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November 2009

Hearst Family Legal Battle teaches important lessons

CNN and Fortune Magazine recently featured a fascinating article about the legal battle between John Randolph "Bunky" Hearst, Jr., and his ex-wife.  Bunky is one of the grandsons of famed media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who left behind the powerful Hearst Corp. 

William Randolph Hearst died in 1951 with a trust and estate worth about $400 million in today's dollars.  But, more importantly, his trust established a corporate framework that enabled his board of trustees to expand the Hearst holdings into a multi-billion dollar media empire, owning hundreds of magazines, newspapers, television stations, 20% of ESPN,Bunky_barbara_hearst and more.  Here is the wikipedia page about Hearst Corp. that overviews how expansive it is. 

William Randolph Hearst's estate plan is a great example of how trusts can be used to maximize financial legacies and protect your heirs.  While most people don't have to establish complicated boards to manage extensive business holdings like Hearst, everyone can learn a lesson here. 

Livings trusts are the best way to pass along assets (be they vast or limited) because they can be individually tailored to meet the needs of any family.  Do you have modest assets and children who are good with money?  Maybe you want your trust to leave it to them all at once. 

Continue reading "Hearst Family Legal Battle teaches important lessons" » Video: From Jimi to Jacko: Estate Planning Folly

Danielle Mayoras and I were recently interviewed by about our new book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!  You can watch the interview 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 awmayoras @

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New Michael Jackson Estate Deal Reported

A couple weeks ago, I wrote how Katherine Jackson had a surprising "change of heart" by dropping her challenge to the executors for Michael's estate.  In fact, her husband Joe Jackson was shocked -- his lawyer called the move "despicable".  Michael Jackson Trial and Heirs

Well, if this exclusive report from the United Kingdom website News of the World is accurate, we now know why Katherine did so.

According to this report (which has been picked up by MSN Entertainment along with other websites), Katherine made the deal because the executors, John Branca and John McClain, had agreed to add a trusted family member as a third executor.  And, even better, this new executor would have veto power over decisions of Branca and McClain. 

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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.Fawcett family

First, the document was her Trust, not her will.  You can read it here, courtesy of  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).

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Bo Schembechler's son sues his stepmom over trust

Glenn E. "Bo" Schembechler, Jr., is one of the most respected names in the history of college football.  And, no, I'm not saying that just because I graduated from the University of Michigan (twice).  He built one of the most successful football programs around, and it excelled for decades.Bo_Schembechler

Coach Bo died of heart disease on November 17, 2006, at age 77.  He was survived by his second wife, Kathryn, his son, Glenn III, and two children of his beloved first wife, Millie, whom Bo had adopted (a third adopted son died before him).

From an estate planning perspective, Bo did everything right to avoid a family fight after he passed.  He created a living trust, which was quite detailed and left the income from his assets to his wife, Kathryn, passing from there to his son Glenn III (known as "Shemy"), and then onto his grandchildren and Kathryn's grandchildren. 

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Katherine Jackson's shocking change of heart

The Michael Jackson Estate has been the subject of regular court hearings as Katherine Jackson battled for control over the last several months.  She routinely objected to the decisions of the co-executors John Branca and John McClain.  Recently, she hired a new attorney with the promise of taking the case in a new direction, as I discussed in this recent article about the Michael Jackson case.Michael Jackson Trial and Heirs

Her case took a new direction, all right.  She decided to drop her claim.  That's right, she stopped fighting and agreed to let the executors run the show without her.

Surprised?  I was.  And I was far from the only one.  Here's what a lawyer in the case said about Katherine Jackson's change of heart, according to CNN:

"She has now reneged on her obligation to her family."  This same lawyer then said that it was "one of the most despicable displays" he'd ever seen in court.  He even accused Katherine of colluding with the estate executors in a "secret deal".

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Leona Helmsley charity battle rages on

As I described in this article from February 2009, the trustees of the Leona Helmsley charitable trust asked the probate court in New York for permission to donate primarily to charities that helped people rather than dogs, despite some language in the trust that suggested she wanted her billions to benefits animal charities.  Leona_Helmsley_Trial_and_Heirs

Specifically, the trust had a Mission Statement that included, as its first purpose "the provision of the care for dogs".  But it also gave the trustees discretion to benefit charities as they saw fit.  This is a very important decisions for many charities (not to mention the people or animals they help) because we're talking about several billion dollars. 

This August, several different animal charities, including the Humane Society and American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, launched a legal challenge to the judge's ruling to force the trustees to support animal charities.  Reportedly, the trustees so far have donated very little to help dogs.

There was a big question whether these charities even had proper "standing" to bring this action (meaning whether or not they had the legal ability to challenge the judge's ruling even though they were not named beneficiaries).  So far, their challenge has been allowed to proceed.

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