Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Appellate Court Permits Invasion of Retirement Accounts to Enforce Child Support Orders

CourtThe Superior Court of New Jersey issued an opinion ruling that federally-protected retirement plans can be invaded to pay child support arrears and college tuition expenses, as well as attorney and expert fees.

In Orlowsky v. Orlowsky, Mr. Orlowsky repeatedly issued meritless claims against his former wife while also failing to pay his court ordered child support. Finally, the court had had enough of his antics. The judicial system ordered that a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, which functions as a limited exception to federally-protected retirement plans, could be utilized to pay child support arrears and other child-related expenses, as well as attorney and expert fees.

The Qualified Domestic Relations Orders could be increasingly utilized as a remedy in family law cases when other alternatives are unavailable.

See John S. Eroy, Appellate Court Permits Invasion of Retirement Accounts to Enforce Child Support Orders, NJ Law Blog, July 18, 2019.

July 19, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Divorce, Suicide, and Life Insurance

DivorcedecreeThe New Jersey Supreme Court issued an opinion for publication on May 6 in Woylas v. Greenwood Tree Experts, Inc. The state's highest court upheld the decision of the lower courts to side with an ex-wife against her former husband's estate after he had committed suicide.

Timothy and Christina had entered a Marital Settlement Agreement at the culmination of their divorce in which Timothy was required to pay alimony and child support for 12 years, secured by a life insurance policy in the event of his death. But two year later Timothy committed suicide, which under the exception clause voided the insurance policy. Christina sued his estate, claiming it is liable because Timothy breached their Agreement. The trial court and appellate courts both agreed. The administratrix petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court, which affirmed. The man's obligation to his ex-wife exceeded the value of his estate, so the court ruled that all of the assets would be sold and the proceeds given to Christina.

By being approved for publication, the decision assumes precedential value and guidance to lawyers in terms of drafting precise Marital Settlement Agreements to ameliorate such problems as described above.

See Divorce, Suicide, and Life Insurance, National Law Review, July 16, 2019.

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

July 19, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stephen Dies

Stevens-johnpaul-adv-obt-slide-B6DN-superJumbo-v3John Paul Stephens, the retired Supreme Court Justice that transitioned from a Republican anti-trust lawyer to the left's outspoken leader, has died at the age of 99. The Supreme Court announced that his death was caused by complications of a stroke that he had suffered the previous day.

Justice Stephens was 90 when he retired in 2010 after sitting on the bench for 35 years, becoming the second-oldest and the second-longest-serving justice ever to sit on the court.  He was born on April 20,He became the senior associate justice in his 19th year in 1994, meaning that he would write the majority opinion when the chief justice was in the dissent. He wrote the majority opinions Atkins v Virginia, Rasul v Bush, and Hamdan v Rumsfeld, and wrote a scathing dissenting opinion in Bush v Gore, the case that effectively decided the 2000 presidential election by stopping the Florida recount.

No one was more surprised of Justice Stephen's migration to the left than he was, and it was a gradual change, particularly on the death penalty and on questions of racially conscious government policies. He was known as bit of a skeptical loner than favored jaunty bow ties. 

See Linda Greenhouse, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Who Led Liberal Wing, Dies at 99, New York Times, July 16, 2019.

July 17, 2019 in Current Events | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Family Wants More Time for Dad Declared Brain Dead Before Organs are Donated

OrgandonationAnthony Vallejo, 30, of California suffered a major asthma attack on July 8 that caused his lungs to collapse. By the time the man was rushed to the hospital by paramedics and intubated, his brain had been deprived of oxygen for at least 10 minutes. 

Two doctors have declared the father of two young boys brain dead, and though she says that she respects her husband's decision to be an organ donor, Talia Vellejo posted on her Facebook fundraiser that the family wishes to have more time with him for his brain to possibly heal. His heart is still beating, but according to the according to the National Kidney Foundation, as long as the heart is receiving oxygen, such as from a ventilator, it will continue to beat. Regardless of heartbeat, once a registered organ donor is declared brain dead by two doctors there is a vital window in which to remove organs.

