Wills Feed

Richard Pryor & Marlon Brando Rumor Rekindles Bitter Feud Over Pryor's Estate

Would comedian Richard Pryor be laughing or rolling over in his grave?  When Quincy Jones sat down for a recent interview with Vulture, he casually inferred that Marlon Brando slept with both Marvin Gaye and Richard Pryor.    Richard Pryor

The comment quickly snowballed when Pryor's widow, Jennifer Lee-Pryor, took to social media to confirm the Richard Pryor tryst with Marlon Brando:

She commented that Pryor would have no shame about Quincy's comments and was open in his early comedy routines about his homosexual encounters.  Jennifer felt that Pryor would have enjoyed Quincy Jones' revelation.

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Inside The Battle Raging Over The Estate of Charles Manson

Almost two months after his death, Charles Manson's body remains in limbo as an unusual legal battle heats up over control of — and the potential to profit from — his estate.    Charles Manson

This of course raises questions. Why would anyone bother to fight over the estate of a man who spent almost five decades in prison?  Even if he was one of the most infamous serial killers of all time, what could there be worth fighting over? 

And if there is money to be had, how could someone claim profits generated by a man who became famous for committing profound acts of evil, and still sleep comfortably at night?

Those questions don't seem to be slowing down three combatants vying for control of the Charles Manson estate and legacy.  An avid collector of Manson memorabilia, named Michael Channels, became pen pals with Manson after sending him about 50 letters, leading to a meeting in prison in 2002.  Manson then wrote and signed a purported will, naming Channels as his executor, authorizing his body to be released to Channels, and bequeathing all of this property to Channels.

This 2002 will specifically directed that Channels was to receive all of Manson's music and royalty rights to the songs Manson wrote, as well as his image and publishing rights.  That same will specifically disinherited anyone claiming to be a child of Charles Manson and all other relatives.

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Trouble Brewing Between George Michael Estate And His Former Lover

When British pop star George Michael, 53, whose full name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, died on Christmas Day, 2016, he was discovered by his lover, Fadi Fawaz.  Tensions have been building between Fawaz and Michael's surviving family members, which include his two sisters and his father, ever since that day.  George Michael

According to reports from England, Michael's family members want nothing to do with Fawaz, to the point that he is not even welcome at the funeral. After months of delays before Michael's body was released, during which time it was determined he died of natural causes related to a heart condition, Michael's sisters are planning a small, private ceremony at a 30-seat chapel.

Fawaz has complained that the family left him out of funeral plans and felt that he was being blamed for George Michael's death, until the final determination of how he died was made public. George Michael's cousin said it was Fawaz who snubbed the family, not the other way around.  Reportedly, Fawaz was paid more than  £10,000 a month to be with Michael.

The real battle will be over George Michael's London townhouse, estimated to be worth  £5 million.  Fawaz has been residing in the house ever since Michael died, even though Fawaz reportedly is not named as a beneficiary in Michael's will.  The family is said to be contemplating legal action to remove Fawaz from the home, which Fawaz claims he should be allowed to use.

Specifically, Fawaz believes that he had an agreement with George Michael to use the property for the foreseeable future.  This apparently was based on a conversation, not a written agreement.

If that is the case, then Fawaz would not have a legal leg to stand on.  In England, as in the U.S., agreements involving real estate must be in writing to be valid.  So if George Michael did agree that Fawaz could stay in the home -- either as part of a business arrangement or due to the personal relationship -- that would not be binding on the Estate without a written statement that spelled out the terms.

But this doesn't mean that Fawaz will go away quietly.  Because he has been living in the home, and has a claim that he is entitled to stay, the family would have to initiate legal proceedings to evict him.  Once in court, Fawaz would certainly argue that the verbal agreement gives him the right to occupy it.  And there is no telling what else Fadi Fawaz may say to complicate the matter.  That legal proceeding could turn ugly and embarrassing for Michael's family.

While the specifics of George Michael's estate plan have not yet been made public, he reportedly divided his estate -- estimated to be worth in the neighborhood of £105 million (or roughly $130 million) -- primarily between his two sisters, through a will.  If that is the case, then George Michael's last will must be publicly filed and processed through probate court, which will allow it to be easily obtainable by members of the British media or anyone else. (When wills are probated, they become public documents for anyone to read.)

So far George Michael's will has not been filed for probate because the family has focused on the funeral, which was delayed by the investigation into his cause of death.  Once it's filed, we'll know for certain who is to receive what and what assets Michael had.  We'll also find out if Michael wanted Fawaz to receive anything, including the right to stay in the London home.

George Michael's estate highlights why it is much better to rely on a living trust rather than a will.  Living trusts, when properly drafted and funded during one's lifetime, can help families avoid probate court.  They can also spell out specifically who receives what, when and how, without the necessity of  probate court, where disputes are more common.

