Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, January 3, 2022

What will happen to Jeffrey Epstein’s $27.5M New Mexico ranch?

Estate planningNow that Jeffrey Epstein is dead, many are wondering what will become of the Zorro Ranch. The Zorro Ranch owned by Epstein is located near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The billionaires Zorro Ranch is known for being "shrouded in secrecy," but now that Epstein is gone new secrets may come to light. 

However, as of now, only Jeffrey Epstein and his accusers "know the dark details of what went on there. . ." An investigation by Nexstar's KRQE shed light on just how bizarre Epstein's operation was. 

KQRE's Gabrielle Burkhart asked New Mexico State Land Commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard, "To your knowledge, what was that land being used for?" Garcia Richard responded by saying, "[o]ne can only speculate and I have to tell you, Gabrielle, that my staff. . .you know this has been a difficult topic for us to tackle. . .Thinking about what state land might have been used for has been, you know, has been difficult." 

Almost immediately after Garcia Richard took office in 2019, she canceled a decades-long lease agreement the state had with Epstein for nearly 1,300 acres of grazing land.

According to records in Santa Fe County, portions of the Zorro ranch changed ownership "according to a mysterious deed filed in 2020." In the deed, ownership of Zorro Ranch was transferred from Epstein's company to Love and Bliss, a non-profit church for $200. 

Love and Bliss church are the same people that filed a fraudulent warranty deed in Florida for Epstein's Palm Beach mansion. 

Epstein's estate has taken court action against Love and Bliss, as their fraudulent deeds have clouded the Estate's ability to sell their properties. 

The Zorro Ranch is listed for $27.5 million and according to representatives of the estate, funds from the sale will go toward the regular administration of the estate. 

See Gabrielle Burkhart & Allison Giron, What will happen to Jeffrey Epstein’s $27.5M New Mexico ranch?, Everything Lubbock, January 2, 2022. 

January 3, 2022 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Uniform Trust Code’s qualified-beneficiary concept confuses yet another court

Estate planningIn the matter of the Colecchia Family Trust, The litigation was focused on an irrevocable, income-only/use-only trust "under which the equitable property rights of remaindermen had vested ab initio." The Massachusetts Court of Appeals had to decide whether trustees were accountable to the remaindermen during the lifetimes of the current beneficiaries. The Court ultimately found that they were not. 

According to Charles E. Rounds, there are two major reasons why the Court made the wrong decisions: 

First, equitable non-possessory property rights in the remainder in corpus had vested ab initio. Second, the trustees had had a background overarching enforceable equitable duty to act in the interests of all beneficiaries, not just the current ones. See Massachusetts UTC §105(b)(2).

Apparently the Uniform Trust Code's qualified-beneficiary concept has been an issue for multiple courts, including the Appeals Court in Massachusetts. 

See Charles E. Rounds, Jr., The Uniform Trust Code’s qualified-beneficiary concept confuses yet another court, JD Supra, January 1, 2022. 

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

 

 

January 1, 2022 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Ring v. Harmon (2021)

Estate planning
In Ring v. 
Harmon, the Court of Appeal in California considered "an alleged loan scheme to drain equity out of a house held in a probate estate." 

When Awana Ring was 80 years old, she lost her daughter Vickie Atiyeh. Vickie left Awana a house when she passed away. According to Awana, her son and grandson developed a scheme to "swipe much of the equity in the house—an inside job without outside help. "

Awana's son Scott and grandson Zachary collaborated with a loan broker to pushed Away to be appointed as personal representative of Vickie's estate, and then baited Away into taking out a predatory loan at a rate of 10.99 percent. "Scott and Zachary took the loan proceeds for themselves while the loan broker received fees and an income stream on the loan." 

Although the San Bernardino County Superior Court found that Awana only had claims as a personal representative of Vickie's estate, since it was in that capacity that she received the loan. However, the Court of Appeal found that Awana's "dual position" as both personal representative and beneficiary was a "special circumstance that justified allowing her to sue based on her beneficial interest in the estate." 

See Ring v. Harmon (2021) (Cal.App.5th). 

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

December 30, 2021 in Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Article: Nova Scotia (Attorney General) v. Lawen Estate: Case Comment

Jane Thomson recently published an article entitled, Nova Scotia (Attorney General) v. Lawen Estate: Case Comment, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2021). Provided below is the abstract to the Article: Estate planning

Case comment on Nova Scotia (Attorney General) v. Lawen Estate in which the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned an application judge's finding that testamentary freedom was a right protected under s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Additionally, the Court casts doubt on whether anyone involved in the administration of an estate, or a beneficiary of one, could bring a Charter challenge to legislation interfering with testamentary autonomy, based on public interest standing.

