Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Book on The Heirs: A Novel

TheheirsSusan Rieger recently published a book entitled The Heirs: A Novel (2018). Provided below is a synopsis of the book.

Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him. The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him. In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure.

Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together -- Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm -- and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.

A riveting portrait of a family, told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 21, 2019 in Books, Books - Fiction, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Bitter Feuds, Buried Scandal: The Contested World of Literary Estates

EmilyRoyalty and biography rights of dead authors have become highly fought over assets within the writer's estate, and often the interests are cemented by secreting away parts of the truth. Hallam Tennyson did just that when he wrote his father's memoir, omitting matters that did not play into the image he wanted the world to have of his poet father, and destroyed many of its source material. In essence, he made himself the first modern executor, as the  monopolizing on the literary works of his father was amplified when in 1911 the term of copyright was extended to 50 years after an author’s death.

This whitewashing of authors is common, and can cause conflict when a later biographer appears to produce a more realistic and accurate view of the writer. Authors such as Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen have appeared haver their writing and image be created and recreated after death, especially Dickinson when an ex-lover of her brother's found a chest of her writing many years after her passing. Fighting ensued with the next Dickinson generation about who owned the original manuscripts and which institution should buy them.

The stories of literary estates testify for the most part to the futility of legislating for determining, from a fixed point in time and single point of view, what will prove to be “best” for a writer’s personal or critical reputation.

See Leo Robson, Bitter Feuds, Buried Scandal: The Contested World of Literary Estates, New Statesman, January 2, 2019.

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

January 8, 2019 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Article on The Rhetoric of Race, Redemption, and Will Contests: Inheritance as Reparations in John Grisham's Sycamore Row

SycamoreTeri A. McMurtry-Chubb recently published an Article entitled, The Rhetoric of Race, Redemption, and Will Contests: Inheritance as Reparations in John Grisham's Sycamore Row, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

When Henry “Seth” Hubbard renounced his formally drawn wills and created a new holographic will on the day of his suicide, one that excluded his children, grandchildren, and ex-wives, and gave the bulk of his estate to his housekeeper and caretaker, a will contest was imminent. That Seth Hubbard was a white man living in rural Mississippi and his housekeeper, a Black woman, made the will contest illustrative of our ongoing national discomfort with slavery, the Confederacy, and the respective obligations of and responsibilities to the descendants of both. This is John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, a novel in which the reader journeys to discover the mysteries behind Seth Hubbard’s will, his intentions, his burden as a witness to a lynching over his ancestor’s land, and the fate of the descendants of the formerly enslaved who worked and settled that land known as Sycamore Row only to see its destruction when they asserted their right to it. Seth’s act of bequeathing the bulk of his estate to a stranger made family through blood spilled over stolen land and stolen, broken Black bodies is an important start to an important discussion: Who bears responsibility to the survivors of domestic terrorism, white supremacy, and for the benefits that white privilege bestows? The will contest encapsulates the rhetoric of race and redemption; in Sycamore Row Hubbard’s estate acts as reparations.

This Article explores the rhetoric of race, redemption, and reparations in Sycamore Row and as it plays out in American jurisprudence in three parts. Part II explores how the will contest in Sycamore Row illustrates arguments for and against reparations. Specifically, it evaluates how Aristotle’s Persuasive Appeals logos (using evidence and epistemology to persuade), pathos (using emotions to persuade), and ethos (using character to persuade) become racialized in the nomos (the normative universe where they function), both in Seth Hubbard’s will and the will contest that follows, and as used as appeals in reparations litigation. Part III uses interdisciplinary narrative theory to interrogate the language of Seth Hubbard’s will as his cultural narrative of race, racism, and redemption. It also considers how Seth’s story is a story of American racism that ends differently from our current American story. Seth’s story is a doorway to hope and a different way of viewing obligations and responsibilities to redress racial wrongs. In the final section, Part IV, the Article turns to the concept and practice of reconciliation, specifically how Seth Hubbard’s actions through his will, the backlash from his family, and the reverberations throughout Clanton, Mississippi provide a glimpse of racial reconciliation in practice. Hubbard’s will and the context for its creation demonstrate that racial reconciliation begins with acknowledgment of harm done, presents a plan to address the harm, and contains an action or action(s) to implement the plan. While Hubbard’s is one will, his will is a roadmap for the nation, as comprised of individual actors, to acknowledge and address racial harms and for racial reconciliation. The Article concludes with a call to disrupt the dangerous racial rhetoric that renders our country brittle and prone to shattering, threatening America with irreparable brokenness.

