Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Woman with husband’s bones gets close look at Munich Airport

BoxPeople bring a lot of different things to the airport when they travel, toiletries, laptops, tablets, games, playing cards, etc. However, it is not very often, if ever, that a passenger packs a box of bones for a flight. 

Yet, police at Munich Airport got a surprise when they searched a wooden box belonging to a 74-year-old passenger. The box contained the bones of her deceased husband.

"Customs officials, a doctor and prosecutors were called in, and they determined no crime had been committed."

Police learned that the woman and her 52-year-old daughter were on traveling from Greece back home to Armenia via Munich and Kyiv. 

The mother said that her husband died in 2008 and was buried in Thessaloniki, Greece and that she and her daughter decided to bring his remains home to a final resting place in Armenia. 

See, Woman with husband’s bones gets close look at Munich Airport , AP News, August 4, 2020. 

August 12, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Humor, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 7, 2020

New York woman’s obituary shares hate for Tom Brady

TbCarole Scarsella, from Lackawanna, N.Y., died on July 19. Carole's obituary looks like any other at first glance, however, if you read on you'll see that Carole's obituary is unique.

In the obituary, family members say Carole "smoked millions of cigarettes, "loved the New York Yankees and future NBA Hall of Famer Lebron James" and "HATED Tom Brady."

The family made sure that the word "hated" was in all capital letters, apparently in attempts to emphasize the hatred that Carole held for Tom Brady. It appears they proved their point, since the obituary has made news outlets across the country. 

Carole's hatred for Tom Brady is shared with many other citizens of Buffalo, where it is almost tradition to hate former New England Patriot's quarterback. 

It seems like Carole lived a great and eventful life and she will greatly be missed by her family and loved ones.

See Evan Anstey, New York woman’s obituary shares hate for Tom Brady, WIVB4 News, July 29, 2020.  

August 7, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Humor, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

'I bequeath all my beauty to my sister... since she has none': That acid quip, aged 9, helped trigger the lifelong feud between Olivia De Havilland - who has died aged 104 - and her sibling Joan Fontaine... a saga greater than Gone With The Wind

OliviaUntil her death, Olivia de Havilland was convinced that she was the greatest star Hollywood ever produced. You may remember De Havilland from her spectacular performance in "the most glorious movie ever made," Gone with The Wind. 

Olivia was known for challenging the "stranglehold that studios had on their stars," which brought on the end of the 'Hollywood System'.

Olivia was very driven. When she was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Hattie McDaniel, she claimed that she "was convinced that there was no God." However, she had great self-confidence and kept on moving forward. She went on to win two Oscars for Best Actress in 1946 and 1949. 

In 1942, Olivia was nominated for the award, but lost to her sister Joan Fontaine, which only fueled the rivalry which had started when the girls were young. In fact, Joan once told a reporter, "I remember not one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood. She so hated the idea of having a sibling she wouldn't go near my crib."

One frequently reported story was that at age nine, Olivia was told to compose an imaginary last will and testament as an assignment and wrote, "I bequeath all my beauty to my younger sister, Joan, since she has none." 

When their mother died in 1975, Olivia tried to exclude her sibling from the memorial service. 

Olivia had a life-long competition with her sister, but of course, to her it was no competition. 

See, Christopher Stevens, 'I bequeath all my beauty to my sister... since she has none': That acid quip, aged 9, helped trigger the lifelong feud between Olivia De Havilland - who has died aged 104 - and her sibling Joan Fontaine... a saga greater than Gone With The Wind, Daily Mail (U.K.), July 26, 2020. 

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

July 29, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Humor, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Why the fur's flying over Karl Lagerfeld's fortune: Seven 'heirs' left in limbo, an accountant who's gone missing, a suspicious tax tangle... and a CAT that may get millions

ImageKarl Lagerfeld — the pioneer of Chanel and Fendi — loved nothing more than to create a sensation in life. Following his death in February 2019, a new scandal has captivated the fashion world. 

