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July 2009

Michael Jackson estate update: one fight down, one heats up

On Michael Jackson overload yet?  If not, start here with my summary of what's transpired with the Michael Jackson estate so far.  And here are the latest updates:Michael-Jackson-002-M

First, earlier this week, Michael's mother, Katherine, and her lawyers were in court asking the judge for permission to review key documents relating to the estate, including the contract between Jackson and the concert promoter for his recent planned tour. 

The judge previously followed Jackson's's will -- at least on a temporary basis -- and denied Katherine's permission to serve as estate executor.  He allowed an attorney and music executive to serve in that capacity until a court hearing scheduled for August 3, to decide who would be the permanent executors.

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Preview into Farrah's Fawcett's will and trust

The United Kingdom's Daily Mail newspaper reported that it has learned the contents of Farrah Fawcett's will and at least the basic provisions of her trust.  Fawcett died tragically on June 25th; she was 62 years old.  Her battle with cancer was well-documented.  Farrah_Fawcett_iconic_pinup_1976

Quoting an anonymous "source", the paper states that Fawcett left most of her money in trust for her 24-year-old son, Redmond, who is in jail for drug-related charges.  She also left a bequest to her alma mater, Texas University.

Normally trusts are private documents that keep details like these out of the public eye.  Wills are public records and can be read by anyone, because all wills have to pass through probate court.  The Daily Mail states that Fawcett's will is to be released in the next couple of weeks.  It also reports that her estate is worth 5.5 million dollars. 

With so many celebrities demonstrating how not to do good estate planning (such as Steve McNair who died without a will, and Michael Jackson who had a trust but did not fund it properly), Fawcett's reported 2007 will and trust show a good example of how to plan the right way.

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A rare victory in the fight against elderly exploitation

Brooke Astor is far from alone.  With all of the media attention on the criminal trial of Brooke Astor's son in New York, for allegedly exploiting her declining mental state to obtain control of property worth 60 million dollars, there is a feeling of many that it's a problem that would only happen to the rich and famous.

This couldn't be farther from the truth.  Especially with today's turbulent economic times, the temptation to take advantage of an elderly person with a trusting nature, questionable mental competence, and -- oh yes -- money in the bank, is much more common than people realize.  In fact, the National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that five million senior citizens become victims of financial exploitation each and every year.  Elderly woman B&W

Sadly, most of these cases go unreported.  Even the reported ones rarely result in legal action.  Police, prosecutors and other government agencies taking action to recover property obtained through fraud, exploitation or undue influence (in other words, taking advantage of a senior's mental limitations) are very rare.  They lack the resources, staffing and time to do so. 

It's hard to prove that someone elderly wasn't competent the moment when the event in question happened.  And, of course, having no witnesses to the event (other than those involved) sure makes it tough.

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Steve McNair died without a will

It's a tragic story all around.  Steve McNair had it all -- fame and fortune from a successful career as an NFL quarterback and a beautiful wife with two kids, as well as two kids from a prior relationship.  He was widely respected for being a fierce competitor who worked hard to get the most of his skills.  In 2003, he became the first African-American quarterback ever to win an NFL most valuable player award.Steve_McNair

But, McNair's life had a secret, dark side too.  On the Fourth of July of this year, he was shot and killed from four gunshot wounds, in a condominium in Nashville, Tennessee. A young woman, reported to be his girlfriend, was found dead nearby.  The Nashville police consider it to be a murder-suicide.  They believe she killed McNair and then took her own life.   McNair was only 36 years old.

Obviously, McNair's wife and four young children are now forced to come to terms with this terrible tragedy.  To make the situation worse, they won't be allowed to grieve in private and try to move on with their lives.  Instead, it will take them much longer to put this awful situation in the past because McNair wasn't prepared for his untimely death.

The Associated Press reported today that McNair died without a will.  His wife was forced to hire a probate lawyer and file to open the estate this week on an emergency basis, because his estate needs to be administered.  The court filing in a Nashville, Tennessee probate court indicated the value of his estate was not yet known.  The probate judge granted McNair's widow the legal authority to administer the estate. 

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Baby Boomers Beware: Equity Indexed Annuities

I'm straying from my usual format to address a growing concern that affects more and more seniors and almost-seniors.  In this economy and uncertain financial climate, many retirees look for a way to invest their hard-earned lifetime of savings in something "safe."  Yet, they don't want to miss out on a way to earn interest at the same time.Elderly woman

There are many financial planners and insurance agents out there who look to take advantage of baby boomers ' parents (or baby boomers themselves) who have money to invest.  They sometimes sell a type of annuity called Equity Indexed Annuities, or EIA's. 

These financial products usually come with lofty promises -- your money is guaranteed to be safe, so it won't ever go down, but you'll still earn money when the stock market goes up.  Sounds great, right?  Sign me up!

Not so fast -- there's a reason this sounds to good to be true.  There's a catch with Equity Indexed Annuities.  Some EIA's are good investments for the right people in the right circumstances.  Others are not.  How do you tell the good ones from the bad?

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Interesting twist in the Brooke Astor trial

While the Michael Jackson Estate has been capturing the nation's attention recently, the Brooke Astor trial has been a bit overlooked.  For months, it made headlines in New York (and elsewhere to a lesser extent), and for good reason.  How often does a multi-multi-millionaire go on trial -- criminally -- for allegedly committing fraud against his own mother by getting her to change the will in his favor?  Not only is this rare, it's never happened before to my knowledge.Brooke Astor 2

I discussed the trial of Anthony D. Marshall in this article a few weeks ago.  There is some damaging evidence against him, which has caused many people to assume that he'd be found guilty.  For example, his mother was diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer's disease back in 2000 before signing the 2004 amendments to the will which are in question.  Marshall even wrote a letter to her doctor about her mental decline which helped lead to the diagnosis.

But, despite this and other evidence (including the testimony of many witnesses who believed Astor wasn't competent and was confused who her son was at times), I believe it is very unlikely that Marshall and his alleged accomplice, attorney Francis X. Morrissey, Jr., will be found guilty on the will-related charges.  The larceny and similar criminal charges, unrelated to the will, are another matter.

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Michael Jackson's mother won't administer his estate

The Michael Jackson Estate was back in court again earlier this week, now that his will has surfaced.  I posted the will and my thoughts about it a few days ago.  Previously, Michael Jackson's mother had been temporarily granted control of his estate after she opened the probate proceeding stating she was not aware of him having a will.

Generally, it's pretty cut and dry when there is a will.  Whomever the will names as the executor (or co-executors when multiple people are named as in this case) is normally appointed by the probate court to have legal authority to make the decisions for the estate, including gathering property that belonged to the person who died, paying debts and dealing with creditors, selling assets, and distributing money to the beneficiaries.Michael Jackson 3

Of course, nothing can be easy with the Michael Jackson Estate.  The judge held a hearing on Monday to determine if attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain should be granted the legal authority that normally goes to those named in the will as executors.  Katherine Jackson argued the duo wasn't suitable to act, may have conflicts of interest, and that Branca had been fired by Jackson.  Branca says he was rehired on June 17th, about a week before Jackson died.

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