November 15, 2018 in Articles, Books - Fiction, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds Author 'Not Coerced' Over Will

ColleenAustralian author Colleen McCullough passed away in 2015 and was best known for her 1977 novel The Thorn Birds. On Friday, the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Australia ruled that the late author had intended to leave her multi-million dollar estate to her husband, Ric Robinson, rather than a United States university, the University of Oklahoma.

The litigation was center around two competing wills. McCullough's friend and will executor, Selwa Anthony, had argued that the author's true intentions were contained in a will signed in July 2014, leaving the entire estate to the university whose board the author had once been a member. Her husband contested that will, instead bringing a will signed October 2014 in which McCullough's estate was left to him in its entirety.

During the trial in May, the court heard that McCullough had removed her husband from the first will after discovering he had a mistress. The couple briefly separated in June 2014. Mr. Robinson claimed there was no coercion and that his wife of more than 30 years had "approved of the affair."

See Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds Author 'Not Coerced' Over Will, BBC, July 20, 2018.

Special thanks to Stephen Sanders (Austin, Texas Estate Planning and Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 24, 2018 in Books - Fiction, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want (and what to do with them) (The Savvy Appraiser)

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-03-22/1b222e91-7663-4df6-a33e-66d6f6988947.pngElizabeth Stewart published a book entitled: No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want (and what to do with them) (The Savvy Appraiser) (2017). Provided below is a summary of the book:

A concise guide for parents of millennials, NO THANKS MOM offers sage advice on what to do with those objects ‘saved’ but NOT welcomed by the next generation.

Collections and treasured objects do not always span the generation gap, sustaining both high market value and the taste and style of the 21st century. Learn to downsize what formerly was valued without upsizing your kid’s home. A valuable chapter, The Top Ten Objects Kids Do Not Want discusses the current taste for once- treasured objects such as formal dinner china.

Often a flashpoint between parents and heirs, objects are a reflection of lives and homes. Tales of ‘stuff’ not “in style” include market remedies for antiques, fine art, and collectibles: how and where to sell, what to donate, what to save, and what NOT to bequest to heirs. Offered by an appraiser with three decades of experience, a collector of collector’s stories, the guide sets forth roadmaps and plans for what to do with objects once your kids have said “No Thanks.” Topics include The Five Piles Theory of Downsizing, and Rules and Habits for Creative Divesting.

March 22, 2018 in Books - Fiction, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Harper Lee’s Will, Unsealed, Only Adds More Mystery To Her Life

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-03-06/8f0d7fa7-f801-45e1-9e56-daa7aa4dc4f9.pngHarper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” left behind a trail of unanswered questions when she died in her sleep two years ago at age 89. One lingering query was why the renowned author had decided to publish another book 55 years after her masterpiece was released following a seemingly dry interim. Are there, perhaps, other unknown works that remain unpublished? And if so, who has the rights to these potential literary giants? The answers to these questions may go unanswered for some time.

Lee was an incredibly private person and disfavored the spectacle of the press. The will she signed on February 11, 2016, just eight days before her death, was successfully sealed after Lee’s attorney convinced a probate judge that making the will public might lead to the harassment of the beneficiaries. The New York Times, unconcerned with Lee’s desire for privacy, filed suit to have the will made publicly available. Archie Reeves, The New York Times’s lawyer, commented: “It’s a public record, and the press and the public have a right to public records.” Fortunately for Lee and her family, the will is absent much detail as it leaves a majority of her assets to a trust: “It is not an uncommon will, and it is typically what we term a pour-over will where anything in the estate goes over to the trust and they don’t have to disclose the terms of the trust,” said Sidney C. Summey, a trusts and estates lawyer in Birmingham.

