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Bo Schembechler's son sues his stepmom over trust

Glenn E. "Bo" Schembechler, Jr., is one of the most respected names in the history of college football.  And, no, I'm not saying that just because I graduated from the University of Michigan (twice).  He built one of the most successful football programs around, and it excelled for decades.Bo_Schembechler

Coach Bo died of heart disease on November 17, 2006, at age 77.  He was survived by his second wife, Kathryn, his son, Glenn III, and two children of his beloved first wife, Millie, whom Bo had adopted (a third adopted son died before him).

From an estate planning perspective, Bo did everything right to avoid a family fight after he passed.  He created a living trust, which was quite detailed and left the income from his assets to his wife, Kathryn, passing from there to his son Glenn III (known as "Shemy"), and then onto his grandchildren and Kathryn's grandchildren. 

He chose Kathryn as his successor trustee to manage his trust after he passed.  As part of this responsibility, Kathryn was required to furnish reports four times each year to Bo's son, Shemy.  Recently, Shemy sued Kathryn in federal court in Columbus, Ohio (home to the school which was Bo's chief rival, which shall remain nameless here).  Shemy alleged she hadn't furnished the reports as required by the trust and Ohio law.  

It appears, according to Shemy's attorneys, that Kathryn hasn't shared any financial information with him since Bo died almost three years ago.  The lawsuit includes a letter written by Bo's trusted financial adviser trying to convince Kathryn to turn over the information.  According to the Complaint that started the lawsuit (which you can read here:  Download Schembechler complaint), she failed to respond to the letter or other requests.

Usually, one of the big benefits of a living trust, when properly funded (as this one appears to have been), is that it reduces the chances of a family fight in court.  But, that is only the case if the person names as trustee does what he or she is required to do.  When that person fails to act properly, court proceedings like this one are the last choice of trust beneficiaries.

When that happens, it turns a private matter, public.  When Shemy's attorneys filed the lawsuit, they made the trust document a public record for the world to read. 

Because of this, we now can read the trust agreement of Bo Schembechler, which is interesting.  It shows that his trust leaves nothing to his two adopted children still living (although it does include the grandchildren of one of them).  Yet, his widow's grandchildren are named as beneficiaries in the trust, treated equally with Bo's grandchildren.  (Keep in mind that it's possible Bo made other arrangements for those who were excluded, apart from the trust).

Due to Kathryn's (alleged) secrecy, this information is now public.  And an expensive court fight has started.  It's a good lesson for everyone left in charge of an estate or trust ... don't leave the other beneficiaries in the dark.  It's amazing how many family fights in court, after a loved one passes, are started for this very reason.

In the new book I co-wrote, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!, we explore other cases of rich and famous people that were started for this same reason (along with many other cases), including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.  We share specific ways that people who find themselves with the job of trustee or executor can avoid these types of court fights, as well as what rights beneficiaries have.  And the first rule for those in charge is -- don't be secretive!  Share information!  How do you know what information to share or not share?  When in doubt, ask a good estate attorney

I'm guessing that Glenn Schembechler III didn't want to take his stepmother to court.  Indeed, he waited almost three years after his father died to do so, when he could have started this case three months after Bo died (assuming his allegations that no reports were provided are accurate).   

Hopefully, for everyone involved in the Schembechler family, this lawsuit will be resolved quickly. 

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.

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