Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Article: Beyond Privity of Blood: Intestacy and Charity

Adam J. Hirsch (University of San Diego School of Law) recently published, Beyond Privity of Blood: Intestacy and Charity, 2024. Provided below is an Abstract:

When individuals die without leaving a will, the law of intestacy functions to distribute their estates to a surviving spouse and/or close blood relatives. Yet, this default regime fails to account for the possibility that some individuals wish to allocate part of their estates to charity. Drawing on empirical evidence, including original data presented here for the first time, this Article advocates building a charitable component into intestacy in those cases where majorities of decedents prefer to establish estate plans transcending traditional heirs. Evidence suggests that this majority preference arises in four situations: (1) where the decedent was extremely wealthy, (2) where the decedent was less wealthy but died without descendants, (3) where the decedent died without descendants and had made charitable donations, irrespective of wealth, and (4) where the decedent died without any known relatives. The Article proposes personalizing the process of intestacy further by granting charitable shares, when called for, to those causes which decedents had individually supported during their lifetimes. The Article assesses the structural costs and benefits of these innovations and concludes that they would not prove excessively complex or administratively burdensome.

April 20, 2024 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Article: The Nexus between Marriage & Succession Laws: Dissecting Estate Allocation and Governance in Botswana

Godknows Theko (University of Botswana - Department of Law) recently published, The Nexus between Marriage & Succession Laws: Dissecting Estate Allocation and Governance in Botswana, 2024. Provided below is an Abstract:

Navigating the intricate web of estate administration and distribution post-mortem is a critical discourse in the ever-expanding realm of jurisprudence. The Republic of Botswana has witnessed a significant development in case law pertaining to this matter. At the heart of these discussions is the crucial question of identifying the rightful heirs—a topic that gains an added layer of complexity when the lineage of children is scrutinized, sparking debates over their rightful inheritance. This issue has not only piqued the interest of legal scholars but has also become a touchstone of deliberation within the august courtrooms, where justice has been meticulously weighed and dispensed.

The courts pronouncements have shed light on the intricate dance between the intertwined strands of customary and common law in matters of succession and inheritance, all set against the context of marital unions and the commanding presence of the renowned Form B.

The aim of this article is to capture and convey the judicial acumen that has emerged from Botswana's courts, embarking on a jurisprudential voyage through the complexities of succession and inheritance. It endeavours to do so with a narrative enriched by the storied language of legal aphorisms and maxims, echoing the timeless edict 'Fiat justitia ruat caelum'—let justice be done though the heavens fall.

April 18, 2024 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 22, 2024

Should intestate shares be created for charities rather than relatives?

Adam Hirsch (Napoleon Jones Professor of Law and Herzog Endowed Scholar, University of San Diego School of Law) has recently posted on SSRN his article entitled Beyond Privity of Blood: Intestacy and Charity. Here is the abstract of his article:

When individuals die without leaving a will, the law of intestacy functions to distribute their estates to a surviving spouse and/or close blood relatives. Yet, this default regime fails to account for the possibility that some individuals wish to allocate part of their estates to charity. Drawing on empirical evidence, including original data presented here for the first time, this Article advocates building a charitable component into intestacy in those cases where majorities of decedents prefer to establish estate plans transcending traditional heirs. Evidence suggests that this majority preference arises in four situations: (1) where the decedent was extremely wealthy, (2) where the decedent was less wealthy but died without descendants, (3) where the decedent died without descendants and had made charitable donations, irrespective of wealth, and (4) where the decedent died without any known relatives. The Article proposes personalizing the process of intestacy further by granting charitable shares, when called for, to those causes which decedents had individually supported during their lifetimes. The Article assesses the structural costs and benefits of these innovations and concludes that they would not prove excessively complex or administratively burdensome.

March 22, 2024 in Articles, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Is a Will Better than Intestacy?

Professor Emerita Kris Knaplund of the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law recently published her article entitled Is a Will Better than Intestacy?, 92 U. Cin. L. Rev. 631 (2024).  "The article asks and answers 5 questions: Are deathbed wills rare, obviating the need for strict attestation requirements? Does having a will mean a shorter probate period than dying intestate? Less litigation? Fewer abandoned cases, because the testator has chosen the personal representative? These are all arguments of the fundamentalism crowd to encourage the probate of more wills."

March 13, 2024 in Articles, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2023

Mysterious Chicago recluse Joseph Stancak’s $11 million unclaimed estate thrown into chaos by newly surfaced will

MoneyJoseph Stancak died in 2016, leaving behind $11 million with no will or apparent heirs. Stancak's estate is considered one of the largest unclaimed estates in the United States, with more than 119 distant relatives around the globe who were informed that they would receive payouts. Then, a mysterious will surfaced in Cook County probate court this summer.

In June, a petition was filed asking that the newly turned-up will be probated, so a hold was put on any inheritance payouts until the will's legitimacy could be sorted.

The document presented was a will dated August 19, 2015, leaving Stancak's entire estate to Smart Kids Child Care Inc. Only two copies were produced: one to be held by Smart Kids Child Care Inc. and one by the lawyer who allegedly drafted the will, a personal injury attorney John Alleman. But Alleman died in a plane crash a few months after the will was signed.

The document has been called "highly suspicious" and "poorly drafted" and was only discovered after the unclaimed estate made international headlines. Attorney Ken Piercey, who was appointed independent administrator of Stancak's estate, says Stancak had zero connection to Smart Kids Childcare, which is located in the Bronx.

