Posts Tagged ‘heirs’

Farrah Fawcett’s Trust provides a good lesson

It’s been widely reported across various websites in the last couple days that Farrah Fawcett’s will has been revealed and it “shockingly” disinherited her longtime ex-boyfriend Ryan O’Neal (father to her son, Redmond).  These reports are wrong on several levels. First, the document was her Trust, not her will.  You can read it here , courtesy of Radaronline.com.  This is an important distinction.  Wills are public records and must always be filed in probate to be effective, which allows anyone interested to read them.  Trusts, on the other hand, are private documents, normally kept out of court and the public eye. As I wrote in this article this past July, the contents of Fawcett’s Trust were leaked by an anonymous “source” then, and now the whole trust document has been revealed.  This is unusual.  Normally that is one of the primary reasons why trusts are used, to keep affairs private (and out of probate court). As the source previously leaked to the media (and as covered in my article on this blog in July), it was  revealed then that Ryan O’Neal was not a beneficiary.  So the recent exposure of the trust document is nothing new on that front.  O’Neal said publicly that he was not surprised and had discussed with Fawcett that their son Redmond would be the biggest beneficiary. So what did the trust reveal?  The real surprising part here isn’t that O’Neal was omitted (ex-boyfriends aren’t usually included in a trust).  Rather, to me…

It’s been widely reported across various websites in the last couple days that Farrah Fawcett’s will has been revealed and it “shockingly” disinherited her longtime ex-boyfriend Ryan O’Neal (father to her son, Redmond).  These reports are wrong on several levels.
First, the document was her Trust, not her will.  You can read it here, courtesy of Radaronline.com.  This is an important distinction.  Wills are public records and must always be filed in probate to be effective, which allows anyone interested to read them.  Trusts, on the other hand, are private documents, normally kept out of court and the public eye.

As I wrote in this article this past July, the contents of Fawcett’s Trust were leaked by an anonymous “source” then, and now the whole trust document has been revealed.  This is unusual.  Normally that is one of the primary reasons why trusts are used, to keep affairs private (and out of probate court).

As the source previously leaked to the media (and as covered in my article on this blog in July), it was  revealed then that Ryan O’Neal was not a beneficiary.  So the recent exposure of the trust document is nothing new on that front.  O’Neal said publicly that he was not surprised and had discussed with Fawcett that their son Redmond would be the biggest beneficiary.

So what did the trust reveal?  The real surprising part here isn’t that O’Neal was omitted (ex-boyfriends aren’t usually included in a trust).  Rather, to me, there were far more surprising elements, including that another of Fawcett’s ex-boyfriends, Gregory Lawrence Lott, received $100,000.  Further, her artwork was left to the University of Texas, her other personal property, including her household furnishings and vehicles, went to her nephew (who also received $500,000 outright), and her father received a trust fund of $500,000, from will benefit him while he is alive.  Fawcett’s charitable foundation is also a prominent beneficiary.

Who will manage this trust?  Fawcett’s business manager and producer, Richard Francis.  He will be charged with the difficult task of overseeing these bequests — and more importantly — the trust fund established for Fawcett’s troubled son, Redmond.

It has been widely reported that Redmond has struggled with drug addiction for years.  Fawcett obviously knew this when she created this particular trust document on August 9, 2007.  So, instead of leaving him money outright, she left $4.5 million to be used for his benefit through a trust fund.  When he passes away, what is left from that fund will go onto her charitable foundation.

The specifics of how this will work are a good lesson for others to follow when they have a beneficiary who is not ready to receive a chunk of change all at once.  The trustee of the Trust, Francis, will be required to pay the income from the trust fund to Redmond — or apply it for his benefit — at least 4 times year, and as often as monthly.  If this $4.5 million is conservatively invested to generate even a modest 5% return, this would mean almost $19,000 per month would be available for Redmond, without ever spending any of the $4.5 million itself.

Francis can also tap into the $4.5 million itself for Redmond, but only to the extent it is advisable for his health.  This means the money (again, other than the interest earned) cannot be used for things like education, housing, etc. — only health.  Clearly, Fawcett thought this through, because she gave the same trustee rights to use the trust fund money set aside for Fawcett’s father for many other needs beyond just health.

This trust provision allows Francis to carefully control the money so Redmond is benefited the best way possible.  And, for a drug addict like he is reported to be, this means Francis can spend as much as he deems advisable for rehabilitation (which would clearly improve Redmond’s health), without paying anything directly to him for fear of it being spent on drugs, etc.

