Fight Over Barry White’s Estate

When someone says that you should trust them to handle an estate and be fair to you, it is not usually a good idea to agree to that idea, without first seeing the estate plan so you know what you are supposed to receive.

Barry White passed away in 2003. To date, his estate has stayed out of the news.

For a celebrity estate it has been a smooth estate administration by all appearances. However, Darryl White, Barry’s son, has now filed a lawsuit opening up the estate to public scrutiny.

Darryl claims that when his father passed away, his widow told Darryl that she would make sure he got his fair share of the estate, as long as he agreed not to challenge the estate. For his part, Darryl claims he never even saw his father’s will to know what he was supposed to receive.

He received regular payments until 2015, when they suddenly stopped. He believes the money is now being wasted by his stepmother.

Darryl has filed suit and is demanding to see the will to know what it is he should be receiving.

TMZ reported on this story in “Barry White’s Son Sues My Dad’s Widow Can’t Get Enough of His Dough.”
In one sense, this is not an unusual story.

It is very common for children to have fights with a step-parent over an estate. On the other hand, this is an extremely unusual story.

It is not at all common for a child to trust the step-parent enough to agree to her terms, without at least seeing the estate plan and knowing what the child is supposed to inherit.

If nothing else, this case illustrates why it is an obviously bad idea for the child to agree to that.

Reference: TMZ (May 24, 2017) “Barry White’s Son Sues My Dad’s Widow Can’t Get Enough of His Dough.”

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.

Daughter Sues Mother for Wasting Her Inheritance

A case in New York is a good reminder that it is very important to make sure that trusts details are specific, in order to make the settlor’s wishes crystal clear.

The story had a Hollywood beginning. A schoolteacher and a wealthy real estate investor met through a singles ad, fell in love, got married and had a child.

From that beginning, things quickly turned south.

According to court records filed by the child of that marriage, Elizabeth Marcus, her mother refused to sleep with her father after she was born. The two divorced after a few years and the father passed away, when Marcus was nine years old.

The father did not want his ex-wife to receive any of his assets and instead left half his estate in trust to Marcus. Another child from a previous marriage received the other half.

The trust was originally overseen by Citibank, but after fighting for several years, the mother took control of the trust in 2003, according to the Daily Mail in “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

Marcus is suing her mother now, claiming that her mother has stolen her inheritance to buy expensive items for herself, including a mansion and fancy cars. Most of the original inheritance is now alleged to be gone.

The mother, of course, denies the accusations.

The missing piece of the puzzle from the reports is how the mother was able to gain control of the trust, if the father did not wish her to have it. He might have neglected to be clearer about his wishes in the trust documents.

Reference: Daily Mail (April 23, 2017) “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

Wills Can Be Changed

Spouses will often agree to get wills. They or their heirs believe that a contract has been entered into that prevents those wills from being changed. It is not true.

It is fairly common in estate planning attorneys’ offices, for a husband and wife to come in and declare that they both want similar wills drawn up. These wills are often referred to as “mirror image wills.”

The most common form they take, is that each spouse gets a will leaving everything he or she owns to the surviving spouse. The second to pass away spouse, then gives everything to the children or other agreed upon heirs.

Despite their seeming simplicity, these wills are an unusually common source of litigation, as the National Law Review discusses in “Contracts to Make Wills or Trusts.”

The problem starts when the surviving spouse has a change of plans and changes his or her will to divide things differently or to give the estate to different heirs.

The heirs of the original mirror image wills routinely argue in court, that the spouses entered into a contract to make the original wills. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case in almost all circumstances.

To be valid, a contract requires that a person receive some sort of compensation, called consideration, for whatever promise it is that they are contracted to perform.

In the case of mirror image wills, spouses rarely receive any form of consideration for promising not to change the will later.

It is important to understand this point, because the issue frequently comes up in estate litigation. It costs estates a lot of money, when the issue is raised.

Reference: National Law Review (April 10, 2017) “Contracts to Make Wills or Trusts.”

An Estate Battle over Support for Donald Trump

In an extremely unusual case, the children of Phyllis Schlafly are involved in a bitter dispute over her estate that appears to have started, when Schlafly decided to support Donald Trump for President.

Throughout the late 20th century, Phyllis Schlafly was a well-known and powerful force in Republican politics. She is often credited with personally defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, when it appeared to be on the verge of passing.

Although she had faded away from the public eye in recent years, Schlafly remained an important figure in Republican circles until she passed away in 2016. When she endorsed Donald Trump for President during the 2016 primaries, it might not have mattered to the general public, but it did matter in the Republican operative world.

It also appears to have mattered to her children and her estate, as the Daily Mail reports in “Children of late conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly at war over their inheritance and have been fighting since she threw her support behind Donald Trump.”

Schlafly’s endorsement of Trump created a rift between her sons, who supported the decision, and her daughter, who opposed it. The daughter claims that the decision was influenced by Republican political operative Ed Martin.

Since Schlafly passed away, Martin has been creating political action committees in her name to support Trump and the daughter has attempted to stop him. She also claims that Martin and her brothers unduly influenced their mother to change her will in their favor and to make it more difficult for the daughter to challenge the will.

This is disputed by the sons.

Reference: Daily Mail (March 23, 2017) “Children of late conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly at war over their inheritance and have been fighting since she threw her support behind Donald Trump.”

Tennessee’s Cowan Rule

In most states, to completely disinherit a child in a will, parents have to mention the child and specifically disinherit him or her. Otherwise, it is presumed that the child was left out by mistake. Tennessee has an exception to the rule.

