Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Blended Families and Trust

Bigstock-Large-Mixed-Race-Family-2589417_(2)[1]Trust can be a key aspect of whether blended families will fight over an estate, after a loved one passes away.

Blended families are often the ultimate source of problems in estate litigation. When there are children from multiple marriages and stepparents who all have a potential stake in an estate, fights over the estate are more likely to occur.  An estate planning attorney can help you find solutions for planning for blended families

Those in blended families just have fewer bonds than more traditional families.

The Financial Times recently discussed this in an advice column titled "Should I trust my wife to divide my assets fairly?" A man who was on his second marriage wanted to make sure both of his children received an equal share of his estate. The children were each from a different marriage, so the man was concerned that his second wife might not leave the same amount of money to the child from his first marriage, if he left everything to her first.

The question almost begs the answer: well, if you must ask, then you have your answer.

That is not to say that stepparents can never be trusted to divide everything equally.  However, the real trust factor to be concerned about, is not the trust between the husband and wife. The real concern should be the trust between the stepparent and the stepchild. The better they get along and trust each other, the more likely they will work together without fighting over an estate.

It is normally best not to leave things up to trust. Estate planning attorneys can give you many different options for making sure everyone in your family is appropriately taken care of, regardless whether they trust each other.

Reference: Financial Times (Feb. 6, 2018) "Should I trust my wife to divide my assets fairly?"

 

Vivian Maier Estate’s Copyright Claim

MP900398747[1]The estate of an unknown woman has won the ability to pursue a claim to her copyrights.

Vivian Maier was never a well-known person during her lifetime. She sometimes worked as a housekeeper and as a nanny.

She did not even always use the same name when seeking employment.

By the end of her life, she was extremely poor. She stopped making payments in 2007 on a small storage locker she had in Chicago. The contents of the locker were auctioned off.

Maier passed away in 2009 still entirely unknown. She had no known heirs or estate plan, as PDN Pulse reported in "Federal Court Sustains Vivian Maier Copyright Claim."

Included in the Chicago storage locker were a number of photographs and negatives that Maier had taken over the years. She apparently loved to take pictures of what she saw on the street.

However, Maier was not an ordinary amateur photographer.

She was brilliant and interest in her work grew immediately, when some of it was posted online.

Collectors began buying up her works, including a man named Jeffrey Goldstein. He began selling prints of the work and licensing the images for use.

Maier's estate sued Goldstein for copyright violations. Goldstein asked that the court dismiss the suit,  since he claimed to have purchased the works before Maier passed away.

His request has been denied.

Vivian Maier herself will not get to enjoy the benefits of her now famous works.  However, her estate will be able to do so.

Reference: PDN Pulse (Nov. 21, 2017) "Federal Court Sustains Vivian Maier Copyright Claim."

 

Exhuming Dali’s Body

Website-photo-state-incentive-page[1]A Spanish court has issued an order to exhume the body of legendary artist Salvador Dali, almost a quarter of a century after he passed away.

Salvador Dali was well known both for his eccentric art and his eccentric lifestyle. He was not known to have any children, but one Spanish woman claims that she is likely Dali's child.

The only problem is that she cannot prove her claims, since Dali passed away in 1989 at the age of 85.

The woman makes her living as a professional tarot card reader, so perhaps she could prove her paternity by reading the cards. However, she refuses to do such a self-reading. Instead, she has asked the Spanish courts to intervene.

A judge found enough basis for her claims, that Dali's body has been ordered to be exhumed from its current resting place underneath a theater in Dali's hometown so DNA testing can be performed, as the Washington Post reports in "Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali's body exhumed for paternity test."

It is not clear what the woman hopes to gain from the testing. Dali's estate has long been closed and all of his valuable artwork donated to the Spanish government.

Even though the artwork is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, it is unlikely the woman could lay claim to any of that money. For her part, she seems uncertain of what she wants, if Dali does turn out to be her father.

She has only stated that she wants "what corresponds to her."

It is not unheard of to reopen an estate or exhume a body to prove that the deceased had a previously unknown child. In this case, however, it probably is not going to do any good for the woman, beyond learning whether Dali really was her father.

Reference: Washington Post (June 26, 2017) "Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali's body exhumed for paternity test."

 

Fight Over Barry White’s Estate

  600x600barryWhen someone says that you should trust them to handle an estate and be fair to you, it is not usually a good idea to agree to that idea, without first seeing the estate plan so you know what you are supposed to receive.

Barry White passed away in 2003. To date, his estate has stayed out of the news.

For a celebrity estate it has been a smooth estate administration by all appearances. However, Darryl White, Barry's son, has now filed a lawsuit opening up the estate to public scrutiny.

Darryl claims that when his father passed away, his widow told Darryl that she would make sure he got his fair share of the estate, as long as he agreed not to challenge the estate. For his part, Darryl claims he never even saw his father's will to know what he was supposed to receive.

He received regular payments until 2015, when they suddenly stopped. He believes the money is now being wasted by his stepmother.

Darryl has filed suit and is demanding to see the will to know what it is he should be receiving.

TMZ reported on this story in "Barry White's Son Sues My Dad's Widow Can't Get Enough of His Dough."

