Philip Seymour Hoffman Did Not Leave His Estate To His Childrfen

Your lawblogger truly believes that  Philip Seymour Hoffman was the best actor of his time. Too bad this does not extend to his ability at estate planning. As reported by the New York Post and by extra tv.com here , Hoffman did not want to make his three kids into "trust babies" so he left all of his estate to his long time girlfriend and the mother of his children, Mimi O'Donnell.Hoffman felt that she would always take good care of his children so he took no steps to carve out a specific bequest for them. These sentiments have also been echoed lately by Sting who has said that he is not leaving anything to his children in order to insure that they will have to make their own way in the world without relying on his substantial wealth.

How will all of this work out? Considering that Hoffman died with a needle in his arm. we can only hope for the best for his children.

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Murdered Businessman Leaves Widow, Seven Children And No Will

Today's Daily News reports that Menachem Stark, a Brooklyn businessman and landlord who was murdered in January died intestate. While it appears that his partners may contribute to cover his substantial debts in a bankruptcy proceeding, his failure to have a Will can only add to the financial distress of his widow and seven children. Even if the estate is able to weather the bankruptcy, intestacy will limit his widow to an ultimate recovery of half his estate with each of his children recovering one seventh of the other half at age eighteen, subject to the fees that will be generated by court-appointed lawyers who will be needed to serve as guardians ad litem of the children. The addage that "man plans and G*D laughs" takes on a new and bitter meaning in this case which can only serve as a warning to put one's financial house in order.

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Public Administrator Sues Beth Israel Hospital For 100 Million Dollars On Behalf of Hugette Clark Estate

For some time we have been following the bizarre story of Hugette Clark, the reclusive mining heiress who died in 2011 at the age of 104. She had lived for years in Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, running up hospital bills in the millions even though there was evidently nothing remarkably amiss with her health. During this time, hospital officials ingratiated themselves with her and received gifts in excess of 40 million dollars.

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Children Of Former South Carolina Football Coach Sue His Estate For Ten Million Dollars

In what would seem to be a textbook case of undue influence, the children of the late Jim Carlen, former coach of the University of South Carolina football team who died at 79 have sued their father's estate after a 2010 will left everything to his second wife Meredith. The Charlotte Observer emphasizes that "everything" meant just that. Not a nickel to the coach's children or grandchildren. Not even a photograph or any of his sports memorabilia. They further charge that the latest will was written after their father suffered from "severe Alzheimer's and dementia" and was contrary to a long established scheme of gifts and prior wills favoring all of his children and grandchildren. Although the estate is purportedly worth ten million dollars, his widow has tried to characterize the estate as being worth considerably less.

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Woman Who Drowned Her Three Children Seeks Part Of The Wrongful Death Damages

Newsday reports today that Leatrice Brewer, a Westbury NY woman found not guilty by reason of insanity of drowning her three children in a bathtub is now seeking part of the $350,000 recovered from Nassau County for the children's wrongful deaths. The fathers of the children had sued based upon their claims that the Department of Social Services was negligent in not doing more to save the children. Even though New York has a "slayer statute" which prevents a murderer from profiting from the fruits of his or her crime, Peter Kelly, Brewer's court-appointed attorney has pointed out that unless and until she is disqualified by the Surrogate's Court, she will be entitled to an intestate share of her children's wrongful death recovery. A hearing  to determine whether or not she can recover will be held on August 15.

It is significant , however, that the State of New York has a 1.2 million dollar lien against Brewer's possible recovery to defray the costs of her psychiatric treatment. If her recovery is not derailed by the Surrogate, the end result of this is that a substantial amount of the damages paid by one arm of government as compensation to bereaved family members will simply be scooped up by another arm of government to pay the killer's medical costs.

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Accusations Against Public Administrator As Sparks Continue To Fly In Hirschfeld Estate

Earlier, we reported that the daughter of multimillionaire Abe Hirschfeld  had accused her brother Ellie of grossly mistreating their father so that he could loot his estate. As reported in today's Daily News, Rachel Hirschfeld has now leveled serious accusations against the New York County Public Administrator that he had ignored her brother's allegedly improper actions which she claims has resulted in the loss of more than 300 million dollars to the estate. The matter is now before New York County Surrogate Nora Anderson and your lawblogger regards it as a virtual certainty that more weird details will follow.

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Bulk Of Actor James Gandolfini's Estate Left To His Son

 Actor James Gandolfini has left an estate of at least seventy million dollars according to the Daily News and other news outlets.  While it is likely that Tony Soprano's estate would have consisted of vast quantities of cash buried in various places about the state of New Jersey, his real life portrayer was a good deal more conscientious in creating what appears to be a complicated and effective estate plan.

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Supreme Court Srikes Down DOMA But Issues Still Remain

This morning, the U;S. Supreme Court issued a major decision in U.S. v Windsor as Executor of the Estate of Spyer  which can be read here.  In doing so, it has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) , thereby granting  same sex  marriages the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples under federal law.  The case was brought on by a  widow,  Edie Windsor who had been required to pay some $383,000 in estate taxes after the death of her wife Thea Spyer., The couple had been legally married in Ontario in 2007 and returned to New York which recognizes same sex marriage. Had they been a heterosexual couple, there would have been no estate tax to pay.

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Estate Contests 1.9 Billion Dollar Tax Bill

Nobody likes to get a big tax bill from the IRS but imagine getting a bill for almost 2 billion dollars! The Detroit Free Press reports that the estate of the late billionaire William Davidson is going to tax court to contest a 1.9 billion dollar assessment (that's Billion with a "B"!)

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Real Estate Mogul Abe Hirschfeld's Children Battle Over His Estate

Sibling rivalry takes on a new and unhealthy twist with the New York Post's recent revelation that the adult children of the late real estate magnate Abe Hirschfeld have been engaged in an unseemly battle in the New York County Surrogate's Court.

Hirschfeld , long a colorful character one New York's real estate and political scene died in 2005. Court papers now show that his daughter Rachel has accused his son Elie of forcing Mt. Sinai Hospital to take extraordinary measures to prolong his life in order to save a 300 million dollar real estate deal, even though this was allegedly against medical advice and meant exposing his father to having to suffer through his last days in great pain.

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Real Estate Mogul Abe Hirschfeld's Children Battle Over His Estate

Sibling rivalry takes on a new and unhealthy twist with the New York Post's recent revelation that the adult children of the late real estate magnate Abe Hirschfeld have been engaged in an unseemly battle in the New York County Surrogate's Court.

Hirschfeld , long a colorful character on New York's real estate and political scene died in 2005. Court papers now show that his daughter Rachel has accused his son Elie of forcing Mt. Sinai Hospital to take extraordinary measures to prolong his life in order to save a 300 million dollar real estate deal, even though this was allegedly against medical advice and meant exposing his father to having to suffer through his last days in great pain.

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Brooke Astor's Son Goes To Prison Together With His Lawyer

The New York Post has reported today that Justice A. Kirke Bartley has ordered Anthony Marshall to begin serving a prison sentence for looting the estate of his mother, socialite Brooke Astor who died at the age of 105 in 2007. Marshall, who at 89 is likely to be one of the oldest inmates of the New York State Penal system( the oldest is a 94 year old convicted murderer), first received notoriety several years ago when it was revealed that he had kept his elderly mother a virtual prisoner in squalid conditions in her vast estate in Westchester County New York. He was found, together with his attorney Francis X Morrissey to have forged a will in order to plunder his mother's 185 million dollar estate.

