Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Donald Trump's niece blasts his 'chutzpah' toward her fraud lawsuit

TrumpMary Trump, Donald Trump's estranged niece, has accused the former president of "trying to dodge accountability for defrauding her out of a multimillion dollar inheritance by claiming she took too long to sue." 

Mary Trump's lawyers brought the allegation in a New York State court. Mary Trump is suing the former president along with his sister Maryanne Trump Barry and his late brother Robert's estate. 

Mary Trump's lawyers wrote, The offensiveness of defendants' past conduct — stealing tens of millions of dollars from their own niece — is perhaps surpassed only by the chutzpah of their current arguments for dismissal." 

Mary's father, Fred Trump Jr., Donald Trump's older brother, died in 1981 and left Mary, who was 16 at the time a profitable real estate portfolio. 

Mary alleges that her aunt and uncles "siphoned" money away and "squeezed" her out of the family fortune. Mary Trump brought suit in September, close to two years after she says she learned of her families' actions, which she claims to have learned through an investigation into Donald Trump's finances. 

Mary Trump's lawyers claim that "[r]easonable diligence would not have uncovered the fraud [more than a decade earlier as the defendants contended]." 

Mary Trump has also written a tell-all entitled, "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man" in which she delves further into her allegations against Donald Trump and other family members. 

Donald Trump's lawyers claim that Mary Trump is simply attempting to "cash in on the family name, and consume [Donald Trump] with lawsuits." 

See Jonathan Stempel, Donald Trump's niece blasts his 'chutzpah' toward her fraud lawsuit, Yahoo News, February 26, 2021. 

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

March 3, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Larry King's widow Shawn King files to be TV icon's estate administrator: report

LarrykingShawn King, estranged widow of Larry King, is not only contesting Larry King's will, but has also filed to be the estate administrator. Larry King's will stated that King wished for his $2 million estate to be divided between his five children. The handwritten will, left Shawn out of it and was not updated after the deaths of King's daughter Chaia and son Andy. However, the will was executed shortly after King had filed for a divorce from Shawn. 

In contesting the will, Shawn claimed that "reconciliation remained possible." Shawn also claimed that she had "the most knowledge of Larry's business, assets, and wishes." 

Shawn originally contested the appointment of King's son Larry King Jr. as administrator, but now she requests to take over the position and has submitted a copy of King's previous will that was executed in 2015 that names Shawn as executor of the estate. Other documents filed claim that Larry King's estate is only worth $350,000 as opposed to $2 million. 

Reps for King Jr. stated, "We do not intend to litigate this matter publically in the press. That said, we are aware of the unsupported allegations and innuendo in the Objections filed to the Petition for Probate. "Needless to say yet said nonetheless, we remain committed to our request to the Los Angeles Superior Court to admit to probate the valid October 17, 2019 will, entirely drafted and written in Larry King’s hand, which is the true and final statement of Larry’s intent to fully benefit his children equally."

See Nate Day, Larry King's widow Shawn King files to be TV icon's estate administrator: report, Fox News, February 20, 2021.

February 25, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Grave Error: A Man Attempting to Fake His Own Death Was Caught Because of a Typo

DeathcertificateAs it turns out, faking your own death isn't an easy feat. For this reason, and many others, faking your own death is never recommended, but if you are gonna do it, you should do it right. This means you should be thorough and proofread your fraudulent death certificate. 

Robert Berger, a 25-year-old from Long Island learned this lesson the hard way. Berger tried to convince authorities that he was dead by forging death documents. "According to CNN, Berger was charged with fourth-degree possession of stolen property in December 2018 as well as third-degree attempted grand larceny in June 2019. Entering a guilty plea for both, he was expected to be sentenced on October 22, 2019." 

Berger decided that he would fake his death, instead of showing up to court. Berger's attorney, Meir Moza, told them that Berger had died. Moza then gave the court Berger's alleged death certificate, which listed Berger's cause of death suicide by means of suffocation. 

Due to several misspellings of the word registry (the document spelled it as regsitry) and different font types throughout the document, officials were suspicious. 

After doing some research, Prosecutors found that the document was forged. Berger's attorney, Moza, claimed that he had nothing to do with the forgery and was not charged. Berger now faces 4 years in prison for offering a false instrument. 

Hopefully Berger has learned that, one way or another, if you do the crime you have to do the time—fake dead or alive. 

See Jake Rossen, Grave Error: A Man Attempting to Fake His Own Death Was Caught Because of a Typo, July 23, 2020. 

Special thanks to Deborah Matthews (Virginia Estate Planning Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 24, 2021 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Two Louisiana Supreme Court Cases Examine When Attestation Clauses In A Notarial Will Substantially Comply With The Law, and When They Don’t

Estate planning"In the January 2021 cases of Succession of James Conway Liner III and Succession of Peggy Blackwell Bruce, the Louisiana Supreme Court examined the attestation clauses in two notarial testaments (wills) and determined that one substantially complied with the requirements for executing a valid will, and one did not." 

