Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

As Aretha Franklin’s Heirs Dispute Control of Estate, Judge Orders Court Supervision

ArethaThe reigning queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, died in August of last year and the world believed that passed away without a will. But the discovery of three handwritten documents found in her home foreshadowed a rocky and emotional road for her family.

If Franklin had indeed died intestate, Michigan law dictated that because she did not have a spouse at the time of her death, her $80 million estate would have been divided equally among her four sons. But in each of the wills, provided specific provisions to be made for her oldest son, who reportedly has special needs, and that the balance of assets would then be distributed equally among her other three sons. But there remains a question of whether Franklin did create the wills herself, and the youngest son, Kecalf, convinced the judge to have a handwriting expert examine the wills to ensure his mother wrote the documents.

Aretha's niece, Sabrina Owens, was originally named the estate's personal representative, but Kecalf has also petitioned the court to replace her - with him, thus causing dissention among the family. Owens was Aretha's choice to handle her estate, and she is known to be a capable business person, but the largest asset to the estate is no surprise: the rights to the diva's music catalog and likeness. If properly managed, these can be a financial powerhouse to the heirs and preserve their mother's legacy for future generations.

See Cozen O'Connor, As Aretha Franklin’s Heirs Dispute Control of Estate, Judge Orders Court Supervision, Lexology, September 11, 2019.

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

September 16, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Music, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Two of Pat Bowlen’s Daughters Take Legal Action to Challenge Ownership Trust

BroncosThe 2009 trust created by Pat Bowlen to ensure a succession plan for the ownership of his professional football franchise, the Denver Broncos, is now being attacked in court. Two of his daughters, Beth Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer, are claiming the validity of the Patrick D. Bowlen Trust on the grounds that their father lacked the capacity to form the trust and that he was under undue influence at the time of its creation.

Essentially, the trustees choose one of Bowlen's 7 children to control and run the team. It is widely believed that 29-year-old Brittany Bowlen unofficially has been selected by the trustees, and that it’s just a matter of time before the selection occurs. Previously, the court had dismissed an action by Bowlen's brother brother - acting on behalf of Wallace and Klemmer - that questioned the authority of the three trustees who have managed the team since 2013.

Wallace and Klemmer claim that their father was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2006, three years before the creation of the trust, and that he no longer had the capacity to do so. The stakes are high for the daughters, though; they could end up being completely disinherited by fighting the trust. So they are putting their portions of their father's estate on the line in order to challenge the current structure for determining control of the Broncos.

See Mike Florio, Two of Pat Bowlen’s Daughters Take Legal Action to Challenge Ownership Trust, Pro Football Talk-NBC Sports, September 13, 2019.

Special thanks to Jim Hartnett, Jr. (Dallas, Texas Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 15, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Sports, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Clinic Ordered To Reveal Sperm Donor List After Baby Mix Up

IVFKristina Koedderich and Drew Wasilewski underwent IVF in hopes of having a child, and in 2013 after spending nearly $500,000 for the procedure, they gave birth to a baby girl. But after two years, they started to notice that the daughter's feature did not exactly match the Caucasian features of her parents. She appeared Asian. A DNA test confirmed that Wasilewski was not her biological father, though he was intended to be.

The now-divorced couple claim that there was a severe mistake by the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science in Livingston, New Jersey, in which they impregnated Koedderich with the sperm of another man. Koedderich and Wasilewski claim the clinic's negligence caused "the breakdown of the marriage." They are suing the clinic for unspecified damages, and their attorney, David Mazie, said that, "It's been devastating for them."

There is also a question of what exactly happened to Wasilewski's sperm? Does he now have a biological child or children somewhere? Superior Court Judge Keith Lynott ordered the institute to hand over a list of all the men and women that were using or had used the facility around the same time as the couple. They also want to know the identity of the their daughter's biological parent. The girl, now six, has been diagnosed with a blood disorder associated with Southeast Asian heritage.

See Clinic Ordered To Reveal Sperm Donor List After Baby Mix Up, NPR.org, September 11, 2019.