The only flaw I see in the plan is that Francis is obligated to pay the interest on Redmond’s behalf at least 4 times each year.  This is still quite a significant sum of money to be spent on him, if his life isn’t in a position to benefit by it.  Plus, it is odd that things like education and housing wouldn’t be included, but that appears to be what Fawcett wanted.

Often, in my law firm, we recommend crafting specific trust provisions for people with drug and/or alcohol addictions that requires them to prove sobriety before receiving money, or tying other specific strings to distributions of money so that this goal can be achieved (such as requiring payments for drug rehabilitation programs).

The beauty of properly-used trusts is that you can be creative and use conditions like this for all sorts of reasons, in addition to sobriety, including promoting hard work, maintaining good relationships, education, and many other goals.  We explore how trusts can do this in our book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!, which helps families learn from celebrity errors how to properly plan for their heirs.

Fawcett gets a lot of credit for using a trust the right way to protect her son and still allow him to benefit from her money.  Too many rich and famous people don’t do this.  For example, as we discuss in Trial & Heirs, celebrities such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Bono, and Howard Hughes didn’t even have wills, much less trusts.

Trusts are not just for rich people.  Anyone with family members they want to leave money to when they die, but are worried what the money may do to them when they get it, should strongly consider creating a revocable living trust with the help of a good estate planning attorney.

Not sure how to find a good attorney?  Click here for a new way to help you.

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and http://www.brmmlaw.com/ in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

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Farrah Fawcett’s Trust provides a good lesson

FBI investigated Anna Nicole Smith for murder of “step-son”

Probate disputes over whether a will or trust was valid, or instead was signed at at time when the person was mentally incompetent or subject to undue influence, are common.  They’re also very emotional and difficult for everyone involved.  The Anna Nicole Smith case – the Granddaddy of all probate disputes — illustrates this more than any other. I discussed the case in this article , including how the estate executor/lawyer/former boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, not only lost a request he filed in the federal Court of Appeals on behalf of Smith’s Estate, but how he was charged criminally with conspiring to provide Anna Nicole with the prescription drugs that killed her. In Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights, which I wrote with Danielle Mayoras, we discuss the case at length (along with dozens more) so people can learn from celebrity errors, protect their heirs, and know their legal rights if they find themselves in a family fortune fight. But a new twist on the case surfaced recently.  While this development did not affect the case itself, and turned out to be nothing important in the end, it highlights how difficult these cases can get for those going through them.  And yes, not just the rich and famous! The Associated Press submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI and received hundreds of pages of documents that revealed how the FBI investigated Anna Nicole in 2000 and 2001 as a suspect in a murder plot against her late husband’s son.  She and the son had been fighting over the multi-billion dollar estate of Anna Nicole’s 90-year old husband since he died in 1995.  The FBI suspected she may have hired a hit-man to commit murder! The FBI questioned Smith in July, 2000, during which she tearfully denied any such plot.  She said she thought the probate case was almost over, and even if her “step-son” had died, the Howard Marshall fortune still would have been tied up in trusts and wouldn’t have gone to her. The step-son, Pierce Marshall, was also interviewed and claimed that Anna Nicole rarely spent time with her husband before he died, and how Pierce’s father had complained to him that she asked for $50,000 or more twice a week. The FBI took the investigation seriously.  The investigation lasted at least 10 months.  FBI agents even confiscated from Anna Nicole a .357 revolver, a 3 and 1/2 inch steel knife, and a black and orange “Dr. Suess” hat (your guess is as good as mine on that last one). The FBI returned these items to her and closed the case in 2001.  It found insufficient evidence that she engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme to kill Marshall’s son.  Pierce Marshall died from an infection in 2006 at age 67, the year before Anna Nicole Smith died from a drug overdose. Yet the fight over Howard Marshall’s money is not over, even though it started 14 years ago.  Even in death, the two are battling — but now, their estates are duking it out. You can order a copy of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! at TrialAndHeirs.com if you’d like to learn more about this case and many other celebrity estate battles, so your family won’t end up the same way. Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

Probate disputes over whether a will or trust was valid, or instead was signed at at time when the person was mentally incompetent or subject to undue influence, are common.  They’re also very emotional and difficult for everyone involved.  The Anna Nicole Smith case – the Granddaddy of all probate disputes — illustrates this more than any other.