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Hugette Clark's Estate Continues In Total Disarray

Last year, I reported on the death of Hugette Clark, an eccentric copper mining heiress with an estate of hundreds of millions of dollars who died in May 2011 at 104 and no readily identifiable next of kin. I received inquiries from at least two ambitious folks who wanted to join the "I am Hugette Clark's next of kin" derby but had no way of proving their claims. Somehow, I think that I am not the only lawyer in this club. Today, theNew York Post has published an update of the Clark estate's progress (or lack of same) through the New York County Surrogate's Court.

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Don't Forget The Attic!

"Don't forget the attic" is an interesting reminder that comes from a fellow lawblogger at the Donnelly Ritigstein Law Firm.  While I must count myself among the millions of you whose mothers unceremoniously disposed of our baseball card and comic book collections [growing up in New York in the fifties, my extensive collection would have been worth zillions today had it only remained in tact], occasionally a basement or attic yields some incredible treasure as witness the story of the Midwestern family who discovered a stash of valuable baseball cards left seventy years ago in an attic when their grandfather died.

It can be very daunting to confront an attic or garage in the home of a relative who spent generations hoarding possessions in boxes and bags. Before you call 800 Take My Stuff or some other such bulk clean out operation, it might not be a bad idea to spend some time sifting though the junk. Even if you do not find the rare and valuable treasure lurking in the corner, there is a great possibility you will stumble across some family heirlooms which will bring back some warm memories and which can  be shared with other relatives. My own surprise came when I looked inside of a beat-up plastic container I was about to toss while cleaning my parents' home. In it were at least two hundred letters my dad wrote from the Pacific during World War II. Reading them made a tough time quite a bit easier and gave me a new perspective on my dad after Alzheimer's had taken him.

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Charges Of Thievery In The Surrogate's Court Gain Traction

Earlier this month I reported on the charges pending against Bronx County Surrogate Lee Holzman for failing to properly supervise a crony who had improperly billed an estate by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today's New York Post has now done some in-depth reporting on this story in an article which also brings to light other alleged scams in other counties.

While the overwhelming majority of attorneys would have nothing to do with the shenanigans reported on here, the sad fact is that these cases do occur from time to time and , when  rogue lawyers have the protection of a  judge or clerk they are extremely hard to root out and prosecute.

The key to protecting oneself and one's clients from this sort of thievery is to make sure that there is a sensible estate plan in place and that the client is protected by a properly drawn and executed will and, if necessary, a trust. It is also necessary to update these documents so that new executors, guardians and trustees can be appointed after those originally designated die, become incompetent or move away. All of this will keep an estate from being administered by lawyers appointed by the court who may or may not do the job the client would have liked to have seen done.

 

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Commission To Seek Removal Of Bronx Surrogate

Today'sNew York Law Journal has reported  that a referee has upheld charges against Bronx  County Surrogate Lee Holzman that the judge should have fired Michael Lippman Esq, counsel to the Bronx County Public Administrator when he discovered that Lippman had collected excessive fees from estates. Rather than do this, the judge evidently devised a "repayment plan" so that Lippman, who is his friend and who chaired his re-election committee , could pay back the funds without being subjected to disciplinary proceedings. Although other serious charges against the Surrogate were dismissed by the referee, the Commission on Judicial Fitness will recommend his removal from the bench when it meets on September 20th. Having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, however, Surrogate Holzman must leave the bench at the end of this year in any event.

While most Public Administrators function  well in matters involving small estates where they cannot be paid for their time,  there have been occasions where estates have been charged excessive fees which might not have been the case had private counsel been involved. Significantly, serious charges involving the Public Administrators of two New York City Boroughs  ---Kings County and the Bronx-- have occurred in the recent past.  To some extent these situations may be avoided by having  vigilant private counsel anticipate the possibility that a  client --or a relative of a client-- might be intestate or without competent relatives or friends to serve an estate in a fiduciary capacity.  The extra cost and delay of having an involvement with the Public Administrator can often be avoided with some propper estate planning.

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New York's Expanded Medicaid Regulations Repealed

It isn't every day that the State of New York gives residents a break but that is what happened on March 27th with the repeal by the state legislature of the new medicaid regulations which expanded the definition of an "estate" for the purposes of medicaid recovery. We now return to the prior definitions in effect prior to last September which limit assets subject to recovery to those within the  estate of a decedent which would pass either by will or by intestacy. Additionally, the proposed elimination of spousal refusal was eliminated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brooke Astor's Estate Is Settled

As reported in today'sWall Street Journal , the hundred million dollar estate of socialite Brooke Astor, who died in 2007, has finally been settled after what can only be seen as a "long strange trip". Ms. Astor's case first hit national headlines when her son Anthony Marshall was accused of the most egregious acts of elder abuse after it was found that he literally kept his mother in abject squalor on her Westchester  County estate. Later events ultimately led to the conviction of both Marshall and his lawyer Frank X Morrissey on multiple felony charges for their scheme to loot her estate. Most of the estate has been left to various charities including the New York Public Library, New York University, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art among others.

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Probate Judge Orders Rosa Parks Estate Not To Dispose Of Property Without His Permission

The Detroit Free Press reports on the the latest twist in the continued litigation involving the Rosa Parks estate. Since her death in 2005, Ms Parks' nieces and nephews have been at odds with the estate's personal representatives about the disposition of her property, papers, photos and other mementos with an estimated value as high as ten million dollars although the estate is valued by some to be at no more than four million dollars.

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351 Year Old Estate Continues to Stir Up Controversy

For those clients who have been known to complain that their legal matters have dragged on interminably, your faithful lawblogger brings you a story about an estate that has yet to be settled after a mere 351 years! As the law blog of the New Jersey firmDonnelly Ritigstein reports, there is major litigation going on in the estate of John  Payne who died long before our nation was born.

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Death Has Turned Out To Be Less Profitable For James Brown Than It Has Been For Michael Jackson

It is generally well known that when Michael Jackson died, he was on the brink of bankruptcy. Since his death, however, his estate has grown by tens of millions of dollars. For the heirs of James Brown, death has not been nearly as profitable an experience.

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Steve Jobs' Estate Plan Was As Inventive As He Was

Steve Jobs was not able to avoid death but he had considerably better luck with taxes. As John Palley reports in his firm'sProbate Information Blog, without estate planning, Jobs' estate would have had probate and tax expenses upwards of 3.5 billion (that's BILLION  with a "B") dollars but that the judicious use of trusts could have avoided most, if not all, of that amount. Although it is impossible to know exactly what was done to minimize the tax burden on the estate,Palley reports that public property records reveal that various parcels of real property were purchased in the JOBS TRUST and the JOBS, STEVEN P. TRUST.

While the details of Steve Jobs' financial records are well-shielded from prying eyes ,this would  not be the case if there had been a Will to be admitted to probate where court filings and proceedings are public record. What we have learned is that Jobs and his attorneys were able to avoid substantial estate taxes by using means which you, too might employ simply by planning ahead and contacting a competent estate planning professional. He who waits until the last minute --and we almost never know when that is going to be -- will invariably leave headaches of incalculable proportions in , and after, his wake.

