Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Could Trees Be the New Gravestones?

RedwoodSandy Gibson, the chief executive of Better Place Forests out of Silicon Valley, believes that the gravestone is the most obvious target for innovation in the funeral services industry. “We’re trying to redesign the entire end-of-life experience.” The premise: gone are traditional cemeteries, and coming in are forests that will never be developed. Instead of being buried, the person's cremated remains are mixed with fertilizers and used on a specific tree. 

People are enthralled by the environmental friendly idea, with thousands of trees already sold to still-living customers, according to Gibson, raising $12 million in venture capital. Other than the topic of dead bodies coming up often, the office is a normal San Francisco start-up, with around 45 people bustling around and frequenting the roof deck with a view of the water.

For an incredibly long-living and extremely desirable redwood tree, it could cost a customer upwards of $30,000. A more economical choice would be to buy into a community tree, starting at $970 plus cremation costs. Because it is a forest with looser rules that graveyards, pet cremains are allowed as well. And though it is a fairly low-tech operation of mixing cremains with water and dirt, no San Francisco start-up would be complete without some high-tech options. For an extra fee, customers can have a digital memorial video made. Visitors will be able to scan a placard and watch a 12-minute digital portrait of the deceased talking straight to camera about his or her life, and the customer can choose to either allow anyone to watch or just certain people.

See Nellie Bowles, Could Trees Be the New Gravestones?, New York Times, June 12, 2019.

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

June 18, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Gloria Vanderbilt Dies at 95; Built a Fashion Empire

GloriaGloria Vanderbilt, society heiress that revamped fashion merchandising and whose life was full of tabloid scandal, has passed away at the age of 95. Her death was confirmed by her son, Anderson Cooper. 

Gloria was the great-great-granddaughter of the 19th-century railroad and steamship magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and she used her illustrious last name to sell fashion items during the 1970s. Even her early life was smeared with infamy, with her father dying when she was a baby and eventually her mother and aunt pitting against each other in a sensational child-custody case that would leave the 10-year-old traumatized. Gloria would be followed by the American gossip seekers that devoured the stories of her affairs the Hollywood royalty, such as Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Howard Hughes and Marlon Brando. It was rumored that Holly Golightly, the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany's, was modeled after Gloria.

She divorced three men, was widowed by one man, and had four sons. Her son, Carson Carter, committed suicide by jumping from his Manhattan penthouse terrace, witnessed by his mother whom had pleaded with him.

Gloria was born into the most elite inner circle of American families, and inherited her own trust fund infancy, though she could not touch it until she was 21. But with Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, she was earning her own money (through exploiting the family name, though) so that she was no longer spending inherited funds. But with competition from other brands, her brand faded but her lavish spending did not. in 1995, she was hit with federal and state liens for back taxes totaling $2.7 million, and had to sell her East Side townhouse and her home in Southampton to satisfy the judgments. She denied being broke, but in her later memoir critics found parallels between the privileged child and the Broadway character of Little Orphan Annie. Though Little Gloria was born rich, as a child she was poor in love from her parents.

See Robert D. McFadden, Gloria Vanderbilt Dies at 95; Built a Fashion Empire, New York Times, June 17, 2019.

June 17, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Doris Day: The Tragic Last Days of a ‘Manipulated’ Hollywood Icon

DorisdayAmerica's sweetheart of the 1950s and 60s, Doris Day, passed away on May 13 at the age of 97. But those around her paint the picture of a lonely and manipulated woman that did not spend much time outside of her home, isolating herself to her bedroom and kitchen. Her only grandchild, Ryan Melcher, said that he only learned of his grandmother's death from social media. Ryan's father, Terry, had been her only child and had been adopted by her third husband, producer Marty Melcher. Doris found out that Marty had squandered her $20 million fortune after his death, forcing her to begin The Doris Day Show on CBS.

Ryan has claimed on Facebook that veterinarian-turned-manager Bob Bashara blocked him from seeing his aging grandmother and even replaced board members on her animal-rescue foundation with Bashara's direct family members. Day's representative has denied these allegations. The longtime manager has stated that the actress's will specified that she wanted no funeral service or grave marker, and that she wanted her fortune to go to the Doris Day Animal Foundation. No will has yet been probated or filed.

See Sara Nathan and Chris White, Doris Day: The Tragic Last Days of a ‘Manipulated’ Hollywood Icon, Fox News, June 9, 2019.