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

September 12, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 6, 2019

Article on Trustees' Rights of Indemnity, Insolvency and Statutory Distributions to Preferred Creditors

CourtroomMark Leeming recently published an Article entitled, Trustees' Rights of Indemnity, Insolvency and Statutory Distributions to Preferred Creditors, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

What is the nature of a trustee's right of indemnity, and, in particular, if the trustee of a trading trust is wound up, how does it interact with the Australian statutory scheme for distribution to creditors? Two Australian intermediate courts delivered substantial judgments addressing these questions in 2018: Jones v Matrix Partners Pty Ltd [2018] FCAFC 40 and Commonwealth of Australia v Byrnes [2018] VSCA 41. This casenote summarises those decisions.

September 6, 2019 in Articles, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Article on Recent Cases: Intestacy, Wills, Probate, and Trusts

WillGerry W. Beyer recently published an Article entitled, Recent Cases: Intestacy, Wills, Probate, and Trusts, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

This article discusses judicial developments (mid-2018 to mid-2019) relating to the Texas law of intestacy, wills, estate administration, trusts, and other estate planning matters. The discussion of each case concludes with a moral, i.e., the important lesson to be learned from the case. By recognizing situations that have led to time consuming and costly appeals in the past, probate judges can reduce the likelihood of appeals and their success and estate planners can reduce the likelihood of the same situations arising with their clients.

September 3, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 2, 2019

California Judge Grants Motion to Have Charles Manson's Alleged Grandson Take a DNA Test

MansonA Los Angeles Superior Judge granted a motion on Friday to compel Jason Freeman, the man claiming to by convicted killer Charles Manson's grandson, to take a DNA test to show "probative and relevant" evidence that he is biologically related to Manson. Manson's long time pen pal, memorabilia collector Michael Channels, put in the order on August 22.

Channels claims that due to his 30 year friendship with Manson, he is in possession of a document that allegedly names him as the sole heir to Manson's estate. Freeman claims that he is the son of Charles Manson, Jr., who later changed his name to Charles Jay White, thus giving him a biological claim to his alleged grandfather's estate.

Freeman said he would not voluntarily take a DNA test, but that he would submit to one if a judge so ordered. In the motion to compel the test, the judge noted that White does not appear on Freeman's birth certificate. Rather, it was a 1986 default family court judgement from Ohio that decreed that White was Freeman's "natural father." There is no evidence that White was in fact served with notice to case, nor that child support payments were enforced. 

See Maxine Shen, California Judge Grants Motion to Force Charles Manson's 'Grandson' to Take a DNA Test to Prove That he is Biologically Related to Him After Being Challenged by the Cult Leader's Pen Pal Who Wants to Inherit his Estate, Daily Mail, September 1, 2019.

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

September 2, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Article on The Stranger-to-the-Marriage Doctrine: Judicial Construction Issues Post-Obergefell

ObergefellLee-ford Tritt recently published an Article entitled, The Stranger-to-the-Marriage Doctrine: Judicial Construction Issues Post-Obergefell, 2019 Wis. L. Rev. 373-396 (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges changed the legal understanding of marriage in the United States. By making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states and requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, the Court in Obergefell recognized evolving social attitudes toward same-sex marriage and expanded the legal definition of "marriage" to include spouses of the same sex. In so doing, the Court necessarily altered the implication of terms like "spouse," "husband," and "wife" - post-Obergefell, courts will need to construe these words in a way that acknowledges an evolving understanding of marriage. Courts have faced similar construction issues before. When the notion of the American family shifted in the mid-nineteenth century to include adopted children as "natural" children, courts struggled to ascertain donative intent behind language like "child," "children," and "descendants" that had traditionally excluded adoptees. The legalization and growing popularity of adoption made presumptive exclusion of adoptees for inheritance purposes socially obsolete, but neither society nor the law can move directly from presumptive exclusion to presumptive inclusion. In the adoption context, courts used several construction approaches to ascertain and effectuate donative intent in a period of definitional transition when words with once-plain meaning were inherently ambiguous. The construction approaches used by courts to navigate social and legal change in the context of adoption provide insight by analogy into the circumstances that courts face today, as they must construe language that no longer presumptively excludes same-sex spouses.

August 28, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Executors of Leona Helmsley’s Estate to Get $100 Million Payday

LeonaManhattan Surrogate's Court Judge Nora Anderson has awarded four executors of Leona Helmsley's estate a total of $100 million in fees. The judge acknowledged that amount is "an enormous sum," but the ruling also noted that the complexity of the $5 billion estate qualified the payment. Mrs. Helmsley inherited the majority of her estate when her real estate tycoon husband, Harry Helmsley, passed away in 1997.

