Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Cremated Remains of 100 People Have Been Launched into Space on a SpaceX Rocket

ElysiumThe cremated remained of 100 individuals were launched into space in a memorial satellite by the company Elysium Space. Based out if San Francisco, the company placed samples of each person's remains on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for $2,500 each.

The remains of average citizens are joined by veterans and other aerospace enthusiasts who believed their loved ones would enjoy being "within the poetry of the starry sky," Elysium Spaces said in an emailed statement. The ashes, each in an individual capsule, were placed in a 4-inch square satellite called a cubeseat, which will orbit the Earth for 4 years before it inevitably falls back, according to Elysium Space Founder and CEO Thomas Civeit.  Sixty-four small satellites from thirty-four different companies were aboard the rocket, part of a rideshare mission organized by Spaceflight.

Families will be able to track the process of the satellite as it orbits the planet, knowing that their loved ones is above them in the stars.

See Dakin Andone, The Cremated Remains of 100 People Have Been Launched into Space on a SpaceX Rocket, CNN, December 3, 2018.

December 7, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

6 Things You Should Do Now to Prepare for Your Own Funeral

CasketDeath is inevitable, the one appointment that we may be able to put off but never fully cancel. It will happen. And when your family does not know the intricacies of how you want to be remembered during your funeral, or there may be some emotional barriers, your funeral may not be the ceremony you were hoping it to be.

Here are 6 ways you can plan and prepare for your own death and commemoration:

  • Do the paperwork to designate who will be in charge of decision making for your funeral.
    • Without authorization, there is a default order for who will be in charge of decision. First is the legal spouse, then adult children, then parents, then siblings. The most effective document to authorize a different person that that is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOAHC).
  • Make sure the documents are legal and kept where everyone can find them.
    • Ensure that your designated agent is aware of and willing to undertake their responsibilities. Secondly, make sure the document is signed and notarized, making it a legally binding document that the funeral home can trust.
  • Consider your funeral options now—so your loved ones don’t have to do it later.
    • After your passing, your family and loved ones may be in mourning and in a haze of grief. The last thing you would wish upon them would be more stress. 
  • Sit down with your loved ones to tell them what your funeral wishes are.
    • The most important decision is the disposition of your body - whether you wish to be cremated or buried. This might be an uncomfortable conversation, but your family will need the guidance.
  • You can start saving for your own funeral now.
    • Hard truth: funerals cost money, even the most frugal ones. The caring option for your loved ones is to have it already paid for when your time comes.
  • Remember that death is natural, and there’s nothing morbid about discussing yours—this is about making life easier for those you leave behind.

See Ace Ratcliff, 6 Things You Should Do Now to Prepare for Your Own Funeral, Self, August 30, 2018.

Special thanks to Carissa Peterson (Hrbacek Law Firm, Sugar Land, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 7, 2018 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Assisted Suicide for Alzheimer’s Patients Raises Incredibly Difficult Issues

HippocraticPhysician assisted suicide was thrust into the public eye when a 104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall decided to end his life medically. He did not have any serious or terminal illnesses. He just believed he was old, and did not want to have his abilities continue to diminish and end up in a nursing home. Because assisted suicide is not legal in Australia, he had to travel to Switzerland. He adamantly told the press that he "wanted to die."

Seven jurisdictions in the United States provide for physician assisted suicide: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana (with a court decision), Vermont and Washington state. Put there are built in stipulations and limits on the procedure, including: a condition that is terminal, meaning the patient has six months or less to live, restrictions on what type of doctor can write the prescription, waiting periods, different levels and forms of consent by the patient, and a showing that the patient is mentally competent.

Patients with Alzheimer's have issues with many of the restrictions. The disease can take years to kill someone, so when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's it is not considered a terminal illness. But the disease breaks down a person's identity to the point where they are a shadow of who they were, and many people want to end their lives before the deterioration is a burden. But by the time the erosion and disease is considered terminal, Alzheimer's patients will have lost their mental capacity to reason and thus will be barred from requesting assisted suicide. They will no longer be of sound mind.

An advanced directive may be a solution to this problem, stating the individual’s wishes before the person is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. This would similar to a DNR or refusal of aggressive medical interventions. Also known as a living will, it is a  written statement of a person’s desires regarding medical treatment in cases where he or she is unable to give informed consent.

See Josh Bloom & Henry I. Miller, Assisted Suicide for Alzheimer’s Patients Raises Incredibly Difficult Issues, Fox News, December 2, 2018.

December 6, 2018 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Travel, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Valuable Estate Lessons from the Passing of George and Barbara Bush

BushPresident George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, passed away earlier this week. His death occurred a mere 8 months after his wife of 73 years, Barbara, died. While it may appear to be a romantic ending to their decades long relationship, the short time between their deaths can raise issues for their beneficiaries and make the estates' administrations more difficult.

