Celebrity Estates are Like Dynamite: Kaboom!
Celebrity Estates are Like Dynamite: Kaboom! Celebrity explosives

Celebrity Estates are Like Dynamite: Kaboom!

Celebrity Estates are Like Dynamite: Kaboom!

Dividing his estate between 11 different people was quite a task for pop star George Michael’s lawyers. He left out his ex-boyfriend Fadi Fawaz and his friend Kenny Goss, raising a lot of eyebrows, says The Irish Sun in the article “Most explosive wills in Hollywood history which left families feuding for decades after George Michael document revealed.” However, he’s far from the only celebrity to cut out loved ones from their estates.

Mickey Rooney—When movie star Mickey Rooney died in April 2014, at the lofty age of 93, most people assumed that this wife and eight children would be his heirs. Rooney had a long career, starring in many movies with many bold face named stars. However, he had a surprise—he left behind just about $18,000 to his stepson Mark Aber and disinherited his wife and other children. Several of his biological children objected to the will, which was signed just a few weeks before his death. The case was later dropped, because it was too small an amount to litigate over.

Tony Curtis—He is another movie star who left absolutely nothing to his biological children, when he died in 2010. One of his children is Jamie Lee Curtis, a successful actress and author. Instead, the star of “Some Like It Hot” and many other movies left approximately $39 million to wife number six, Jill Vandenburg Curtis. Making matters worse, she turned around and auctioned off his personal belongings, adding another million to her pile. His daughter said they were “blindsided” by his decision, and her sister Kelly started a lawsuit, but later dropped it.

James Brown—This is an estate battle that is just about as legendary as the soul-singer himself. Thirteen years after he died, his last will and testament is still unsettled. Lawsuits, murder accusations and a battle for ownership of his music catalog is still going on. About a dozen lawsuits have been filed by his nine children and grandchildren, who are suing his widow and claiming that she was married to another man when she wed Brown. That estate is estimated to be worth $99 million.

Joan Crawford—Made infamous by her daughter Christina’s tell-all book, “Mommy Dearest,” Crawford left more than $2 million to two of her adopted children, when she died in 1977. She made it very clear in her will that her son Christopher and Christina were not to receive anything. However, the two contested the will and won about $50,000 each.

Marlon Brando—With 10 children to his name, he recognized all but one—adopted daughter Petra—and left out his teenage grandson, son of his late daughter Cheyenne Brando—in his will. With an estate estimated at $20 million, Brando passed away at age 80.

Michael Jackson—The “gloved one” cut his father out of his will, before he died from a drug overdose in 2009. His father tried to contest the will but failed. Michael did not include his famous siblings either. It is thought that several of his brothers and sisters are now engaged in an estate battle, which is worth more than $1 billion. Michael took good care of his mom and his three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket.

To speak with attorney Frank Bruno, Jr. about your individual situation, please schedule a telephone call or appointment.

Reference: The Irish Sun (June 5, 2019) “Most explosive wills in Hollywood history which left families feuding for decades after George Michael document revealed.”

Celebrity Estates are Like Dynamite: Kaboom!

Will A No-Contest Clause Really Mean No fight?
Two Cartoon lawyers pointing and yelling at each other across a desk

Will A No-Contest Clause Really Mean No fight?

Will A No-Contest Clause Really Mean No Contest?

“No one fights dirtier or more brutally than blood; only family knows it’s own weaknesses, the exact placement of the heart. The tragedy is that one can still live with the force of hatred, feel infuriated that once you are born to another, that kinship lasts through life and death, immutable, unchanging, no matter how great the misdeed or betrayal. Blood cannot be denied, and perhaps that’s why we fight tooth and claw, because we cannot—being only human—put asunder what God has joined together.”  Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt

“In a way fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe. By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”  Lev Grossman, The Magicians

It’s impossible to know what is in the heart and mind of the deceased, except to consult their last will and testament. However, when there is a suspicion that the last will and testament has been changed through undue influence, the care that went into the will might be undone cautions the Santa Cruz Sentinel in “No-contest clause throws kink into trust plan.”

The example given is of a woman whose mother was in the care of her niece, who was also the trustee of her mother’s trust. The mother modified the trust to give the niece her home, which is estimated to be worth about a twenty percent of the total estate value. The daughter notes that at the time these changes were made to the will, her mother was in hospice care and being given morphine. It does sound as if it could be influence because changes made to a will during a critical illness, especially in the presence of strong pain medication, are questionable.https://www.frankbrunolaw.com/estate-planning/

Since the trust included a no-contest clause, the daughter wonders if it’s worth challenging the will for one-fifth of the estate to charge the niece with undue influence?

An undue influence claim needs to have three points:

  • A confidential relationship — that between the grandmother and the grandchild;
  • Active procurement — the granddaughter got her grandmother to amend the trust;
  • Unjust enrichment — the granddaughter’s inheritance was increased to more than she would have otherwise received.

If all three elements are met, then the burden of proof shifts to the niece to show that she was not doing anything wrong.

There may also be a lack of capacity claim, based on the medication. It may be that the grandmother was too medicated to understand what she was doing.

The no-contest clause does present a problem. If the will is challenged, the daughter is disinherited — but only if she loses. If she wins, that no-contest amendment is invalid, and the trust returns to what it was before the changes were made.

At one point, no contest clauses were so powerful that there was consideration given to not allowing them to be used in wills. In California, as of Jan. 1, 2010, a person may file a contest and if the judge determines that they had probable cause, they are not automatically disinherited. New York state does not have this law.

In this case, if the facts would lead a reasonable person to conclude that there was undue influence, it’s likely that the daughter in this example would win. It would be up to the court to determine whether she should be disinherited. No-contest clauses are strictly construed by the courts, so unless the no-contest clause says that it applies to amendments, she may be okay.

There is one fact that she needs to ascertain, before moving forward. If the estate planning attorney met with the mother and prepared the amendment, then the attorney will be a neutral witness who will be able to testify to her mother’s mental capacity and her wishes.

It is not uncommon for people to change their wills to favor the person who spends their last weeks or days with them, as they prepare to die. One must wonder in this case, as to why the niece and not the daughter was with the grandmother at this time. Perhaps the two were very close, or perhaps the granddaughter was manipulating her grandmother. However, no one will ever truly know, except for the granddaughter and the deceased.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 3, 2019) “No-contest clause throws kink into trust plan”

 

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will
Without a Will there could be a Family Feud

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

“The problem with revenge is that it never gets what it wants; it never evens the score. Fairness never comes. The chain reaction set off by every act of vengeance always takes its unhindered course. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain…Why do family feuds go on and on?…the reason is simple: no two people, no two families, ever weigh pain on the same scale.” Lewis B. Smedes

“The family feuds or the village feuds often had to do with an idea of honor. Perhaps it was a peasant idea; perhaps this idea of honor is especially important to a society without recourse to law or without confidence in law.” V. S. Naipaul

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Rosie’s sideboard or Uncle Joe’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? How about if your ex-wife remains the beneficiary of your IRA?  If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will or trust lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”