For example, if Michael did want Fawaz to be able to occupy the London home for a time after he died, that could have been spelled out in a private trust document, free from media scrutiny.

It's not only celebrities who benefit from detailed and thorough estate planning, including living trusts.  Anyone who wants to protect their heirs from the increased expense, hassle, and public nature of probate court should talk to an estate planning attorney about whether a living trust makes sense for them.

Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and attorneys with the Michigan law firm, Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Click here to subscribe to their e-newsletter, The Trial & Heirs Update and learn more about their book. You can reach them at Contact@TrialAndHeirs.com  


Prince Estate Enters New Fight Over Who Will Inherit His Millions

So much trouble caused by such a simple concept.  When you create a will, you decide who receives your assets after you die.  If you don’t, the laws of the state you live in determine it.  What happens when those laws aren’t too clear?  Chaos.  And the Prince estate is experiencing it in full force.   Prince peforming

Maybe it’s fitting for the estate of the man who sang, “Let’s Go Crazy.”

Prince’s estate — reported to be worth as much as $300 million dollars before taxes — is tied up in the early stages of a long battle over who really are his heirs.  Still?  Didn’t the judge already resolve that months ago?

Originally, it appeared so.  Dozens of people came forward claiming to be Prince’s son, daughter, or other relative.  The DNA did not support them, and the judge denied their claims.  He determined that Prince’s full sister and five half-siblings all qualified as heirs.  He ordered the other two, a reported niece and grand-niece, to undergo DNA testing as well.

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Tom Clancy Estate Battle Ends, But Valuable Lesson Remains

While the final Tom Clancy estate battle may not have been as exciting as the climactic scenes in The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games, the struggle between author Tom Clancy’s widow and four adult children over his $86 million estate is now over.  The seven justices on the Maryland Court of Appeals (the highest court in Maryland) were asked to rule about what a key clause in the codicil to Clancy’s will actually meant.  While it was close — four votes to three — the ruling marked a decisive victory for Clancy’s widow.   Tom-clancy

Considering that Tom Clancy is one of the best-selling authors of all time, it is ironic that the fight boiled down to how to interpret a clause in his estate planning documents that was written in an unclear manner.

The dispute centered around a provision in Clancy’s second codicil (which means amendment) to his will.  The will, originally signed in 2007, divided Clancy’s assets into three trusts:  one-third for his wife, another third for his wife to use while she was alive and then onto his daughter from that marriage, and the last one-third to be split between his four adult children from a prior marriage.  You can read more details about his estate and how the dispute started in our prior article, Tom Clancy Estate In Family Fight Due To Poor Estate Planning. 

Just weeks before he died at 66 from heart failure, Clancy signed the codicil, which included this key sentence:  “No asset or proceeds of any assets shall be included in the Marital Share of the Non-Exempt Family Residuary Trust as to which a marital deduction would not be allowed if included.”

Does this language seem a bit unclear to you?  If so, you’re not alone.  The seven justices of Maryland’s highest court were closely divided about what this language meant.  The four who ruled in favor of Clancy’s widow believed that this clause meant that all estate taxes from Tom Clancy’s Estate would have to be paid by the children’s trust, not the trusts containing her money, because that was the only way to fully protect the martial deduction to federal estate tax laws.

The other three justices sided with the children.  They agreed that this clause was meant to protect the marital estate tax deduction yet felt it was not meant to alter another provision in Clancy’s will that stated that the tax bill was to be paid equally from two of the trusts, not from the children’s trust alone.  In other words, they felt that the children should only pay one-half the tax bill, not all of it, and this clause did not alter the outcome.  These justices felt that Tom Clancy wanted to protect the marital deduction but not to increase it at the expense of what his children would inherit.

Interestingly, the lawyer who drafted this codicil initially acted as executor of Tom Clancy’s estate, and he sided with the children.  This certainly suggests that the language was intended to apply as the children contended, but the law turns not on what was intended, but on what the documents actually say.

What does all this mean for Tom Clancy’s heirs?  The four children now have to pay an estate tax bill to the IRS of almost $12 million.  If they had won, the total tax bill would have been closer to $16 million, but they would have split it with one of the trusts set up for Clancy’s widow.  So they lost $8 million, and the IRS lost out on about $4 million.

That’s a lot of money in play over one awkward sentence.  Ahh rich people, problems, right?  Not so fast.

Clancy built his fortune on weaving words into compelling stories.  But with one unclear clause in his estate planning documents — a clause that the drafting lawyer felt said something different than what the Court of Appeals ruled — Clancy’s heirs were forced to battle in court for two years, with millions of dollars on the line.  And it all would have been avoided if the language was clear.

