Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Deceased Millionaire's Family Sues After DNA Test Reveals Heir isn't Related

SwedenElis Gosta Hjukstrom, a resident of Vancouver that previously immigrated from Sweden, was a self-made millionaire through his import and distribution business in Canada. He passed away in 2017 of cancer at the age of 87, leaving his business and a family estate in Sweden to a Swedish man named Kenth Lundback that Hjukstrom called son, totaling a worth of $14 million.

Now Hjukstrom's extended family in Sweden has filed a civil suit against Lundback, claiming that he and his mother manipulated and deceived the millionaire for 50 years into believing the younger man was his son so as to compel Hjukstrom into bequeathing him his fortune. The suit came after a paternity test conducted after Hjukstrom's death revealed that he was not Lundback's father. In response, Lundback claims that Hjukstrom knew that he may not be his father, but still maintained a warm relationship that was "akin to a father/son relationship."

Hjukstrom hailed from a highly impoverished family, and in fact never knew his biological father, and two of his siblings were adopted out because his mother couldn't afford to care for them. He moved to Canada in 1957, but came back to visit family in Sweden regularly. In 1960, he had a romantic relationship with Ingrid Jonsson, Lundback's mother before heading back to Vancouver. In 1964, Hjukstrom wrote to Jonsson and told her of his entrepreneurial success, in which that she responded she had a young son born a few months after they had been together.

"If I am in fact Kenth's father, I will of course take responsibility," Hjukstrom wrote back. Ingrid responded that he was the father of her son, but also said "I don't think you need to tell anyone about it." Ingrid passed away in 2008, and both her and her son were included in Hjukstrom will as far back as 1966.

See Maryse Zeidler, Deceased Millionaire's Family Sues After DNA Test Reveals Heir isn't Related, CBC.ca, January 5, 2019.

Special thanks to Eric A. Chiappinelli (Frank McDonald Endowed Professor of Law, Texas Tech) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 13, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stock Trader, 45, Tried to Frame Daughter, 9, for Wife's Murder

RodRod Covlin was 36 years old when he allegedly murdered his estranged wife on New Year's Eve of 2009. Shele Danishefsky Covlin, who was 47 at the time of her death, was in the middle of divorcing Rod and had a meeting arranged the next day to have him written out of her will. Her body was found in the bathtub of her Manhattan apartment and due to the strict religious beliefs of her Jewish family, no autopsy was performed at the time. However, her body was exhumed in 2010 and the medical examiner determined that she had been strangled.

The prosecution alleges that in 2013, Rod wrote an Apple note pretending to be his daughter Anna that supposedly confesses to pushing Shele into the bathtub and causing her mother's death. Anna was 9 years old at the time and in fact was the one that found Shele's body at 7 a.m. 

After the autopsy, Shele's family filed a wrongful death suit against Rod, though he was still not yet charged with murder. The judge ruled that Rod was not able to gain any of the money left to him in the will, nor that of the trust for the children, Anna and Myles. The children were placed in the care of Rod's parents after worries that he was abusive to Myles. In 2015, Rod was recorded by a girlfriend hatching a plan to marry off Anna to a Mexican teenage boy for $10,000. His hope was that once Anna was married, she would technically no longer be a minor, and Rod would have access to the $4 million trust fund left to the children by Shele.

See Jennifer Smith, Stock Trader, 45, 'Tried to Frame Daughter, 9, for Wife's Murder,' Daily Mail, January 8, 2019.

Special thanks to Molly Neace for bringing this article to my attention.

January 12, 2019 in Current Events, New Cases, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Article on Fiduciary Litigation in Louisiana: Litigation Against the Mandatary (Agent), Executor, and Trustee

LsuElizabeth Ruth Carter recently published an Article entitled, Fiduciary Litigation in Louisiana: Litigation Against the Mandatary (Agent), Executor, and Trustee, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Article. 

These materials were created and presented in connection with LSU's annual Estate Planning Seminar. The paper explores the various types of fiduciary litigation in Louisiana that arises in the estate planning and administration setting. The paper considers the various types of actions and remedies available, the types of proceedings, and the parties with standing.