This is a pre-copy edited, post-peer reviewed version of the contribution accepted for publication in Estates, Trusts & Pensions Journal. Reproduced by permission of Thomson Reuters Canada Limited.

 

December 19, 2021 in Articles, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Texas woman was found dead 2 days after she signed a $250,000 life insurance policy, and her husband has been charged with her murder

PoliceChristopher Collins, a Texas man was recently charged with murder after his wife, Yuan Liang, was found dead just days after the couple took out a life insurance policy. 

Collins told police that he "suspected" that his wife was killed by intruders, however, the house was strangely not ransacked. Liang was found dead in the couple's home just two days after the couple signed a $250,000 life insurance policy. 

Surveillance footage from the gym showed Collins "pacing around" the gym for 45 minutes, but only working out for 5 minutes before he called the police from the gym's cafe. When police searched a gym locker, they uncovered Liang's wallet—which Collins had reported missing—and a cosmetic bag.

Collins told police that Liang sent him a text message about a person outside of their home while he was at the gym. Collins further stated that he lost contact with his wife shortly after she reported the "suspicious male" outside of their home. 

Although Collins told police that the couple did not have a life insurance policy, officers who searched the home found a piece of paper evidencing a life insurance policy for $250,000. 

Collins did not appear in his first scheduled court appearance due to "mental health reasons." It is unclear how Collins intends to plead. Collins is currently being held on a $150,000 bond. 

See Katie Balevic, A Texas woman was found dead 2 days after she signed a $250,000 life insurance policy, and her husband has been charged with her murder, Yahoo News, November 27, 2021. 

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

December 8, 2021 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 27, 2021

J.R.R. Tolkien estate to ‘JRR Token’ cryptocurrency: You shall not pass

The JRR Token, which rolled out in August, has just been blocked by the estate of English fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien. 

The "JRR Token" referenced the late fantasy writer as well as the author's iconic fantasy trilogy "The Lord of the Rings." The token was released with the tagline, "The One Token That Rules Them All" on its website. The tagline was in reference to the iconic "One Ring that ruled the other magical 'Rings of Power' in the tale's mythology." 

However, when the Tolkien estate became aware of the new crypto currency token, the response was essentially "you shall not pass" and eventually turned to the World Intellectual Property Organization's arbitration procedure and is arguing that the "token infringed on trademark right's to Tolkien's name."

The "JRR Token" developer responded arguing that the token was actually not referencing the English fantasy author and that the name "just happened to bring J.R.R. Tolkien to mind, then it was parody, and not copyright infringement." 

Despite the Developer's contentions, the WIPO's arbitrator ruled in favor of the Tolkien estate, writing, "the respondent does not specify why the disputed domain name is humorous, funny, or nail-biting, and not just a domain name chosen due to its similarities with the [Tolkien estate's] trademarks to take commercial advantage of its evocation." 

See Nicole Lyn Pesce, J.R.R. Tolkien estate to ‘JRR Token’ cryptocurrency: You shall not pass, Market Watch, November 23, 2021. 

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

November 27, 2021 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 22, 2021

A court battle is brewing over Prince Philip's will

PhilA debate is taking place in the U.K. following an announcement from the Guardian newspaper in which it stated that it (the Guardian) was "taking legal action over the media's exclusion from a hearing on Prince Philip's will earlier this year." 

Andrew McFarlane, president of the High Court's Family Division, ruled in September that Philip's will would be sealed for 90 years. Although representatives of the duke's estate were present, the media was not told about the hearing and were not allowed to attend. Instead, the public interest was represented by the attorney general.

According to a Guardian News & Media spokesperson, the High Court's decision to ban the media from the court hearing without informing outlets or allowing them to make representations "is a clear threat to the principles of open justice." 

The spokesperson further stated: 

It is also concerning that the court appears to believe that only the attorney general can speak to the public interest," the spokesperson continued. "We are seeking permission to argue that the behaviour of the high court in this instance constitutes a failure of open justice and that the case should be reheard.

Under British Law, "if a person prepares a will prior to their death, it becomes a public document after being admitted to probate, and anyone can obtain a copy from the Probate Registry for a fee." 