See Serge F. Kovaleski & Alexandra Alter, Harper Lee’s Will, Unsealed, Only Adds More Mystery To Her Life, The New York Times, February 27, 2018.

Special thanks to Felix B. Chang, Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

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

March 6, 2018 in Books, Books - Fiction, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Will The Legacy Long Survive The Creator?

AvariceHarper Lee fit into one of the finest literary traditions by becoming a recluse after the smashing success of her first, and for a long time only, novel. Of course, that novel is To Kill A Mockingbird which has become a staple of American literature and, to this day, sells nearly a million copies per year. But those numbers might be dropping after the announcement that her estate ordered the cheapest paper back version to be discontinued. This announcement has been a shock to many since Lee was known to favor schools and children having easy access to the book. But any desires Lee might have had are now at an end since Lee's lawyer, Tonja Carter, has taken over and seeks to make more money off a creation with which she had not a thing to do. This action, along with other recent moves, has lead many to wonder is the impeccable legacy Lee left behind is being tarnished by those she empowered to manage her worldly possessions. But whatever the case, it is a shame that American children might now miss out on studying this classic because schools or parents cannot afford the additional cost.

See Colette Bancroft, Harper Lee's estate wants readers to pay more for 'Mockingbird', Tampa Bay Times, March 12, 2016.

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

March 14, 2016 in Books, Books - Fiction, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Alabama Judge Shields Harper Lee’s Will From Public

LeeAn Alabama Judge has agreed to shield the will of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee. There has been a great deal of curiosity about the author’s estate, but the Judge’s decision will respect the families wishes for privacy. In the order Probate Judge Greg Norris held that the court “finds by clear and convincing evidence that information contained in the will and associated court filings pertains to wholly private family matters; poses a serious threat of harassment, exploitation, physical intrusion, or other particularized harm to persons identified in those documents or otherwise entitled to notice of this proceeding; and poses potential for harm to third persons not entitled to notice of this proceeding.” There is also speculation about where Harper Lee’s papers will be donated which many consider to be a literary treasure trove.

See Tom Steele, Judge seals ‘Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee’s will from public’s scrutiny, The Dallas Morning News, March 4, 2016.

Special thanks to Jim Hartnett (The Hartnett Law Firm) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 5, 2016 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Archives Of The Godfather Sold At Auction

Godfather archiveA valuable collection of archival material related to Mario Puzo’s The Godfather has been sold at an auction. The collection, which included 45-boxes of materials that included the 744-page typed draft of the famous novel sold for $625,000 at Boston’s RR Auction. “Puzo's handwritten notes and changes can be seen throughout the manuscript, which was originally titled Mafia.” There are thousands of pages of notes and drafts related to both the book and the Francis Ford Coppola films. There have been other archives sold in the past from famous authors like J.R.R Tolkien and Alan Turing. Handwritten notes from Mario Puzo over the lines “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” spoken by Marlon Brando, are also a part of the valuable collection.

See Sarah Cascone, Archives of ‘The Godfather’ Author Mario Puzo Sell for $625,000 at Auction, Art Net News, February 19, 2016.

February 19, 2016 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beloved Author Harper Lee Has Passed Away

Harper leeHarper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, has passed away in her sleep this morning at the age of 89. The author’s nephew and spokesman for the family Hank Conner has stated that “[w]e knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly." Lee’s novel was a story about a small town lawyer named Atticus Finch who defends a black man named Tom Robinson who was on trial for false accusations of raping a white woman. The classic story is told from the point-of-view of Finch’s young daughter Scout who witnesses the racism of the 1930’s. Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961, and her novel has since been read by millions.

See Connor Sheets, Harper Lee dead at age of 89: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ author passes away, AL, February 19, 2016.

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

February 19, 2016 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)