Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Judge Retroactively Recognizes 2001 Common Law Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex-unionsA Pennsylvania Judge has recently recognized a common law same-sex marriage even though one of the spouses died before the State legalized same-sex marriage.  Thanks to Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr.’s decision Sabrina Maurer will be able to collect death benefits and have access to her spouse’s safety deposit box.   Kim Underwood died a year before a Federal Judge ordered Pennsylvania to recognize same-sex marriage and any marriage performed before the ruling.  This new decision extends that rule to validate common law marriages that existed before same-sex marriage was legalized.  This decision will likely have a major impact on a whole host of issues dealing with estate planning and distribution of probate and non-probate assets. 

See Maryclaire Dale, Judge deems gay couple as spouses after 1 partner’s death, New Jersey Herald, July 31, 2015. 

August 1, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lawsuit Seeks To Bar Man Convicted Of Murdering Mother From Receiving Life Insurance

Slayer houseIn Chesapeake Virginia, a man has filed a lawsuit to prevent his half-brother to be able to collect on their deceased mother’s life insurance.  Ryan Martinez and his girlfriend Airika Liljegren were both convicted in 2013 of killing Martinez’s mother and her boyfriend.  Christopher Ellett is now attempting to prevent his half-brother from being able to claim $75,220 in life-insurance proceeds under his States slayer statute.  The lawsuit is also seeking both compensatory as well as punitive damages.  Martinez tried to make a claim for the insurance proceeds two months after he was arrested.  Mr. Ellett alleges that Martinez had a financial motive for killing his mother.  This case brings attention to the issue of undue influence; it is common for States to have Slayer Statutes that seek to prevent evil heirs from being able to profit from their crimes. 

See Margaret Matray, Suit aims to make sure Chesapeake man involved in mother’s death won’t benefit from insurance, The Virginian-Pilot, July 31, 2015.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 1, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Article On New Statutes Concerning Gifts To Caretakers

Passing Down PictureRobert Barton (Holland & Knight), Lisa M. Lukaszewski (Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg), & Stacie W. Lau (Holland & Knight) recently published an article entitled, Gifts to Caretakers: Acts of Gratitude or Disguised Malfeasance? New Statutes May Decide for Us, 29 Probate & Property 3 (May/June 2015). Provided below is an excerpt from the article:

Although financial elder abuse is most commonly perpetrated by family members, elder abuse by caregivers remains a major problem. In response, legislatures in several states, and most recently, Illinois, have enacted statutes appropriately making it more difficult for unscrupulous caregivers to extract gifts. These statutes create a presumption of fraud or undue influence for such gifts and, of particular note for estate planners, the possibility of liability and professional discipline for attorneys effectuating gifts that run afoul of these statutes.

This article examines the background and purpose of these statutory schemes, explores the applicability of the presumption of fraud or undue influence, discusses how to overcome the presumption, and concludes by providing tips for estate planners and attorneys representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries in jurisdictions with such statutes or which are considering such statutes.

August 1, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Estate Planning & Community Property Law Journal Seeks Articles


The Estate Planning & Community Property Law Journal (EPJ) at the Texas Tech University School of Law is seeking traditional law review articles for Volume 8.

The EPJ is the only law school published legal journal of its kind committed to community property law, and is only the second in the nation devoted to estate planning. The EPJ is host to some of the most highly regarded scholars and practitioners in the field of estate planning and community property law. In fact, Professor Bryan Camp’s article entitled “Protecting Trust Assets from the Federal Tax Lien,” was selected as the Texas Bar Foundation’s Outstanding Law Review Article for 2009.

This is your chance to join the EPJ in advancing legal scholarship, providing thought-provoking commentary and guiding practitioners in the field by publishing the finest articles written both nationally and internationally! If you have an article you would like considered for publication please email the EPJ a copy along with your resume at brenda.montoya@ttu.edu.  

August 1, 2015 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Frequent Flyer Miles Not Always Transferable At Death

AirplaneFrequent flyer miles are ubiquitous in the lives of a regular traveler or a holder of a credit card that awards the points. In fact, so many miles exist that some estimates have put their value as greater than the market cap of many airlines that awarded them. However, these miles are often forfeit after the death of the holder due to corporate policies that limit or deny the right to bequest the points. Some companies, like American Airlines, prohibit the transfer but grant a special provision in the rules which leaves it within the discretion of the company to agree with a request. Others, such as Delta, ban death transfers entirely but have reportedly complied when sent a written request. Ultimately, there is great diversity in policy among airlines and each must be researched in order to determine what, if any, requirements must be fulfilled to make a bequest.

