Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Friday, December 18, 2020

5 reasons musicians like Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks are selling their song catalogs right now

MusicA trend involving musicians selling their "beloved and extensive song catalogs" has begun to make its stride in the music industry. Bob Dylan recently sold the rights to his entire catalog for an estimated $300 million to $400 million. This has been coined as possibly the biggest acquisition of music publishing rights from a single songwriter. The catalog consists of more than 600 songs and a Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Unlikely many artists, Bob Dylan owned most of his own songwriting copyrights. According to Marketwatch, the only likely competitor in value and influence would be the Beatles. Bob Dylan was nor the first nor the last artist to sell his catalog. 

Last month, Stevie Nicks sold 80% of her rights to her songwriting catalog for a reported $100 million. Also, in August, Imagine Dragons sold their back catalog for over $100 million. 

Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a British company that buys hit catalogs spent around $670 million in the months between March 2020 and September 2020 on multiple different catalogs consisting of more than 44,000 songs. 

It appears Dolly Parton is thinking about jumping on the train as well. 

Why the sudden surge? Many believe that "the Spotify effect" has a lot to do with it. Not only are older catalogs being played a lot more due to the easy access, it is not much easier to value music due to streaming revenues. Which also inherently makes these catalogs more profitable.  

Also, under the current tax plan and low interest rates, now may be the best time for artists and musicians to sell their catalogs and maximize profit. The low interest rates are good for investors that may want to invest in catalogs to receive royalties. Further, many musicians are not making as much money as they normally would because COVID-19 has essentially cancelled touring. 

One other great benefit is that musicians will not have to deal with their catalogs being fought over in court. With these clear transfers, it is clear who owns the rights and it is a great weight of their shoulders. 

As an artist, songwriter, or musician, now may be the best time and possibly the only time for awhile in which it is more beneficial than a detriment to sell the rights to the catalogs that lead to such great fame and success. 

See Nicole Lyn Pesce, 5 reasons musicians like Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks are selling their song catalogs right now, Market Watch, December 16, 2020. 

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

December 18, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, Non-Probate Assets, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sorting Out Tony Hsieh’s Estate, From LLCs to Thousands of Sticky Notes

HsiehTony Hsieh, who recently passed away due to complications from smoke inhalation following a house fire, died intestate which has left his family scrambling. 

Apparently, inside Hsieh's mansion was found thousands of color-coded sticky notes plastered on the walls/ Some of them represented financial commitments that Hsieh had made to employees, friends, and local businesses. 

It appears that Hsieh wrote these notes himself in the months leading to his death and may function as informal contracts. This adds a complicating piece of the puzzle to his estate which was already complex and difficult due to the lack of a will. The estate is said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Within the estate plan is about $70 million worth of real estate he recently purchased, which are spread across about a dozen LLCs; some of Hsieh's friends continue to live in these houses and condos. Another asset is a $30 million "angel" fund planned for tech startups and other businesses in Park City.

According to Hsieh's friends and others that were close to him, Hsieh was struggling with alcohol and drug abuse in the months prior to his death, which only adds more complexity to handling the estate. With the many sticky notes and writings left around Hsieh's home. it is unclear whether or not he was of sound mind when he recorded these writings or when he made recent investment decisions or employment agreements. 

See Kristen Grind & Katherine Sayre, Sorting Out Tony Hsieh’s Estate, From LLCs to Thousands of Sticky Notes, Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2020. 

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

December 16, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Thursday, December 10, 2020


Natalie M. Banta recently published an article entitled, ELECTRONIC WILLS AND DIGITAL ASSETS: REASSESSING FORMALITY IN THE DIGITAL AGE, Baylor Law Review (2019). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. Estate planning

The law of Wills, dating back to 1540, is one of the last holdouts against the digital revolution. In 2019, a will in most states cannot be an electronic document. The Wills Acts adopted by every state in America requires a testamentary will to be in writing, to be signed, and to be attested in the presence of at least two witnesses. States have interpreted the Wills Act, in most cases, to require a physical document printed and signed by hand by a testator and witnesses. For centuries, these pillars of the law of wills have remained resolute and uncompromised. Attempts have been made to lessen the strict requirements of testamentary formality, but only a handful of states have adopted legislation applying what is called the harmless error doctrine. The advent of digital asset succession, however, has taken a more immediate path to encourage chipping away at the formalities for a will. Almost all of the states have adopted digital asset legislation, which only requires a testamentary statement regarding these assets to be in writing in order to be valid. Digital asset legislation opens the door to an even more sweeping change—purely electronic wills. Adopting electronic wills would be a dramatic change to the Wills Act but would not dramatically change property transfers after death. More wealth transfers after death under a nonprobate instrument such as a trust or private contract between a decedent and a financial or insurance company. These testamentary transfers are already largely electronic. Technological changes and expectations in society have been challenging the Wills Act for years. Courts are beginning to broadly interpret the Wills Act to incorporate technological changes. A few states have begun experimenting with versions of electronic wills, and the Uniform Law Commission is proposing legislation to allow electronic wills in the upcoming year. The strict formalities of the Wills Act can still be met by allowing an electronic version of a will. Indeed, as this article argues, electronic wills can serve as reliable evidence of testamentary intent, protecting a testator’s interests, and fulfilling the purposes of succession law. State legislatures should adopt legislation allowing for electronic wills in order to bring a cost-effective and efficient way of transferring assets at death and to encourage more people to exercise their freedom of disposition.

December 10, 2020 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 6, 2020


Bridget J. Crawford recently published an article entitled, Blockchain Wills , Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2020). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. 

