Jerry Garcia’s Estate Difficulties

It is not always the best idea to name a close family member to be the executor of your estate. It can cause problems, as was the case for Jerry Garcia’s estate.

It probably never should have been assumed that Jerry Garcia’s estate administration would go smoothly, after he passed away in 1995. At first, it did seem that maybe there would not be any major problems.

However, Garcia passed away after being married three times, having four children and having one stepchild.

Even after his third wife threw the first two wives out of his funeral, it did not necessarily mean the estate administration itself would go wrong. No one challenged his will, for example.

The big mistake came when the third wife, Debra Koons, was chosen to administer the estate, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “The Wrong Executor Can Make Family Drama Worse, As Jerry Garcia’s Heirs Discovered.”

The problem for Garcia’s estate is that his other heirs objected to many of the decisions that Koons made. They felt she was acting in her own interests and not in the best interests of everyone.

This led to constant family squabbles and made the estate administration more costly and time-consuming than it needed to be.

The problems should have been anticipated.

It would have been wiser to have an independent professional hired to handle the administration of the estate. That might not have been a solution to all of the problems, but it would have taken much of the family drama out of the situation.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 12, 2017) “The Wrong Executor Can Make Family Drama Worse, As Jerry Garcia’s Heirs Discovered.”

Bank Hit with $4 Billion in Punitive Damages

For its role in administering an estate, JPMorgan was sued for damages by the widow and two stepchildren. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $4 billion in punitive damages.

Max Hopper is not a well-known figure. However, he became a wealthy man during his time as an executive at American Airlines.
He was best known for creating an innovative reservation system.

At the time of his death, his estate was valued at $19 million.

Unfortunately, he did not have an estate plan.

The bank JPMorgan was chosen to administer his complex estate. However, Hopper’s widow and her stepchildren grew angry at the way the bank was handling the estate and accused it of delaying distributions for its own benefit.

They sued in a Dallas court.

A jury recently came down with a verdict.

JPMorgan was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $5 million in actual damages and $4 billion in punitive damages, as Bloomberg reports in “JPMorgan Ordered to Pay More Than $4 Billion to Widow and Family.”

It is very likely courts will greatly reduce this punitive damage award, since the Supreme Court has previously ruled that punitive damages must be proportional to actual damages.

Nevertheless, this case highlights an important point.

Estate administrators can be held liable, if they do not faithfully carry out their duties.

The jury in this case believed that the bank was guilty of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and breaking a fee agreement.

JPMorgan is a sophisticated entity that should have known better.

Estate administrators with less experience would be wise to seek the assistance of an attorney to help them make sure they do not run afoul of the law.

Reference: Bloomberg (Sep. 26, 2017) “JPMorgan Ordered to Pay More Than $4 Billion to Widow and Family.”

Exhuming Dali’s Body

A Spanish court has issued an order to exhume the body of legendary artist Salvador Dali, almost a quarter of a century after he passed away.

Salvador Dali was well known both for his eccentric art and his eccentric lifestyle. He was not known to have any children, but one Spanish woman claims that she is likely Dali’s child.

The only problem is that she cannot prove her claims, since Dali passed away in 1989 at the age of 85.

The woman makes her living as a professional tarot card reader, so perhaps she could prove her paternity by reading the cards. However, she refuses to do such a self-reading. Instead, she has asked the Spanish courts to intervene.

A judge found enough basis for her claims, that Dali’s body has been ordered to be exhumed from its current resting place underneath a theater in Dali’s hometown so DNA testing can be performed, as the Washington Post reports in “Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali’s body exhumed for paternity test.”

It is not clear what the woman hopes to gain from the testing. Dali’s estate has long been closed and all of his valuable artwork donated to the Spanish government.

Even though the artwork is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, it is unlikely the woman could lay claim to any of that money. For her part, she seems uncertain of what she wants, if Dali does turn out to be her father.

She has only stated that she wants “what corresponds to her.”

It is not unheard of to reopen an estate or exhume a body to prove that the deceased had a previously unknown child. In this case, however, it probably is not going to do any good for the woman, beyond learning whether Dali really was her father.

Reference: Washington Post (June 26, 2017) “Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali’s body exhumed for paternity test.”

Alan Thicke Estate Battle

Alan Thicke’s sons are fighting with their stepmother over their father’s estate.

