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)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Best Father’s Day Gift, a Father Can Give

FathersdayOn the day that is meant to celebrate fathers and the role they play in their children's lives, they usually receive the typical gifts: a stand-out tie, a shiny new grill, maybe a nice set of tools. But what about the ultimate gift that fathers can give to their children and other loved ones?

While a ballgame sounds great on the penultimate holiday for fatherhood, any real dad will tell you that the true reward is having a sense of accomplishment, in knowing you left everything on the field when providing for your family. An effective estate plan with all the appropriate and necessary documents will pass on your legacy and keeping your loved ones safe and protected even after you have passed on.

A health care proxy allows you to designate a person to make the difficult decisions if you become seriously ill or incapacitated. A living will details the end-of-life instructions to be carried out by a medical facility as it pertains to life sustaining care. Having a durable power of attorney can be established for other decisions in a time of need, such as financial decisions that are need when you cannot. Of course, no estate plan is complete with a disposition of property, so either a living trust or a will is necessary to transfer your assets as you desire.

See The Best Father’s Day Gift, a Father Can Give, OC Estate Lawyers, June 13, 2019.

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


June 16, 2019 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Games, Trusts, 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)

Monday, May 27, 2019

When Important People Die, He’s There

FuneralcarRobert M. Boetticher Sr. is the chief executive of a boutique death services firm that contracts with the federal government for state funerals. Most recently he was seen on television pushing the casket containing the late President George Bush into the back of a Cadillac at his memorial service. Surprisingly, the planning for such a service begins almost as soon as a president is elected. But the company, L.H.T. Consulting Group, a subsidiary of Service Corporation International, does not deal solely with presidents; Mr. Boetticher has also assisted at services for Senators John McCain and Edward M. Kennedy, as well as the Rev. Billy Graham and the actress Farrah Fawcett.

Mr. Boetticher showed an aptitude to be funeral director after an exam at the young age of 18, and purchased his first funeral home in Wyoming after leaving the Army. He joined SCI in 1983 and eventually moved to the company’s headquarters in Houston. There he managed the development of a new embalming fluid and became president of S.C.I.’s museum of funeral history. He also advised on "Six Feet Under" and played an undertaker in a mini-series starring Sally Field.

But in 2002, he received the unique call to perform President Ronald Reagan's funeral. He helped the family select the solid mahogany Marsellus Masterpiece coffin and even pressed the American flag that was draped over it. He oversaw the embalming and the procession. It was “very humbling” to escort the president’s body, Mr. Boetticher said. Since then, he has been the man to call whenever a president is on the "brink of death," from Reagan to Ford to Bush. 

See Emily S. Rueb, When Important People Die, He’s There, New York Times, May 15, 2019.

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

May 27, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Article on The Enigma of End-of-Life Decisions in Advance Directives

AdvancedirectiveGregory S.C. Huffman recently published an Article entitled, The Enigma of End-of-Life Decisions in Advance Directives, Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, Vol. 53 No. 2 (Fall 2018/Winter 2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

This Article discusses advance health-care directives and the subjective, personal choices one must make for a future unknown situation. This Article first examines legal issues created by the various available types, and then moves into religious and philosophical views effecting a person's end-of-life choices. Issues involving a person's health, age, and financial and emotional situation are also discussed. Because a directive does not normally go into effect until a person can no longer make a medical decision, the Article also discusses quality-of-life issues arising from a minimally conscious state, a vegetative state, a locked-in state, and coma. There is then a discussion of the default position courts and medical providers take when no advance directive has been filled out, and the risks of leaving a person's end-of-life decisions to an agent. This Article concludes that an advance directive tends for most to be an enigma because so few have ever thought out the many complex issues raised by this type of document.

May 23, 2019 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Washington Becomes the First State to Legalize Composting of Humans

DirtWashington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill this Tuesday that legalizes human composting, but the law will not go into effect until May of next year. Human composting speeds up the process in which dead bodies turn into soil. Human composting will be the third option for citizens, combined with traditional burials and cremations.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Jamie Pedersen, said it is an environmentally friendly way of disposing of human remains and that it gives citizens more "freedom to determine for themselves how they'd like their body to be disposed of." The option also will be cheaper, estimating that composting will cost $5,500 compared to burials at $8,000 to $25,000 and cremations ranging up to $6,000.

According to Katrina Spade, the CEO of the human composting company Recompose, a "body is covered in natural materials, like straw or woods chips, and over the process of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil." The family of the deceased will then received the soil that remains, and will be up to them how they use the soil.

Recently, Luke Perry's family had his body undergo a similar process by burying him in a "mushroom suit."

See Faith Karimi & Amir Vera, Washington Becomes the First State to Legalize Composting of Humans, CNN, May 22, 2019.

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

May 23, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Obituary for George Taylor Bogert

BogertGeorge Taylor Bogert, originally of Bridgman, Michigan, passed away on May 13 at the age of 98. Bogert was a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School, specializing in estate planning. He became a partner in 1966 at Mayer, Brown and worked there until his retirement in 1988. He was an author on a multi-volume work, Trusts and Trustees, that his father, George G. Bogert, had first written in 1935.

Bogert was a reformer and an activist as a young lawyer, becoming president of Committee for a Greater Chicago in 1961-62, and co-chaired the Committee for Legislative Reform in 1974. He was also active in civic and cultural groups, serving on boards at the Newberry Library and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and was a founder of Music of the Baroque in 1976 and the Rembrandt Chamber Players in 1990.

