Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, December 14, 2020

In Life, She Defied Alzheimer’s. In Death, Her Brain May Show How

Alzheimers"A woman in Colombia with a rare genetic mutation recently made the ultimate dontation to science." 

Aliria Rosa Piedrahita de Villegas had a rare genetic mutation that made it almost certain that she would develop Alzheimer's disease in her 40s. However, she did not begin experiencing symptoms until the age of 72. On November 10, she died from cancer, but the good news is that her dementia was not significantly advanced at the time, 

Neuorology investigators from the University of Antioquia in Medellin. have been closely studying Villega's and her family members in attempts to learn more about early-onset Alzheimer's disease. They found that there were several people whose disease did not develop until their 50s or 60s, which is a later development than expected. 

Although there were several outliers, they say none were as "medically remarkable" as Villegas, whom they knew as doña Aliria. 

Aliria had traveled to Boston where investigators conducted nuclear imaging studies of her brain "as part of an ongoing study of this Colombian family, the largest in the world with genetic early-onset Alzheimer's." 

The investigation revealed that Aliria had exceptionally large quantities of amyloid beta, which is a protein normally found in Alzheimer's patients. The researchers found that "something had interrupted the usual degenerative process, leaving her day-to-day functioning relatively preserved." 

Researchers at Harvard Medical School stated that although Aliria "carried a well-known mutation, unique to Colombia, that causes early Alzheimer's, she also carried two copies of another rare mutation that appear to have thwarted the activity of the first one." 

If researchers can unlock the secret to why Aliria's brain was able to fight off Alzheimer's for so long, it would be a very important discovery and a huge step forward against Alzheimer's. 

See Jennie Erin Smith, In Life, She Defied Alzheimer’s. In Death, Her Brain May Show How, N.Y. Times, December 11, 2020. 

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

December 14, 2020 in Current Events, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh Dies Intestate With Reported Net Worth Of $840 Million

HseihTony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, died on Friday after being found unconscious in a house fire in Connecticut. Hseih's family filed court documents in Nevada which revealed that Hseih died intestate and did not leave a will. Hseih's estate is reported to be worth an estimated $840 million. 

 

Hseih's father and brother have asked to be allowed access to Hseih's accounts and his mother and other brother were listed as next of kin. 

A recent report stated,

Documents filed in court in Nevada on Wednesday on behalf of his family said they are ‘unaware of the existence of a fully executed estate plan and have a good faith belief that the Decedent died intestate.’

Hsieh’s father Richard Hsieh and his brother Andrew Hsieh have asked for an order that would allow them to access his accounts and protect his assets. His mother Judy and other brother David were listed as next of kin.

The family’s lawyers wrote that they ‘seek authority to investigate the existence of an estate plan by accessing safe deposit boxes, speaking with the Decedent’s legal counsel and associates, and taking such other reasonable acts to ensure that Decedent’s properly executed testamentary directives are implemented.’

"When a person dies intestate, state law controls the distribution of their estate assets." Since Hseih was a resident of Nevada when he died, Nevada law will control the distribution of his estate. 

See Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh Dies Intestate With Reported Net Worth Of $840 Million, Probate Stars, December 4, 2020.

December 5, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Newborn starts life by setting a record

GibsonsA baby was born from an embryo that had been frozen for 27 years, setting a record. Tina and Ben Gibson were unable to have children, but thanks to medical science, they now have two children.

Molly Everette Gibson, the newest addition to the family, was born on October 26. Molly's sister, Emma, was born in 2017 from an embryo that had been frozen for 24 years. Molly's embryo goes all the way back to 1992 and had been frozen for 27 years, which is a new known record for the longest-frozen embryo to ever come to birth—in the world. 

Molly and Emma are actually siblings and their embryos were frozen together. 

The process is called embryo adoption although Dr. Jeffrey Keenan stated, “[l]egally, this is not an ‘adoption’ like it is a newborn, but there are lots of good reasons to use that terminology.”