Two of deceased actor Alan Thicke’s sons have entered the probate case to settle their father’s estate with a unique claim. The have filed a claim suggesting that Thicke’s third wife, Tanya Callau, is attempting to get more of the estate than she is entitled to receive and that she has threatened to go to the tabloids, if she does not get her way.

Thicke and Callau had a prenuptial agreement and she is already set to get a sizeable portion of his estate. Her take includes 25% of his personal assets, 40% of the remainder of the estate, a $500,000 life insurance payment and she can stay in the residence for the remainder of her life.

The sons have not stated what else Callau wants and it is not known what she would tell the tabloids, if she went to them.

TMZ reported this story in “Alan Thicke Sons Go To War With His Wife To Protect the Estate.”

Other than the celebrity nature of this estate and the alleged threat to get the tabloids involved, this is, of course, not a particularly unusual estate battle.

Adult children are often at odds with a surviving step-parent and that battle often makes its way into probate court to fight over the estate. This is especially true when there are large sums of money involved.

Wealthy people who have remarried and who have children from previous relationships, need to understand how common these types of fight are. They then need to make estate plans with that in mind, if they hope to minimize the problems.

Reference: TMZ (May 16, 2017) “Alan Thicke Sons Go To War With His Wife To Protect the Estate.

Suing Yourself on Behalf of an Estate

Estate executors and personal representatives have a duty to the estate to pursue any causes of action that the estate might have, but what if that means they have to sue themselves? A case in Utah answers that question.

If a deceased person or the estate of that person has reasonable legal recourse against some other person or entity, then it is ordinarily the duty of the estate’s representative to pursue that action in court. However, a recent case in Utah shows how that can lead to interesting results.

A man died in a one-vehicle accident when his common law wife was driving. The wife was the man’s sole heir and was named the personal representative of his estate. In that capacity, on behalf of the estate, she filed a lawsuit against herself for wrongful death. Then, in her capacity as an individual and the defendant in the wrongful death case, she moved to dismiss the case on the grounds she could not sue herself.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuit.

The grounds?

Public policy prevents someone from suing themselves.

However, the Utah Supreme Court reversed that and allowed the wrongful death lawsuit to continue.
The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed this case in “Case Summary on Suing Yourself as Personal Representative for Wrongful Death.”

At first glance, this might seem ridiculous and pointless, since the woman is the sole heir. Even if the estate collects money from the lawsuit, it would just go to her. However, there are a couple of things that could be going on here.

Before any heirs receive their inheritances from the estate, any debts of the deceased have to be paid. It could be that the estate cannot cover the man’s debts, unless judgment is obtained against the woman.

Another possibility is that the woman had insurance at the time of the accident. In that case, the insurance company might be required to indemnify her if she is held liable for wrongful death.
Thus, the estate would not really be collecting from her. It would be collecting from the insurance company.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Dec. 22, 2016) “Case Summary on Suing Yourself as Personal Representative for Wrongful Death”

Family Estate Disputes Not Just about Money

It is well known that many wealthy families have massive fights over estates. Sometimes, the public watches these disputes play out in the courts and media. They are not just about money.

Estate battles have been going on between siblings for as long as there have been estates and wealthy people who pass away. History books are full of the wars that occurred when a king passed away and his children fought with large armies for the crown.

In the U.S., the participants in a family estate fight no longer enlist armies and fight it out on a field of battle. People now fight things out in court. However, the reasons for the disputes today are very similar to what they were hundreds of years ago.

While ostensibly these feuds are over the wealth, crown or other inheritance, there is normally something deeper going on as Psych Central points out in “Death, Wealth, and the Psychological Anatomy of a Family Dispute.”

Psychologists and even pop culture have known for a long time about sibling rivalry. Although there is disagreement about the core reasons for the phenomenon, no one disputes that it exists. Whether it has its roots in birth order, a desire to be loved more by parents or something else, sibling rivalry is a real thing that does not go away when children grow up.

The same psychological reasons that lead siblings to argue over who gets to ride shotgun in the car, are the same reasons that lead to arguments over estates.

Little can be done to end sibling rivalry in a family. On the other hand, knowing that it exists and making estate plans with it in mind, can go a long way toward making sure it does not get completely out of control in a fight over an estate.

Reference: Psych Central (Dec. 13, 2016) “Death, Wealth, and the Psychological Anatomy of a Family Dispute.”