive the next generation.

As new tax rates go into effect, it may be a good time to sit down with your advisers and discuss how the money you leave can support your core beliefs, philosophy, and intentions, and how you can prepare your heirs to maintain it. 

See John E. Girouard, Estate Planning Fears that Keeps Us Up At Night, Forbes, Oct. 29, 2014. 

October 30, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

5 Social Security Facts to Consider

Social security

The decisions you make about Social Security can have long lasting consequences that impact your quality of life in retirement.  In order to make smart decisions about Social Security and understand your options, below are five facts to consider:

  1. Benefit amount is based upon your full retirement age, years you have worked, and when you begin taking benefits. Although you may retire at a certain age, the Social Security Administration defines “full retirement age” differently.  The age is between 66 and 67 years, depending on your birth year.  If you take Social Security before this age, your benefits are reduced.  If you delay past this age, you increase your benefit amount.
  2. Maintaining income sources may be difficult as life expectancies are longer. Your ability to support yourself through retirement depends on thinking through lifespan scenarios.  To ensure you do not run out of money, figure out how long your retirement savings and other resources may last in retirement. 
  3. Strategize with your spouse to increase household benefits. Retiring at different ages makes a huge difference in a souse’s benefit amount if a couple is claiming a spousal benefit.
  4. Look into other claiming strategies to boost retirement income. There are various benefits available to married couples, same-sex married couples, widow and widowers, divorced spouses or dependent children. Explore options that could help maximize your benefit amount.
  5. Plan early.  By looking at your options early on, you can make decisions based on facts.  This in turn can deliver better benefits.

See Tom Halloran, 5 Social Security Facts You Need to Know, U.S. News and World Report, Oct. 28, 2014.

October 30, 2014 in Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estate Planning Considerations When Living in Two States

HouseIt can be enticing to retirees to split their time between two states, spending half of the year in their hometown with family and friends and the other half in a warmer retirement focused community in Florida. However, this plan can complicate estate planning and administration when it comes time to determine where the deceased individual lived, and can result in the necessity of probate proceedings in both states. Having a trust for property can help simplify the problems of double probate. It is also important for individuals to know the state estate tax laws for any state they consider moving to or splitting time in for retirement.

See Dee Lee, Protecting Your Estate While Living in Two States, CBS Boston, Oct. 17, 2014.

October 30, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Transportation Considerations for Retirees

BusOne aspect of retirement planning that is often forgotten is transportation considerations. Without an ability to get around town, retirees can become isolated and have difficulty running errands often taken for granted, such as going to the grocery store or the doctor. Transportation can become a problem for retirees as driving becomes difficult. In highly populated areas where public transportation is often relied on, retirees can begin to find the mile walk to the nearest bus or subway stop difficult. Planning for this difficulty can include creating a network of friends and family willing to take turns with rides, researching if a transportation program for older individuals exists in an area, or relocating to an area where transportation is not as difficult.

See Harriet Edleson , When Planning for Retirement, Consider Transportation, The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2014.

October 30, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Leroy Hill Coffee Goes to Children Despite Will

CoffeeAfter the death of Leroy Hill, of Leroy Hill Coffee Co., in 2009, his widow and adult children from a previous marriage began a legal battle over the inheritance of the company and the family farm.  His children argued that their inheritance in the company and farm was agreed upon by their mother and Hill as part of their divorce agreement and that the agreement invalidated Hill’s will, which left the company and farm to his second wife. The children’s suit was successful and their award of the inheritance was recently affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court.

See Brendan Kirby, Supreme Court Affirms Ruling in Family Feud, Clears Way for Children’s Inheritance of Coffee Empire, AL.com, Oct. 17, 2014.

October 30, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Protecting Family Wealth From Wild Children

Money BagCommon considerations for passing inheritance to children, especially adult children, are how the child’s behavior and lifestyle will reflect on the family, the child’s responsibility level and expected use of the inheritance, and the relationship between the parent and the child. For the aristocracy in England, these considerations are just as strong and the public nature of family life can add weight. Jamie Blandford recently became the 12th Duke of Marlborough and inherited a large home in addition to his new title from his father. This inheritance was not certain for many years, as Blandford’s history with drugs and time spent in jail jeopardized his relationship with his father and his likelihood of receiving an inheritance. One way that the family feud was resolved, was by the estate being placed in a trust and removing control from Blanford and placing it with trustees.

See Harry Mount, Warring Families That Always Come Out on Top, The Telegraph, Oct. 18, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 30, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Conservative Strategist Ends Up with Shady Money


Whitney Ball plays a large role in the conservative movement.  She controls DonorsTrust, a fund that has distributed more than $400 million to underwrite right-wing operations such as the National Rifle Association, the Heritage Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity.

Ball set up this fund fifteen years ago to act as a cashbox for wealthy conservatives who wanted to be sure their money would be used for conservative causes after they die.  The priority of DonorsTrust is to “safeguard donor intent.”

A few years ago, Ball became involved in an estate controversy when her father, a lawyer in Virginia, unethically handled the wills of three elderly people and Whitney Ball and her brother personally benefitted from his misconduct, with almost half a million dollars deposited into their bank accounts. 

According to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which conducted a disciplinary proceeding regarding this matter, John Ball prepared wills for two octogenarian sisters. The court ruled that the “evidence in this case clearly established that Mr. Ball drafted three wills in which he gave himself excessive fees as an executor, drafted two wills that improperly conveyed property to himself and his wife, and assisted in changing a client's annuity to benefit" his children.

The court noted that Ball’s conduct was intentional and violated the rules of professional conduct.  Ball’s misconduct resulted in him receiving millions of dollars. The court annulled Ball’s law license and ordered he pay restitution of nearly $3 million to the three estates.  This amount included the money that went to his children. 

While Whitney Ball and her brother were not accused of wrongdoing or misconduct, the court acknowledged they did receive hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been transferred to them due to the unethical action of their father.

See David Corn, How a Top Conservative Strategist Ended Up With More Than $200,000 in Shady Money, Mother Jones, Oct. 27, 2014.

October 29, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Malpractice, Professional Responsibility, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Organization as a Tool for Executors

Last will and testament

Being named executor of an estate is no small undertaking.  An executor becomes legally responsible for protecting the assets of the decedent until the estate administration is complete.  This can be a complicated, lengthy process, and organization is the key to keeping it manageable.  “Estate administration can be complex, especially if the estate planning is incomplete or there are disputes about the estate.  Staying organized can help.”

From the very beginning, executors should understand their legal responsibilities.  When an executor accepts the position, he or she must act in good faith to protect the assets of the estate until probate is completed.  This includes refusing to sell off assets or allow others to meddle with them. 

The first step as an executor is to obtain a death certificate.  Copies of the death certificate will be needed when notifying financial accounts, life insurance and other organizations.  Next, the executor must find the will or trust documents.  The will should be filed with the probate court shortly after the death. 

Once estate planning documents are gathered, it may be necessary to consult with an attorney who can help the executor understand the legal issues surrounding the estate.  With the assistance of an attorney, the executor can begin administering the estate. This includes tracking down all assets, using the assets to pay outstanding debts and taxes and administering the remaining assets to heirs.

See Hook Law Center, When Named Executor of an Estate, Early Organization is Key, Law Firm Newswire, Oct. 29, 2014.

October 29, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)