Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Wealth and Drama of the Disney Family

DisneyBefore it was Walt Disney Studio, it was Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney. Walt handled the creative side while Roy O. handled the business side. Walt died in 1966 of lung cancer, survived by his wife, two daughters and 10 grandchildren. Roy O. only had one child, Roy E., who would later become a senior executive for the company. Roy E. had four children - Susan, Roy P., Tim, and Abigail. Though the Disney clan raised their children in a way that was traditional and normal, their legacy is anything but simple.

In 1960, the Disney brothers owned 20% of the company that they had founded, but today the family only owns 3%. But at $130 billion, that would leave the family an investment of $3.9 billion in the company. And that of course does not include other holdings, investments, and endeavors. Some of the grandchildren became notorious, such as a granddaughter living quite lavishly, splurging on $5,000-a-night suites at the Royal Palms apartment homes in Las Vegas. Two other grandchildren fought over their portions to a trust fund, each arguing that the other was mentally incapacitated.

On the other side of the coin, a granddaughter of Roy O. was reportedly embarrassed by her family's wealth and stated that she had developed an "inferiority complex around people who have actually earned their money. She has said that if she could she would outlaw private jets, and she was one of 18 ultra-wealthy Americans to sign a letter asking presidential candidates to support a wealth tax in June 2019. Roy E. was the only heir that got involved in the business, and it is reported that though the original two brothers were close, the families have never been.

See Hillary Hoffower, A Family Feud Over a $400 Million Trust Fund, a Massive Fortune that Left One Heiress with an Inferiority Complex, and a Sprawling Media Empire. Meet the Disney Family, Business Insider, February 7, 2020.

Special thanks to Mark J. Bade (CPA, GCMA, St. Louis, Missouri) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 9, 2020 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Article on Finding the Oscar

OscarW. Burlette Carter published an Article entitled, Finding the Oscar, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2012). Provided below is the abstract to the Article.

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to be awarded an Oscar. The controversial role that garnered the honor was that of a slave "Mammy" in the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, "Gone with the Wind." In 1951, McDaniel willed her Oscar to Howard University, but today no one knows where it is. Theories include that Howard students took it during the 1960s Civil Rights protests. that a Howard professor took it, or that it was simply put away for safekeeping but no one knows where. Howard's archives could find no records of having actually received it. Considering probate papers, archival materials, and interviews, the article traces the path of the Oscar from McDaniel's death to its arrival at Howard and offers a theory as to the Oscar's ultimate fate. It also ties the Oscar to the story of how historical racism suppressed the ability of African Americans, and particularly the descendants of slaves, to protect wealth and to transfer it intergenerationally.

January 25, 2020 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What The Movie ‘Knives Out’ Gets Right (And Wrong) About Estate Planning

KnivesoutThe murder mystery Knives Out appears to be the surprise hit of the 2019 holiday season, racking up $70 million at the box office and numerous award nominations. The patriarch of a wealthy family, Harlan Thrombey played by Christopher Plummer, is found dead. It is soon discovered that just prior to his demise, the patriarch had changed his estate plan. During the plot's twists and turns, several concepts of estate planning our mentioned, including undue influence, slayer statutes, and will contestation.

Par for the course for Hollywood, one dramatic scene in particular in the movie is the titular will reading of the recently deceased. In a wood paneled library, the estate attorney sits behind the patriarch’s desk and reads the document. Many movie goers might be surprised that this is not an actual event. Paula Leibovitz Goodwin, partner in the Personal Planning Group at Perkins Coie in San Francisco, says that, “In the past there have been some that I have disappointed when I told them that there is no will reading in real life.”

Other concepts brought up by the movie are closer to reality. Christopher J. Burns, partner in Estate and Tax at Henson & Efron in Minneapolis, Minnesota, comments that due to increased longevity and failure to keep estate plans updated, “Contesting wills is becoming increasingly common." Undue influence is a common red flag, especially when a will is dramatically changed such as what occurs in the movie: natural heirs are disinherited and suddenly a caretaker is the sole beneficiary.

Though the term slayer statute seem farfetched and created from the mind of a Hollywood producer, it is a real premise in estate law. Under a state that has such a statute, an individual cannot inherit if they intentionally killed the deceased for the purpose of inheriting. “Some states apply the rule only to those convicted of homicide, others apply it to manslaughter, with some allowing the 'slayer’s' descendants to receive what the 'slayer' would have inherited, and others cutting off the slayer’s family line,” explains Caitlin Carey, an estate planning attorney in the Personal Planning Group at Perkins Coie.

See Megan Gorman, What The Movie ‘Knives Out’ Gets Right (And Wrong) About Estate Planning, Forbes, December 18, 2019.

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

December 21, 2019 in Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Humor, Wills | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Why Ashton Kutcher is Leaving Nothing to his Kids

AshtonAshton Kutcher and his wife, Mila Kunis, stated recently that they plan to leave their children nothing, instead giving any money they have earned from Hollywood or their investments to charity, including sex-trafficking causes. Kutcher has invested in several tech companies with his venture capital firm A-Grade Investments, so he understands that his children are already living what he believes is a "privileged life." He specifically said that they will not be receiving any trust funds.

Half of people that are destined to receive an inheritance receive $50,000 or less, and 30% will receive between $50,000 and $249,000 according to Federal Reserve data. Completely cutting off children is an unorthodox approach; teaching them positive life-long habits that can contribute to more beneficial payoffs may be more proactive, and could bloom into long-term financial security.

See Mitch Tuchman, Why Ashton Kutcher is Leaving Nothing to his Kids, Market Watch, November 9, 2019.

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

November 10, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Michael Jackson’s Former Manager Says King of Pop’s Will is Missing, Wants Trump’s Help Finding it

MjMichael Jackson's former spokesperson and manager, Raymone Bain, revealed at a press conference last week that she does not know where the singer's will is placed. “I have wished, I have hoped and I have prayed that Michael Jackson’s will — dated Oct. 6, 2006 — would be found, revealed, discovered, dropped from the sky. Because in it, he painstakingly outlined how he wanted his legacy to be preserved and maintained," she claims.

Bain also claimed that President Trump was a close and dear friend of the King of Pop, and expressed hope that he would assist in finding the will. However, representative's from Jackson's estate said that Bain was “not authorized to act on behalf of the Michael Jackson Estate nor to use Michael Jackson’s name in any way for charitable or her own commercial purposes."

The press conference was called to present the MJ Legacy Foundation, which was created to “preserve, protect and defend his name while supporting the numerous organizations he supported during his life.”

See David Matthews, Michael Jackson’s Former Manager Says King of Pop’s Will is Missing, Wants Trump’s Help Finding it, NY Daily News, August 22, 2019.

August 26, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (1)

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)