The family has been given a deadline of 7 p.m. on Wednesday, at which time Anthony will be prepped for organ donation.

See Alexandria Hein, Family Wants More Time for Dad Declared Brain Dead Before Organs are Donated, Fox News, July 16, 2019.

July 16, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Disney Reportedly Refuses to Allow Spider-Man Engraving on Tombstone of Dead Boy Who Loved Superhero

Ollie-Jones-1-SWNSOllie Jones, a 4-year-old boy that passed away this past December and suffered from leukodystrophy, a rare genetic condition, will not be allowed to have an etching of his favorite super hero included on his tombstone. His father, Lloyd, sent a request to Disney to be allowed to include an image of Spider-Man on his beloved sons's grave, but the company allegedly refused, citing company policy.

Ollie loved the webslinger so much that his funeral was Spider-Man themed and his last family vacation was to Disneyland to "meet" his hero. The local city council had told Lloyd to forward his request to the Walt Disney Company about including an etching of the character on the tombstone. But the company denied the grieving father's request, claiming that doing so would ruin the "innocence" and "magic" of the company's famed characters, citing a policy that Walt Disney himself instituted when he was alive. Instead, the company offered to send the family a one-of-a-kind illustration of Spider-Man, which would include a special message for the boy.

The denial has outraged many people across social media, and a petition to force the Walt Disney Company to allow the etching on Ollie's grave has surpassed 12,000 signatures. "This meant everything to us. My brother’s life has been shattered, it has shattered the whole family," Ollie's uncle Jason said. "We can’t move on until we have his headstone done — Spider-Man was Ollie’s entire life. He loved it so much."

Ollie's 6-year-old sister, Laillah, also reportedly suffers from the same condition, which damages the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.

See Nicole Darrah, Disney Reportedly Refuses to Allow Spider-Man Engraving on Tombstone of Dead Boy Who Loved Superhero, Fox News, July 11, 2019.

July 13, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Olympia Silversmith Makes Mourning Jewelry with Hair, Teeth, and Ashes

ToothringHailing from Olympia, Washington, silversmith Angela Kirkpatrick has decided to use her skills as a jewelry maker to dive into a niche market. She can use the hair, cremains, or even the teeth of a recently deceased loved one to make special mourning jewelry.

The tradition of mourning jewelry goes back all to the way to Victorian era when people used to wear lockets containing a small amount of a dead family member's hair. “It’s not uncommon to ask for a lock of hair, it used to be something done very regularly," Kirkpatrick said. She works with about 40 clients at a time, walking them through custom designs and since they can be such emotional pieces, sometimes acting like a grief counselor. Some peopled are skeptical of her career choice and believe that it is morbid, but for those that come to her to get specialized mourning jewelry, it is truly very special.

Kirkpatrick is a member of the Order of the Good Death. She also leads the monthly Death Cafe meeting in Olympia, which is an international event that encourages people to get together over tea and cake to talk about death.

See Rachel Belle, Olympia Silversmith Makes Mourning Jewelry with Hair, Teeth, and Ashes, KIRO 7, July 1, 2018; see also here to view the customized jewelry options.

Special thanks to Christine Wakeman (Winstead Attorneys) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 12, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

'Willy Wonka' Actress Denise Nickerson Taken off Life Support 1 Year After Stroke

VioletThe actress best known for playing the gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde, Denise Nickerson, was admitted to the ICU after suffering a "major medical emergency" at home on Monday. According to her son, Josh, and daughter-in-law, Jasmine, Nickerson got into her own medicine and "took as many as she could" before Josh stopped her and rushed her to the hospital. Nickerson has previously suffered a stroke and required hospitalization in June 2018.

"She’s had seizures this morning and is in pulmonary and respiratory distress. The doctors have found that she aspirated and has developed pneumonia,” Jasmine posted on Facebook to update the public. "They have upped her oxygen. She’s under a DNR order so they aren’t putting her on a ventilator or feeding tube." She has also requested prayers for her husband because he "is just coming to terms with the reality of the situation and doesn’t know how to process it.