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Michael Jackson's Estate Pays 30 Million Dollars To His Children's Trust

It isn't often that one makes more money in death than in life but apparently that is what has happened with Michael Jackson. The rock icon died broke but, as of last December 31, his latest estate accounting revealed assets of more than three hundred million dollars according toAll Night Spots. As a result of this, his executors are now asking for permission to fund the trust created for the benefit of his mother Kathryn and his three children to the tune of thiry million dollars.

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New York's Historic Legalization Of Same Sex Marriage Has Broad Legal Implications

On June 24, the New York State Senate gave its approval to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in a dramatic late night session. Having already passed the Assembly, the bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo at midnight. New York is now the sixth --and largest-- jurisdiction to enact a same-sex marriage act. The legal implications of this new legislation will soon be felt across the state.

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We Should All Have This Problem!

TheNew York Times has reported that many wealthy Americans seem reluctant to take advantage of the new tax breaks which Congress recently afforded them should they elect to set up trusts which will provide them with substantial breaks on estate taxes. These new tax breaks will expire in just two years so it is a "use it or lose it" proposition promising substantial savings for those super-advantaged folks in a position to benefit from the new law. Since the trusts take up to a year to implement, the window of opportunity is only open for a very short period.

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She's Baaaack! Anna Nicole Smith's Case Finally Reaches The Supreme Court

It is four years since the death of Anna Nicole Smith from an accidental prescription drug overdose. The smoke has cleared from the great "Who's Your Daddy ?" controversy which exploded across the nation's headlines soon after. And now, the ABA Journal reports that her heirs are about to carry on her fight for the fortune of her late husband to the Supreme Court.

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The Gene Upshaw Story Continues --How Not To Do It

Yesterday we reported on theWashington Post's story about the estate of the  late football great Gene Upshaw being settled on the eve of trial. Today's Post publishes shocking revelations about the final hours of the life of Mr. Upshaw and the controversy surviving what was offered as his "will".

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Confidential Settlement In Gene Upshaw Estate

Today's Washington Post has reported that an estate contest between members of NFL football great Gene Upshaw's family has ended in a confidential settlement. Evidently, that portion of his estate which drew the most fire was the disposition of a $15 million deferred compensation fund which the NFL Players Association paid to his widow. This payment had been previously undisclosed and raised a myriad of issues not only in the Upshaw family but also in the NFL where players were aghast that the late head of their union had received such a large benefit.

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We've Been Nominated!!

Your faithful lawblogger has just been informed that New York Probate & Estate Litigation.com has been nominated as a candidate to be one of the LexisNexis top 25 Estate, Probate and Elder Law Blogs of 2011 featured on the LexisNexis Estate Practice and Elder Law Community. We'd absolutely LOVE the support of our readers so please vote for  us. You can do so by following the link above to the comment post following the link to the LexisNexis Estate Practice and and Elder Law Community. 

Each comment placed in the post will count as a vote. Voting will be until March 31st with the results announced in mid- April.

It's not likely that this will have the impact of a totally viral video on U-Tube but peer recognition provides a nice warm feeling in the middle of a nasty cold winter.

Lawblogger Phil Bernstein

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Budget Cuts Will Have Impact On The Surrogate's Court

The first indication I got that something was afoot was an invitation to a retirement party to be held  for thirteen clerks and law assistants in the Nassau County Surrogate's Court. It seems that they had all been offered "packages" to retire from civil service. Some of these extremely talented folks have been in the court system for more than thirty years and their departures will leave a void that will take a long time to fill. This is especially true since no replacements have been named yet and no transition plan is in place to provide some continuity in service to the bar and the public.

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While New York Will Miss George Steinbrenner, Uncle Sam Will Miss His Money

The death of New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner has created a void on our local sports scene which will be hard to fill. Even though your faithful lawblogger has been a fan of New York's other team since its founding in 1962 (and before that, I confess to being a New York baseball Giant fanatic), the "Boss" has been a colorful and charitably generous man who has provided us with years of excitement. Investing about seven million dollars of his own funds into a failing Yankee franchise when he purchased it in the early seventies, Steinbrenner built his fortune up to over  1.1 billion dollars at his death.

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Billionaire's Estate To Pay An Estate Tax Of Zero

The failure of this Congress to enact an extension and/or modification of the estate tax is underscored by the recent death of billionaire Dan Duncan, Houston's wealthiest citizen. Today's New York Times reports that Mr. Duncan , who passed away late this past March at the age of 77, had a net worth of about nine billion dollars. As most of you undoubtedly know, the estate tax which the cash-starved United States Treasury will collect from Mr. Duncan's estate is zero, nada, zilch!

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Celebrity Estate Fights Generate Public Interest --And Teachable Moments

A recent article in theTacoma News Tribune about celebrity estates makes for some interesting reading. Not only does the public gravitate towards the news of a celebrity's death and the aftermath but also, this often provides some "teachable moments". In soaking up every piece of news available about Anna Nicole Smith, James Brown or Michael Jackson, we learn the consequences of sloppy (or no) estate planning and how to avoid them in our own less public lives.

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What's Going On Here? Looks Like A Back-Door Tax Increase!

This is not my first article about the current failure of our Congress to act on the replacement of the estate tax which expired at the end of last year and I am certainly not the only one following this oddity. All of a sudden it has dawned on me that maybe the lack of Congressional action is not so much a failure of Congress to get its act together as it may be a focused plan to back into what would become a massive tax increase b y doing nothing.

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Criminal Trial Of Manhattan Surrogate Begins

In December 2008, Surrogate - elect Nora Anderson was indicted for allegedly failing to properly report at least a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions. While Ms. Anderson contended that this money came from her own personal funds, prosecutors have alleged that the true source of the contributions was Seth Rubinstein, her eighty two year old law partner and mentor. According to theNew York Times, this case raises some unusual questions about what happens when funds claimed as gifts are utilized in a campaign.

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Brooke Astor's Son Sentenced To Prison

In a special bulletin, the New York Times has just reported that Anthony D Marshall, son of the late socialite Brooke Astor has been sentenced to prison by a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Marshall was sentenced to one to three years in state prison by Justice A. Kirke Bartley Jr. after being convicted of stealing millions from his mother while she was alive. The case drew national attention first when it came to light that Marshall had kept his mother as a virtual prisoner, left to wallow in her own waste. The case focused attention on the growing problem of elder abuse, demonstrating that even super rich seniors such as Brooke Astor were subject to being severely mistreated by their own families. Marshall, who is 85 years old, has vowed to appeal the verdict so, given his advanced age and the legal firepower available to him, it is anyone's guess when he will actually report to start serving his sentence .

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New Bills To Restore The Estate Tax In The Congressional Hopper

As reported today by fellow lawblogger Karen Meckstroth in her Bay Area Wills, Trusts And Probate Report Blog  two Representatives have filed different bills to amend the Internal Revenue Code and to restore the estate tax which would otherwise terminate for one year in 2010. The bills proposed by Rep. Berkley (D.NY) and Rep. Schrader (D-OR) may each be viewed by clicking on the link provided by Ms. Meckstroth in her article. Both provide for an increase in the basic estate tax exemption to 5 million dollars. and for a reduction in the maximum estate tax and gift rate.