He was preceded in death by his first wife, Adelyn Russell, in 1993. Bogert is survived by his three children - Nicholas (Sally), Amy (Robert Baldwin), and Carroll - four grandchildren, and his former second wife, Rosamary Everard.

See George Taylor Bogert, Chicago Tribune, May 19, 2019.

May 20, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Luke Perry was Buried in Eco-Friendly Mushroom Burial Suit

LukeperrySophie, the daughter of the late Beverly Hills 90210 actor Luke Perry, revealed that her father was buried in an eco-friendly "mushroom suit." She says that being buried in the suit rather than a traditional casket was one of the star's last wishes.

She explained that when Perry discovered the suits, he “was more excited by this than I have ever seen him." The burial suits Sophie referenced are made by Coeio, a “green burial company,” according to its website. The eco-friendly suits cost $1,500 and help to “return your body to the earth without harming the environment,” the company claims. According to People magazine, the suits have “built-in mushrooms and other microorganisms” that help to speed up the body’s decomposition process.

See Madeline Farber, Luke Perry was Buried in Eco-Friendly ‘Mushroom Burial Suit,’ Late Actor’s Daughter Says, Fox News, May 4, 2019.

May 6, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Mystery of the Millionaire Hermit

CatholicWhen a person dies alone without an easily ascertainable will nor family, the public administrator of the county is dispatched to determine the individual's estate. He or she has the authority to enter the person's home (after the coroner has taken care of the body) to rummage through the person's belongings to see if they can find the next of kin, a will, or any other clue as to how to disperse what the person left on the Earth.

But when Dale Tisserand and Melani Rodrigue of Corning, California entered the two-bedroom home the recently deceased Eugene Brown on August 22, 2015, they were ready for the usual decay of a person on the edges of society. Those that pass away all alone have usually let their lives - and homes - get away from them before they themselves pass on. But to the administrators surprise, they found a neat, tidy, and sparse house and every sign that its inhabitant was strictly frugal. There were no electronics in the home except for an old-fashioned radio, and the man's room only contained a foam bedroll and a military duffel bag containing a uniform and medals.

The other bedroom was empty except for a metal filing cabinet. Within that cabinet resided the evidence that Brown had a sizeable estate of $2.7 million, but alas, they found no will, so it was the administrators' job to discover the man's intent. Tisserand and Rodrigue discovered that he had never married and had no children, and his two siblings had long passed away. He had been born in San Jose in 1922, and had kept precise details of every dollar he had made, starting when he was 18 for a Norwegian shipping company making $18 a month. He moved into his home in the 1970s, and was alone it that small house for 39 years. But he did call his investment advisor, Richard Mazur, every morning and every night for years. Upon learning of Brown death, Mazur cried so hard he had to hang up with the administrator.

But Mazur did give them one clue to the elusive, rich hermit: he was a devout Catholic. In the filing cabinet was a brochure entitled titled Making Your Will: A Good Steward’s Guide, published by Catholic Relief Services, an international aid group, and a Merrill Lynch form designating the nonprofit as the sole beneficiary of his investments. Brown filled out the form four days before his death—but had not signed it.

The only person that attended Brown's military burial - with a full-gun salute - was an assistant funeral director who also happened to live on the same street as Brown. Three nephews and a niece finally surfaced after two of them learned of their uncle's death from an heir finding firm, which will take a third of the estate awarded to their clients. One claimed that he had visited his uncle from time to time, though there is no proof of that, but the other three admit they had not seen their uncle in 50 years. Nonetheless, 2 siblings received $387,000 each and the other 2 received $193,000 each, instead of the Catholic Church which may have been Brown's intent.

See Claire Martin, The Mystery of the Millionaire Hermit, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 27, 2019.

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

May 1, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 29, 2019

6 Estate Planning Tips For Blended Families

MarriageNo matter how every parent that remarries hopes things will go well, not every blended family has the same harmony as the Brady Bunch. A step-parent may not have the same affection for their step kids as much as they have for their biological children, especially if there are no adoptions. Years after one spouse dies, the children of that spouse may worry about their stepmother or stepfather including them in their estate plan if the majority of their parent's estate went to their spouse.

Here are 6 tips for blended families when it comes to estate planning.

  • A simple will probably will not cut it.
    • Our society is seeing less nuclear families with simple family trees, so the simple wills of yesterday will not be sufficient in these circumstances.
  • Consider a trust that leaves assets to your spouse for her lifetime, with the balance passing to your children on her death.
    • This way, your spouse can be taken care the rest of his or her days, but your assets will ultimately pass to your children.
  • Choose a knowledgeable and sophisticated trustee.
    • Just in case there is tensions between your spouse and your children years down the road after your death, it is important to have an experienced trustee to invest properly and act as referee.
  • Plan for the possibility that your surviving spouse will remarry.
    • It could happen. A trust can ensure that the assets are protected.
  • Consider leaving some assets to your biological children on your death.
    • This can ease tensions and make it so that your children are not waiting around and hoping for their stepparent to pass away.
  • Decide who will make health care decisions.
    • Most states only allow you to name one person to make health care decisions. This can cause issues between a stepparent and an adult child as it is not uncommon for one to cut off the other from seeing an incapacitated parent. This should be an in-depth conversation with your family.

See Christine Fletcher, 6 Estate Planning Tips For Blended Families, Forbes, April 26, 2019.

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

April 29, 2019 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)