Previous month:
January 2009
Next month:
March 2009

February 2009

Court tells Leona Helmsley trustees "no need to dog it"

Trust attorneys come across all kinds of strange wishes.  Many people like leaving money for pets; sometimes they take their animal fondness to absurd levels.

Leona Helmsley was known to all as the “Queen of Mean.”  She gained fame in the late 1980s when she was charged with -– and found guilty of -– tax evasion.  She reportedly felt that “Only the little people pay taxes.”  Leona_Helmsley

Maybe she regretted her ways in later life.  After she died in 2007, it was publicly revealed that her trust left the bulk of her vast estate -- reportedly worth four to eight billion dollars -- to charity.  Or more specifically, to benefit dogs.  She left her own dog, a Maltese named Trouble, the biggest share, with a $12 million dollar trust fund.  Earlier court proceedings reduced this amount considerably.

Recently, a probate judge in New York answered the remaining big question -- did she really want to leave all of that money for dogs alone?  Her trust's mission statement directed that her money be used for the care and welfare of dogs.  Initially, she wanted to help indigent people first, and dogs second.  But Helmsley apparently changed her mind (maybe the "little people" didn't deserve her money after all) and removed the part about helping poor people and left only instructions to benefit dogs.

Continue reading "Court tells Leona Helmsley trustees "no need to dog it"" »

Heirs of Geronimo lawsuit

Geronimo's descendants versus the Yalies.  First the Gipp family fought about the decision to exhume the Notre Dame football star's body, now a new lawsuit has been filed over Geronimo's remains.  The great Apache warrior died in a federal prison in 1909.  It has long been rumored that a secret society of the upper crust at Yale raided his grave site in 1918 and stole his skull and other parts of his skeleton.  Geronimo

And it gets better; who was the alleged lead culprit?  None other than Prescott S. Bush (father to George Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush).  He and his rapscallion Yale classmates are believed by many to have robbed the grave for their secret Skull and Bones society.  Reportedly, the society still proudly displays these bones and members calls them "Geronimo."

This club of the extremely wealthy and powerful boasts both Bush ex-presidents and Senator John Kerry as members, according to this New York Times article about the lawsuit.

Continue reading "Heirs of Geronimo lawsuit" »

The costliest will contest case

All will contests or other disputed probate cases, in Michigan, other states -- or even other countries -- are difficult, emotional and often expensive for everyone involved.  But sometimes cases reach a whole new level that makes even seasoned probate litigators like me gasp in disbelief.  The Estate of Wilson C. Lucom has to be at the top of that list.

Lucom, an American who moved to Panama, lived a long and colorful life, including working as an aide to the secretary of state for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  His second wife left him a great deal of wealth when she died in 1981 and Lucom used his wealth to buy 7,000 of prime oceanfront property in Panama that an appraiser valued at more than $140 million. 

Lucom surprised his third wife, Hilda Lucom (who had previously been married to the son of a former Panama president) by leaving the large bulk of his estate -- including the prime real estate -- to benefit the staggering number of poor and starving children in Panama.  Half of the country's children under five are in danger of malnutrition and there is a 40% poverty rate.

Continue reading "The costliest will contest case" »

Power of Attorney Lawsuit and Gay Rights

It's been a very interesting month in the probate and estate planning field for gay rights.  Always a controversial issue, gay and lesbian life partners and their rights often present difficult legal questions for judges.  Recently in New York (a state which does not recognize gay marriages), a Surrogate's Court judge ruled that a person claiming spousal rights in an estate of his gay partner who died was entitled to have the same rights as any widower, because the marriage was done in Canada where it was legal.  Symbol2

In other words, even though New York would not have allowed the formation of the gay marriage, it was legal in the jurisdiction where it began, so the New York judge honored it.  Here is an article discussing it.

Now a federal court judge in Florida is facing a similar dilemma -- albeit one that won't necessarily be decided based on gay rights.  Jancie Langbehn was a life partner of 39-year-old Lisa Marie Pond for 17 years, until Pond fell into a coma and died at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.  When this happened, Langbehn understandably wanted to be at Pond's side.

Continue reading "Power of Attorney Lawsuit and Gay Rights" »

George "The Gipper" Gipp lawsuit clarification

The following is an email I received about my recent blog post, Michigan Court tells Gipp relatives they can't "Win one for the Gipper."
"I read your recent blog on the internet about the George Gipp DNA court fight.
George Gipp

I was one of the 8 defendants in the Gipp lawsuit you wrote about. Your story was very balanced, however, I need to correct 2 of your facts.

One, ESPN was invited there to document this as a news story for both ESPN and ABC-TV. There were only 3 cameras there -- not 8 as you note in your story. Because this was such a unique story, the Gipp family felt it was important to invite a very credible news organization to document what was happening.

Continue reading "George "The Gipper" Gipp lawsuit clarification" »

A real estate mogul's estate planning blunder

Max Farash of Rochester, New York made hundreds of millions through a very successful career, owning and developing real estate.  Estimates of his estate's worth range between 200 and 500 million dollars.  A very charitable man, Farash established a foundation that has already given two million dollars over the last ten years to various charitable causes.  Farash planned for most of his vast wealth to pass to his foundation when he dies. Max Farash 

So what's the problem?  Farash is 95 years old and has been legally incompetent for two years, because of dementia.  The court appointed a local lawyer to serve as his guardian, instead of his daughter, Lynn Farash.  During his first year serving as guardian, attorney James Gocker and those working for him earned $1.5 million from Farash's estate. 


Continue reading "A real estate mogul's estate planning blunder" »

The James Brown Estate Battle: Keeping Probate Lawyers Busy

The Godfather of Soul died during the early morning hours of Christmas Day, 2006.  It did not take long after that for the fireworks to start.  Brown left behind at least 4 women he had married, along with 6 children through marriage and 3 others who may or may not have been fathered by Brown from women he hadn't married.James Brown

And Brown made plans for all of them -- well, most of them at least.  In 2000, he created a will covering his personal property.  He then used a different estate planning attorney to create an irrevocable living trust to pass his musical legacy, image rights, businesses, and his South Carolina Island Estate to charity to benefit underprivileged students.  His total estate is valued at around $80 million, but with substantial debt.  The value can only grow if his image and song rights are properly managed.

Some of his children were not happy with so much of his property passing to charity.  Others wanted to honor his wishes.  Some challenged the trustee and estate administrators for improper management.  They even fought over where and how to bury his body.  Enough to keep those probate lawyers busy?  Wait, there's more.

Continue reading "The James Brown Estate Battle: Keeping Probate Lawyers Busy" »