Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Kirk Douglas Leaves the Majority of his Fortune to Charity

KirkKirk Douglas, arguably the last member of Hollywood's Golden Age, passed away on February 5, 2020 at the age of 103. He is survived by his second wife Anne, who he married in 1954, and three of his sons - Michael, Joel and Peter. Kirk had suffered a stroke in 1996 and his health had declined, but he still occasionally appeared in movies and television productions.

In addition to being a three time Oscar nominee, he received a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1996, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981, the Jefferson Award for public service in 1983 and was named to the French Legion of Honor in 1985. He was born in Amsterdam, New York to Jewish immigrant parents and was lucky enough to have an illustrious Hollywood career that spanned seven decades.

Kirk and Anne founded the Douglas Foundation 1964 and opted to bequeath the majority of his estate to the charity. The Foundation benefits the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, The Kirk and Anne Douglas Childhood Center, a St. Lawrence University scholarship for underprivileged students, Westwood’s Sinai Temple and Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theater, a restored venue. Anne Douglas remains as the nonprofit's managing trustee.

Though at first glance it might seem harsh that Kirk did not leave anything to his beloved son Michael, who followed in his father's footsteps and became an actor. But the well-known Wall Street is worth over $300 million in his own right so he most likely was not expecting anything from his father.

See Nate Day, Kirk Douglas' $61M Fortune Given Mostly to Charity, None Went to Son Michael Douglas, Fox News, February 23, 2020; see also Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Kirk Douglas Leaves Most of his $80 Million Fortune to Charity, Page Six, February 22, 2020; see also Will Twigger & Susan Knox, Kirk Douglas Leaves Entire £61m Fortune to Charity - and Son Michael Douglas Doesn't get a Penny, Mirror, February 23, 2020.

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) and Jay Brinker (Cincinnati Estate Planning Attorney) for bringing these articles to my attention.

February 25, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Wealth and Drama of the Disney Family

DisneyBefore it was Walt Disney Studio, it was Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney. Walt handled the creative side while Roy O. handled the business side. Walt died in 1966 of lung cancer, survived by his wife, two daughters and 10 grandchildren. Roy O. only had one child, Roy E., who would later become a senior executive for the company. Roy E. had four children - Susan, Roy P., Tim, and Abigail. Though the Disney clan raised their children in a way that was traditional and normal, their legacy is anything but simple.

In 1960, the Disney brothers owned 20% of the company that they had founded, but today the family only owns 3%. But at $130 billion, that would leave the family an investment of $3.9 billion in the company. And that of course does not include other holdings, investments, and endeavors. Some of the grandchildren became notorious, such as a granddaughter living quite lavishly, splurging on $5,000-a-night suites at the Royal Palms apartment homes in Las Vegas. Two other grandchildren fought over their portions to a trust fund, each arguing that the other was mentally incapacitated.

On the other side of the coin, a granddaughter of Roy O. was reportedly embarrassed by her family's wealth and stated that she had developed an "inferiority complex around people who have actually earned their money. She has said that if she could she would outlaw private jets, and she was one of 18 ultra-wealthy Americans to sign a letter asking presidential candidates to support a wealth tax in June 2019. Roy E. was the only heir that got involved in the business, and it is reported that though the original two brothers were close, the families have never been.

See Hillary Hoffower, A Family Feud Over a $400 Million Trust Fund, a Massive Fortune that Left One Heiress with an Inferiority Complex, and a Sprawling Media Empire. Meet the Disney Family, Business Insider, February 7, 2020.

Special thanks to Mark J. Bade (CPA, GCMA, St. Louis, Missouri) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 9, 2020 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Why Ashton Kutcher is Leaving Nothing to his Kids

AshtonAshton Kutcher and his wife, Mila Kunis, stated recently that they plan to leave their children nothing, instead giving any money they have earned from Hollywood or their investments to charity, including sex-trafficking causes. Kutcher has invested in several tech companies with his venture capital firm A-Grade Investments, so he understands that his children are already living what he believes is a "privileged life." He specifically said that they will not be receiving any trust funds.

Half of people that are destined to receive an inheritance receive $50,000 or less, and 30% will receive between $50,000 and $249,000 according to Federal Reserve data. Completely cutting off children is an unorthodox approach; teaching them positive life-long habits that can contribute to more beneficial payoffs may be more proactive, and could bloom into long-term financial security.

See Mitch Tuchman, Why Ashton Kutcher is Leaving Nothing to his Kids, Market Watch, November 9, 2019.

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

November 10, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Barron Hilton Leaves 97% of Massive Fortune to this Foundation

BarronBarron Hilton, the magnate behind Hilton Hotels success, passed away on Thursday at his Los Angeles home at the age of 91. The billionaire left 97% of his fortune to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the charity started by his father, which increased its endowment by $3.4 billion.

