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January 2012

Etta James, Others Remind Of Need For Estate Planning in 2012

A few weeks into the new year, how many of your New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside?  Exercise more. Eat less.  Spend more quality time with family.   Etta_James

Well it’s not too late to tackle a very important resolution that up to two-thirds of adults in our country ignore — estate planning. That’s right, it’s the topic no one likes to think about, but everyone knows they should take care of … wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and more.

It doesn’t have to be intimidating! In fact, celebrity stories are a great way to break the ice to remind everyone of what they need to do.

So, with the help of some recent stories in the news, here are Trial & Heirs: New Years Estate Planning Resolutions for 2012.  (We just gave an interview discussing some of these stories, which you can watch here).

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Estate of Richard Pratt, Australian Billionaire, Defeats Mistress In Court

Richard Pratt had a colorful life, until he died at age 74 on April 28, 2009.  A former professional Australian rules football player and stage actor, he inherited his father’s small cardboard business in 1969 and grew it into one of the world’s largest privately-owned recycling and packaging companies.   Richard-pratt

Pratt peaked on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires at number 321 in 2005.  Two years later, his fortune was valued by Forbes at $2.5 billion (in U.S. dollars).  His fortune declined from there, and Pratt eventually admitted to a massive price-fixing scheme, paying a record $33 million fine.  Pratt still managed to wind up as Australia’s fourth wealthiest person, leaving behind a $5.5 billion estate (in Australian dollars).

It was well known in Australian society that Pratt enjoyed the company of mistresses, one of whom gave birth to a daughter by Pratt in 1997.  But it’s another mistress who  caused the biggest headache for Pratt’s estate. Madison Ashton (also known as Christine McQueen) was a Penthouse Pet. She sued Pratt’s estate for millions, claiming he reneged on a “business agreement”.

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Did Ryan O'Neal Steal Painting From Farrah Fawcett's Estate?

Seventies beauty icon Farrah Fawcett died in June of 2009 at the age of 62, following a terrible battle with cancer.  She did the proper estate planning, complete with a will and a trust.   [You can read the trust here].  So why are there not one, but two lawsuits over one of her assets?   Farrah Fawcett 2

It all comes down to a famous Andy Warhol painting of Fawcett.  Warhol painted two silkscreen paintings of Fawcett and reportedly gave them both to her as presents.  [You can see one of the two paintings here].

Fawcett’s trust provides that her art collection passed to the University of Texas, her alma mater.  The University received one of the two Warhol paintings, but not the other.  So where is it?

In the possession of Fawcett’s  former on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ryan O’Neal … and he doesn’t even dispute that he has it.  So the University of Texas sued O’Neal, claiming the painting belonged to Fawcett when she died and should now belong to it.

O’Neal denies it.  He says he was friends with Warhol even before Fawcett, and Warhol gave him the painting.  He’s so incensed about the lawsuit that he started one of his own … against a man named Craig Nevius.

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Rosa Parks' Final Wishes, Ignored for Years, Are Finally Restored

She ranks as one of the greatest civil rights icons of all time, all starting with a seemingly simple act of refusing to move from a bus seat.  Rosa Parks passed away at age 92 in 2005, living in a modest apartment in Detroit, Michigan.  Her estate was modest too. Officially valued at $372, 624 in monetary terms, but of course priceless in terms of memories and historical significance.   Rosa Parks

Her final wishes were not so modest.  She assigned all of her belongings to a charitable institute to “educate and motivate youth and adults, particularly African American persons, for self and community betterment.”   She called this the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.  She named her close friend, Elaine Steele, along with a retired Detroit judge, to oversee her estate.  She also named Elaine Steele as a prominent beneficiary, including a 90% recipient of royalties, with 10% passing to her nieces and nephews.

But Parks’ many nieces and nephews did not agree with her final will and trust, which were created in July, 1998.  They sued to challenge the estate plan, accusing Steele of using undue influence on Parks.  Steele denied it.  After the case was started, amid claims of mismanagement, the probate judge removed Steele and the other appointed executor and replaced them with two local attorneys.

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