June 13, 2019 in Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Maine Legalizes Medically Assisted Suicide

MaineOn Wednesday, Maine became the ninth jurisdiction to legalize medically assisted suicide when Governor Janet Mills signed the Maine Death With Dignity Act, joining California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, New Jersey and the District of Columbia. It narrowly passed both houses before it found its way onto the governor's desk.

The bill requires the patient to undergo two waiting periods and one written and two oral requests and obtain opinions from at least two physicians stating that it is appropriate. The person requesting the medication must also be at least 18 and have a "terminal illness," defined in the bill as one that cannot be cured and will likely result in death within six months. The Act criminalizes coercing a patient into requesting life-ending medication and falsifying a request for the procedure.

Supporters of the bill say that terminally ill patients should have the option to end their lives with dignity. But critics claim that the policy is dangerous and entices insurance companies to promote medically assisted suicide in leu of quality care. Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, commented that the legislation "puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes."

See Tal Axelrod, Maine Legalizes Medically Assisted Suicide, The Hill, June 12, 2019.

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

June 12, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mary Max, Wife of Peter Max, is Found Dead of an Apparent Suicide

PetermaxA friend of Mary Max, 52, the wife of artist Peter Max, found her body Sunday inside the couple's 15th floor apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Riverside Drive near West 84th Street. The cause of death is an apparent suicide of nitrogen asphyxiation. Mary and her stepson, Adam, had been steeped in legal turmoil revolving around the failing health of 81-year-old Peter and his artwork.

Peter has an advanced state of dementia, and his mental state has steadily declined in recent years. Adam had sued Mary in 2015 claiming that she was trying to kill his father to gain control over his multi-million dollar art collection. Mary asked then asked the court to appoint a guardian to oversee her husband's business after Adam and three business associates took over the artist's studio, increasing production and profit through a series of art auctions on cruise ships. After the appointment of the guardian, Adam removed his father from his home and moved him around New York for more than a month, to which Mary accused him of "kidnapping" Peter and withholding his whereabouts from her.

A judge ordered Peter to be returned to Mary's care at their Manhattan apartment and that a guardian oversee both his business and personal affairs. Peter's daughter who lives in Los Angeles, Libra, took over her father's studio in January and filed a lawsuit to stop her brother from being able to interact with the company.

See Bridie Pearson-Jones and Ariel Zilber, Mary Max, Wife of Peter Max, is Found Dead of an Apparent Suicide, Daily Mail, June 11, 2019.

June 11, 2019 in Current Events, Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Article on For Love and Affection: Elder Care and the Law's Denial of Intra-Family Contracts

ElderlawNina A. Kohn recently published an Article entitled, For Love and Affection: Elder Care and the Law's Denial of Intra-Family Contracts, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

As the U.S. population ages, demand for care providers for older adults is rapidly growing. Although the law’s treatment of care contracts between older adults and their family caregivers has substantial implications for the country’s ability to meet this demand, there has been no prior empirical examination of the law’s current treatment of such agreements. This Article fills that gap by assessing how courts and other legal actors treat intra-family agreements to pay family members for elder care. A look into a long-ignored area of case law— Medicaid eligibility determinations—reveals that courts, administrative law judges, and state regulators typically attach little or no monetary value to elder care provided by family members. Rather, payments for caregiving are routinely treated as fraudulent transfers. The result is that, in the name of combatting Medicaid fraud, states penalize older adults who pay for their own care.

Treating family-provided elder care as lacking monetary value stands in sharp contrast to the high cost of elder care purchased on the open market and is at odds with states’ increased willingness to directly pay family care providers. This Article shows that this incongruence can be partially explained by public distaste for Medicaid planning and distrust of agents acting on behalf of older adults. Entrenched stereotypes about care work and related expectations about familial care also contribute to the law’s refusal to recognize these agreements and the economic value of care provided under them.

This Article offers lessons for social policy, legal theory, and legal practice. On a policy level, it shows that states are engaged in counterproductive behavior that will discourage the very type of family care they purport to encourage. On a theoretical level, it indicates that attitudes toward care work and courts’ willingness to enforce contracts between family members have not changed to the extent commonly described by family law scholars. Finally, at a practical level, it suggests that attorneys should adapt the advice they give clients to better account for distrust of agents.