The Foundation, established in 1944, invests in seven program areas: Catholic sisters, disaster relief and recovery, foster youth, homelessness, hospitality workforce development, safe water, and young children affected by HIV and AIDS.

The remaining 3%, which still constitutes millions of dollars, were left for him family, including the well-known heiress Paris and Nicky Hilton. Altogether Barron left behind eight children, 15 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. "The Hilton family mourns the loss of a remarkable man," ,his son and chairman of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Steven M. Hilton, said in a statement. "He lived a life of great adventure and exceptional accomplishment."

See Matthew McNulty, Barron Hilton Leaves 97% of Massive Fortune to this Foundation, Fox News, September 22, 2019.

September 22, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Television, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Article in Be Right Back: Black Mirror and the Importance of Digital Estate Planning

Black mirrorMichael J. Polk recently published an Article entitled, Be Right Back: Black Mirror and the Importance of Digital Estate Planning, South Carolina Lawyer, July 2019. Provided below is the introduction of the Article.

The Netflix series "Black Mirror" imagines the effect technology will have in the near future. In the Be Right Back episode, a young woman's boyfriend suddenly dies. Grieving, the woman signs up for a service that creates a virtual boyfriend by using his past text and email communications, social media accounts and artificial intelligence. The more information fed into the service, the more accurate the interactions with the virtual boyfriend become (spoiler alert: there isn't a happy ending). The episode makes the point that our digital life has become pervasive, and it becomes more so with each passing day. Lawyer must address and plan for digital assets and accounts both on a professional and personal level because, in the words of John Maynard Keynes, "In the long run, we are all dead."

September 19, 2019 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Britney Fans Insist it is Time to #FreeBritney!

BritneyBritney Spears, the pop princess that dominated the charts in her late teens and early twenties before her extremely public break down in 2008, is still under a conservatorship in California. This year she cancelled her Las Vegas residency and she went to a mental health facility. But her fans believe that she is being silenced and was put into the facility against her own free will, and was able to be forced because of the conservatorship with her father, Jamie, at the helm.

Conservatorships - or guardianships as they may be known in other jurisdictions - are intending to help those who cannot take care of themselves and are unlikely to gain that ability, such as the elderly or mentally disabled. Spears's father is control of her finances and many personal choices (including healthcare), but it is apparent that the musician can provide for herself. She has produced four albums since the start of her conservatorship, was a host on The X Factor, even went on four world tours. Attorney Stanton Stein, whom Jamie has hired for #FreeBritney damage control, rejected the idea that Spears had been coerced or manipulated in any way. “She’s always involved in every career and business decision,” he said. “Period.” There have been no more public outbursts, break downs, or suicide attempts.

So why is there still a conservatorship in place? Her fans believe that she is being micromanaged and manipulated to the point of being under complete control of her father. What really gave the rally cry #FreeBritney fire, however, was a voicemail left on a podcast that dissects Britney's Instagram posts. The caller, identifying himself as a former paralegal for an attorney who worked with Spears’ conservatorship, claimed that the singer’s father was involved in getting her to drop her Las Vegas residency. He also made a series of other allegations and raised concerns about her personal autonomy.

In the meantime, Jamie Spears has requested that the conservatorship be extended to more states, including where his daughter lives to vacation, and his suing individuals with slander over the many accusations.

See Laura Newberry, Britney Spears Hasn’t Fully Controlled Her Life for Years. Fans Insist it’s Time to #FreeBritney, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2019.

Special thanks to Adam T. Uszynski (Bradicich, Moore & Uszynski, LLP, Victoria, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention

September 19, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Music, Television, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Larry King’s Estranged Wife Shawn King Breaks Silence on Divorce

LarrykingLast month, 85-year-old host Larry King filed for divorce from his 59-year-old wife, Shawn King, after 22 years of marriage. This is not the first time that papers have been filed in court to dissolve the marriage; in 2010 they called it quits, but months later they announced their reconciliation.

But now, Shawn King has opened up about the pending divorce. “It’s not fun. It hurts. Yeah, it hurts." The couple are parents of two boys, 20-year-old son Chance and 19-year-old Cannon. Both men have commented on social media showing their support and love for both Shawn and Larry. Chance said, "Despite what is being reported, let me set the record straight My mother never tried to steal my inheritance or my brothers. I want what any son wants for his family; health, happiness and peace.”

Larry also has three other children and has been married eight time to seven different women: to Freda Miller from 1952 to 1953, Annette Kaye in 1961, Alene Akins from 1961 to 1963, Mickey Sutphin from 1963 to 1967, Akins again from 1967 to 1972, Sharon Lepore from 1976 to 1983, Julie Alexander from 1989 to 1992, and married Shawn in 1997.