Blockchain technology has the potential to radically alter the way that people have executed wills for centuries. This Article makes two principal claims – one descriptive and the other normative. Descriptively, the Article suggests that traditional wills formalities have been relaxed to the point that they no longer serve the cautionary, protective, evidentiary and channeling functions that scholars have used to justify strict compliance with wills formalities. Widespread use of digital technology in everyday communications has led to several notable cases in which individuals have attempted to execute wills electronically. These wills have had a mixed reception. Four states currently recognize electronic wills and the Uniform Law Commission has approved a model Electronic Wills Act. This Article identifies some of the weaknesses in existing state statutes and the model law and considers how technology can address those problems.

This Article goes on to explore how blockchain, the open-source technology underlying cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, could be harnessed to create a distributed ledger of wills that would maintain a reliable record of a testator’s desires for the post-mortem distribution of estate assets. These blockchain instrument easily could qualify as wills under existing substantial compliance doctrine or the Uniform Probate Code’s harmless error rule. Blockchain wills would serve the true purpose of wills formalities – which is to authenticate a document as the one executed by the testator with the intention of having it serve as the binding directive for the distribution of her property. By uniting blockchain technology with the innovations of the best aspects of electronic wills legislation, a blockchain will could serve as a reliable, authentic and secure record of a decedent’s last wishes for disposition of her property.

This Article’s account has important implications for the legal profession. As financial institutions and governments have moved to develop blockchain-based solutions for the delivery of services, lawyers have lagged behind. In some legal circles, attorneys have become interested in “smart contracts” and the possibility of using blockchain to create a more accurate record of real property deeds. But most lawyers have not yet invested the requisite time and energy needed to understand how blockchain works or to develop systems that would use the technology effectively. By demonstrating how blockchain could make wills cheaper to prepare and less susceptible to tampering, this Article also points to multiple other uses for blockchain in the legal profession, including authentication of chain of ownership, record-keeping and drafting of all kinds. Even though lawyers have been slow to harness blockchain’s potential, the technology holds the promise to transform the practice of law into a form that will be unrecognizable to today’s lawyers.

Victoria J. Haneman also provided a brief overview of the Article and its application in her article entitled, THE DISRUPTIVE POTENTIAL OF BLOCKCHAIN IN THE LAW OF WILLS, JOTWELL: Trusts & Estates, December 3, 2020. 

December 6, 2020 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Wills | 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

Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh died without a will, family says

HseihTony Hseih, founder of Zappos, died from complication of smoke inhalation in a Connecticut house fire. Apparently, Hseih did not have a will when he died.

Hseih's family filed court papers in Las Vegas asking a judge to make his father and brother special administrators to his estate. The family stated that they will need access to Hseih's financial and social media records and also to connect with his lawyers. 

Hseih died Friday after being found unconscious in a burning shed in New London, Connecticut. The cause of the fire is still unknown. 

Hseih retired as CEO in August after leading Zappos for 20 years. He had just recently purchased the home in Connecticut for a woman named Rachael Brown, who was believed to be Hseih's girlfriend. 

"A death certificate with the family’s filing says Hsieh died at 5 a.m. Friday and lists his occupation as entrepreneur and urban developer." 

See Lia Eustachewich, Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh died without a will, family says, NY Post, December 3, 2020. 

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

December 4, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Alzheimer’s Research Looks at Hot Spots Across the U.S.

AlzheimersApparently, where you live impacts the risk of getting Alzheimer's disease. Scientists and medical researchers have done loads of research on things that may increase the chances of developing Alzheimer's, but now, they are focusing on the potential role that location may play. 

Through research, researchers have found that certain counties and neighborhoods have a higher prevalence of Alzheimer's disease, the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. 

The next step is seeking to find if these locations have common risk factors associated with Alzheimer's. 

"The data show, among other things, that overall prevalence is more highly concentrated in the Southeast and Gulf Coast states, including Florida and Texas, compared with Western states, such as Colorado and Arizona." 

The research has only just begun and as expected, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. One study has shown that Alzheimer's is more prevalent in poor neighborhoods while another showed a higher prevalence in in rural Appalachia compared with non-Appalachian rural counties. 

The data also showed that social determinants of health, like higher levels of poverty, fewer options for exercise, and less education are risk factors. 

This new research may also be an effective aid in helping researchers pinpoint which intervention efforts will be more successful. 

See Clare Ansberry, Alzheimer’s Research Looks at Hot Spots Across the U.S., The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2020. 

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

November 19, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | 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)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Article on Electronic-Wills Legislation: The Uniform Act versus Australian and Canadian Alternatives

Adam J. Hirsch and Julia C. Kelety recently published an article entitled, Electronic-Wills Legislation: The Uniform Act versus Australian and Canadian Alternatives, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2020). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. Will

Electronic wills, created on a computer and never executed on paper, are valid in only a few American jurisdictions today. Nonetheless, in 2019 the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Electronic Wills Act and recommended it for adoption in every state. This article examines the Uniform Act and identifies weaknesses in its statutory blueprint. The article also challenges the proposition that electronic wills are appropriately dealt with under Uniform legislation. As an alternative, the article proposes that American states direct their attention to laws long in effect throughout Australia and in parts of Canada that validate electronic wills (along with audio- and video-wills) through harmless-error rules. Instead of creating a formalizing mechanism for e-wills, these foreign laws are remedial, allowing courts to probate e-wills that were improperly formalized under statutes that continue to call for paper wills. The article assesses the advantages and disadvantages of the two competing legislative models and argues that the foreign model is superior. Finally, the article suggests language for American statutes patterned after Australian and Canadian legislation.


November 5, 2020 in Articles, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)