At stake is the ‘Kaiser’s’ fortune which is said to stand at £178 million, but may in fact be closer to £400 million. The beneficiaries include a collection of male models, former employees, and his young godson who are quarreling over who Lagerfeld loved best and who will therefore be getting the largest windfall. 

Meanwhile, Lagerfeld’s accountant, who is 87, has ‘disappeared’ from the scene, while the 16-month wrangle over his fortune is no closer to being sorted out. So where is all the money? And can the reports that Lagerfeld’s beloved cat Choupette is about to become a very rich kitty indeed possibly be true? 

There has been confusion over the extent of Lagerfeld's fortune, which has caused delay in declaring probate. Before his death, detectives working for the French tax authorities took a close interest in Lagerfeld’s financial arrangements. A source connected to France’s Economy & Finance Ministry told the Daily Mail that they suspected tax fraud.

The source also stated, "The situation has become extremely complicated, and this is why the settling of Mr Lagerfeld’s affairs is far from simple."

Lagerfeld had no close relatives and he often joked about leaving everything to Chouppette, who he claimed he would have married if it were legally possible. Fortunately for the humans in his life, there was no legal way he could have given millions to his cat. 

However, the Press in France report there are seven beneficiaries — all human, and all of whom stand to inherit millions.

See Alison Boshoff, Why the fur's flying over Karl Lagerfeld's fortune: Seven 'heirs' left in limbo, an accountant who's gone missing, a suspicious tax tangle... and a CAT that may get millions , Daily Mail (UK), June 14, 2020.

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

June 16, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Humor, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2020

Dog ‘ate the will’ case headed to trial

Dog-shredding-paper-tipsYou may remember the old schoolboy trick, "My dog ate my homework." However, judges do not often hear that a lawyer's dog ate the original will. Yet, this is one of the issues that was brought before Bexar Probate Judge Oscar Kazen, involving the estate of Billie Ray Hood, who died in San Antonio in 2014.

Debra Ann Catalani, one of Hood's daughters, said the will, which gave everything to Hood's three children— was eaten by a dog that belonged to her lawyer, William E. Leighner. The will was consumed by a lawless and rambunctious two-year-old golden doodle named Linus. Linus took the original will out through the doggy door, into the back yard and "devoured it." 

This mishap is likely to resurface in a brutal family struggle over Hood's assets, estimated to be worth more than $50,000. Six years before drafting the 2009 will, Billie had made another will giving all of her assets to her husband Jack Hood, who was not the father of her three children. Now Kristi Hood, one of Jack Hood's children is contesting the second will, asserting that the earlier one is the only "valid will" before the court. Kristi Hood said her offer to split the proceeds from the Hood's home was rejected. 

The first legal challenge to the second will as made in 2015 but laid dormant until last year. Leighner claims that the contest should be dismissed for lack of prosecution since plaintiff has not sought discovery much less a trial date. He also claims that you can probate a copy of a will under certain circumstances. The plaintiff's attorneys have been quick to patronize Leighner (all in good fun), but the issue is far from resolved. 

See John MacCormack Dog ‘ate the will’ case headed to trial, San Antonio Express-News, June 4, 2020. 

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 8, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Humor, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Australian Family Claims Son's Headstone was Removed Without Knowledge Over 'Offensive' Picture

HeadstonePeter Bridge, 33, of Australia died on April 4 of 2019 after succumbing to a life-long battle with cystic fibrosis. The man's father, Arthur Bridge, described his son as a “lovable character” with a “wicked sense of humor,” a memory he hoped to capture in choosing the proper headstone. Along with his name and other usual words, the headstone featured a small portrait of Peter extending his middle finger into the air.