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Martin Luther King Estate Is Finally Settled

More than forty years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., his children have resolved a bitter dispute over his multi million dollar estate. As reported by Bruce Carton in an article posted on Legal Blog Watch today, the lawsuits and countersuits stemming from charges of misuse of estate funds and seeking control over various assets have been settled, the family seeking to move on and preserve the legacy of their late father. An interesting sidelight of the story is that the estate retains a legal interest in the copyright of Dr. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech that thrilled those present at the March on Washington in August 1963 . In 1999, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that  the "public  performance" of the speech, did not constitute "general publication' so as to cause the copyright to be forfeited.

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Jury Convicts Brooke Astor's Son and Her Former Lawyer For Plundering Her Estate

 

The New York Times has just reported that a Westchester County Jury has convicted Anthony D. Marshall, 85 year old son of the late socialite Brooke Astor of fourteen counts of stealing from his mother's estate. Also convicted of forgery was Francis X Morrissey, former attorney of Ms. Astor.  The jury returned its verdicts after twelve days of deliberations and after things had reached the point where it appeared that it may have reached an impasse which would have resulted in a mistrial.

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After Three Months, The Brooke Astor Trial Is Becoming --Dare We Say?-- Boring

In a surprise move, the prosecution in the Brooke Astor trial rested its case, according to the New York Times. The trial has now been front page news in New York for three months.  The trial of  Ms. Astor's son Anthony Marshall and his attorney Francis X Morrissey for allegedly forging a codicil to her will has had countless  twists and turns. Marshall and Morrissey are facing a total of 22 charges of conspiracy, scheming to defraud, larceny and forgery. This is enough to keep a battalion of lawyers busy at a cost of over $100,000 per week.

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Brooke Astor Trial Continues With Testimony of Attorney-Drafter Of Codicil To Her Will

Just as Brooke Astor was a dominating force in the social scene of New York for decades, the trial of her son Anthony Marshall and her former lawyer Francis X Morrissey has been dominating the legal scene here with a daily articles in the local press. Today's New York Times reports an interesting chapter in the case with an account of the testimony of G. Warren Whitaker who was questioned extensively about his role in the alleged forgery. Whitaker is not under any suspicion of acting improperly, but it was he who prepared the codicil which re-directed some sixty million dollars from charitable bequests to Marshall who was allegedly looking to create a larger estate for his wife Charlene. Prosecutors have  subjected  Whitaker to withering questions about his role in the preparation of the codicil which was requested by Marshall and Morrissey and, according to the prosecution, forged by those two defendants at a time when Ms. Astor was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and presumably lacked testamentary capacity. 

Readers of today's Times article may find the links to other recent stories about the Astor trial to be of interest.

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Murder Most Foul And Its Impact On An Estate

Recently, Long Island was rocked by news of the tragic and shocking murder of  Betty Ann Parente and her two daughters by her husband, Garden City lawyer William Parente who then took his own life in a Maryland hotel. Barely has the community digested the enormity of this crime and the loss of a popular and talented family when the legal implications of how estates are affected by murder have surfaced as reported in today's Newsday. The order of the deaths has particular significance . So does the obvious fact that if --as it seems-- William Parente was the last member of his family to die, his distributees would be unable to inherit the assets of his wife and daughters should it be determined that he had murdered them.  This article gives us a good picture of the complexities of an estate which is bound to have some uncharted twists and turns as it wends its way through the Nassau County Surrogate's Court.

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Sometimes A Dog's Life Is ....A Dog's Life

Leona Helmsley may have been known as the "Queen of Mean" but today's Wall Street Journal reminds us that she left about five billion dollars to her foundation , The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust which had a mission statement directing that a large portion of these funds be provided to the care and welfare of dogs. This lead to an outcry that  charities providing for the needs of humans were being neglected in favor of our four-legged friends. The trustees of the estate together with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo petitioned the New York County Surrogate for a ruling as to whether or not the mission statement could be binding upon the trustees' decisions to apply the funds of the trust.  Recently, Surrogate Troy Brewer ruled that the trustees were free to use their own discretion in making grants from the funds they held in trust. It has now been revealed that approximately 136 million dollars have been awarded in the first wave of grants -- 1 million of which was applied to charities for the benefit of animals.

As the Journal advises us, a trust creator who wants to make sure his or her wishes are followed by the trustees should either give very specific directions or simply dispose of the funds while still alive. Of course, the question remains as to whether the same result would have been reached with a much smaller trust fund. While five billion dollars is a staggering amount to contemplate in a charitable trust focused upon canine beneficiaries, I would think it far more likely that a smaller sum ( a few million , for instance) might have a better chance of being disposed of totally in line with the wishes of the trust creator.

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The Brooke Astor Trial -- Something For Everyone

The Brooke Astor trial is in full swing in New York County Supreme Court . The range of relevant articles published over the past ten days in the New York Times is so broad that I have simply provided a link to all of the Times stories published since the beginning of the month. The criminal trial of Brooke Astor's son Anthony Marshall and her former attorney Frank Morrissey for allegedly forging her will and looting her estate truly has something for everyone.

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Publicist Sues James Brown's Estate In Latest Round Of Legal War

The Godfather of Soul has been gone for years but his estate, it seems, will be legal fodder for years to come. The Associated Press has reported that Jacque Hollander, his former publicist is suing James Brown's estate in Chicago for control of a charitable trust which she claims she was responsible for setting up. She claims that as the only surviving trust partner, she has the right to control the distribution of trust assets which include, among other things, the singer's home and the royalties from "I Feel Good"  (which the ultimate winner of this protracted legal war certainly will!). With considerable luck, this blog will still be publishing when the last issue in this estate is finally decided. If so, you will be able to read about it here.

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Astor Trial Jury Selection Gets Underway

Jury selection has begun here in New York in the trial of Anthony D. Marshall and attorney Francis Morrissey who stand accused of forging the will of Marshall's late mother, socialite Brooke Astor who died in August  2007 at the age of 105 and who left an estate of roughly 132 million dollars. In the year prior to his mother's death, Marshall had been the subject of an investigation that he had neglected and abused her and had looted substantial amounts of her assets.

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Small Estates In New York Are Getting Larger

The limit for small estates for decedents dying after January 1 , 2009 has been raised in New York. In fact, it has doubled from fifteen thousand dollars to thirty thousand dollars. The filing fee for this simplified procedure is still just one dollar and it remains possible to handle a small estate without the expense of a lawyer.

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Judicial Conduct Commission Recommends Suspension Of New York County Surrogate-Elect

The dramatic saga of New York County Surrogate-elect Nora Anderson continues with the recent recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct that she be suspended upon taking office on January 1st. The New York Times has reported that a letter sent by the commission to the Court of Appeals states that "“public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, the courts and the administration of justice would be undermined” if Ms. Anderson presided over cases in Surrogate’s Court while facing criminal charges. Earlier this month, the Surrogate-elect was indicted on charges that she violated campaign finance laws concerning allegations concealing a $250,000 campaign contribution from her boss (who was also charged) and stating that she had advanced the funds herself from her own personal assets.  The limit imposed by state laws for an individual contribution to any campaign is $33,122.50 (a curious number indeed, especially when one considers the $2,300 limit on contributions to a presidential candidate).