I discussed the case in this article, including how the estate executor/lawyer/former boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, not only lost a request he filed in the federal Court of Appeals on behalf of Smith’s Estate, but how he was charged criminally with conspiring to provide Anna Nicole with the prescription drugs that killed her.

In Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights, which I wrote with Danielle Mayoras, we discuss the case at length (along with dozens more) so people can learn from celebrity errors, protect their heirs, and know their legal rights if they find themselves in a family fortune fight.

But a new twist on the case surfaced recently.  While this development did not affect the case itself, and turned out to be nothing important in the end, it highlights how difficult these cases can get for those going through them.  And yes, not just the rich and famous!

The Associated Press submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI and received hundreds of pages of documents that revealed how the FBI investigated Anna Nicole in 2000 and 2001 as a suspect in a murder plot against her late husband’s son.  She and the son had been fighting over the multi-billion dollar estate of Anna Nicole’s 90-year old husband since he died in 1995.  The FBI suspected she may have hired a hit-man to commit murder!

The FBI questioned Smith in July, 2000, during which she tearfully denied any such plot.  She said she thought the probate case was almost over, and even if her “step-son” had died, the Howard Marshall fortune still would have been tied up in trusts and wouldn’t have gone to her.

The step-son, Pierce Marshall, was also interviewed and claimed that Anna Nicole rarely spent time with her husband before he died, and how Pierce’s father had complained to him that she asked for $50,000 or more twice a week.

The FBI took the investigation seriously.  The investigation lasted at least 10 months.  FBI agents even confiscated from Anna Nicole a .357 revolver, a 3 and 1/2 inch steel knife, and a black and orange “Dr. Suess” hat (your guess is as good as mine on that last one).

The FBI returned these items to her and closed the case in 2001.  It found insufficient evidence that she engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme to kill Marshall’s son.  Pierce Marshall died from an infection in 2006 at age 67, the year before Anna Nicole Smith died from a drug overdose.

Yet the fight over Howard Marshall’s money is not over, even though it started 14 years ago.  Even in death, the two are battling — but now, their estates are duking it out.

You can order a copy of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! at TrialAndHeirs.com if you’d like to learn more about this case and many other celebrity estate battles, so your family won’t end up the same way.

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and http://www.brmmlaw.com/ in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

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FBI investigated Anna Nicole Smith for murder of “step-son”

Brooke Astor verdict aids fight against financial elder abuse

An interesting article came out today by the Associated Press about how professionals who combat financial abuse against seniors can hold up the Brooke Astor verdict to raise awareness of the growing epidemic.  You can read the article here .  Jennifer Peltz, who wrote the article, discusses how advocates against financial exploitation of the elderly hailed the verdict and how it is far from alone.  She points that there have been many other famous cases involving the rich, such as J. Steward Johnson (heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune) and Anna Nicole Smith versus the son of her late 90-year-old billionaire husband.  The really sad part is that this problem affects many more than the wealthy in America.  Indeed, with our country’s troubled economic times, the problem of people stealing from and coercing seniors out of their money is getting worse and worse.  And the best prevention is for families to be proactive and protect their aging loved ones, especially once there is a diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But many people still refuse to think it can happen to their families.  It does!  Trust me, as a probate litigation attorney who sees this happen to real people on a regular basis (and I’m talking about average, middle class families, not just the upper class), I can assure you that every baby boomer with an aging loved one needs to be aware of this problem. Sometimes the crime involves theft or fraud.  Other times it comes in the form of coercing a change to a will or trust.  Often it involves convincing someone to add a new name to a bank account or deed.  But, these acts rarely result in criminal prosecutions.  The Brooke Astor case is very unusual from that standpoint.  It’s up to people, and experienced attorneys, to combat these acts in civil and probate courts because police and prosecutors simply don’t have the resources to take on most of these cases.  Of course, with better prevention, cases like these don’t have to happen at all.  That’s part of the reason I, and my co-author Danielle Mayoras, wrote Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!   Our book helps bring awareness to the issue and educates people about the importance of proper estate planning and avoiding family fighting over money.  We discuss the Brooke Astor, Johnson & Johnson, and Anna Nicole Smith cases (along with dozens more) to help teach families how to protect against having to end up in court after a loved one dies, fighting over money. In fact, the Associated Press article quotes me and mentions Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!  Education and raising awareness is the first step towards prevention.  That’s why celebrity cases like the ones discussed in Trial & Heirs are so important.  They help get people talking. So if you have an elderly loved one, learn about these celebrity court cases, so you can talk to and help educate your family, before it is too late. Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!  and co-founder and shareholder of  The Center for Probate Litigation and  The Center for Elder Law   in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