Dr. Keenan stated that there are embryos that have been frozen for even longer than 27 years, but have not yet been transferred. Dr. Keenan stated, “[a]ll we can say for sure is 27 years, but we’re pretty confident that they can be frozen a great, great deal longer than that,”

See Wyatt Grantham-Phillips, USA Today, December, 3, 2020. 

December 4, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 3, 2020

How Ancestry Kits Upend Estate Plans and Create Estate & Trust Litigation

Estate planningThe blog post discussed below is best enjoyed if preceded by Family History of the Smiths and Alexanders.

Randall, son of Johnny, gave his sister Twyla a 23 and Me ancestry kit as a gift in order to learn more about their genes. The gift came after their father (Johnny) became sick with Alzheimer's. After Twyla took the test, Stevie Jenkins appeared after her results revealed that she was Twyla's half sister. Stevie happened to show up at the time Johnny's estate was being probated. 

Since Stevie's existence was unknown to the Personal Representative, she was not given notice of the estate being probated. If the estate is still open (it appears to be) Stevie would need to prove that she is Johnny's daughter, which could be done using a DNA test. If Stevie is Johnny's daughter, she could argue that she is entitled to a portion of Johnny's estate as an "omitted heir." 

In order to be successful, Stevie would need to show, "Stevie would need to prove either (1) she was born (or adopted) after Johnny executed his Will in April 2013 (making Stevie about seven years old, which is unrealistic); or (2) Johnny believed Stevie to be dead. It is unclear on the facts provided whether Johnny knew of Stevie’s existence, but Stevie would need to try to prove that Johnny believed she was dead." 

Stevie could also look for broad language that would allow her to fit herself into the Will. 

As crazy as this situation appears, it is not uncommon. Ancestry kits have allowed people search their family history, bringing up siblings and other family members that they may have never known about. Thus, family secrets have come to light which may often lead in litigation and family battles over estate shares. 

See Ann Hetherwick Cahill, How Ancestry Kits Upend Estate Plans and Create Estate & Trust Litigation, Burns & Levinson: Beyond the Will Blog, November 26, 2020. 

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

December 3, 2020 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Two Sisters Took a DNA Test. It Revealed Their Dad Had Been a Missing Person for Decades.

Gh-kidnapping2-1604691343Audrey Bell, a mother of triplets from Long Island, purchased a 23andMe DNA testing kit to find out which of the triplets were identical siblings and which was the fraternal sibling. Unbeknownst to Bell, she would find out a lot more. 

The results of the test did not specifically discuss any Italian history or ancestry, which the family found weird since their father was very proud of his Italian ancestry. At the time, Bell and her siblings did not think much of it. 

Since their father had passed away, they went to his closest living relative, a first cousin, and asked him to take a DNA test, which he agreed. The results revealed that the siblings were actually not related to the Palmadesso family. 

After doing more research into their history, they found that they were related to a man named Tom Martin. The siblings reached out Tom who revealed that he wanted his DNA tested because he was searching for his younger brother, Jerry Martin who had been missing for decades. Jerry had been kidnapped when he was 4 and Tom had not seen him since. 

Although it would seem unlikely that a child who was kidnapped would survive long enough to become a parent, it is actually not uncommon. Most kidnappings are not done by strangers, which only make up 1% of kidnappings. Further, when this kidnapping happened (in 1945), it was much easier to get away with such a crime given the lax standards of the Baby Boom era. 

The siblings began to suspect that their father, Richard Palmadesso, was actually the missing Jerry Martin. The siblings began making connections and even compared photos of Tom and their father, finding that they looked very much alike. 

The girls are not exactly sure what the history of their father is or if he had known he was kidnapped. However, the siblings have kept in continuous contact with Tom who could very well be their uncle.

See Rachael Rifkin, Two Sisters Took a DNA Test. It Revealed Their Dad Had Been a Missing Person for Decades., Good Housekeeping, November 6, 2020.

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

November 8, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Warren G. Harding’s Grandson, Lover Want President’s Body Exhumed

Harding"The grandson of U.S. President Warren G. Harding and his lover, Nan Britton, went to court in an effort to get the Republican's remains exhumed from the presidential memorial where they have lain since 1927." 