Requirements for a notarial testament under Louisiana law include (1) must be in writing, (2) must be dated, and (3) executed by the testator in the presence of a notary and two competent witnesses. 

The Louisiana Supreme Court took a look at attestation clauses in the cases Liner and Bruce

In Liner, the testator executed two notarial testaments, which apparently revoked any prior testaments. The 2013 testament divided testator's property equally between his three children. The 2015 testament was executed under La. C.C. art 1579, which covers testators that are unable to read whether or not they are able to sign their name. This testament divided the property between only two of the children and excluded the third. 

The 2015 testament was invalidated by the district court after they found that the provisions of the attestation clause were different than those under La. C.C. art. 1579. 

The appellate court reversed the decision, finding La. C.C. art. 1579(2) governs when a testator is unable to read, despite whether or not the are able to sign their name. 

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal and invalidated the 2015 testament. 

In Bruce, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that La C.C. art. 1577(2) applies when the testator is able to read and sign their name. 

The main takeaway from this cases is to comply with the requirements laid out in the code so that you can avoid litigation. 

See Two Louisiana Supreme Court Cases Examine When Attestation Clauses In A Notarial Will Substantially Comply With The Law, and When They Don’t, Probate Stars, February 16, 2021. 

February 23, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Chris Cornell’s Widow Sues Soundgarden Again, Claims Group Declined $21 Million Buyout

ChrisCornellChris Cornell, singer of Soundgarden passed away suddenly in 2017. Since his passing, his widow Vicky Cornell has sued the surviving bandmembers, claiming that the $300,000 buyout offer is "ludicrously low." 

Vicky has stated that she wants Soundgarden's holdings to be professional valued in order to determine what the fair amount would be. "Vicky Cornell claims that the bandmembers declined her offer of $21 million for their interest in the band partnership, and also declined a separate offer of $16 million for the rights to the group’s recorded-music rights." 

Vicky apparently attempted to settle the matter in December by offering Matt Cameron and Ben Shepard $4 million a piece for their interest in the Soundgarden partnership and then raised the offer to $7 million after her other offer was declined. 

Vicky's complaint body states, “The band members have knowingly offered only an infinitesimal fraction of the true worth of Chris’ interest in Soundgarden and certain related entities by making a ludicrously low offer. And, they know it. … This case relates to, and seeks a judicial valuation of, Chris’ interest in Soundgarden (the band owned by the partnership of the same name) and certain related entities, including SG Recordings, SMF, SG Productions, and LLM (collectively, the Soundgarden Related Entities’).”

Of course, the surviving bandmembers rebuttal by claiming that the buyout offer was fair and was accurate and calculated by "respected music industry valuation expert Gary Cohen." 

See Jem Aswad, Chris Cornell’s Widow Sues Soundgarden Again, Claims Group Declined $21 Million Buyout, February 17, 2021. 

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

February 22, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

She won $188M Powerball. Now her ex-fiance is suing her from prison, NC lawsuit says

LotteryholmesMarie Holmes was working five jobs when she won the $188 million Powerball jackpot in 2015, which was the largest jackpot winnings in North Carolina history. 

After taxes, the winnings amounted to $87.9 million. Holmes stated that she planned to give a portion of her winnings to charities and religious organizations. Holmes also said she planned on using some of the money to go back to college and buy her mother a house. 

Holmes' ex-fiance, Lamarr Andre McDow, claims that Holmes spent money on generous and lavish gifts for him. McDow alleges that Holmes has given away or sold these gifts after they split up and now he is suing to get them back. 

McDow claims that Holmes breached her fiduciary duty "when she reportedly gave away his 77-acre dirt bike track, his car repair shop and tens of thousands of dollars worth of clothing and jewelry while he was in prison." 

Holmes' defense attorney stated in a motion to dismiss, “This case is the embodiment of the phrase ‘[w]hat’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own.’ The problem here, however, is that McDow has nothing of his own.”

McDow was convicted of drug trafficking in April 2016 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is projected to be released in June 2023. 

McDow made Holmes his power of attorney before he went to prison. 

Apparently, McDow heard that Holmes began dating someone else after their split, and began giving away McDow's things. According to McDow's attorney, “Ms. Holmes’ unconditional obligation to act in the best interests of Mr. McDow didn’t stop because Ms. Holmes and Mr. McDow’s relationship ended.” 

As of now, McDow has not responded to the motion to dismiss. 

See She won $188M Powerball. Now her ex-fiance is suing her from prison, NC lawsuit says, Yahoo News, last visited February 21, 2021.

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

February 21, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Larry King's estranged wife to contest his secret will

LarrykingShawn King, Larry King's estranged wife, will be contesting the late broadcaster's secret will. Shawn King was Larry King's seventh wife and was legally married to him at the time of his death in January. Larry King had filed for divorce in August of 2019, but according to Shawn, she was surprised that he had secretly updated his will. 

