Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Life Packed With Experiences Leads Texas Author to Pen Adroit Supernatural Thriller

BrushwdeathStart with one artist experimenting with her craft, add one dead serial killer and a pinch of the supernatural and you've cooked up one tense thriller. In A Brush With Death, the first of a series, Jody Summers masterfully blends the supernatural and the romantic to achieve a highly satisfying read.

New Orleans painter Kira McGovern hits on something when she mixes her mother's ashes into her oil paints and enters an altered state. She begins channeling some key moments in her mother's life, creating a stunning work of art as a memorial and drawing in customers who want a painting done using the same method. Pleased with her success, she launches Canvas of Life and commissions start rolling in. And when it couldn't get any better, she meets Sean; a handsome mid-western rancher, who harbors a gruesome secret of which he is unaware.

But with each brushstroke on her latest commission, Kira's reality is becoming more and more bizarre. She awakens from dreams that are soaked in blood and filled with gruesome images of murders. And the feeling of a lurking malevolence grows ever stronger.

Unconventional is the word to describe the life author Jody Summers led before turning to writing. The adopted son of a prominent Texas restaurateur, Summers grew up in New Orleans, Memphis and Houston, learning the restaurant business while he built a career as a competitive gymnast that propelled him to a scholarship at the University of Kansas. After college, Summers followed in his father's footsteps, owning, at one point, three 24-hour restaurant franchises along with four tanning salons in Tulsa. He has used his entrepreneurial skills for everything from a patent in the pet industry to a single's website. A restaurateur, a gymnast, a stunt man, an entrepreneur, a pilot, skydiver, scuba diver and an accomplished martial artist for 25 years, Summers has tried it all. Now he brings all those experiences to paper in his supernatural thriller series, Art of the Dead.

For more information, please visit jodysummersbooks.com.

October 5, 2019 in Books, Books - Fiction, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 5, 2019

Judges to Hear Appeal in Lawsuit Over John Steinbeck Works

GrapesofwrathA three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be in Anchorage, Alaska this coming Thursday to hear arguments in an appeal by the estate of author John Steinbeck’s late son, Thomas Steinbeck, over a 2017 jury verdict in California. In that case, a federal judge ruled that Thomas and his widow, Gail, had impeded film adaptations of the author's works, awarding Thomas' step-sister, Waverly Scott Kaffaga, who is the executor of Elaine Steinbeck's estate, her mother and John Steinbeck's widow, more than $13 million.

Attorney Matthew Dowd who represents the Thomas Steinbeck estate, said part of the appeal contends the 1983 agreement was in violation of a 1976 change to copyright law that gave artists or their blood relatives the right to terminate copyright deals. The estate's appeal also disputes the award handed up by the jury, maintaining it was not supported by “substantial evidence.”

Kaffaga claims that the litigation has prevented her from making the most of her stepfather's copyrights, and that deals with big Hollywood names interested in remaking Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden have fallen through. Dowd said Thomas Steinbeck, who died in 2016, conveyed his intention to exercise those rights, prompting Kaffaga to claim contract breach of a 1983 agreement between the parties. The attorney says the problem with the agreement is that "it violates the statute by basically binding up, or restricting, Thomas’s ability to exercise his termination rights for The Grapes of Wrath."

In a brief in response to the appeal, the agreement, which resolved earlier litigation, gives Elaine Steinbeck’s estate the “exclusive power and authority to control the exploitation and termination” of some of Steinbeck’s works in exchange for the sons getting a larger share of domestic royalties, according to the attorneys.

See Rachel D'Oro, Judges to Hear Appeal in Lawsuit Over John Steinbeck Works, Everything Lubbock, August 5, 2019.

August 5, 2019 in Books - Fiction, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Death is Not the End: The Lucrative World of Literary Estates

ClassicnovelsAndrew Wylie, a literary agent who is showing a knack for handling the publishing rights of deceased authors, is showing the market that these are "golden opportunities" for the authors' estates. Copyrights can last for many decades after an author's death, with the United Kingdom and most of Europe have 70 years of copyright following their death and American books published prior to 1978 being protected for 95 years.

Long, complex literary works of deceased authors are now being made into television of Netflix series years after their death. John Updike's Rabbit novels are set to be adapted for television by Andrew Davies, the leading UK screenwriter, and Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America has been bought by HBO and will be a six-part series, starring Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan.

Jonny Geller, chairman of UK literary agency Curtis Brown, which represents the Ian Fleming estate, says “The debate for all literary estates is, ‘Will we devalue our ancestor’s work by putting too much out there?’" With the modernization of the literature market, the new avenues include ebooks and publishing timeless novels in foreign languages, expanding the love of famous authors. “There is a strong interest in classic English literature now,” says Lisa Dowdeswell, head of literary estates at the Society of Authors in the UK. For some works, continuation novels may be desired, and the appeal is reeling in noted authors of today's fame.

But an agent should listen to the family's wishes instead of just believing them to be happy with a check every month. Wylie says that agents need to be sensitive to their desires. “We listen carefully to the people who own estates. They have both legal and cultural authority.”

See John Gapper, Death is Not the End: The Lucrative World of Literary Estates, Financial Times, July 25, 2019.

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

July 30, 2019 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Article on A Challenging Inheritance: The Fate of Mark Twain’s Will

MarktwainHenry S. Cohn & Adam J. Tarr recently published an Article entitled, A Challenging Inheritance: The Fate of Mark Twain’s Will, 37 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 271-342 (2019). Provided below is an introduction of the Article.

There have been numerous books and essays written about Mark Twain's final two unhappy years in Redding, Connecticut, as well as several writings capturing the lives, also generally tragic, of his surviving daughter and granddaughter. This article retells some of that story, but from a legal perspective.

The article makes use of documents from the estates of Mark Twain and his descendants, including original wills, probate papers, trust instruments, and court and business filings. This legal perspective concludes on a happier note, explaining how the literary “Mark Twain” has succeeded in the twenty-first century, well beyond his death in 1910.

July 20, 2019 in Articles, Books - Fiction, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)