For more information see Mitch Dudek “SW Side recluse’s record-setting $11 million unclaimed estate thrown into chaos by newly surfaced will” Chicago Sun Times, October 21, 2023.

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

October 23, 2023 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Four Pages Found in a Couch Are Ruled Aretha Franklin’s True Will

ArethaAfter a two-day trial in Pontiac, Michigan, a jury decided that a four-page document handwritten by Franklin in 2014 should serve as her will. The jury took less than an hour to deliberate, rejecting a longer, more detailed document from 2010.

After Fraklin died at age 76, her family did not believe she had a will. However, family members later discovered two separate documents— four pages handwritten in a notebook, left under a couch cushion, and handwritten pages in a locked cabinet. Her four sons have fought over which document should prevail for the past four years. Neither document found in Franklin’s home was prepared by a lawyer.

For more information see Ben Sisario and Ryan Patrick Hooper “Four Pages Found in a Couch Ruled Aretha Franklin’s True Will” The New York Times, July 11, 2023.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.), Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law), and Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this to my attention. 

July 11, 2023 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 2, 2022

A Chicago Man Quietly Left Behind $11 Million — The Largest Unclaimed Estate In American History

A Chicago man passed away without a will, leaving behind the largest unclaimed estate in United States history. Investigators spent years pulling records to compile a family tree of possible heirs to distribute the $11 million estate. They found 119 distant cousins, none of whom knew Joseph Stancak.

The distant relatives live all over the world, between Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. After compiling the results, attorneys are left with a scroll of the family tree that is 15 feet long.

119

It will take one to four years to disturb the money to each relative, with the average check in the $60,000 range. 

For more information see Mack Liederman “A Chicago Man Quietly Left Behind $11 Million— The Largest Unclaimed Estate in American History”, Block Club Chicago, October 24, 2022.

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 2, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2022

Tragic Aaron Carter ‘died without a will’ leaving the state to decide who will’ inherit his assets including $800,000 house which he had out on the market shortly before his death

Aaron carterFormer teen hearthrob and singer, Aaron Carter, passed away earlier this month. The 34 year old was found by his housekeeper on November 5th, and died without a will in place. This leaves the division of his estate up to the state of California.

Carter began performing at age nine, had three bestselling albums by age thirteen, toured with Britney Spears and performed with the likes of Liza Minelli, Gladys Knight, and Missy Elliott. He later transitioned into acting and went on to experience a series of public controversies and struggles in his young adult years. Insiders told reporters that Carter quickly spent whatever money he made.

It has been reported that Carter was advised by his attorney to make a will upon the birth of his 11-month-old son Prince, whom he shares with his ex girlfriend, Melanie Martin. Carter was looking to resolve his custody battle with Martin before entering rehab. He had previously admitted to having a huffing addiction.

For more information see Jack Newman “Tragic Aaron Carter ‘died without a will’ leaving the state to decide who will’ inherit his assets including $800,000 house which he had out on the market shortly before his death”, Daily Mail, November 14, 2022.

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

November 14, 2022 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Chicago man’s $11 million estate to be divided among 119 distant cousins who never knew him

Estate planningJoseph Stancak was 87 when he passed away in 2016, leaving behind no obvious heirs to his $11 million estate. This is though to be one of the largest unclaimed estates in the United States. Stancak made his fortune in large part through mutual-fund investing.

A team of lawyers is preparing to distribute his estate among 119 distant cousins who never knew Stancak. Many were surprised to be contacted by the estate lawyers who informed them that they will receive around $60,000 after taxes. All six of his siblings all predeceased him, meaning attorneys had to go through five-generations of his family tree to find heirs in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. There are additional relatives in the Chicago area, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York.

This is a further reminder that estate planning is not only for the elite. Any asset, from a bike to a private airplane, will benefit by being addressed in a will. 

For more information see Rachel Koning Beals “Chicago man’s $11 million estate to be divided among 119 distant cousins who never knew him”, Yahoo! Finance MarketWatch, October 24, 2022.

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention. 

November 9, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Anne Heche's ex James Tupper files to become legal guardian of their 13-year-old son Atlas and will formally OBJECT to stepson Homer's petition to control his mother's estate, as battle over actress's assets escalates

HecheJames Tupper has petitioned the court to be named legal guardian of his 13-year-old son with late actress, Anne Heche. Homer Laffoon, Heche’s eldest son, has also asked the court to be named legal guardian of his half-brother following his mothers death. Heche died intestate in August.

While Tupper is the biological father of the 13-year-old, he submitted in his filing that he loves both boys “as a father and wants the best for both.” He revealed in the filing that he will object to Laffoon’s petition to take charge of the estate, stating that he is unsuitable to run the estate and is seeking an independent administrator instead.

According to Tupper, Laffoon was estranged from his mother at the time of her death and his since changed the locks on the apartment she shared with the 13-year-old son, refusing his younger brother access to his belongings. Laffoon has responded, calling these claims “unfounded personal attacks” and “frivolous legal claims.”

For more information see Kayla Brantley “Anne Heche's ex James Tupper files to become legal guardian of their 13-year-old son Atlas and will formally OBJECT to stepson Homer's petition to control his mother's estate, as battle over actress's assets escalates," The Daily Mail, October 4, 2022.

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

October 9, 2022 in Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)