Shawn stated, We had a very watertight family estate plan,” and also said, “It still exists."

Recently, news broke that Larry King wrote a handwritten amendment to his will on October 17, 2019 leaving his estate to his five children. According to Shawn, she and Larry had sort of rekindled things and became close again after he filed for divorce. 

Shawn also believes that someone convinced—or heavily influenced—Larry to update his will. Shawn said she is fighting for a mere sliver of the estate, but the main reason she is fighting is because, “[i]t’s the principle.”

See Suzy Byrne, Larry King's estranged wife to contest his secret will, Yahoo Entertainment, February 15, 2021. 

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

February 20, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Britney Spears' father loses his attempt to keep sole control of her investments as documentary stokes fans 'free Britney' campaign

FreebritBritney Spears' father, Jamie Spears, has come up empty in his attempt to keep sole control of her investments. "A California judge denied Jamie Spears' objections to establishing wealth management company Bessemer Trust Co as a co-conservator over her estate." Jamie has had control over Britney's finances since 2008. The conservatorship came after Britney had a number of public breakdowns, which included shaving her head and attacking paparazzi with an umbrella. 

Although the fight over conservatorship has been going on for a while, even inciting a movement coined the "Free Britney Movement," a new documentary has made the discussion relevant all over again. The documentary, 'Framing Britney Spears,' released last week. The documentary sheds light on Britney's mental health issues and "her struggle to regain autonomy in her career." 

The #FreeBritney movement has brought on a slew of sympathy and support for Britney. This support ranges from your average Joe and average Jane fans to celebrities like Miley Cyrus. 

Britney recently posted a video of one of her previous performances with the following caption on Twitter and Instagram, "I´ll always love being on stage .... But I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person ..... I love simply enjoying the basics of every day life !!!!"

See Megan Sheets, Britney Spears' father loses his attempt to keep sole control of her investments as documentary stokes fans 'free Britney' campaign, Daily Mail (U.K.), February 11, 2021. 

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

February 17, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Zappos founder's self-described 'right hand person,' 'friend' sues estate for money owed, report says

HsiehA claimant is suing Zappo's founder Tony Hsieh's estate alleging that she is owed money. The woman claims that she is/was Hsieh's "assistant, right hand person, and friend for the seventeen years preceding his death." She also claims "[Hsieh] enlisted her and to do work for his budding film venture before he died and is now owed money. . ." 

The woman's name is Jennifer 'MiMi' Pham. Pham has also argued that Hsieh asked for her help in navigating "a new venture in the documentary business through his company, Pickled Entertainment, LLC." Apparently, Hsieh and Pham signed a contract on August 26, 2020, which included a term proscribing Pham to provide "certain management and administrative support services" through her company Mr. Taken, LLC. Pham's company would receive 100% of the profits of each project and Hsieh would benefit through the interest he earned in Pham's company. 

Richard and Andrew Hsieh suspended this business contract on January 29, 2021 claiming, "further directed that Mr. Taken, LLC, was therefore not permitted to communicate with third parties on behalf of Pickled Entertainment, LLC or to engage with counsel or other representatives of Pickled Entertainment."

"According to Pham, Hsieh had also hired her to oversee his Park City, Utah property, dubbed "Big Moose Yacht Club," for which she would manage space rentals and guests and had at one point worked with the city to secure a business license, according to the report. Much like that with Mr. Taken, the contract was cut short after Hsieh’s death."

Although multiple suits have been filed, it is not clear on what is to happen next. 

See Stephanie Pagones, Zappos founder's self-described 'right hand person,' 'friend' sues estate for money owed, report says, Fox News, February 11, 2021. 

February 16, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Britney Spears Conservatorship Case Heads Back to Court

SpearsAs Britney Spears continues to fight to get her life back, fans and other onlookers are creating hype around the New York Times documentary "Framing Britney Spears." The documentary covers the #FreeBritney movement spurred by the conflict over Britney Spears' conservatorship. The conservatorship arrangement has left her father in charge to manage her career, personal life and finance since 2008. 

The documentary includes footage of Spears when she was just a young and gifted performer, who was often used and taken advantage of for political gain. Spears was often terrorized by paparazzi and evil celebrity culture. 

Since the documentary has been released, celebrities are beginning to join the movement, which was mostly made up of activists and superfans at its origin. 

Spears tweeted earlier this week,

“I’ll always love being on stage …. but I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person ….. I love simply enjoying the basics of every day life!!!!”

“Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life,” she wrote, “it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”

It is clear that Britney wants her father out as her conservator. According to her lawyer, Spears is afraid of her father Jamie and wanted her temporary personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, to be made permanent. 

See Julia Jacobs, Britney Spears Conservatorship Case Heads Back to Court, N.Y. Times, February 9, 2021. 

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

February 11, 2021 in Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, New Cases, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)