“The statistics are high especially for older couples who had close marriages, dependent on each other,” says Paula Leibovitz Goodwin, partner in the Personal Planning Group at Perkins Coie LLP in San Francisco. While the quick succession of spouses' deaths is quite common, the time between can be critical as some survivorship provisions may require that a spouse survive for a specific amount of time. If the timing is close, for example less than two weeks apart, the two estates may be able to be probated contemporaneously.

This type of provision would not have benefited the Bushes. Reading the documents of both of the spouses carefully is vital to determine exactly how the assets would flow. “Does the estate pass from 1st spouse who died to survivor, and then from survivor to others, or does 1st spouse’s assets pass to their next level beneficiaries and surviving spouse’s assets pass to their next level beneficiaries?" Goodwin says.

With certain accounts, the other spouse is named beneficiary and others as contingent beneficiaries. If death occurs in quick succession, the second spouse to die likely had not yet rolled the first’s retirement account into their own account with beneficiaries. This would cause the retirement account to pass to probate with the first spouse's estate.

See Megan Gorman, Valuable Estate Lessons from the Passing of George and Barbara Bush, Forbes, December 3, 2018.

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

December 4, 2018 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 26, 2018

10 Tips to Help Protect Your Spouse

Heart-made-small-hearts-vector-32804992Married couples promised to love each other until death do they part, but there is a way for you to protect your spouse even after you pass away.

  • Gather financial papers and important documents and store them in a fireproof box.
  • Make a "must call" list comprised of your accountant, lawyer, and other important numbers.
  • Keep a master list of passwords and usernames.
  • Make sure beneficiaries are up to date.
  • Check credit cards to make sure either both names or just one name are on the accounts, in line with you and your spouse's wishes.
  • Set up advance directives.
  • Designate a power of attorney.
  • Regularly review wills and trusts.
  • Discuss funeral arrangements and plans with each other.
  • Learn how bills are paid - and make sure the other spouse knows how as well so there are no late payments.

See Leslie Milk, 10 Tips to Help Protect Your Spouse, AARP, November 11, 2018.

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

November 26, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Corpse Hotels Cater to Japan's Waiting Dead

HotelJapan has seen an exponential increase in its aging population, and the reality of this statistic is that there has also been a significant increase in the number of the dead, with a record of 1.34 million last year. With the small country unable to bury their loved ones that passed on, families must cremate them. But in many urban areas there is a wait for crematories, often up to a full week.

In the interim, people are turning to corpse hotels, where their deceased family member can await cremation in tasteful, competitively priced comfort, and families can say farewell at their leisure.  Those moments can be conducted with the help of an automated coffin-retrieval system, which quietly trundles the correct casket up from the storage area. Gone are the sterile environments of morgues, instead replaced by private viewing rooms and even suites that resemble the first floor of a traditional Japanese home where families can dine together with a perspex coffin containing the body. Management is particularly proud of the miniaturized refrigeration unit that makes this possible.

Corpse hotels are attempting to ease the tide, as it is predicted that between now and 2040 the death toll will continue to rise to a peak of 1.7 millions annually.

See Leo Lewis, Corpse Hotels Cater to Japan's Waiting Dead, Financial Times, November 7, 2018.

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

November 12, 2018 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: On Living

OnlivingKerry Egan is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and is a hospice chaplain. The book is a collections of lessons that she has derived from her experiences, and observations about live, death, and spirituality.

Egan describes her chaplain’s role as talking and listening to patients about their families and, perhaps, about religion, God, or the meaning of life — but mostly about families. "Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it.”

The author invites us to say important things now without waiting, to live without regret, to cherish our bodies how they are. She reminds us that what we were in life we are in death: “Death does not automatically make you a better person.” 

Egan attempt to inform the read that everyone is broken, but that listening to others' stories can heal a person's soul. "I know this because it healed mine.” The dying are still living, still growing, still learning, and may want to release long-held secrets or simply want to be seen as who there were before they became ill.

As attorneys, we are trained to be logical and analytical and to solve problems for our clients. Reading this book will guide us in contemplating the softer side of ourselves, the work we do, and the clients we represent. It invites us to consider how our experiences with our clients shape us, both individually and professionally.

See Shelley D. Coelho, Book Review: On Living, NAELA,org, Spring, 2018.