Unfortunately, other visitors to the cemetery did not under the Peter's humor and complained numerous times. The Enfield Memorial Park in Clearview had the entire headstone removed, and Arthur claims that he was informed of its removal. Instead, he found out from a friend that discovered the removal while visiting Peter's gravesite. “If his picture did offend someone, why is it anyone's problem but theirs? That is our son’s personal resting space,” Arthur said.

Michael Robertson, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority Chief Operating Officer, said the cemetery did reach out to the family and left phone message before the headstone's removal. He said the cemetery has offered to replace the photo without the hand gesture or to have the picture covered by a plaque that can be moved by the family for viewing whenever they want. But the family refused both offers, believing that the headstone's current state accurately defines their late son's humor and personality.

See Paulina Dedaj, Australian Family Claims Son's Headstone was Removed Without Knowledge Over 'Offensive' Picture, Fox News, February 22, 2020.

February 25, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Longtime Minnesota School Bus Driver Gets Special Casket

Schoolbuscasket1Glen "Glennie" Davis, 88, of Green Meadow, Minnesota received quite a special send-off at his funeral this week. Davis was a farmer, but he had also been a school bus driver for 55 years, from 1949 to 2005. After retiring from the school district with a proudly held accident-free record, he continued to volunteer to drive for Meals-on-Wheels.

Jim Hindt, the owner of Hindt Funeral Home, gifted the man a school bus-themed casket. “Everybody loved him,” Davis' daughter, Lisa Hodge of Rochester said, adding that, "He was a big supporter of the school and the football team."

See Caleb Parke, Longtime Minnesota School Bus Driver Gets Special Casket, Fox News, February 19, 2020.

February 20, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Happened to Choupette?

ChoupetteChanel designer Karl Lagerfeld died last February at age 85 and the internet was abuzz with the idea that the eccentric man left the majority of his earthly goods as well as .his fortune to his beloved Birman cat, Choupette. The estate administration is still ongoing, so the next question out of fans mouths is "WHERE is Choupette?"

Caroline Lebar, the longtime head of communications for the Karl Lagerfeld brand in Paris, says that the cat is also in Paris with "her nanny," the designer's former housekeeper Françoise Caçote. The fluffy kitty has her own Instagram account, started by the nanny and the cat's agent, Lucas Bérullier, of My Pet Agency. The feline has become a highly marketable asset, even before her owners death, bringing in $3 million in 2015. Chanel collections suddenly included a new shade dubbed “Choupette blue,” and the Karl Lagerfeld brand put out a range of Choupette face handbags.

Lagerfeld and Choupette's last excursion before his death was in December 2018 December 2018 to New York for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, flying there in a private plane and lodging at the Mercer hotel. Choupette was said to have changed the designer's life, making him happy in a way no one thought possible.

See Dana Thomas, What Happened to Choupette?, The New York Times, January 21, 2020.

Special thanks to Andrew Starr (Wayside Waifs, Kansas City, MO) for bringing this article to my attention

January 22, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Avid Fisherman's Family Honors his Memory by Bringing Boat into Funeral Home

Boatfuneral37-year-old Nathaniel Frey of Hellertown, Pennsylvania passed away on New Year's Eve at a local hospital. His family made sure that his most passionate hobby - fishing - was made aware to the funeral director, David Heintzelman. 

For the viewing on January 3, Frey’s casket was placed inside Frey’s own 16-foot aluminum fishing boat, which had been passed down from his grandfather and father. His casket was then transported from the church to the cemetery in his brother Jeremy's fishing boat. Joshuah Thompson, Frey's cousin, believed that he would be highly pleased with the service, claiming that Nathaniel had once texted him, "When It’s My Time, Take Me In My Fishing Boat."

Frey's family and friends are now planning to continue his annual fishing trip up to the Salmon River in Oswego County, a tradition he had been leading for the past 15 years. He was survived by his wife and two children.

See Alexandra Deabler, Avid Fisherman's Family Honors his Memory by Bringing Boat into Funeral Home, Fox News, January 16, 2020.

January 17, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | 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)