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April 2010

Detroit Free Press article on celebrity estate fights

This past Sunday's Detroit Free Press featured an article, written by business columnist Susan Tompor, about "Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!" and how families can learn from celebrity estate fights.  Here's part of it:

What can you learn about estate planning from, the celebrity gossip site?  TrialAndHeirs_Book_angle

Plenty. Errors involving celebrity estates can motivate everyday families to talk ahead of time about who gets Mom's blown-glass collection -- long before things get overblown.

Or at least that's the theory being promoted by Troy attorneys Danielle B. and Andrew W. Mayoras.

"The reality is we're a celebrity-based culture, for better or worse," said Danielle, an estate planning attorney.

The couple, both partners at Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras in Troy, popped up last year on TV's "Rachael Ray Show" -- you can see the interview on -- to talk about their book, "Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!"

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Did insurance fraud led to murder of an elderly woman?

The Stephen Hilbert family is well known in Indiana.  Hilbert founded insurance giant Conseco, which he ran until he was forced out because he owed the company hundreds of millions of dollars.  When the company sued Hilbert to collect the giant debt, he tried to hide behind a series of trusts to shelter his fortune.  Our book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!, includes the Hilbert story to highlight what trusts are not intended to be used for.

But now Stephen Hilbert and his family are in the news for a different reason.  Hilbert's mother-in-law, Germaine "Suzy" Tomlinson, died under very questionable circumstances on September 28, 2008 at age 74. 

Her death was ruled an accident.  Hilbert and his wife aren't so sure.  Tomlinson was found fully dressed, face down in her bathtub, where she had drowned after a late night of drinking at a night club.   [See picture which reportedly was taken the night before she died] Tomlinson

There was broken glass, a shelf knocked over and a broken faucet knob in the bathroom.  The coroner found no bruising but questions how the water was turned on.  Hilbert says it doesn't add up.

Here's where it gets really interesting ... there was a 15 million dollar life insurance policy on Tomlinson's life.  That's a big policy!  And who was the beneficiary named to receive this fortune?  It wasn't any of her family members.

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NY Times has interesting feature about Mark Twain's will

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.  The New York Times commemorated his passing with an interesting article about his final wishes.  The reporter dug up a copy of his handwritten will from the dusty archives of the probate court in Redding, Connecticut, which Twain called home until he died.Mark Twain

The Times also published copies of other probate records from his estate, including a detailed inventory that listed the property he owned at death.  The executors reported his assets to be worth $541,136.07 (give or take a few cents) as of the date of his passing.  Not a bad sum for a man who found himself broke late in life and rebuilt his fortune in the ten years before he passed.

His largest asset was "50 shares of the capital stock of the Mark Twain Company" valued at $200,000.  He owned a great deal of other stock, a 230-acre homestead, some automobiles, three horses and a cow.  The court documents detail his various holdings, including the value of furnishings of each room of his house.

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The crazy claims of the Michael Jackson Estate

Given MJ's eccentricities in life, and the craziness that has surrounded his estate since he died, it is no surprise that Michael Jackson's estate executors are busy denying wild claims left and right.  Michael Jackson Trial and Heirs

TMZ has a list of the wackiest ones:

  • Jose Freddie Vallejos asked for $3.3 million to reimburse Los Angeles for the costs of the King of Pop's memorial service.
  • A homeschooler, Claire McMillan, is seeking $2 million.
  • Michael, according to Nona Paris Lola Ankhesenamun Jackson (try saying that three times fast), was actually married to her, so Nona of course wants custody of the three kids.
  • Richard Lapointe claimed he's owed $5 million for a memorabilia auction that was wrongly canceled.
  • And, best of all, a woman is convinced that Jackson wiretapped her telephone and had organized criminals watch her.  She wants a mere $50 million.

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Steve McNair's widow facing estate tax nightmare

The Steve McNair Estate has been relatively quiet lately, after a fast start with plenty of fireworks.  You can read the Probate Lawyer Blog's prior articles about it here.  But despite the apparent calm, there are still lessons to be learned.  Steve-mcnair-photograph

The lawyers for McNair's widow, Mechelle McNair, recently had to file a petition with the Tennessee probate court asking for funds to be released from a frozen trust account to pay taxes.  Ho hum, right?  Not so fast.

How much did she have to withdraw?  A cool $3.72 million -- all for state and federal estate taxes that were due earlier this month.  And that's just the estimated taxes that she has to pay now.  When the final determination of how much she, as the surviving spouse, will receive is calculated, that price tag may increase.  Her attorneys anticipate filing an amended tax return which may include even more money due to the IRS.

Why should this matter to you?  If Steve McNair had done the proper estate planning, he could have avoided all of these estate taxes for his widow.  Through a properly-drafted revocable living trust, his widow would have have avoided the tax bill.  That's right, she would have owed nothing!  (But the kids may still have owed a tax bill after she died in the future, depending on the tax laws in place then).

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Dennis Hopper's deathbed divorce battle getting uglier

Actor Dennis Hopper, at 73 years of age, is dying from cancer.  To make matters worse, he is battling in a nasty divorce that pits his three adult children, from prior marriages, against his wife, Victoria Duffy-Hopper (she's number five for Hopper, if you're keeping score), over whether she'll inherit anything when he passes.  Here is The Probate Lawyer Blog's prior article on the case.Dennis_hopper_duffy

ABC News posted its Top Ten "most hurtful accusations" from the court fight, including:

  • Hopper's assistant claimed Duffy-Hopper threatened to kill her.
  • Duffy-Hopper called Hopper an abuser who once threatened that "something bad is going to happen to you and you won't see it coming".
  • Hopper accused his wife of stealing millions worth of artwork and other valuables from him, and from secretly taking away their young daughter, preventing him from having a final Christmas with her.
  • Hopper's daughter, Marin Hopper (who is six years older than her "step-mother"), feels frightened for her safety because of Duffy-Hopper.
  • Duffy-Hopper claims that Marin and the other adult children coerced Dennis Hopper into filing the divorce by taking advantage of him when he was legally incapable of managing his affairs.

Continue reading "Dennis Hopper's deathbed divorce battle getting uglier" »

Announcing the homecoming celebration of "Trial & Heirs"

Please join Andrew Mayoras and Danielle Mayoras at the homecoming celebration and book signing for the nationally acclaimed "Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!", the new book that actually makes estate planning fun and interesting!  The event will take place at the Barnes & Noble in Troy, Michigan, on April 23, 2010, from 7 to 9 p.m. and is open to the public.

Book Celebration Evite 
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.

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