Nickerson also had roles in The Brady Bunch, Dark Shadows, and The Electric Company, but would ultimately leave the lime light to become a nurse.

See Sasha Savitsky, 'Willy Wonka' Actress Denise Nickerson Taken off Life Support 1 Year After Stroke, Fox News, July 10, 2019.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Gloria Vanderbilt's Son Anderson Cooper to Inherit Less than $1.5M, Report Says

CooperGloria Vanderbilt's expected fortune at the time of her passing was estimated to be around $200 million, but according to probate documents, her estate is much smaller. Her eldest son, Leopold “Stan” Stokowski, will inherit his mother's Manhattan co-op, and her son Anderson Cooper gets "the rest," which consists of less than $1.5 million.

The reports have indicated that lavish spending and sizable charitable donations largely diminished her family fortune. Even so, it is more than the CNN anchor had expected to inherit, as he believed that he was not going to receive anything from his mother. "Who has inherited a lot of money that has gone on to do things in their own life?" Cooper asked radio host Howard Stern in 2014. "From the time I was growing up, if I felt that there was some pot of gold waiting for me, I don't know that I would've been so motivated."

See Katherine Lam, Gloria Vanderbilt's Son Anderson Cooper to Inherit Less than $1.5M, Report Says , Fox Business, July 8, 2019.

July 9, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Television, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

California Probate Administration is no Time for Napping

CourtroomCalifornia's probate process lasts for at least six months and can run much longer depending on the size of the estate and the particular nature of assets. The personal representative (executor) has the responsibility to resolve creditor claims, get the assets to the appropriate beneficiaries, and execute the estate efficiently. In a recently decided appellate case, the court affirmed the lower court's opinion that two decades is far too long of a "nap" for a personal representative.

In the Estate of Sapp, Roscoe Sapp, Sr. died in 1994 and left behind seven living children and an estate worth millions. The will, entered into probate in 1995, stated that his real property should go to his children to  “to share + share alike.” After a daughter was removed as personal representative in 1999, Edith Rogers, a granddaughter, and two other grandchildren were appointed as representatives. But by 2001, only Edith and another representative remained, and they petitioned the court for instructions because they disagreed on how they should proceed because some of the remaining heirs were disabled and unable to care for themselves. The court sided with the other co-representative and instructed the estate to sell all the real property assets and distribute the proceeds. Two years later, the co-representative died, leaving Edith as sole personal representative of her grandfather's estate.

No surprise, but Edith did not follow the court's instructions. Though four real properties were apparently sold in 2004, the remaining nine parcels still were unsold in 2017. Another grandchild, Armuress Sapp, filed a petition to be named successor administrator because Edith was ineffective by removing the real estate from active listings, not paying heirs and creditors, and even allegedly offered to pay approximately ten family members $10,000 each to “just sign off and walk away.”

In April 2017, the probate court in Riverside County granted the petitions to remove Edith as administrator pursuant to California Probate Code section 8502 and appointed Armuress as successor administrator.

See Christopher Miles Kolkey, California Probate Administration is no Time for Napping, Trust on Trial, July 2, 2019.

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

July 8, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Nevada Trooper Pulls Over Hearse Carrying Corpse in Carpool Lane: Police

HearseA police officer in Las Vegas has to explain the High Occupancy Vehicle lane law to the driver of a hearse who had assumed the deceased person was included in the vehicle count.

“Yes, it’s a person, but they’re not in a seat and they’re not living and breathing,” the trooper reportedly said. “This body was in the rear cargo and that doesn’t qualify as a seat.” The driver was given just a warning, though.

Nevada Highway Patrol later issued a warning that passengers must be living, breathing people in order to be counted as occupants in cars using the high occupancy vehicle lane. The stop occurred amid increased enforcement of carpool lane violations.

See Bradford Betz, Nevada Trooper Pulls Over Hearse Carrying Corpse in Carpool Lane: Police, Fox News, July 3, 2019.

July 6, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)