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Kiplinger's article: Cut the Lawyer out of your Will?

Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine has an interesting article that's coming out in the March 2010 issue, about do-it-yourself estate planning.  It was written by Jane Bennett Clark, Senior Associate Editor:

You’ve been dragging your feet for ages on writing a will and drawing up other estate-planning documents. Now, to avoid the hassle and expense of hiring a lawyer, you’re considering using online forms to get the job done. Companies such as Nolo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer allow you to do just that. Not only do they provide do-it-yourself estate-planning documents, but they also offer guidance on filling them out and general information on estate-planning issues. Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine cover

The cost for such off-the-rack estate planning? As little as $50 for a simple will to $220 or so for a package that includes a will and a living trust. That’s cheap compared with the $300 a lawyer might charge for a simple will or the $1,000 or more that a comprehensive estate plan might run you. Still, you get what you pay for, says Danielle Mayoras, an estate-planning attorney and coauthor, with Andrew Mayoras, of Trial & Heirs(Wise Circle; $20 at Amazon.com). Although the products themselves may be sound, one size doesn’t fit all, says Mayoras. “They don’t address as many what-ifs as if you had an attorney with you.”

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6 Tips to Avoid Exploitation of Elderly by Family Member

Danielle Mayoras was recently quoted in this interesting article by the Detroit Free Press about the growing epidemic of exploitation of the elderly.  It discussed a very sad case where a daughter took hundreds of thousands of dollars from her elderly mother and now is in jail saying the money is gone and she can't return it.Elderly woman

This is one example of how more and more families are facing the devastation caused by exploitation of elderly loved ones, often by a family member or caregiver.

So how do families protect their golden seniors, whose lifetime of savings can often be a tempting target for desperate or unethical people?  There are no magic answers, but here are a few Trial & Heirs Tips that we provided to the Detroit Free Press which ran next to the newspaper story:

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Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! The Video Preview

Curious about how celebrity estate errors can help you protect yourself, your family, and your heirs?  This video introduces our book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! by giving an overview of will and trust contests, using the Anna Nicole Smith case as an example.  Anyone who faces a probate fight like this one has to learn their legal rights!


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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Hearst family resolves conservatorship court battle

In early March, I wrote this article about how one of the granddaughters of famed media mogul William Randolph Hearst -- she of the 2.1 billion dollar net worth -- was fighting family members who felt she was no longer competent to manage her affairs.  They were worried she was being exploited and taken advantage of because she kept give people large checks (in the six-figure range).Phoebe Hearst

Phoebe Hearst Cooke went through multiple attorneys trying to prove she could manage her own affairs.  Meanwhile, a court-appointed guardian handled her finances, selling some of her prized horses and cattle, which upset Cooke. 

A few days ago, the court was scheduled to hold a trial to determine if she was truly competent or not.  Interestingly, the family requested that the hearing be closed to the public to keep the details from being sorted out in front of the media.  The judge denied the request.

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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.

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Peter Falk may need a guardian

Sadly, the daughter of actor Peter Falk, age 81, has filed for guardianship / conservatorship over her father.  Catherine Falk recently initiated legal proceedings in Los Angeles County Superior Court (which is what the local probate court is called there) due to her father's Alzheimer's disease.  She asks for the appointment of a conservator over his person (called guardianship in most states) because he "requires full-time custodial care for his health and safety."  She also asks for a conservator over his finances to make his financial decisions to protect him from "fraud or undue influence" because she is worried that he may be deceived into transferring away his property.Falk 2

Guardianships and Conservatorships are probate court proceedings where people ask a judge to declare someone legally incapable of making appropriate decisions and to appoint someone to make decisions for him or her.  These, like other legal proceedings, are public records and can be difficult and expensive when conflicts or other problems arise.

Like other probate court matters, they can usually be avoided.  If Peter Falk had a proper estate plan, including a power of attorney, he could have named his daughter or someone else he trusted to make his decisions for him if the time came when he no longer could.  Of course, even when someone has a power of attorney, court proceedings like these can still be necessary if there is family conflict.

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