January 11, 2019 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Estate Planning Resolutions For 2019: How to be a Grown-Up in The New Year

WilltestamentNew Year, New Me! That seems to be the mantra for many people when January rolls around, coming up with redundant resolutions. But this year, a resolution that could be resourceful and highly beneficial would be to get a head-start of this perennial to-do list:

  • Write a Last Will and Testament:
    • Every person over the age of 18 should have this document to lay out the disposition of your assets and the guardianship of your children in the event you die.
  • Make a Power of Attorney:
    • This can include the power to bank, file taxes, and even sell and purchase real estate on behalf of another individual.
  • Execute a Health Care Proxy:
    • It is vital in this day and age to make your wishes known to your appointed agent, including your preferences for care in the event you suffer from a terminal illness with no chance of survival
  • Purchase a Life Insurance Policy:
    • This is not for you but for your family and loved ones after you pass away, making it easier financially for them.
  • Check Beneficiary Designation Forms:
    • Make certain that a proper beneficiary or secondary beneficiary is designated for all accounts, including retirement or insurance accounts.
  • Consider Long-Term Care and Disability Insurance:
    • If the unexpected occurs, this type of policy can supplement your income or pay a benefit toward home or nursing care.
  • Consult with a Financial Advisor:
    • The advisor may work together with your attorney to make certain you have a solid and comprehensive estate plan.
  • Talk to Your Parents and Grandparents About their Estate Plans:
    • When parents and children ultimately have to switch roles it is best to now what the older generation's wishes are.
  • Consider Burial Options:
    • Though it may be a morbid subject that you do not want to dwell on, it is a subject that needs to be discussed with your family.
  • Inventory Your Assets:
    • Take a survey of everything you own from real property, personal property, and intellectual property, and if there is a question as to rights of ownership, try to resolve them before those issues are passed on to your heirs.

See Cori A. Robinson, Estate Planning Resolutions For 2019: How to be a Grown-Up in The New Year, Above the Law, January 8, 2019.

Special thanks to Carissa Peterson (Hrbacek Law Firm, Sugar Land, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 9, 2019 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Where Not to Die in 2019

TaxlawThough the estate tax exemption now only applies to the wealthiest of individuals, there are still 17 states and D.C. that impose state either an state tax or an inheritance on their citizens. Some states apply the tax for all estates, some are only for larger estates. Maryland is the only state that applies both taxes. Several states rebelled when the exemption increased drastically, and have their own amounts far below the federal level. If you are in a state that has a minimum and you are nearing the cliff of having to pay out, proper estate planning is vital.

In New York state, individuals can make deathbed gifts starting in 2019 without the assets being applied toward the decedent's estate. The exclusion amount in New York is $5.47 million, approximately half of what the increased federal estate tax exemption is under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. So to stay under the exemption amount, a New Yorker no longer has to gift items three years out - in can be at the time of their demise.

Connecticut is the one state that could potentially have an exemption amount that’s higher than the federal exclusion amount—in 2026. For 2019, it’s set at $3.6 million, then scheduled to increase to $5.1 million in 2020, $7.1 million in 2021, $9.1 million in 2022, and to match the federal exemption amount in 2023.

See Ashlea Ebeling, Where Not to Die in 2019, Forbes, December 12, 2018.

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

January 8, 2019 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, New Legislation, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Article on Aproximaciones teóricas y metodológicas sobre las consecuencias de la sucesión en la distribución de la propiedad rural (Consequences of Inheritance in the Inequity of Rural Property, A Theoretical and Methodological Approach)

RuralJorge Miguel Cristo Gonzalez recently published an Article entitled, Aproximaciones teóricas y metodológicas sobre las consecuencias de la sucesión en la distribución de la propiedad rural (Consequences of Inheritance in the Inequity of Rural Property, A Theoretical and Methodological Approach), Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

The present article investigates the consequences of inheritance in the distribution of rural property. In order to achieve that, the fragmentation rate was estimated by succession, taking the distribution of rural property in the department of Cundinamarca as a basic guide, especially in two towns: Topaipí and Une. The article reports that, in the analyzed cases, inheritance is a factor that perpetuates the high inequality of the distribution of rural property. Moreover, a theoretical account is made on the foundations of inheritance throughout its existence in the Roman-Germanic juridical world and how this traditional law institution continues being currently so important that aims to be a mechanism that redefines the rights about property in a market society.

January 8, 2019 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Travel, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bitter Feuds, Buried Scandal: The Contested World of Literary Estates

EmilyRoyalty and biography rights of dead authors have become highly fought over assets within the writer's estate, and often the interests are cemented by secreting away parts of the truth. Hallam Tennyson did just that when he wrote his father's memoir, omitting matters that did not play into the image he wanted the world to have of his poet father, and destroyed many of its source material. In essence, he made himself the first modern executor, as the  monopolizing on the literary works of his father was amplified when in 1911 the term of copyright was extended to 50 years after an author’s death.

This whitewashing of authors is common, and can cause conflict when a later biographer appears to produce a more realistic and accurate view of the writer. Authors such as Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen have appeared haver their writing and image be created and recreated after death, especially Dickinson when an ex-lover of her brother's found a chest of her writing many years after her passing. Fighting ensued with the next Dickinson generation about who owned the original manuscripts and which institution should buy them.