June 11, 2019 in Articles, Current Events, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tom Petty's Estate is in Chaos—and That's With a Will

TompettyThe late Tom Petty took the advice of any estate planning attorney and wrote a detailed estate plan, yet over a year-and-a-half after his sudden death in 2017, his family is still fighting over what those instructions truly mean. Amanda DiChello, a trusts and estates attorney in private client services at Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia, points out that even with the best of intentions, wills and estates are complicated.

The rock-and-roller instructed that the management of his estate (and sizable music catalog) would be left to his widow and two daughter from a prior marriage in "equal participation." But what did Petty intend by the word equal? Does that instruction mean that each of the three parties gets to participate equally in the decision making or that the widow and daughters split the decision making fifty-fifty? The daughters, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, filed a suit in Los Angeles against their step-mother, Dana York Petty, claiming that they are entitled to more control and are asking for $5 million in damages plus attorney's fees.

A financial advisor should make sure his or her clients have a stable and unambiguous estate plan and if a fight is foreseeable, he or she should make sure all future entanglements are considered. “Many people feel they can trust their spouses and children. Often there is peace between first and second spouses and children before someone dies, but it may not stay that way after death," DiChello commented.

See Karen DeMasters, Tom Petty's Estate is in Chaos—and That's With a Will, Financial Advisor, June 5, 2019.

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

June 11, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, New Cases, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Connecticut Finally Updated its Trust Laws

ConnlegFinally! The Connecticut legislature has passed House Bill 7104, containing the state's version of the 2000 Uniform Trust Code as well as the 2017 Uniform Directed Trust Act. The Uniform Trust Code has already been passed in 35 jurisdictions. The bill awaits the governor's signature.

HB 7104 was a project that included several groups of professional writing and advising on the bill. It was drafted by a small working group of lawyers from the Estates and Probate Section of the Connecticut Bar Association with substantial input from the Connecticut Bankers Association, the Offices of the Probate Court Administrator and the Attorney General. The bill extends the statutory rule against perpetuities for new trusts from 90 to 800 years, and provides for the establishment of irrevocable, self-settled Domestic Asset Protection Trusts, which exist in over 20 other jurisdictions.

See Suzanne Brown Walsh, Praise the Lord (and Pass the Governor a Pen): Connecticut Finally Updated its Trust Laws, Murtha Law, June 6, 2019.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 10, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Man Dies of Heart Attack While Scattering Wife's Ashes

LakeAn 88-year-old man, Ralph Miyata, died while attempting to scatter the cremains of his late wife at a lake in Indiana. The cause of death was ruled a heart attack. A friend that had been with him, James Sprecher, says that he helped the elderly man onto the dock, then when he turned around heard a splash as the man fell into the lake. “It was not a drowning," Sprecher said, who also happened to be a retired doctor. "He was dead when he hit the water."

Miyata was also cremated, according to his obituary. "He had completed his mission, which was putting his wife’s ashes into the lake," Sprecher said.

See Nicole Darrah, Indiana Man, 88, Reportedly Dies of Heart Attack While Scattering Wife's Ashes, Fox News, June 9, 2019.

June 10, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

John Singleton's Daughter Files for Restraining Order Against his Pal

SingletonThe drama just keeps coming after the death of Boyz N The Hood filmmaker, John Singleton. His daughter and eldest child, Justice, 26, filed for a restraining order on Friday against Avance Smith, a close friend of Singleton's. Justice is claiming that Smith broke into the locked office of her father and stole valuables and also threatened her via texts and in person. A judge has denied the initial request and a hearing has been set for the end of June.

Justice's filing comes only a day after John's mother, Shelia Ward, made an emergency request to the courts to control his assets, estimated to be worth about $35 million at the time of his death. Supposedly the emergency request was prompted by the break-in at Singleton's office. 

Another big family drama in this epic is that the director's will was written in 1993 when Justice was an only child and was named the sole beneficiary of his estate. However, she ended up being the eldest of seven children. Under California law, children born after the execution have a legal claim to inherit, as long as there is not a provision that expressly disinherits future children. Also, some of Singleton's exes and children have hired an investigator to map out the hours leading up to his arrival at the Los Angeles hospital. There are no Uber or Lyft receipts, and he reportedly did not drive himself.

See Kevin Kayhart, John Singleton's Daughter Files for Restraining Order Against his Pal, Daily Mail, June 7, 2019.

June 9, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)