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

November 9, 2018 in Books, Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Article on Everybody Dies. Or, a Consideration of Simultaneous Death Statutes and the Struggles of the Self-Represented

Will and testamentVictoria J Haneman recently published an Article entitled, Everybody Dies. Or, a Consideration of Simultaneous Death Statutes and the Struggles of the Self-Represented, 32 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 221-250 (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

The access to justice problem has been the cause célèbre of the social justice movement in the United States for many years, with calls for the legal community to support legal services programs and contribute pro bono hours. The stark reality is that while sixty-one million people are potentially eligible to receive legal aid, most will find themselves unassisted when need arises. Notably, however, the access to justice problem in this country reaches beyond the poorest and most disadvantaged. The working-class and middle-class are ineligible for legal services programs but often find themselves unable to afford standard attorney rates. While access to information through technology should allow basic legal issues to be resolved in an efficient and predictable manner, the reality is that the complexity of the system interferes. The business of dying is extremely lucrative for estate planning attorneys and probate practitioners, and the legal process has been designed to accommodate the represented. To that end, an overarching purpose of this Article is to explore the idea of revising probate statutes to protect the self-represented from an obvious pitfall, especially when and where it is clear that the underrepresented and unrepresented are going to blindly fall into the pit. This discussion is framed within the context of an obvious flaw that presently exists in states that allow holographic wills: protection of the layperson from simultaneous or closely proximate death scenarios.

Twenty-six states recognize the validity of holographic wills, which are wholly or partially handwritten wills commonly utilized by the self-represented testator. While the will of a competently represented testator contains survivorship language as a matter of course, the holographic will of the self-represented layperson is unlikely to include the legalese of survivorship language. Only ten of the twenty-six states authorizing holographic instruments have adopted language that protects the instruments with a default 120-hour rule in the absence of contrary language. The remaining sixteen states have chosen to implement incomplete language that does not apply the 120-hour rule to holographic instruments, or alternatively, to reject adoption of the 120-hour rule altogether. The consequence is that while twenty-six states have authorized holographic wills as a convenience for those unable to retain counsel, sixteen of these states have implicitly endorsed and enabled self-representation while also failing to make simple, nonconsequential adjustments to the probate codes that would ease the path of the self-represented. It is in this failure that something implicit and troubling can be found.

October 26, 2018 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Disney World, Disneyland Custodians Claim Parks are Popular Spots to Scatter Ashes

DisneyCustodians at the famous theme parks are claiming that guests often bring their family’s ashes to scatter, and that it requires a special vacuuming process roughly every month.

“The Haunted Mansion probably has so much human ashes in it that it’s not even funny,” one Disneyland custodian said. A spokesperson for Disney told the Wall Street Journal that the spreading ashes at the park is “strictly prohibited and unlawful. Guests who attempt to do so will be escorted off property. Anaheim Police Department spokesman Sgt. Daron Wyatt admitted that officers have responded to calls “regarding ashes” at Disneyland before.

Typically guests sneak in the ashes in pill-bottles or plastic bag hidden in purses or backpacks. When ash residue is discovered on a ride, Disney workers are reportedly forced to shut down the ride and inform guests there have been “technical difficulties.”

As the Happiest Place on Earth, the locations are also popular spots for other big life moments like proposals, weddings and birthdays.

See Disney World, Disneyland Custodians Claim Parks are Popular Spots to Scatter Ashes, Fox News, October 24, 2018.

October 24, 2018 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Elections, Brothels, Family: Dennis Hof and Lessons in Estate and Succession Planning

HofDennis Hof was discovered unresponsive at the age of 72 on October 16 by his friend Ron Jeremy, at the Love Ranch South, a legal brothel Hof owned in Crystal, Nevada. Despite his death, the cause of which remains unknown, he is expected by many to win his election for state assembly in November as his name remains on the ballot. According to the State of Nevada’s Constitution, the 36th District of Nevada will appoint another Republican to serve in Hof’s place should he posthumously win the election.

Questions as to who would inherit his businesses are being asked because it is unclear if Hof had a will. There has been a report that he had a trust, and friend Heidi Fleiss claims that there is indeed a last will existing somewhere. Though Hof dealt in unconventional businesses, there is still a lesson to be learned from the brothel owner's death. Ownership interest in a business is an asset like any other, and sole proprietorships must be transferred by probate or the laws of intestacy.

As is often the case with estates, litigation may ensue. It is already reported that Hof’s two estranged daughters from his first wife have surfaced inquiring as to the succession plan for their father’s empire. Suzette Cole, who worked as a madame with Hof at his brothels, may manage the brothels as her name appears on many of the brothel licenses. Interestingly, her name does not appear on the license for Love Ranch South where died.

See Cori A. Robinson, Elections, Brothels, Family: Dennis Hof and Lessons in Estate and Succession Planning, Above the Law, October 23, 2018.


October 24, 2018 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)