Here’s the lesson for all of us (millionaires and non-millionaires alike):  What you intend your will or trust documents to say does not matter if they are written differently than what you meant.  The wording of the documents, not what you tell your estate planning attorney, is the only thing that matters.

Battles like this do happen on a regular basis across our country.  While millions of dollars of estate taxes aren’t usually on the line, it’s very common for poorly-drafted wills and trusts to lead to long, expensive battles among heirs who read the same language in different ways.

So how do you insure that your wishes are followed and prevent a fight like this happening to your heirs?  First, work with an experienced estate planning attorney.  Attorneys who specialize in estate planning are far less likely to prepare a confusing or contradictory document that those who don’t.  This doesn’t mean that mistakes cannot happen, even by the best attorneys, but the chances are greatly reduced.  Not all lawyers are the same, just like not all doctors are.  It’s far better to work with an estate planning specialist who comes with a strong recommendation.

Second, read your documents carefully before you sign them.  Ask questions of your attorney; make sure you understand what everything means.  If you have any doubts, you can always have a trusted professional or another attorney give you a second opinion.  Taking the time to be careful and thorough is always a good idea, when it comes to estate planning.

If a fortune fight can happen to the estate of a man who made tens of millions of dollars through his words, it can happen to you too!  Take your estate planning seriously and hire the best attorney you can … and even then read the documents carefully to make sure they say what you really intend.

Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and attorneys with the Michigan law firm, Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Click here to subscribe to their e-newsletter, The Trial & Heirs Update and learn more about their book. You can reach them at Contact@TrialAndHeirs.com


Battles Coming For Muhammad Ali Estatee

Muhammad Ali was never one to shy away from battles.  From heavyweight champions in the boxing ring, to the United States Government, and to the ravaging effects of Parkinson's disease, Ali continued to fight.  Now there are growing fears that the fight will follow him into the grave, with mounting reports of trouble on the horizon for his estate and his legacy.  Muhammad-Ali

The circumstances are ripe for an estate battle.  Muhammad Ali fathered nine recognized children (including his adopted son from his most recent marriage) over the course of four different marriages.  Estate disputes between the surviving spouse and children from prior marriages are the most common source of trouble in probate courts across our country.  Add in the reality of Ali's long-standing struggles with Parkinson's disease -- which can have not only physical effects, but mental as well -- and there is a strong possibility that unhappy heirs may file challenges in court.

And, of course, there is the reality that so much money is on the line.  Initial reports are that Muhammad Ali's fortune ranged between $50 million and $80 million.  But that could just be the start.  As Entertainment Tonight reported, the value of the champ's fortune could increase dramatically now that he is gone, just as happened with Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson.

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Prince, Tupac, And Snoop Dogg: 5 Top Musical Planning Mistakes

Prince died without a will. So did Tupac Shakur, Bob Marley, and many other legendary musicians. Snoop Dogg doesn't even want a will.  Prince 2

The question is: Why?

It seems like such a basic concept; everyone needs a will. Otherwise the laws of the state you live in determine who receives your assets and controls your legacy after you die. Without a will, you have no say in what happens, and the chances of a family fight increase dramatically.

Even though a will is relatively simple to create, studies consistently show that between 60% and two-thirds of adult Americans don't have a will. All states recognize a "holographic" will, which is one in your own hand-writing. They are perfectly valid as long as a couple basic conditions are met. This is not to say they are perfect by any means, but usually better than nothing. And most lawyers can create a basic will for a few hundred dollars or even less.

Even when an estate is modest is size, dying intestate -- without a will -- is never a good idea. So why don't more adults have wills -- including a surprising number of the extremely-wealthy?

These musical superstars highlight important lessons about why so many people fail to create a will before they die:

1. Prince:  Didn't Trust Professionals

The artist originally known, then formerly known, and then known again as Prince, reportedly developed a deep distrust of professionals, including lawyers.  He felt he had been burned earlier in his career by signing legal documents, so a stream of professionals was unable to convince Prince Rogers Nelson to sign important legal documents like a will.

The result?  His heirs and his legacy are in for trouble with what will likely be an expensive and drawn-out court fight over his vast fortune and musical legacy.

The first battle over the Prince Estate will be to determine who Prince's heirs actually are.  This morning, a man named Carlin Q. Willliams filed the first official paternity claim, based on his mother's affidavit saying she met Prince in July of 1976.  One thing led to another, and nine months later, Carlin was born.  A DNA test will come next, based on blood samples already preserved from Prince's body.

This paternity claim is just the beginning of the long road for the Prince Estate, trying to determine who should receive Prince's money.  If Prince had done a simple will, his instructions would have dictated who received what.  Paternity tests would not have been necessary.

Sadly, Prince's distrust of professionals means that a large chunk of his fortune will be spent paying legions of professionals while his heirs (both actual and potential) try to sort out the mess he left behind.

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