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South Carolina Court Orders That James Brown's Estate Will Be Auctioned

Yesterday's Charlotte Observer  has reported on the latest chapter of the turbulent death of James Brown. The South Carolina Court of Appeals has directed that at least 300 items belonging to the late Godfather of Soul are to be auctioned off by Christies in New York on Thursday. The controversy that was part of the life of Brown has continued long after his death on Christmas Day 2006. You may recall that his body was kept in cold storage in his home while a battle raged as to how and where he should be buried. Then there were issues as to whether or not previously unidentified children were entitled to share in his estate. Now there has been a legal battle over the disposition of many items of his personal possessions. With Brown's former business managers waging a court fight to stop the auction, Judge Jasper Cureton has decided to permit the auction to take place and "sort things out later". Hurry to Christies on July 17th if you want to take a shot at acquiring Brown's red jump suit, his blue satin cape or some of his hair picks or rollers! One certain thing , however, is that this estate still has some more mileage -- and headlines -- left, so stay tuned. 

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A Dog's Life Isn't That Bad ! Eight Billion Dollar Helmsley Trust Is Slated To Be Applied To The Benefit Of The Nation's Canine Population

Today's New York Times reports that the late Leona Helmsley has left a mission statement in connection with a testamentary trust valued as high as eight billion dollars. In it, she directs that virtually the entire fund be applied to the welfare of dogs. While Surrogate Renee R. Roth has already shown a willingness to modify the provisions of Ms. Helmsley's will to reduce the original twelve million dollar bequest to her dog to two million (!) dollars, the aim of New York law is to determine the true intent of the decedent and to follow his or her wishes as closely as possible. While it is understandable that a court might rail at the idea of leaving twelve million dollars to a single pooch, the trust's mission statement obviously has a broader intent in mind than the care and feeding of one animal. Since their are numerous organizations dedicated to animal welfare and the advancement of veterinary science, it may very well be that the entire trust will ultimately be applied for the benefit of our nation's canines --just as the late hotel magnate had obviously wanted. Posted In NEWS
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CNBC Reports Settlement Of Tobias Case

CNBC has reported that the litigation over the estate of the late hedge fund financier Seth Tobias is settled pending the approval of a Probate Judge in Florida Monday. Last December we reported here about the controversy raging since Tobias was found dead in his swimming pool in Palm Beach County  on September 4, 2007. Tobias' brothers brought suit against his widow Filomena charging that she had murdered him by poisoning his pasta  and then luring into a swimming pool on the promise of sex with a male stripper. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Family Fights Over Guardianships Continue To Increase

One of the last interviews given by  Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis imparted a few words of wisdom which I have always tried to live by. She told her interviewer that the most important accomplishment of her life was getting her children to love each other. Unfortunately, as an article in today's Long Island Business News shows, this advice is generally honored in the breach.  With parents living longer, it appears that guardianship battles between their children are on the increase nationally and attorneys in the practice of elder law are experiencing a litigation component  of their practices which they had never anticipated. The sibling rivalries of childhood are now played out by baby boomer adults across the country in courtrooms where the prize is which sibling gets to take care of an aging parent -- and control that parent's fortune. As the article reports in an update of the litigation surrounding New Jersey widow Lillian Glasser (a topic often found in this blog), millions of dollars can be in play  as families are torn asunder and an entire new discipline is developing in order to focus upon new ways to deal with the problems caused by these disputes. Posted In NEWS
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Senior Citizen Escapes From Connecticut "Probate Prison" With The Help Of A Few Good Lawyers And Relatives

In the past, I have reported here about the need for a uniform guardianship law in order to prevent elder kidnapping to gain control of a senior citizen's estate. The case of Lillian Glasser made headlines two years ago when it took a federal court to unsnarl a legal imbroglio between a New Jersey widow and her children when her daughter attempted to keep her in Texas by obtaining an order from a Dallas probate judge while her mother was visiting her. The Hartford Courant reported on May 9th on a similar  and even more horrifying case.

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Probate Court Upholds Wrongful Death Settlement Between Widow And Cruise Line

Today's Greenwich Post reports that a one million dollar settlement negoiated with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines  by Jennifer Hagel Smith has been upheld by Connecticut Probate Judge David Hopper. You may remember that Ms. Hagel Smith's husband George Smith IV mysteriously disappeared from the cruise ship Brilliance of the Seas on the couple's honeymoon cruise in the Aegean Sea in July 2005. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Ex-Wife Files Claim Against Ike Turner's Estate

It seems that old rock stars have the most interesting estates.The International Herald Tribune has reported that Ike Turner's ex-wife Jeannette Bazzell Turner has filed a claim against his estate stemming from his purported failure to pay her her share of community property after their 1995 divorce in California. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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1549 Probate Papers Provide Glimpse Into Sixteenth Century Life

The Star, a newspaper in Sheffield, England has provided us with a  glimpse into sixteenth century rural English life with this account taken from an extremely rare probate proceeding in 1549 England. It is worth a few moments to read it. Posted In NEWS
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Heath Ledger's Will Fails To Provide For His Child

The New York Times reported today that Heath Ledger's will made no provisions either for his young daughter, or for  her mother and former girlfriend  Michelle Williams. Instead, the actor left his entire estate to his parents and sisters back in his native Australia.

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Romanian Prince Attempts To Help Attorney In Brooke Astor Case

Newsday reported on February 25th that the strange case of socialite Brooke Astor who passed away last year at the age of 105 has gotten even stranger. It seems that Romanian Prince Paul has tried on at least two occasions to get Ms. Astor's former maid Lia Opris to meet with attorneys for Francis X Morrissey, the attorney who is facing felony charges for allegedly taking part in a scheme to forge Ms. Astor's signature to revisions to her Will. Ms. Opris was reportedly a witness to the signing of the will revisions. So far, she has refused to meet with Thomas Puccio, the lawyer defending Morrissey. The one thing certain about this bizarre case is that we have yet to see the last weird twist and turn. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Lawyer Suspended For Irregularities In Guardianship Of Retired Judge

Today's New York Times brings us  depressing news of yet another attorney fallen from grace for not being able to keep her hands off of the property of an elderly person over whom she had been appointed guardian. The Appellate Division has suspended Emani Taylor for allegedly converting the property of retired Supreme Court Justice John L. Phillips after saying that she had failed to cooperate with the court's investigation into her actions.

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Former Brooke Astor Lawyer In the News Once More

The hits just keep coming for Francis X. Morrissey, the former attorney of the late Brooke Astor who died last August at the age of 105. Today's New York Times reports that Mr. Morrissey represented a veritable Who's Who of New York's elderly and wealthy. What is somewhat odd --but unfortunately understandable under the circumstances-- is that he took care of the legal business of many of these clients without charging them fees. Evidently he stumbled across a surefire formula that if you ingratiate yourself with elderly rich folks by doing their legal work gratis at the same time you are taking them to dinner, Broadway shows and bringing them smoked hams, turkeys and cashmere robes you will be rewarded in their wills. Big Time! As the Times article claims, Mr. Morrissey would have another attorney , Warren J. Forsythe Esq., prepare the wills of these clients. Invariably the wills would either provide substantial bequests for him or name him as a fiduciary so that he could earn large commissions. Mr. Morrissey has been hit with an eighteen count indictment arising out of his representation of Ms. Astor. It will certainly be interesting watching this case play out in the criminal court. Posted In NEWS
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Accusation Of Murder Most Foul In Florida Leads To $ 25 Million Estate Fight

Today's New York Times business section tells us of  the mysterious death in Florida of 44 year old hedge fund manager Seth Tobias this past September 4th. From all appearances, he had suffered a fatal heart attack and was found in his swimming pool. Initially, there were no suspicions raised by the death of this man who had controlled a 300 million dollar hedge fund and whose estate is estimated at about 25 million dollars.