J. Don Brock, the late CEO of Astec Industries, wrote many wills over the years. He executed new wills in 1994, 1998, 2006, 2012 and 2013. His first three wills all did different things with regard to his five adopted children.

They were given various amounts of money or cut out from receiving anything in the different wills. The last two wills did not mention the adopted children at all. They claim that was done by their stepmother, in order to preserve the assets of Astec Industries for herself.

The children filed a lawsuit against the estate, but lost in the lower courts. The Supreme Court of Tennessee has now agreed to hear their case, according to the Times Free Press in “Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear J. Don Brock estate challenge.”

The main issue in this case is a 110-year-old decision by the Supreme Court of Tennessee that created what is known as the Cowan Rule. It limits the ability of potential heirs to challenge a will, if they were not mentioned in the previous will.

The adopted children lost in the lower courts because they were not mentioned in the 2012 will. The rule makes some sense.

Why?

Merely having the 2013 will ruled invalid would not create an inheritance for the children, since it would just validate the 2012 will, unless it is also successfully challenged.

However, this is not how other states handle disinherited children.

In other states, it is presumed that if a child is not mentioned in a will at all, it was a mistake and the child can challenge the estate, regardless of what an older will might state.

Reference: Times Free Press (March 21, 2017) “Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear J. Don Brock estate challenge.”

Audrey Hepburn’s Sons Reach an Agreement

Audrey Hepburn’s estate planning mistake has led to a long legal fight between her sons. It appears that they have finally reached an agreement.

Audrey Hepburn starred in some of the most beloved movies of all time. She came to symbolize beauty and grace in mid-century Hollywood.

When she passed away in 1993, she left behind a gigantic amount of memorabilia from her acting career, including some of the costumes and jewelry that she wore in her iconic roles. These items have obvious value to collectors, but so far no one has gotten their hands on them.

Why?

The items have been the source of a long dispute between her two sons.

Hepburn specified in her estate plan that everything she owned should be split between those sons equally, but she left no instructions regarding just how that was to be accomplished.

Which son should get which item?

Her memorabilia has been contested in court for the last two years, but the sons may have finally reached an agreement, according to the Daily Mail in “Audrey Hepburn’s sons agree to split their late mother’s treasure trove of belongings, including costumes, jewelry, scripts and awards, after two-year legal dispute.”

The sons have agreed to submit the question to mediation and use that process to determine the distribution of particular pieces of memorabilia. However, this will not be the end of all battles concerning Hepburn’s estate, since a charitable fund she founded is now suing one of the sons for interference with its affairs.

Hepburn’s mistake was not including some way for her son’s to resolve any disputes about who gets what in her estate plan. She could have made provisions for a mediator to resolve the disputes. That would have saved a lot of headaches and legal bills for her family.

Reference: Daily Mail (March 9, 2017) “Audrey Hepburn’s sons agree to split their late mother’s treasure trove of belongings, including costumes, jewelry, scripts and awards, after two-year legal dispute.”

Why Families Fight

Family battles over an estate are not uncommon. While there can be several different reasons for these fights, there are a few reasons that are the most common.

Most of the time, litigation over an estate pits family members against family members. If there is a large sum of money involved, people have many reasons to possibly fight over what they consider to be their fair share. Sometimes these family battles just happen because family members do not get along with each other.

On the other hand, there are some common reasons for these fights as Wealth Management recently listed in “Five Reasons Families Fight over Estates,” including:

•When one sibling lives close to their parents and another lives a great distance away, leaving the sibling who lives closest more assets can lead to disputes.

•If a wealthy person gets remarried later in life and leaves a large portion of the estate to the new spouse, fights between that spouse and children from previous relationships are common.

•Any blended family situation can lead to family battles over estates, if proper plans have not been made.

•When wealthy people leave large sums to a trusted caregiver, then it is likely the family will fight with the caregiver over those assets.

•If the wealthy person has not adequately prepared and drawn up proper estate planning documents, then family fights over the estate are very likely.

Reference: Wealth Management (Jan. 30, 2017) “Five Reasons Families Fight over Estates.”

Probate over Atlanta Woman’s Estate Stalled

A high-profile case involving the estate of a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman is currently stalled, as other legal battles play out around it.

Diane McIver was a well-known and wealthy businesswoman from Atlanta. In the fall of 2016, she was sitting in the front passenger seat of a vehicle being driven by her friend. What happened next is disputed and has been the subject of considerable media speculation in Georgia.

Her husband Claude McIver was sitting in the vehicle directly behind her. He claims that he had a gun in his lap, because they were driving in a bad neighborhood. According to him, the car hit a bump in the road, which startled him and caused him to accidentally discharge the weapon killing his wife. The driver of the vehicle says the car was stopped, when she heard the gun go off.

Claude McIver has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

If that was not enough to make administering the estate difficult, one of Diane McIver’s companies is suing her estate. The company claims that it loaned $1 million to one of her other companies that she personally guaranteed.

This story is reported by Private Wealth in “Estate in Limbo after Atlanta Man Is Charged with Killing His Rich Wife.”

The exact details of Diane McIver’s will are not known.

Ordinarily, her husband would be entitled to some portion of her estate. However, people who kill someone are not typically allowed to inherit from their victims. That would mean that another heir would need to be found.

Of course, depending on the results of the lawsuit filed against the estate by the company, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. This is especially true, if more debts are found to exist.

Regardless, this case will give the media in Georgia something to talk about for a long time.

Reference: Private Wealth (Feb. 2, 2017) “Estate in Limbo after Atlanta Man Is Charged with Killing His Rich Wife.”

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”