In one sense, this is not an unusual story.

It is very common for children to have fights with a step-parent over an estate. On the other hand, this is an extremely unusual story.

It is not at all common for a child to trust the step-parent enough to agree to her terms, without at least seeing the estate plan and knowing what the child is supposed to inherit.

If nothing else, this case illustrates why it is an obviously bad idea for the child to agree to that.

Reference: TMZ (May 24, 2017) "Barry White's Son Sues My Dad's Widow Can't Get Enough of His Dough."

 

Alan Thicke Estate Battle

MW-FB938_Thicke_ZG_20161214063245Alan Thicke's sons are fighting with their stepmother over their father's estate.

Two of deceased actor Alan Thicke's sons have entered the probate case to settle their father's estate with a unique claim. The have filed a claim suggesting that Thicke's third wife, Tanya Callau, is attempting to get more of the estate than she is entitled to receive and that she has threatened to go to the tabloids, if she does not get her way.

Thicke and Callau had a prenuptial agreement and she is already set to get a sizeable portion of his estate. Her take includes 25% of his personal assets, 40% of the remainder of the estate, a $500,000 life insurance payment and she can stay in the residence for the remainder of her life.

The sons have not stated what else Callau wants and it is not known what she would tell the tabloids, if she went to them.

TMZ reported this story in "Alan Thicke Sons Go To War With His Wife To Protect the Estate."

Other than the celebrity nature of this estate and the alleged threat to get the tabloids involved, this is, of course, not a particularly unusual estate battle.

Adult children are often at odds with a surviving step-parent and that battle often makes its way into probate court to fight over the estate. This is especially true when there are large sums of money involved.

Wealthy people who have remarried and who have children from previous relationships, need to understand how common these types of fight are. They then need to make estate plans with that in mind, if they hope to minimize the problems.

Reference: TMZ (May 16, 2017) "Alan Thicke Sons Go To War With His Wife To Protect the Estate." Estate Administration, Estate Litigation

Daughter Sues Mother for Wasting Her Inheritance

MP900442456[1]A case in New York is a good reminder that it is very important to make sure that trusts details are specific, in order to make the settlor's wishes crystal clear.

The story had a Hollywood beginning. A schoolteacher and a wealthy real estate investor met through a singles ad, fell in love, got married and had a child.

From that beginning, things quickly turned south.

According to court records filed by the child of that marriage, Elizabeth Marcus, her mother refused to sleep with her father after she was born. The two divorced after a few years and the father passed away, when Marcus was nine years old.

The father did not want his ex-wife to receive any of his assets and instead left half his estate in trust to Marcus. Another child from a previous marriage received the other half.

The trust was originally overseen by Citibank, but after fighting for several years, the mother took control of the trust in 2003, according to the Daily Mail in "Daughter sues her 'self-involved' mother for 'frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons'."

Marcus is suing her mother now, claiming that her mother has stolen her inheritance to buy expensive items for herself, including a mansion and fancy cars. Most of the original inheritance is now alleged to be gone.

The mother, of course, denies the accusations.

The missing piece of the puzzle from the reports is how the mother was able to gain control of the trust, if the father did not wish her to have it. He might have neglected to be clearer about his wishes in the trust documents.  Profit Law Firm can help make your issues crystal clear in our documents.

Reference: Daily Mail (April 23, 2017) "Daughter sues her 'self-involved' mother for 'frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons'."

 

 

Wills Can Be Changed

Bigstock-Attractive-Mixed-Race-Couple-P-9992345[1]Spouses will often agree to get wills. They or their heirs believe that a contract has been entered into that prevents those wills from being changed. It is not true.

It is fairly common in estate planning attorneys' offices, for a husband and wife to come in and declare that they both want similar wills drawn up. These wills are often referred to as "mirror image wills."

The most common form they take, is that each spouse gets a will leaving everything he or she owns to the surviving spouse. The second to pass away spouse, then gives everything to the children or other agreed upon heirs.

Despite their seeming simplicity, these wills are an unusually common source of litigation, as the National Law Review discusses in "Contracts to Make Wills or Trusts."

The problem starts when the surviving spouse has a change of plans and changes his or her will to divide things differently or to give the estate to different heirs.

The heirs of the original mirror image wills routinely argue in court, that the spouses entered into a contract to make the original wills. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case in almost all circumstances.

To be valid, a contract requires that a person receive some sort of compensation, called consideration, for whatever promise it is that they are contracted to perform.

In the case of mirror image wills, spouses rarely receive any form of consideration for promising not to change the will later.

It is important to understand this point, because the issue frequently comes up in estate litigation. It costs estates a lot of money, when the issue is raised.

Reference: National Law Review (April 10, 2017) "Contracts to Make Wills or Trusts."

 

An Estate Battle over Support for Donald Trump

Bigstock-Elder-Couple-With-Bills-3557267[1]In an extremely unusual case, the children of Phyllis Schlafly are involved in a bitter dispute over her estate that appears to have started, when Schlafly decided to support Donald Trump for President.

Throughout the late 20th century, Phyllis Schlafly was a well-known and powerful force in Republican politics. She is often credited with personally defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, when it appeared to be on the verge of passing.