Of course, large amounts of money can lead to king-sized claims. Mr. Tobias' four brothers have already filed a lawsuit against his widow Filomena amidst claims that she had drugged and murdered her husband even though she has not been charged with any crime. The Jupiter Florida police have not opened a criminal investigation --and are not likely to do so until the results of the medical examiner's toxicology tests are known.

Meanwhile, Florida subscribes to the doctrine that one cannot profit by one's own wrongdoing and therefore a killer cannot inherit from his or her victim.The stakes here will be extremely high in all respects --and it looks as if we will be treated to a lurid and exciting wild ride which will, incidentally, provide us with more than a few lessons in the law before it is over. 

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Astor Lawyer Morrissey Accused Of Numerous Improprieties

Today's New York Times carries a lenthy account of the alleged misdeeds of Brooke Astor's former attorney, Francis X. Morrissey Jr. It seems that every time I run a story about Mr. Morrissey, I receive comments from friends and associates telling me what a great guy he is. I can only draw my conclusions from what I read (keeping in mind of course that our system of justice carries with it a cherished presumption of innocence) -- and I am not too impressed. This article will help you to make up your own mind about Mr. Morrissey. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Stepchildren War Over Estate Art Collection

Today's New York Times  reports on an estate conflict between two sets of stepchildren in Suffolk County Surrogate's Court on Long Island's east end. Those of us who do contested estate work are used to seeing people at their very worst , but this story is sufficiently over the top to attract the attention of "The Gray Lady" (as the Times is sometimes known). After Monique Eastman's first husband Richard Spreyregen died in 1959, she subsequently met and married Lee Eastman, a prominent entertainment lawyer whose wife Louise was killed in an air crash. While they lived happily together for nearly thirty years, the closeness they enjoyed was not shared by their respective children. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Brooke Astor's Son and Attorney Indicted

Today's New York Times has reported the indictments of Anthony D.Marshall, 83 year old son of the late Brooke Astor together with Francis X. Morrissey Jr. Esq. ,a former lawyer of the socialite who passed away in August at the age of 105. The two are charged with irregularities dealing with their activities involving the handling of her financial affairs.

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Warren Buffet Opposes Ending Estate Tax

Law Professor Gerry Beyer's Wills, Trusts and Estates Prof Blog has picked up on an interesting story about billionaire Warren Buffet which ran recently on CNN. Testifying at a recent Senate hearing, Buffet voiced his opinion that efforts to end the estate tax are misguided and wrong for a variety of reasons. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Scott Peterson Denied Wife's Life Insurance Policy Benefit

Chutzpah has been defined as pleading for mercy on the grounds that one is an orphan after killing both parents. Condemned killer Scott Peterson gives this new meaning after daring to apply for the benefits from the life insurance policy of his wife Lacie. This story is set forth in some detail in a recent report in LA's Metropolitan News Enterprise. It merely restates the time-honored and well-settled public policy that denies a killer any share of the estate or insurance benefits of the person he or she has murdered. Was this application for benefits a ploy to obtain funds to pay legal fees (Peterson won't  need the money where he is going and he is sure to leave behind a gigantic bill from his attorneys)? Just a thought.

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Astor Estate Goes To Manhattan Grand Jury

Today's New York Times has reported that the settlement talks being held in the Westchester County Surrogate's Court to attempt to resolve the dispute over Brook Astor's Estate have been put on hold while the New York County District Attorney presents the case to a Grand Jury for possible criminal action.

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Grand Jury Action Considered in Brooke Astor Case

The New York Times has reported that a Manhattan grand jury may be asked to investigate whether or not crimes were committed in the case involving 104 year old socialite Brooke Astor.As reported here last year, questions raised about irregularities in administration of the assets of the multi-millionaire heiress by her son Anthony Marshall as well as allegations of elder abuse and neglect (later found to be unsubstantiated by a New York Supreme Court Judge John Stackhouse ) led to protracted litigation which culminated in an agreement aimed at protecting Ms. Astor's assets and insuring that she would receive good care.

Now, a report issued by court-appointed guardian JP Morgan Chase raises new questions and allegations about Brooke Astor's mental competency in 2003 when she signed documents transferring about nine million dollars in various assets to her son. New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has now reportedly advised potential witnesses to prepare to give grand jury testimony in the matter.

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FBI Interested In Will Contests

The PA Elder,Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog has reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has become interested in certain will contests and  estate litigation . While most of us do not think of this as an area that would capture the attention of an ambitions FBI Agent, the Bureau's website might lead us to think otherwise. High profile court battles involving significant financial fraud on an interstate level which has risen to the level where criminal conduct is evident has attracted law enforcement attention. It is clear that when some of our clients become so enraged at each other that they engage in "War of the Roses" hostility towards each other, they forget that a courtroom is a very public place with a very extensive audience. Posted In NEWS
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Jury Finds Blattmachr Breached His Fiduciary Duty

Sometimes even a superstar flares out. Such was the determination of a New York jury which found that attorney Jonathan Blattmachr had breached his fiduciary duty by recommending a plan to avoid estate tax by purchasing life insurance pursuant to a method known as a"split dollar insurance arrangement" to Henry Schein, one of the wealthy and well-known clients advised by Mr. Blattmachr and his firm Milbank, Tweed. The verdict is reported in the Wall Street Journal which notes that since the jury also found that this breach was not material in contributing to the client's loss when the IRS disallowed the strategy, the Schein Estate was not entitled to collect damages.

This story carries with it an implied word to the wise. In this situation, the strategy recommended was already falling into some disfavor with the IRS . Usually, when a plan of action doesn't feel right or has been subject to criticism in high places (the IRS is a good example of that), a second --or even a third-- look is usually in order. If an estate planning genius with the ability of Jonathan Blattmachr can run afoul of the law, the rest of us are doubly warned.