An interesting article came out today by the Associated Press about how professionals who combat financial abuse against seniors can hold up the Brooke Astor verdict to raise awareness of the growing epidemic.  You can read the article here

Jennifer Peltz, who wrote the article, discusses how advocates against financial exploitation of the elderly hailed the verdict and how it is far from alone.  She points that there have been many other famous cases involving the rich, such as J. Steward Johnson (heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune) and Anna Nicole Smith versus the son of her late 90-year-old billionaire husband. 

The really sad part is that this problem affects many more than the wealthy in America.  Indeed, with our country’s troubled economic times, the problem of people stealing from and coercing seniors out of their money is getting worse and worse.  And the best prevention is for families to be proactive and protect their aging loved ones, especially once there is a diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

But many people still refuse to think it can happen to their families.  It does!  Trust me, as a probate litigation attorney who sees this happen to real people on a regular basis (and I’m talking about average, middle class families, not just the upper class), I can assure you that every baby boomer with an aging loved one needs to be aware of this problem.

Sometimes the crime involves theft or fraud.  Other times it comes in the form of coercing a change to a will or trust.  Often it involves convincing someone to add a new name to a bank account or deed. 

But, these acts rarely result in criminal prosecutions.  The Brooke Astor case is very unusual from that standpoint.  It’s up to people, and experienced attorneys, to combat these acts in civil and probate courts because police and prosecutors simply don’t have the resources to take on most of these cases. 

Of course, with better prevention, cases like these don’t have to happen at all.  That’s part of the reason I, and my co-author Danielle Mayoras, wrote Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! 

Our book helps bring awareness to the issue and educates people about the importance of proper estate planning and avoiding family fighting over money.  We discuss the Brooke Astor, Johnson & Johnson, and Anna Nicole Smith cases (along with dozens more) to help teach families how to protect against having to end up in court after a loved one dies, fighting over money.

In fact, the Associated Press article quotes me and mentions Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!  Education and raising awareness is the first step towards prevention.  That’s why celebrity cases like the ones discussed in Trial & Heirs are so important.  They help get people talking.

So if you have an elderly loved one, learn about these celebrity court cases, so you can talk to and help educate your family, before it is too late.

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and http://www.brmmlaw.com/ in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

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Brooke Astor verdict aids fight against financial elder abuse

Brooke Astor’s son found guilty

The jury verdict is in for one of the most intriguing will contest cases ever.  The son of the late New York philanthropist and millionaire, Brooke Astor, had been charged with 16 counts related to fraud, larceny, forgery, and more, stemming from changes to her will and related (alleged) wrongdoing.  Here are my prior blog articles on the case . Well maybe you can remove the word “alleged”.  The jury convicted Anthony Marshall and his co-defendant, lawyer Francis X. Morrissey, Jr.  Marshall, age 85, faces up to 25 years in jail based on the guilty verdict for 14 of the 16 counts, including fraud in connection with her will, larceny, conspiracy and a host of related charges. While some of the convictions do not surprise me — especially the retroactive lump-sum pay raise he gave himself of $1 million (for managing Astor's finances) — I must express my surprise at the will-related convictions.  People with Alzheimer's have good and bad days, and proving Astor was incompetent at the moment of signing, based on the high proof required in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt), was very hard to do.  But the prosecution was aggressive.  The trial lasted more than 19 weeks and involved 72 witness who testified (in varying degrees) about Astor's mental decline.  Only two of these were defense witnesses. Marshall's attorneys have already promised an appeal.  For example, they will clearly challenge the jury verdict based on one juror's note given to the judge during their 12 days of deliberation.  The note said the female juror felt her personal safety was threatened by another juror and asked to be excused.  The judge denied the request.  Defense attorneys argue this prevented the jury from rendering a fair and objective verdict.  With a trial this long, they will likely find dozens of other grounds on which to base their appeal. In addition to the appeal, the case will also move to Surrogate's Court (New York's probate court) to determine whether the will and amendments should be invalidated based on lack of mental competency and fraud.  This seems to be a certainty after the criminal verdict.  How much of Astor's $180 million estate will pass to Marshall remains to be seen.  Here is the New York Times article about the verdict .  Families can learn two valuable lessons from this case.  First, it shows how important the proper estate planning is, because any family can be embroiled in a lengthy and expensive court fight after a loved one passes.  Good estate planning is the best way to prevent this. Second, even the very wealthy can be victims of financial exploitation and abuse.  When you have an elderly loved one with a diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer's, or even notice increased memory loss or confusion, it is time to help make sure their financial affairs are in order and monitor their bank statements and legal documents.  Apparently, even someone as wealthy as Anthony Marshall can be guilty of this crime (he was already a multi-millionaire).  Imagine what could happen to your elderly parent or grandparent with so many people desperate for money.  Do not turn a blind eye.  Be proactive.  Be safe.  Do not let what happened to Brooke Astor happen to your family members.  It's not always easy to prevent, but the sooner you spot a problem, the easier it is to prevent or rectify. Not sure how to talk to your loved ones about this?  I, with my co-author Danielle Mayoras, wrote a book to help address this very point, including a complete analysis of the Brooke Astor case and dozens of other true celebrity stories.  We help people learn from celebrity errors so they can protect their heirs.  You can learn about Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! here .    Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!  and co-founder and shareholder of  The Center for Probate Litigation and  The Center for Elder Law   in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