Although she had faded away from the public eye in recent years, Schlafly remained an important figure in Republican circles until she passed away in 2016. When she endorsed Donald Trump for President during the 2016 primaries, it might not have mattered to the general public, but it did matter in the Republican operative world.

It also appears to have mattered to her children and her estate, as the Daily Mail reports in "Children of late conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly at war over their inheritance and have been fighting since she threw her support behind Donald Trump."

Schlafly's endorsement of Trump created a rift between her sons, who supported the decision, and her daughter, who opposed it. The daughter claims that the decision was influenced by Republican political operative Ed Martin.

Since Schlafly passed away, Martin has been creating political action committees in her name to support Trump and the daughter has attempted to stop him. She also claims that Martin and her brothers unduly influenced their mother to change her will in their favor and to make it more difficult for the daughter to challenge the will.

This is disputed by the sons.

Reference: Daily Mail (March 23, 2017) "Children of late conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly at war over their inheritance and have been fighting since she threw her support behind Donald Trump."

 

Tennessee’s Cowan Rule

MP900202201[1]In most states, to completely disinherit a child in a will, parents have to mention the child and specifically disinherit him or her. Otherwise, it is presumed that the child was left out by mistake. Tennessee has an exception to the rule.  Likewise, in Maryland, a parent must explicitly state an intent to disinherit a child to do so and should proceed with the advice of a Maryland estate planning attorney.

  1. Don Brock, the late CEO of Astec Industries, wrote many wills over the years. He executed new wills in 1994, 1998, 2006, 2012 and 2013. His first three wills all did different things with regard to his five adopted children.

They were given various amounts of money or cut out from receiving anything in the different wills. The last two wills did not mention the adopted children at all. They claim that was done by their stepmother, in order to preserve the assets of Astec Industries for herself.

The children filed a lawsuit against the estate, but lost in the lower courts. The Supreme Court of Tennessee has now agreed to hear their case, according to the Times Free Press in "Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear J. Don Brock estate challenge."

The main issue in this case is a 110-year-old decision by the Supreme Court of Tennessee that created what is known as the Cowan Rule. It limits the ability of potential heirs to challenge a will, if they were not mentioned in the previous will.

The adopted children lost in the lower courts because they were not mentioned in the 2012 will. The rule makes some sense.

Why?

Merely having the 2013 will ruled invalid would not create an inheritance for the children,  since it would just validate the 2012 will, unless it is also successfully challenged.

However, this is not how other states handle disinherited children.

In other states, it is presumed that if a child is not mentioned in a will at all, it was a mistake and the child can challenge the estate, regardless of what an older will might state. In Maryland and DC, the will should explicitly disinherit.  Contact a Maryland estate planning attorney or DC estate planning attorney in order to successfully disinherit a child.

Reference: Times Free Press (March 21, 2017) "Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear J. Don Brock estate challenge."

 

Audrey Hepburn’s Sons Use Mediation to Settle Estate Plan Dispute

Audrey-hepburn-actress-breakfast-at-tiffany-s-prominent-76961Audrey Hepburn's estate planning mistake has led to a long legal fight between her sons. It appears that they have finally reached an agreement. Like many, she gave vague instructions to her sons about dividing her legacy and did not include any instructions  for her sons on resolving disputes.

Audrey Hepburn starred in some of the most beloved movies of all time. She came to symbolize beauty and grace in mid-century Hollywood.

When she passed away in 1993, she left behind a gigantic amount of memorabilia from her acting career, including some of the costumes and jewelry that she wore in her iconic roles. These items have obvious value to collectors, but so far no one has gotten their hands on them.

Why?

The items have been the source of a long dispute between her two sons.

Hepburn specified in her estate plan that everything she owned should be split between those sons equally, but she left no instructions regarding just how that was to be accomplished.

Which son should get which item?  This dispute could have been resolved without costly litigation if she included in her will instructions for mediation to resolve such disputes.  Michelle Profit, an estate planning attorney, has written an article on how mediation can be used to peacefully resolve disputes.

Hepburn's will was silent, however, so memorabilia has been contested in court for the last two years, but the sons may have finally reached an agreement, according to the Daily Mail in "Audrey Hepburn's sons agree to split their late mother's treasure trove of belongings, including costumes, jewelry, scripts and awards, after two-year legal dispute."

The sons have agreed to submit the question to mediation and use that process to determine the distribution of particular pieces of memorabilia. However, this will not be the end of all battles concerning Hepburn's estate, since a charitable fund she founded is now suing one of the sons for interference with its affairs.  

Hepburn's mistake was not including some way for her son's to resolve any disputes about who gets what in her estate plan. She could have made provisions for a mediator to resolve the disputes. That would have saved a lot of headaches and legal bills for her family. Profit Law Firm, LLC can include dispute resolution in your estate planning documents to avoid these disputes, and reduce the cost of such disputes, when they occur.

Reference: Daily Mail (March 9, 2017) "Audrey Hepburn's sons agree to split their late mother's treasure trove of belongings, including costumes, jewelry, scripts and awards, after two-year legal dispute."