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Inventory Values Brooke Astor's Net Worth At 130.9 Million Dollars

As a rather interesting post-script to the earlier accounts of socialite Brooke Astor, an inventory filed by J.P Morgan Chase values her assets at 130.9 million dollars. Today's New York Times gives the detailed inventory of the wealth of Ms. Astor who will celebrate her 105th birthday this Friday. Last fall, it was reported here that Ms. Astor had become the center of a court battle between her son Anthony Marshall and her grandson with charges of elder abuse and neglect raising the awareness of the need to protect the safety and rights of our oldest members of society --especially those who may not have a nine figure bank account. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Anna Nicole Smith's Death Sparks A Host Of Legal Questions and Controversies

The legal storm that has swirled around  Anna Nicole Smith during her lifetime promises to develop into a full-blown hurricane after her death February 8th. Barely twenty four hours later, enough issues have arisen to keep an entire faculty of law professors busy for years. While the controversies that surround most celebrity deaths have significance mainly to the public that followed  those stars while they were alive, there are questions here with meatier legal significance. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Rosa Parks' Estate Scheduled For Jury Trial

Last year, I reported on the dispute that erupted after the death of Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks in Detroit in October 2005. Ms. Parks left the bulk of her estate to an institute which she had founded together with her confidante and caregiver Elaine Steele (who had also held Ms. Parks' power of attorney). The crux of this dispute revolves about who will control the use of Rosa Parks' likeness and thereby reap the royalties derived through its sale. Since her death, the likeness of Rosa Parks has been used in  national advertisements for Chevrolet and Apple Computer -- this is big business. Today's Detroit Free Press reports that the issues raised by angry family members will be tried before a jury this February.  Posted In NEWS
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Celebrity Deaths Often Involve Controversy

Fellow lawblogger Juan Antunez has come across an interesting article published by AP concerning the controversies which often accompany the deaths of celebrities. Obviously inspired by the death of James Brown, the article has been published in Juan's Florida Probate Litigation.com. I, too was struck by this rather strange phenomenon when I learned that, nearly one month after his death, the Godfather of Soul lies in a climate-controlled house awaiting the outcome of a family feud to determine just where and when he is finally to be laid to rest. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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JAMES BROWN'S WILL EXCLUDES HIS PARTNER AND THEIR INFANT SON

On August 1, 2000, James Brown executed a will in the presence of his attorney Strom Thurmond Jr.(the juxtaposition of the name of the son of one of our nation's foremost supporters of segregation with the "Godfather of Soul" is not lost upon your blogger!) in which he excluded both his partner and their now five year old  son . As CNN reports tonight, the plot thickens with the assertion by Brown's attorneys that his subsequent marriage to his partner , Hynie was invalid because she had not yet annulled an earlier marriage at the time of her marriage to Brown. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Brooke Astor's Guardianship Case Rolled Up Huge Legal Fees as it Rolled On

Earlier this year, I reported on the controversy swirling around 104 year old socialite Brooke Astor whose guardianship case has generated legal fees and expenses of about three million dollars according to an article in the December 5th New York Times. The case settled on October 13, shortly before it was slated to go to trial and then the fee applications began to roll in. Oh Boy did they roll in! Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Controversy Continues Over Two Million Dollar Legal Fee

A war of words has erupted on the front page of the New York Law Journal over the two million dollar legal fee which Thomas Troiano Esq., a Florida attorney is seeking from the estate of Edward J. Mardovich who died at the World Trade Center on September 11,2001. As I reported here last Tuesday, Mr. Troiano is coming under very heavy criticism for his fee application in Suffolk County Surrogate's Court on Long Island. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Federal Court Stays Florida Attorney's Action For 2 Million Dollars in Fees Over September 11 Claim

Today's New York Law Journal reports that a a Florida lawyer's suit for two million dollars in legal fees to which he claims he is entitled for representing a Suffolk County, New York resident in a claim arising out of her husband's death in the World Trade Center attack has been stayed pending the outcome of  estate proceedings in Suffolk County Surrogate's Court.  Troiano v. Mardovich 06 Civ. 523 promises to be a very interesting case as it develops further. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Spotlight Shifts To Brook Astor's Attorney

Today's New York Daily News  calls attention to a problem that may not surface all that often but is always ugly when it does. Following up on its series of articles about 104 year old socialite Brooke Astor which I have reported on here, the News has turned to Ms. Astor's lawyer, 63 year old Francis Morrissey who was hired by her son Anthony Marshall to replace the venerable and well-reputed law firm of Sullivan Cromwell which had represented her for forty years. Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Estate Tax Repeal Fails Once More In Senate

Today's New York Times  reports that one of the more cynical attempts at drastically cutting the estate tax has gone down to defeat in the Senate.  Proponents of repeal in the House had linked an increase in the minimum wage to the new tax cut proposal which failed in the Senate by four votes. It should not pass without notice that one of the big losers here is Majority Leader Bill Frist (R- Tenn) whose estate (consisting of his interest in his family's share of Health Corporation of America) would save  literally tens of millions of dollars if the measure had passed.

Your faithful blogger understands that many out there are slow to characterize this as a "war on the middle class" but I am slow to find any other appropriate adjectives to describe a situation where a much-needed increase in the minimum wage is linked to an estate tax cut which will benefit far less than 1% of taxpayers while further concentrating wealth in the hands of fewer Americans and creating a revenue shortfall that the rest of us in far more mundane income brackets will have to make up.

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New Temporary Guardian Appointed For Socialite Brooke Astor

Following last week's breaking news story reported here about the alleged mistreatment of 104 year old socialite and heiress Brooke Astor, New York's Supreme Court has stepped in and appointed Ms. Astor's longtime friend  and protegee Annette de la Renta as her temporary guardian. This morning, it was reported that Ms. Astor has left a Manhattan hospital for the cushier surroundings of her estate at Briarcliff Manor where her son --and former guardian-- 82 year old Anthony Marshall was turned away when he attempted to visit.

 

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Trusting Your Trustee --A Cautionary Tale

Today's New York Daily News reports the ultimate trust beneficiary's nightmare which has befallen none other than 104 year old socialite Brook Astor.  Although she is the beneficiary of a 45 million dollar trust from the estate of her late husband which pays her an estimated 2 million dollars annually, Astor's 82 year old son Anthony Marshall has evidently refused to apply these massive assets to provide his mother with even the most basic level of support, Continue Reading Posted In NEWS
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Senate Rejects Attempt at Estate Tax Repeal

CNN has reported that the Senate has failed at an attempt to reach a compromise on legislation to raise the limits on the estate tax after an earlier attempt at outright repeal of the tax also failed. Repeal of the estate tax would affect less than one percent of all estates of persons dying after the first of this year but it is also estimated that the cost in revenue to the goverment would be as high as one trillion dollars between the years 2012 and 2021.

I could not help but notice that, in a related article, CNN reported that an (unscientific) online poll indicates that fully 51% of those repsonding favored the outright elimination of the tax. It is a sobering thought that those special interest groups fighting for estate tax repeal have succeeded to the point where 51% of the public appears to be willing to shoulder a one trillion dollar tax burden which the wealthiest .3% of Americans would be relieved of paying.

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Pet Trusts

Your faithful law blogger arrived home tonight to find our two family felines -visions of endless quantities of cat treats abounding in their heads-- trying their best to read today's issue of the New York Sun which features an article on pet trusts. While I was well-aware that pet trusts are legally recognized, effective and widely-used estate planning tools in New York, I frankly had no idea as to the extent to which they are currently being utilized. It seems that six figure bequests for Fido and Fluffy are becoming more common than one might otherwise think. This summer's conference of the American Bar Association to be held in Hawaii will have a session on pet trusts and there are now attorneys who have begun to specialize in this area of the law.

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A Cautionary Tale About Accepting A Fiduciary Appointment

The May 14th issue of the Stamford Advocate contains a cautionary story by Julie Jason about the perils of becoming a fiduciary. While you will really have to be incredibly unlucky to suffer the fate of Monsignor Bolduc's executor, this article really underscores the need to act quickly to retain competent counsel and learn exactly what a fiduciary's rights and responsibilities are (you needn't accept the apppointment if it seems too fraught with danger). Meanwhile, the finding of the Connecticut probate court seems a bit far-fetched and it would appear that the appellant's chances are rather good. We will see.