The jury verdict is in for one of the most intriguing will contest cases ever.  The son of the late New York philanthropist and millionaire, Brooke Astor, had been charged with 16 counts related to fraud, larceny, forgery, and more, stemming from changes to her will and related (alleged) wrongdoing.  Here are my prior blog articles on the case.

Well maybe you can remove the word “alleged”.  The jury convicted Anthony Marshall and his co-defendant, lawyer Francis X. Morrissey, Jr.  Marshall, age 85, faces up to 25 years in jail based on the guilty verdict for 14 of the 16 counts, including fraud in connection with her will, larceny, conspiracy and a host of related charges.

While some of the convictions do not surprise me — especially the retroactive lump-sum pay raise he gave himself of $1 million (for managing Astor's finances) — I must express my surprise at the will-related convictions.  People with Alzheimer's have good and bad days, and proving Astor was incompetent at the moment of signing, based on the high proof required in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt), was very hard to do. 

But the prosecution was aggressive.  The trial lasted more than 19 weeks and involved 72 witness who testified (in varying degrees) about Astor's mental decline.  Only two of these were defense witnesses.

Marshall's attorneys have already promised an appeal.  For example, they will clearly challenge the jury verdict based on one juror's note given to the judge during their 12 days of deliberation.  The note said the female juror felt her personal safety was threatened by another juror and asked to be excused.  The judge denied the request.  Defense attorneys argue this prevented the jury from rendering a fair and objective verdict.  With a trial this long, they will likely find dozens of other grounds on which to base their appeal.

In addition to the appeal, the case will also move to Surrogate's Court (New York's probate court) to determine whether the will and amendments should be invalidated based on lack of mental competency and fraud.  This seems to be a certainty after the criminal verdict.  How much of Astor's $180 million estate will pass to Marshall remains to be seen. 

Here is the New York Times article about the verdict

Families can learn two valuable lessons from this case.  First, it shows how important the proper estate planning is, because any family can be embroiled in a lengthy and expensive court fight after a loved one passes.  Good estate planning is the best way to prevent this.

Second, even the very wealthy can be victims of financial exploitation and abuse.  When you have an elderly loved one with a diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer's, or even notice increased memory loss or confusion, it is time to help make sure their financial affairs are in order and monitor their bank statements and legal documents.  Apparently, even someone as wealthy as Anthony Marshall can be guilty of this crime (he was already a multi-millionaire).  Imagine what could happen to your elderly parent or grandparent with so many people desperate for money. 

Do not turn a blind eye.  Be proactive.  Be safe.  Do not let what happened to Brooke Astor happen to your family members.  It's not always easy to prevent, but the sooner you spot a problem, the easier it is to prevent or rectify.

Not sure how to talk to your loved ones about this?  I, with my co-author Danielle Mayoras, wrote a book to help address this very point, including a complete analysis of the Brooke Astor case and dozens of other true celebrity stories.  We help people learn from celebrity errors so they can protect their heirs.  You can learn about Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! here.   

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and http://www.brmmlaw.com/ in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.

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Brooke Astor’s son found guilty

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