James Blaesing stated that he wants Hardin's remains so he can "establish with scientific certainty"  that he is blood related to Harding. 

Benefactors are preparing to celebrate the centennial of Hardin's 1920 election with "site upgrades and a new presidential center in Marion, the Ohio city near which he was born in 1865." James Blaesing claims that he deserves to have his story included "within the hallowed halls and museums in this town." 

"A branch of the Harding family has pushed back against the suit filed in May — not because they dispute Blaesing’s ancestry, but because they don’t."

The family agues that they have accepted as "fact DNA evidence that Blaesing's mother", Elizabeth Ann Blaesing was Harding and Britton's daughter. They also stated that she is set to be acknowledged in the museum. 

“Sadly, widespread, public recognition and acceptance by the descendants, historians, and biographers (and Mr. Blaesing himself) that Mr. Blaesing is President Harding’s grandson is not enough for him,” relatives said in a court filing.

See Julie Carr Smyth, Warren G. Harding’s Grandson, Lover Want President’s Body Exhumed, AP News, September 13, 2020.

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

September 18, 2020 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

‘Amazing, Isn’t It?’ Long-Sought Blood Test for Alzheimer’s in Reach

Alz"Scientists say that such tests could be available in a few years, speeding research for treatments and providing a diagnosis for dementia patients who want to know if they have Alzheimer's disease."

It is possible that a simple blood test could be just as effective in diagnosing Alzheimer's as costly PET scans of the brain. 

This newly developed blood test has diagnosed the disease "as accurately as methods that are far more expensive or invasive..." This test could potentially make diagnosis simpler, and better yet, more affordable and available. 

"The test determined whether people with dementia had Alzheimer's instead of another condition." and it identified signs of the degenerative, deadly disease 20 years before memory and thinking problems were expected in people with a genetic mutation that causes Alzheimer's" according to research published in JAMA. 

Researchers predict that the test could be available for clinical use in as little as tow to three years. 

“This blood test very, very accurately predicts who’s got Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, including people who seem to be normal,” said Dr. Michael Weiner, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. “It’s not a cure, it’s not a treatment, but you can’t treat the disease without being able to diagnose it. And accurate, low-cost diagnosis is really exciting, so it’s a breakthrough.”

Nearly six million people in the United States have Alzheimer's. Further, roughly 30 million people worldwide suffer from the disease. A new test like this one could potentially lower this numbers, or at the very least, slow them down.

See Pam Belluck, ‘Amazing, Isn’t It?’ Long-Sought Blood Test for Alzheimer’s in Reach, N.Y. Times Magazine, July 28, 2020.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 5, 2020 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Connie Culp, 1st US partial face transplant recipient, dies

CcConnie Culp, the recipient of the first partial face transplant in the U.S., has died at 57, almost a dozen years after the groundbreaking operation. 

Her surgery was performed in 2008 by The Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic said Saturday that Culp died Wednesday at the Ohio clinic of complications from an infection unrelated to her transplant.

Dr. Frank Papay, who was part of Culp's surgical team, referred to Culp as "an incredibly brace, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many." Papay went on to say, "Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longer-living face transplant patient to date . . . She was a great pioneer and her decision to undergo a sometimes-daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all of humanity."

In 2004, Culp's husband shot her in the face in a failed murder-suicide attempt. The gunshot destroyed her nose, shattered her cheeks, and practically destroyed her vision. The Associated Press previously reported that her face was so mangled that children would run away from her and call her a monster. 

Culp went through 30 different operations to try to fix her face, all unsuccessful. In December 2008, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a team of doctors in a 22-hour operation to replace 80% of Culp's face with bone, muscle, nerves, skin and blood vessels from a donor, Anna Kasper. 

Following the operation, Culp went on to make television appearances and became an advocate for organ donation. 

Kasper's daughter said that she could see part of her mother in Culp, especially in the nose. She went on to say, "I know she's smiling down on this, that she's very happy."

See, Ron Todt, Connie Culp, 1st US partial face transplant recipient, dies, Associated Press, August 1, 2020. 