The stories of literary estates testify for the most part to the futility of legislating for determining, from a fixed point in time and single point of view, what will prove to be “best” for a writer’s personal or critical reputation.

See Leo Robson, Bitter Feuds, Buried Scandal: The Contested World of Literary Estates, New Statesman, January 2, 2019.

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

January 8, 2019 in Books - Fiction, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 7, 2019

What You Might Not Know About Passing on Your Cottage [Michigan]

CottageMany of those in the Midwest, and possibly other parts of the country, have a goal of buying a vacation cottage up north to spend with their families. Children often gain fond memories of their days in these family cottages. But how do you pass on the property for the enjoyment of several family members without causing disputes?

If there is no settlement on timing and ownership interests, divisions within even the closest families can occur, including partitions of the property. Recent changes in Michigan’s property tax laws enable families to transfer ownership of family cottages to the next generation without incurring the steep increase in property taxes that would have resulted under prior law. Property taxes allocated to ownership can still be substantial, and transferring the cottage to a family member means they are now responsible for those taxes. These are not the only expenses, as maintenance and upkeep costs should also be factored into ownership of a cottage.

Disagreements may arise regarding whether other family members have an option or even an obligation to purchase the interest of a departing owner, and whether an interest can be transferred out of the direct family. If you’re in a cottage conflict, what can you do? Usually, the best solution involves an agreement between the family members that details the answers to these common issues

See Sara G. Lachman & Jonathan K. Beer, What You Might Not Know About Passing on Your Cottage, GRBJ.com, December 28, 2018.

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

January 7, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2 Brothers Battle over Famed French Restaurant in Manhattan

FrenchrestSince 1962, La Grenoille has been serving celebrities and the elite of Manhattan's upper crust fine French dining. When the patriarch of the family passed away of cancer in 1975, Charles Masson, Jr took over the running of the business until 1993, and then again from 2000 to 2014 while his younger brother, Philippe, took care of their sick mother in France. During his time as manager, he instituted several changes that are believed to highly attribute to the restaurant's success, such as printing the menu in English and creating an upstairs area for less formal dining.

When their mother passed away in 2014, majority ownership of the restaurant went to Philippe. According to the older brother, Philippe micromanaged every aspect of the business and how Charles was running it. Charles decided to leave when the discord between the two brothers became too much. After all the years of running the restaurant, Charles was not given any stake in it, and he was regularly called "just an employee" by his brother.

Now, Charles is suing to become executor of his mother's estate and in essence take control of La Grenoille. He claims that Philippe increased his personal salary to over $400,000 and uses the income of the restaurant to finance his lavish lifestyle. He claims that the famed restaurant has suffered under his brother's management, generating only $100,000-$250,000 profit from its $8.4 million annual revenue. He also alleges that he has "grossly mismanaged" his mother's estate and regularly racks up high shopping bills at upscale stores. 

See Anneta Konstantinides, Long-Running Feud Between Two Brother New York's La Grenoille, Daily Mail, December 30, 2018.

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

January 6, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Article on Gender Equality: Islamic Law and Legal Validity

MuslimIslam Abdel Magid recently published an Article entitled, Gender Equality: Islamic Law and Legal Validity, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Article. 

The regularly heated debate on personal status issues, especially for its connection, with a broader discussion about Shari’a or Islamic law, and its relation to positive laws and legal practice usually run in a vicious cycle between two conflicting tendencies, the first sees Shari’a as a major impediment to modernizing family laws, according to the stander of gender equality, while the other rejects the reform of these laws under any consideration except in the context of maintaining the legal and moral particularism, which is reflected in the principles of Shari’a, or at least its peremptory provisions. Certainly, the committee of “Individual Freedoms and Equality Report ”(IFER), sponsored by the Republic of Tunisia President, where is charged with examining the legal reforms related to the most controversial issue, the equality of inheritance between women and men opens a broad horizon for readdressing the issue of gender equality in Arab countries, particular Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, the conflicting two tendencies on the content and the border of legal reforms, ignore together the importance of social facts in determining the validity of laws, in favor of focusing on the one hand, stander of natural rights and the insistence on the relationship between ethics and Islamic law, from another hand. This trend in western academic circles represented by e.g. Wael Hallaq and Talal Asad. On the contrary, I attempt to reconsider the relationship between the Islamic Law and the legal positivism i.e. the thesis that law existence and content reflect in one way or another the social facts. And discuss the evolution of the contemporary Arab laws between attempts to revive Islamic law and receive Western/European laws. Finally, defend the basic hypothesis in this paper; that the validity of the laws, regardless of their moral sources, are linked to their suitability to the degree of development of social facts, noting that this relationship between laws and facts is not a compatible, but rather a matter of dialectic and emancipation.

January 5, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Religion, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)