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October 2009

New evidence coming in the Michael Jackson Estate case

The Michael Jackson probate dispute between his mother and his two executors has been active since it started this summer.  But it looks like it's about to really get heated up. Michael-Jackson-Estate-Trial-and-Heirs

For starters, Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother and a primary beneficiary (along with his children and unnamed charities), has been challenging decisions made by co-executors John Branca and John McClain on a regular basis.  She had asked for, and received, permission from the judge to allow her to challenge them based on conflict of interest and undue influence without jeopardizing her rights as a beneficiary under the "no contest clause" of Jackson's will and trust.

A "no contest clause" is a common provision than many people use in their wills and trusts to discourage family fighting.  It usually says that anyone who files a legal challenge and loses gives up their inheritance.  Katherine Jackson wanted to be free to challenge Branca and McClain without fear of losing her inheritance, and the judge allowed her to do so.

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FBI investigated Anna Nicole Smith for murder of "step-son"

Probate disputes over whether a will or trust was valid, or instead was signed at at time when the person was mentally incompetent or subject to undue influence, are common.  They're also very emotional and difficult for everyone involved.  The Anna Nicole Smith case -- the Granddaddy of all probate disputes -- illustrates this more than any other.  Anna-Nicole-Smith-Estate-Trial-and-Heirs

I discussed the case in this article, including how the estate executor/lawyer/former boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, not only lost a request he filed in the federal Court of Appeals on behalf of Smith's Estate, but how he was charged criminally with conspiring to provide Anna Nicole with the prescription drugs that killed her.

In Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights, which I wrote with Danielle Mayoras, we discuss the case at length (along with dozens more) so people can learn from celebrity errors, protect their heirs, and know their legal rights if they find themselves in a family fortune fight.

But a new twist on the case surfaced recently.  While this development did not affect the case itself, and turned out to be nothing important in the end, it highlights how difficult these cases can get for those going through them.  And yes, not just the rich and famous!

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Family fight over control of Michael Crichton's trust

Celebrity estate battles just keep coming.  Here's the UPI article about the latest in a long line of court cases involving dueling heirs of the rich and famous.  Best selling author Michael Crichton (writer of ER and Jurassic Park) left behind a messy estate and trust because he failed to update his estate planning documents to provide for his son, not yet born when he died of cancer at age 66.  I wrote about the problems this caused in a prior articleMichael_crichton

Then his estate had to contend with the claim of his wife, Sherri Alexander, who filed paperworking seeking seven million dollars from his estate under a prenuptial agreement she signed with her famous husband in April 2005, before their marriage.

But the real fight just began.  A few days ago, Crichton's daughter, Taylor Crichton, filed a petition in the Los Angeles Probate Court to remove Sherri as one of the three trustees of Crichton's trust, claiming she's breached her fiduciary duties.

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Brooke Astor verdict aids fight against financial elder abuse

An interesting article came out today by the Associated Press about how professionals who combat financial abuse against seniors can hold up the Brooke Astor verdict to raise awareness of the growing epidemic.  You can read the article hereBrooke Astor

Jennifer Peltz, who wrote the article, discusses how advocates against financial exploitation of the elderly hailed the verdict and how it is far from alone.  She points that there have been many other famous cases involving the rich, such as J. Steward Johnson (heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune) and Anna Nicole Smith versus the son of her late 90-year-old billionaire husband. 

The really sad part is that this problem affects many more than the wealthy in America.  Indeed, with our country's troubled economic times, the problem of people stealing from and coercing seniors out of their money is getting worse and worse.  And the best prevention is for families to be proactive and protect their aging loved ones, especially once there is a diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Estate fight is resolved

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s three children have been fighting with each other in court over control of his estate and financial legacy.  Here are my prior articles about the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate fight.  Two of the three children had sued Dexter King, their brother, who had the legal authority to make decisions regarding the King Estate.  The Estate was run through a corporation, which Dexter oversaw, until the 2008 lawsuit filed against him in Georgia.MLK

Recently, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural D. Glanville had ordered the trio to hold a shareholders meeting and try to resolve their differences.  He also ruled the case would go to trial if no settlement was reached.  Obviously, no one involved wanted the legacy of Martin Luther King fought over in a very public courtroom.

So the three children settled, reported today by the Associated Press.  They agreed to allow a neutral person to act as "temporary custodian" to manage the King legacy and corporation, and give the three children time to repair their fractured relationship.

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Brooke Astor's son found guilty

The jury verdict is in for one of the most intriguing will contest cases ever.  The son of the late New York philanthropist and millionaire, Brooke Astor, had been charged with 16 counts related to fraud, larceny, forgery, and more, stemming from changes to her will and related (alleged) wrongdoing.  Here are my prior blog articles on the case. Brooke Astor 2

Well maybe you can remove the word "alleged".  The jury convicted Anthony Marshall and his co-defendant, lawyer Francis X. Morrissey, Jr.  Marshall, age 85, faces up to 25 years in jail based on the guilty verdict for 14 of the 16 counts, including fraud in connection with her will, larceny, conspiracy and a host of related charges.

While some of the convictions do not surprise me -- especially the retroactive lump-sum pay raise he gave himself of $1 million (for managing Astor's finances) -- I must express my surprise at the will-related convictions.  People with Alzheimer's have good and bad days, and proving Astor was incompetent at the moment of signing, based on the high proof required in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt), was very hard to do. 

But the prosecution was aggressive.  The trial lasted more than 19 weeks and involved 72 witness who testified (in varying degrees) about Astor's mental decline.  Only two of these were defense witnesses.

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New Book To Help Avoid Celebrity Estate Planning Blunders

“Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!” Explores High-Profile Cases & Offers Expert Advice



The highly publicized estate battles of several deceased celebrities have cast a bright spotlight on the importance of having the proper estate planning. Although mega-rich celebrities seem to be affected overwhelmingly by these brutal family squabbles, the new book


"Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!" is designed to help every family, regardless of income level, avoid the financial pitfalls that drained bank accounts and created huge family rifts for the dozens of superstars profiled in the book. 

“Trial & Heirs” uses real stories to help readers steer clear of the same celebrity “estate errors” as they plan for their own “heirs.” The stories cover well known legal fights over famous fortunes: including the recent battles over Michael Jackson’s estate, along with other celebrities like Ted Kennedy; Anna Nicole Smith; Brooke Astor; Heath Ledger, Ray Charles; Princess Di; Jimi Hendrix; Frank Sinatra; Martin Luther King Jr.; and Rosa Parks… as well as many others that most people aren’t even aware of.  The book gives readers a front row seat in the courtroom while the authors replay the “tabloid drama”, point out what went wrong in these riveting cases, and teach readers how to avoid similar errors.

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