Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Elizabeth Hurley's Son Prevails in Inheritance Fight

HurleysThe son of British actress Elizabeth Hurley and American businessman Steve Bing has come out as the winner in a fight over his inheritance portion of his billionaire grandfather's trust. The trustee of the trust had petitioned a Los Angeles court to clarify the term "grandchild" in an attempt to disinherit any grandchildren that were born out of wedlock. The petition was spurred in part by a request for information on the trust by Steve’s other child, Kira Kerkorian Bing, who Steve shares with tennis player Lisa Bonder.

Peter claims that he intended his 1980 trusts to only benefit future grandchildren who were born or adopted at a young age by Steve or his daughter Mary and “raised by [his] children as part of their families.” Peter says that he has never met Damian nor Kira, and that even Steve has yet to meet Damian, thus they are not part of his family as he intended the trusts to be meant for.

Judge Daniel Juarez has denied the motion filed by the trustee, stating that “[t]here is no ambiguity in the Trusts' use of the term ‘grandchild.'” The judge ruled that though estate planning documents "are to be construed in accordance with the testator's intent, it is the intent expressed by the words of the will itself which must be given effect rather than some undisclosed purpose or intent that may have existed in the mind of the testator.” A grandchild is by definition a child of that person's child, and said that Peter's interpretation of the word was unreasonable.

See Anna Sulkin, Elizabeth Hurley's Son Prevails in Inheritance Fight, Wealth Management, July 29, 2019.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 7, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases, Trusts | 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

Gangster John Dillinger's Body Reportedly to be Exhumed from Heavily Protected Grave

John-Dillinger-GettyImages-3225327The remains of the 1930's gangster that was gunned down by FBI agents and was notorious for eluding prison, John Dillinger, are now set to be exhumed. Michael C. Thompson, Dillinger's nephew, filed a permit with the Indiana State Department of Health and was approved on July 3. Details are scarce on why, but a History Channel spokesperson said it was for an "upcoming project," without elaborating.

Dillinger was 31 when he was killed in 1934 outside of Chicago's Biograph Theater after seeing Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama. The gangster was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 2009 film Public Enemies.

Thousands of people showed up to catch a glimpse of the infamous criminal when his body was brought back to his hometown in Indiana. Dillinger’s family reportedly ordered two and a half tons of concrete to be placed over his grave after reports emerged that attempts might be made to steal his corpse, according to the Indianapolis Star.

See Greg Norman, Gangster John Dillinger's Body Reportedly to be Exhumed from Heavily Protected Grave, Fox News, July 30, 2019.

July 30, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

Elizabeth Hurley’s Son Damian, 17, Wins Inheritance Fight Against Grandfather: Report

HurleysIn March, a trustee of Peter Bing's estate petitioned a Los Angeles court to get two of his grandchildren that were born out of wedlock excluded from a trust set up to benefit his grandchildren. The trustee claimed that Peter had a specific definition of "grandchild" in mind when he drafted his trust, and it did not include the two children his son Steve Bing had fathered without being married to the mothers. Steve has a 21-year-old daughter, Kira, with former tennis player Lisa Bonder and a 17-year-old son, Damian, with British actress Elizabeth Hurley.

The court shot down the petition this week, saying that there was no ambiguity in the term of grandchild, and Judge Daniel Ramirez added that additional "restrictive" definitions "unreasonably distort the term's clear and plain use." Steve had claimed that the petition was part of scheme by his sister, Mary, and his father to "orchestrate a money grab" from the trust. He had asked the court to penalize his sister by disinheriting her children from the trust, but the court refused that option. All of the grandchildren are expected to inherit at least several million each.

See Maria Pasquini, Elizabeth Hurley’s Son Damian, 17, Wins Inheritance Fight Against Grandfather: Report, People.com, July 19, 2019.

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

July 20, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases, Television, Trusts | 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)

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)

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)

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)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Claus von Bülow, Society Figure in High-Profile Case, Dies at 92

BulowThe man at the center of a sensational murder plot that was convicted and acquitted twice has died at the age of 92. Claus von Bülow was charged with attempting to induce the death of his wife by injecting her with insulin and causing her to fall into a coma until her death in 2008. His death was confirmed by his son-in-law.

His wife, Martha von Bülow, also known as Sunny, was the heiress to a $75 million utilities fortune before her unrecoverable coma in December of 1980. Her first husband was the Prince of Austria and she was the mother of royalty: Prince Alexander von Auersperg and Princess Annie Laurie von Auersperg Kneissl. After being found guilty at the initial trial in 1982, Mr. von Bülow hired Harvard Law professor Alan M. Dershowitz to work on his appeal. Dershowitz was successful, and then Thomas Puccio, a former United States attorney, represented him for his second trial - that found him not guilty that time in 1985.

The von Bülow case became one of the most publicized legal contests in the second half of the 20th century due to Dershowitz profiting off the notoriety by writing a book based on the case, Reversal of Fortune. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title starring Jeremy Irons, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the protagonist husband, and Glenn Close as his heiress wife.

After his acquittal, his stepchildren filed a $56 million civil suit against him. It was settled in 1987 with the stipulation that Mr. von Bülow agree to a divorce and that he not discuss the case publicly. Their palatial Fifth Avenue apartment was handed over to the Prince and Princess, and Mr. von Bülow returned to London until his death.

See Enid Nemy, Claus von Bülow, Society Figure in High-Profile Case, Dies at 92, New York Times, May 30, 2019.

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

May 31, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)