The case has been before Judge Anderson since early 2016, when the office of the Attorney General - which at that time was Eric Schneiderman - challenged the executors’ request, claiming it was “astronomical” and suggested that it be cut by as much as 90%. Their records showed that the executors spent 15,535 hours on estate matters, making their request for $100 million equivalent to an “exorbitant, unreasonable and improper” rate of $6,347 an hour. Judge Anderson agreed with the executors that an hourly rate cannot “accurately reflect the many varied services executors perform.” The current Attorney General, Letitia James, declined to comment.

The four executors set to each received $25 million in fees are two grandchildren of Mrs. Helmsley, David Panzirer and Walter Panzirer; a lawyer, Sandor Frankel; and friend and business advisor John Codey. Mr. Codey died in 2016 and his estate has been representing his interest.

Mrs. Helmsley left the majority of her fortune to a charity, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Her will also included $10 million each for her grandchildren and $12 million for her dog, Trouble, which was later reduced to $2 million. The trust will bear the expense of the attorney fees, but Judge Anderson noted that Messrs. Panzirer and Frankel are also the executors of the trust, and therefore are not independent.

See Peter Grant, Executors of Leona Helmsley’s Estate to Get $100 Million Payday, Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2019.

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

August 27, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Texas Court Concludes There was a Fact Question as to Whether A Hand-Written Document was a Will

WillThe decedent handwrote and signed a document which provided, “Karen Grenrood is my executor, administrator, [and] has all legal rights to my estate in the case of my untimely or timely death.” The contestants claimed that this document lacked testamentary intent and thus is not a will which is admissible to probate. The trial court agreed.

The appellate court reversed. Consistent with the Texas Supreme Court case of Boyles v. Gresham, 263 S.W.2d 935 (1954), the court held that a document which appoints an executor can be a will even if it does not make an effective disposition of the testator’s property. The court also quoted Estates Code § 22.034(2)(A) which defines the term “will” as including an instrument which merely appoints an executor. In addition, the court held that the decedent’s document is ambiguous and could actually dispose of the entire estate to Karen by stating that she has “all legal rights” to his estate. [The court did not, however, order the document admitted to probate because the contestants also alleged undue influence, an issue the trial court had yet to resolve.]

See David Fowler Johnson, Texas Court Concludes There was a Fact Question as to Whether A Hand-Written Document was a Will, Texas Fiduciary Litigator, August 17, 2019.

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

August 25, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 23, 2019

What Jeffrey Epstein’s Last-Minute Will Means for Accusers Trying to Recover Money From His Estate

EpsteinThe death of Jeffrey Epstein, millionaire financier indicted on federal sex trafficking charges, stunned the country, especially after he had previously attempted suicide and had been in a special holding cell. But what raised more questions was the discovery that only two days prior to his demise, he had written a will leaving his entire estate - all $577 million of it - to a private pour-over trust. This development could mean that claims against the estate from lawsuits of sexual assault victims will take longer and be much more complex.

“It could take many, many years before anybody gets a penny of this, and it all depends, too, on how much the executors want to fight it,” says Gerry Beyer, a law professor at Texas Tech University and an expert in estate planning, wills and trusts. “The number of unanswered questions is beyond phenomenal.”

Two longtime employees of Epstein were named as executors, Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn. The alternative executor is a biotech venture capitalist, Boris Nikolic, who said he was "shocked" to have been named and will forgo the responsibility if he should be called on. The executors will pursue any claims against the estate and ensure that the remaining assets are received by the trust beneficiary, which were not named in the will.

Bridget Crawford, a professor at Pace Law School teaching wills, trusts, and estates, said that, “The bottom line is a probate court in the Virgin Islands isn’t going to allow a dime to go out of that estate—to you, to me, to the trust—until the claims are settled, so this thing is going to be tied up for years. We may never know who the beneficiaries of that trust are, but it doesn’t matter from the perspective of the civil claimants.”

See Katie Reilly, What Jeffrey Epstein’s Last-Minute Will Means for Accusers Trying to Recover Money From His Estate, August 20, 2019.

August 23, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)