August 4, 2020 in Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

California Appeals Court: Deceased Husband’s Sperm has no Value if it Cannot Actually be Used

IVFAfter her husband fell into an irreversible coma, a woman had his sperm extracted and stored at a tissue bank in hopes that she could one day conceive a child biologically related to him. 10 years after he died, the woman requested the sperm. The tissue bank could not find it, and the woman sued them, asserting contract and tort claims under California law. The trial court found in Robertson v. Saadat that the woman suffered no injury because she had no right to use the sperm to conceive a child. The woman appealed.

The California Court of Appeal, Second District, affirmed the trial court’s decision. Sperm is not governed by the rules that apply to gifts or personal property, and as gametic material, it must be specifically mentioned in testamentary documents. “In other words, the fact that plaintiff as Aaron’s spouse may be his legal next of kin has no bearing on whether she may use his sperm for posthumous conception.” Furthermore, the husband had no knowledge of the sperm extraction before his death, and therefore had no “‘decisionmaking authority as to the use of [the gametes] for reproduction.'”

The court also rejected the woman's argument that the sperm fell under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) as the sperm would be "transplanted" into her. The legislative history of the UAGA indicates that “transplantation” under the UAGA refers to taking organs and tissue from a donor and placing them in recipients whose equivalent organs or tissue are damaged, not to conceive a child.

Because the woman could not prove that she was entitled to use the deceased husband's sperm as his surviving spouse, she had to show that it had been his intent to allow her to conceive with the extracted sperm. There must be an express indication in writing of an intent to allow the use of decedent’s genetic material for posthumous conception. The husband did not leave such writing, so there was no express intent.

With no intent nor entitlement to use the sperm, there was no value to the sperm, and the woman could not claim emotional distress caused by the inability to conceive the husband's child.

See California Appeals Court: Deceased Husband’s Sperm has no Value if it Cannot Actually be Used, Probate Stars, May 11, 2020.

May 13, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Can You Sue Someone If You Get Coronavirus?

Covid2History has shown us that many cases have been successfully brought concerning transmission of viruses or infectious disease, including during a pandemic. These past lawsuits pertaining to Ebola, H1N1 (swine flu), and HIV/AIDS, and can serve as an indication of whether you can sue a person or entity if you contract the novel coronavirus - COVID-19.

Several courts have ruled that a person has a claim against someone who passes on the HIV/Aids virus. The California Supreme Court in John B. v. Superior Court ruled that suits regarding the negligent transmission of sexual diseases, such as the HIV/AIDS virus, can proceed based on constructive knowledge. Indeed, because of the nature of the virus, some states have criminalized the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

The Supreme Court of Texas, in a February 2020 opinion, Coming Attractions Bridal and Formal, Inc. v. Texas Health Resources, addressed exposure to Ebola in a claim brought under the Texas Medical Liability Act. A nurse of a Dallas hospital helped care for a patient infected with Ebola, then went to Ohio to shop at a bridal shop. Once she returned to Dallas, she became ill and later diagnosed with Ebola herself. The bridal shop claimed the hospital where the nurse worked was negligent for failure to prevent transmission of the Ebola virus to the nurse and alleging that the hospital’s negligence caused the shop to close due to health concerns and adverse publicity because of the virus. The case was dismissed due to failure to file an expert report, not due to failure to state a claim. Another Ebola case in Texas was remanded for further proceedings.

In Ebaseh Onofa v. McAllen Hospitals, a 2015 Texas Court of Appeals case, husband alleged that his wife returned from her shift at the hospital not feeling well. The hospital had confirmed cases of H1N1 virus (swine flu) in the hospital. She admitted to the emergency room a few days later and died just two days after that. The husband sued for wrongful death because the wife was not offered an N95 mask and the court granted the hospital summary judgement. The appellate court affirmed, concluding that the husband  "produced nothing more than speculation on the element of causation" because there were no positive H1N1 patients in the wife's unit. Therefore, although it was possible that the husband could sue for his wife’s contraction of the virus, he had to present some evidence of causation to survive summary judgment.

See Can You Sue Someone If You Get Coronavirus?, Probate Stars, March 26, 2020.

March 27, 2020 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)