See Sarah Hearon, Larry King’s Estranged Wife Shawn King Breaks Silence on Divorce: ‘It Hurts,' US Weekly, September 17, 2019.

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

September 18, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Death is Not the End: The Lucrative World of Literary Estates

ClassicnovelsAndrew Wylie, a literary agent who is showing a knack for handling the publishing rights of deceased authors, is showing the market that these are "golden opportunities" for the authors' estates. Copyrights can last for many decades after an author's death, with the United Kingdom and most of Europe have 70 years of copyright following their death and American books published prior to 1978 being protected for 95 years.

Long, complex literary works of deceased authors are now being made into television of Netflix series years after their death. John Updike's Rabbit novels are set to be adapted for television by Andrew Davies, the leading UK screenwriter, and Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America has been bought by HBO and will be a six-part series, starring Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan.

Jonny Geller, chairman of UK literary agency Curtis Brown, which represents the Ian Fleming estate, says “The debate for all literary estates is, ‘Will we devalue our ancestor’s work by putting too much out there?’" With the modernization of the literature market, the new avenues include ebooks and publishing timeless novels in foreign languages, expanding the love of famous authors. “There is a strong interest in classic English literature now,” says Lisa Dowdeswell, head of literary estates at the Society of Authors in the UK. For some works, continuation novels may be desired, and the appeal is reeling in noted authors of today's fame.

But an agent should listen to the family's wishes instead of just believing them to be happy with a check every month. Wylie says that agents need to be sensitive to their desires. “We listen carefully to the people who own estates. They have both legal and cultural authority.”

See John Gapper, Death is Not the End: The Lucrative World of Literary Estates, Financial Times, July 25, 2019.

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

July 30, 2019 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Elizabeth Hurley’s Son Damian, 17, Wins Inheritance Fight Against Grandfather: Report

HurleysIn March, a trustee of Peter Bing's estate petitioned a Los Angeles court to get two of his grandchildren that were born out of wedlock excluded from a trust set up to benefit his grandchildren. The trustee claimed that Peter had a specific definition of "grandchild" in mind when he drafted his trust, and it did not include the two children his son Steve Bing had fathered without being married to the mothers. Steve has a 21-year-old daughter, Kira, with former tennis player Lisa Bonder and a 17-year-old son, Damian, with British actress Elizabeth Hurley.

The court shot down the petition this week, saying that there was no ambiguity in the term of grandchild, and Judge Daniel Ramirez added that additional "restrictive" definitions "unreasonably distort the term's clear and plain use." Steve had claimed that the petition was part of scheme by his sister, Mary, and his father to "orchestrate a money grab" from the trust. He had asked the court to penalize his sister by disinheriting her children from the trust, but the court refused that option. All of the grandchildren are expected to inherit at least several million each.

See Maria Pasquini, Elizabeth Hurley’s Son Damian, 17, Wins Inheritance Fight Against Grandfather: Report, People.com, July 19, 2019.

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

July 20, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, New Cases, Television, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Disney Reportedly Refuses to Allow Spider-Man Engraving on Tombstone of Dead Boy Who Loved Superhero

Ollie-Jones-1-SWNSOllie Jones, a 4-year-old boy that passed away this past December and suffered from leukodystrophy, a rare genetic condition, will not be allowed to have an etching of his favorite super hero included on his tombstone. His father, Lloyd, sent a request to Disney to be allowed to include an image of Spider-Man on his beloved sons's grave, but the company allegedly refused, citing company policy.

Ollie loved the webslinger so much that his funeral was Spider-Man themed and his last family vacation was to Disneyland to "meet" his hero. The local city council had told Lloyd to forward his request to the Walt Disney Company about including an etching of the character on the tombstone. But the company denied the grieving father's request, claiming that doing so would ruin the "innocence" and "magic" of the company's famed characters, citing a policy that Walt Disney himself instituted when he was alive. Instead, the company offered to send the family a one-of-a-kind illustration of Spider-Man, which would include a special message for the boy.

The denial has outraged many people across social media, and a petition to force the Walt Disney Company to allow the etching on Ollie's grave has surpassed 12,000 signatures. "This meant everything to us. My brother’s life has been shattered, it has shattered the whole family," Ollie's uncle Jason said. "We can’t move on until we have his headstone done — Spider-Man was Ollie’s entire life. He loved it so much."

Ollie's 6-year-old sister, Laillah, also reportedly suffers from the same condition, which damages the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.

See Nicole Darrah, Disney Reportedly Refuses to Allow Spider-Man Engraving on Tombstone of Dead Boy Who Loved Superhero, Fox News, July 11, 2019.

July 13, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Film, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)