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Estate Planning Starts Early

Leanna Hamill's Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law Blog has reprinted an interesting and thought-provoking article from April 30th's Boston Globe Magazine. It is never too early for young parents to consider --and to aggravate over-- estate planning. I thought you might enjoy it.

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Will Anna Nicole Smith Case Cause a Stampede to Federal Court?

It appears that Anna Nicole Smith's recent Supreme Court victory may result in a flood of federal litigation of probate matters. My Florida friend and fellow law blogger Juan Antunez (Florida Probate Litigation. com) ruminates on this idea in his blog today and contemplates spending a lot more time in federal court in the future.

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Supreme Court Win for Anna Nicole Smith

Former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith has won a major victory in the Supreme Court. Associated Press has reported that the court voted unanimously to give her another day in court and revived her claim against the estate of her late husband J. Howard Marshall II. The ruling has great significance in that it allows federal courts greater authority to resolve claims arising out of estates although state courts retain their sole authority to probate a will.

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Liillian Glasser Returns Home to New Jersey to Await Outcome of Her Guardianship Proceeding

Earlier this year, I reported on the case of Lillian Glasser, a wealthy New Jersey widow who had become embroiled in a multi-state legal feud (Florida, Texas and New Jersey) to determine where she should live and who should serve as her guardian. An article in today's New York Times by Tina Kelly reports that Ms Glasser has been allowed to return home to New Jersey, having expressed strong desires to be allowed to do so.

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Battle on Estate Tax Nears in Senate

May promises to be the month that Senate Majority Leader Frist will attempt to marshall his minions to pass legislation eliminating the estate tax. If this were to come to pass, our nation's wealthiest families would be the primary beneficiaries of the new law which would free them of billions of dollars of tax liabilities. Senator Frist's own estate would save many millions of estate tax dollars (as, by the way, would Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's estate).

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Estate Tax Confusion Continues

Estate tax confusion is the subject of an article posted on April 22 by Clark Allison in the California Estate and Business Blog. The uncertainty which has beset estate planning by the current legislation in place is seen in context with the issues surrounding the future of the estate tax in Congress. This ongoing debate seems to have little chance at this time of producing any sort of lasting compromise and the author suggests that the big losers may prove to be those of us who delay implementing a good estate plan waiting for such a compromise to be reached.

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AARP to Sponser Conference on Aging April 20-23

The sixth annual National Aging and Law Conference will be held from April 20 to April 23 at the Double Tree Hotel in Crystal City, Arlington Va. This will be a forum for a broad spectrum of elder law and elder care advocates sponsored by AARP together with a number of other advocacy organizations . Complete information may be obtained from the NALC website.

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"You're Disinherited!"

On March 7th, the New York Times brought us news of a new reality show from the U.K. Sir Benjamin Slade has decided to look for an heir to his 13 million dollar estate here in America. Finalists will compete for this grand prize in the course of a t.v. reality show at Maunsel House, his estate in Somerset England. Taking a leaf from Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" , Sir Benjamin plans to one-up The Donald by informing losing contestants that "you're disinherited". The last contestant standing will inherit Sir Benjamin's millions.

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Follow-up on the Glasser Case

In January, I reported on the case of Lillian Glasser, an elderly widow from New Jersey with a home in Boca Raton Florida who has found herself to be embroiled in a bitter guardianship dispute in Texas .Fellow law blogger Professor Gerry W. Beyer has reported on the next phase of this legal odyssey in his Wills,Trusts and Estates Prof Blog Read on as poor Mrs.Glasser's seemingly never-ending story continues.

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Supreme Court Hears Anna Nicole Smith's Claim

Long the butt of jokes of late night comedians,former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith has entered a new arena. The Supreme Court today heard arguments in her action to re-open her claim against the estate of her late husband J. Howard Marshall (who died at the age of 90 after a brief marriage to Ms. Smith) . The Justices seemed extremely interested in all phases of this case which truly has something to interest everyone. It involves an estate of approximately 1.6 billion dollars, allegations of a forged will and chicanery on all sides.

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Contested Guardianship Sparks Multistate Feud in Federal Court

The worst matrimonial cases often involve bitter custody disputes which may involve not only domestic violence but also child-snatching as well. As nasty as some estate contests can be, I have always taken comfort knowing that the worst of them do not compare to a garden-variety custody fight. The case of Lillian Glasser, reported in the December 28th New York Times combines the worst features of a custody fight with the worst features of an estate fight. What could be messier than an interstate custody fight between adult siblings over a parent with a net worth of twenty five million dollars?

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Advice Columnists Can Be Misleading

A quick word of advice from my fellow law blogger, Texas law Professor Gerry W. Beyers in his Wills Trusts and Estates Blog who has come across an advice columnist dispensing legal advice mixed in with her helpful hints on interpersonal relationships.
"People seeking legal advice" cautions the professor, "should consult with a lawyer, not an advice columnist."

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Avoiding Big Fights over Small Things

The significance that family members may attach to relatively insignificant possessions can easily lead to huge disputes in the settling of an estate. An article by Margaret McCaffrey in the December 8th New York Times deals with this subject in humanistic rather than legalistic terms. Nevertheless, Ms McCaffrey's suggestions on how to anticipate and defuse the conflicts that can arise when adult children battle over the same item of jewelry or furniture can have a positive effect not only on the way in which family members treat each other after losing a parent or grandparent but also can reduce the chances that arguments over possessions may lead to more serious and more expensive legal conflicts.

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Rosa Parks's Estate Embroilled in Feud

My colleague in Florida, Juan Antunez (The Florida Probate Litigation Blog), has been reporting on a feud which has erupted following the death of Rosa Parks . Juan cites The Wall Street Journal story on November 16 which details a dispute between relatives of the civil rights pioneer and those who were handling her business affairs prior to her death.

The legal representatives named in her will have been sued by her nephew , William McCauley who has filed a petition to contest the will and to be named as his aunt's legal representative . McCauley claims that Ms. Parks lacked the mental capacity to make a will and was subject to undue influence when it was executed.

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Senator Bill Frist's Trust ---Blind or Just Near-Sighted?

Thanks to professor of law Gerry W. Beyer's Wills,Trusts and Estates Prof Blog, I read a very interesting article originally published this past week in The Hill by Elana Schor which provides an in-depth explanation of just what Senator Frist has done (and may have been intending to accomplish) with the use of Generation Skipping Trusts (GSTs) and blind trusts to manage his holdings in his family's huge Health Corporation of America stock. Not only does Ms Schor give us a good overview of the way in which these trusts operate and the laws that enable them, but also gives political junkies like me a new perceptive on just what may be happening in the insider trading investigation currently unfolding in Washington.

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Same Sex Partner Loses Wrongful Death Action

By a 3-2 majority, New York's Appellate Division, Second Department has stated that same-sex partners cannot pursue an action for wrongful death in New York. Langan v. St. Vincent's Hospital, 2003-04702 was originally commenced by the survivor of a same-sex couple whose partner died after undergoing surgery for injuries suffered after having been struck by an automobile. The couple had earlier entered into a civil union in Vermont where such agreements are legal and binding.

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No Man is Above the Law

New York State's Court of Appeals has upheld the determination of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct that Kings County (Brooklyn) Surrogate Michael Feinberg be removed from office. This decision was handed down on June 29, 2005.

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