However, a person can request that the court seal a will and keep it private if that person can prove to the court that it would be undesirable or otherwise inappropriate to make the will public. 

According to Judge McFarlane, it is traditional practice to submit an application to seal a will of a senior member of the Royal Family and that those applications have "always been heard in private and invariably have been granted." 

See Max Foster & Lauren Said-Moorhouse, A court battle is brewing over Prince Philip's will, CNN, November 29, 2021. 

November 22, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

New York Court Conducts In Depth Analysis Of Lack of Testamentary Capacity Will Contest

Estate planningIn Matter of Falkowsky, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, "affirmed a decree made after a nonjury trial which in effect granted objections alleging lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence, and denied the admission of the will to probate." 

The Court affirmed the Surrogate's Court decision in which it found a lack of testamentary capacity alone, focusing on the evidence presented which "effectively demonstrated that the decedent did not understand the nature and extent of his property." 

Harold Falkowsky was hospitalized on December 1, 2014. Two weeks later, Harold apparently executed a last will and testament "in which he devised $20,000 to each of his sons, Ira and Jeffrey, 50% of the residue of his estate to charities, and the other 50% of his residue to his sister, Alice Sobel. Harold, the decedent, died on January 14, 2015, just a month after he executed the Will. 

In March 2015, Alice petitioned for probate of the will and letters testamentary. Jeffrey, Harold's son, filed objections to the probate of the will, alleging lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence.

After examining the evidence, the Court ultimately found that Alice failed to prove that the decedent possessed the requisite testamentary capacity under New York Law, "as she failed to establish that the decedent knew the nature and extent of the property of which he was disposing." 

See New York Court Conducts In Depth Analysis Of Lack of Testamentary Capacity Will Contest, Probate Stars, October 19, 2021. 

October 24, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Injunctive Relief to Prevent Monetary Damages in Estate Litigation

Estate planningGenerally, a party is only entitled to injunctive relief if they can "demonstrate that the damages for which they seek redress are not compensable by an award of monetary damages. . ."

However, the US District Court recently decided that injunctive relief was necessary to preserve monetary assets pending the resolution of the matter. Though it is rare to see estate litigation before a US District Courts the Court applied New Jersey law to reach its holding that injunctive relief was appropriate. 

The US District Court found that "the decedent had improperly taken a large sum of money from the party who had brought the litigation" after the plaintiff discovered that the decedent's estate was going to sell a parcel of property. The plaintiff moved for an injunction requiring the proceeds from the sale to be held in escrow. The District Court found that injunctive relief was necessary to "preserve the status quo and prevent the dissipation of these assets prior to a ruling on the merits." 

The Court further concluded that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm should the assets be distributed before the conclusion of the lawsuit. 

The District Court's decision indicates that courts may impose injunctive relief in order to protect monetary assets. 

Van Horn, Metz & Co., Inc. v. Crisafulli, No. 21-01128 (FLW), 2021 WL 4317186 (D. N.J. Sept. 23, 2021).

See Paul W. Norris, Injunctive Relief to Prevent Monetary Damages in Estate Litigation, Stark & Stark Attorneys at Law: New Jersey Law Blog, October 12, 2021. 

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

October 20, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 15, 2021

Top state court upholds trust provision requiring beneficiary to be unmarried

TrustOn October 8th, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a trust provision that made distribution of an inheritance contingent on the beneficiary being unmarried. 

The Court held that the provision "is not an unlawful restraint on marriage." The provision was part of a revocable trust that "resulted in the estate of Marcille Borcherding to her son, daughter and four stepchildren after her death." 

The trust stated that Marcille's son, Roger Rotert, would get his share of the estate outright if he was unmarried at the time of her death. If Rotert was to be married, the assets would remain in a subtrust. 

Rotert's third wife filed for divorce before Marcille Borcherding executed the trust, but the couple reconciled and were still married when Marcille died in 2016. Marcille's daughter Connie Stiles, who served as a trustee for the subtrust, came to an agreement with Rotert in which Rotert agreed to receive the subtrust's cash assets and agreed to keep the real property in the trust. Rotert later brought suit. 

Indiana law voids will provisions that condition a spouse's inheritance on remaining unmarried, but the Indiana Supreme Court stated that the rule does not apply to trusts, which can set marriage conditions on spouses and others.

See Debra Cassens Weiss, Top state court upholds trust provision requiring beneficiary to be unmarried, ABA Journal, October 13, 2021. 

October 15, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)