See Kara Brandeisky, What Happens to Your Airline Miles When You Die, Time, July 31, 2015.

August 1, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Florida Court Holds That Slayer And Undue Influence Statutes Are Strictly Construed

Florida-state-flagA Florida appellate court has held that the States Slayer Statute is to be strictly construed.  In Fiel v. Hoffman, the wife of the decedent was convicted of murdering both her husband and his mother.  The wife had a daughter from a previous marriage and that daughter had two sons.  The case centered on whether the decedent’s step-daughter and two step-grandsons were barred from inheriting under the States Slayer Statute.  The Court held that the statutes clear and unambiguous language did not extend the prohibition to inheriting property to anyone other than the murderer of the decedent.  The court’s ruling means that the decedent’s step-children would not be precluded from inheriting. The court also rejected the undue influence claims because there was no evidence that the step-children and step-grandchildren were involved.

See Anya Van Veen, Florida’s Slayer Statute and Undue Influence Statute Strictly Construed, Clark Skatoff PA, July 31, 2015. 

July 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Probate Court Clerk Pleads Guilty To Stealing $232,000

JudgmentIn Savannah Georgia the longtime Chatham County Probate Court Chief Clerk Kim Birge has plead guilty to stealing $232,000 in a scheme. The Clerk confessed to raiding certificate of deposits belonging to other people for her own benefit. The government case alleges that the clerk used U.S. Mail and private commercial carriers as a part of the scheme. Kim Birge apologized to the clerk for her role in the scheme that involved stealing more than $750,000 in a three-year period. “I have asked God for forgiveness and I am asking this court for forgiveness as well.”

See Jan Skutch, Chief clerk pleads guilty to stealing $232,000 from Chatham County Probate Court, Savannah Morning News, July 31, 2015.

July 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Malpractice, Professional Responsibility, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Approves $1.25 Million Settlement Agreement In Dispute Involving Tony Scott’s Estate

Tony scottA probate court has approved a $1.25 million settlement in a law suit filed against Tony Scott’s estate by Creative Artists Agency (CAA).  Tony Scott is well known for directing movie “Top Gun.”  According to the order signed by Las Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cunningham the funds for the settlement will come out of Tony Scott’s estate.  The director passed away in 2012 when he plunged to his death off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro.  The complaint alleges that Scott still owed the CAA commission for a number of different film projects.  There are 11 movies that are covered in the settlement agreement.

See Staff Report, Judge Approves $1.25 Million Settlement Agreement Against Estate Of Tony Scott, Santa Monica Mirror, July 29, 2015. 

July 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dionne Warwick Threatens To Boycott Bobbi Kristina Brown’s Funeral

BrownI have previously discussed the passing of Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, and the conflict surrounding these tragic circumstances.  Whitney Houston’s cousin Dionne Warwick is threatening to not attend the funeral of Bobbi Kristina Brown because she is offended by plans to hold a 'sweet sixteen’ themed funeral.  Dionne Warwick is currently involved in a bitter personal conflict with Bobbi Kristina Brown’s aunt Pat Houston.  This dispute covers a wide ranging host of issues and has even involved the use of twitter.  This article discusses much of the bitter acrimony that is breaking out between different relatives of Bobbi Kristina Brown.  This dispute is probably far from over as relatives will likely have future conflicts over the estate. 

See Laura Collins and Pat Shipp, EXCLUSIVE: How Pat Houston's 'Sweet Sixteen' themed funeral for Bobbi Kristina and a dispute over her $20m inheritance is dividing the family - with Dionne Warwick threatening to BOYCOTT the ceremony, The Daily Mail, July 31, 2015.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

CLE On What You Need to Know Personally and Professionally In Estate Planning

CLE PictureThe American Bar Association is presenting a CLE entitled, Estate Planning: What You Need to Know Personally and Professionally, Wednesday August 5, 2015, 1:00-2:30pm Eastern, online.  Here is why you should attend:

No matter how large or modest the estate, everyone needs a good plan in advance. Unfortunately, we can’t predict accidents, illness, or how long we will live. Good estate planning involves providing critical guidance and peace of mind for your clients. Join our experienced panel as they provide valuable advice on preserving the maximum amount of wealth possible.

Topics will include:

  • The basic nuts-and-bolts of an estate plan
  • Strategies for wealth preservation and gifting
  • Dealing with multiple representation and conflicts issues
  • Managing fiduciary responsibilities

July 31, 2015 in Conferences & CLE, Estate Planning - Generally, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)