Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Monday, October 20, 2014

R&B Singer's Estate Goes to Widow


Suburban Philadelphia Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley Ott decided that the widow of R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass will retain control over his estate after rejecting a will submitted by the singer’s son.  The judge stated that a will dated in May 2009 and submitted by Theodore “Ted” Pendergrass II was “fraudulent” and called his testimony, “wholly lacking in credibility.” 

Contrastingly, the judge found testimony by the singer’s wife, Joan, and other witnesses “highly” credible and ruled the will dated in March 2009 giving Joan Pendergrass most of the estate will stand.

Pendergrass’ son “respectfully disagrees with the court’s ruling and is considering an appeal.”

See Associated Press, Judge Rules Teddy Pendergrass’ Widow To Retain Control Over Estate, The Huffington Post, Oct. 16, 2014.

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  

October 20, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sale Over Nazi Looted Artwork Wreaks Havoc


A dozen relatives of Ludwig and Margret Kainer, German Jews whose vast art collection was seized by the Nazis, are stepping forward to object the $11 million sale of Edgar Degas’s “Danseuses.”  The masterpiece was sold as part of a restitution agreement with the Kainers, yet relatives say not only did they fail to benefit from that sale, but they were also never even told about it or any other auctions of works once owned by the couple. 

In lawsuits filed in New York and Switzerland, the Kainer relatives allege that officers of the bank never made a diligent effort to find them, and used a family name to create a “sham” foundation disguised to support the health and education of Jewish youth, but instead cheated them out of their inheritance. 

The foundation and the bank maintain they have done nothing wrong.  The lawsuits come as high-profile disputes over looted art focus attention on how courts and governments have handled assets stolen from Jews by the Nazis. 

This case illustrates how difficult adjudicating such claims remains.  Like many Holocaust survivors, the Kainer descendants were unaware that their relatives had lost or left behind valuables to which they might have a claim.  This case only came to light when Mondex Corporation, which helps recover looted property, noticed in 2009 that hundreds of works once owned by the Kainers had been listed in an international database of art lost in the war years, and subsequently tracked down their relatives. 

See Patricia Cohen, Heirs Sue Bank Over Sale of Nazi-Looted Art, The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2014.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 20, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mean Wills

Last will and testament

While Shakespeare is known for his literary brilliance, his will was a rather mean document.  In it, he did not refer to his wife by name and all he bequeathed to her was his “second-best bed.” 

What kind of message was he trying to send in his will?  Clearly, a mean one.  This sentiment could have been excluded from Shakespeare’s permanent legacy, as it tarnishes the image of his works.

The idea behind mean wills does not just stop with Shakespeare.  A recent will contained this provision, “If we’re not divorced by the time I die, make sure she gets nothing.  She already gone through all my money.”  When this man died and his will was probated, this paragraph went on the courthouse record and everyone—including his children—could see it. 

What is the point of including these seemingly mean spirited provisions?  Some people are trying to be funny.  For example, “To my nephew John, who made sure I knew he expected to be named in my will: ‘Hello John.’” 

Yet sometimes it goes beyond laughter, and is just hurtful.  “To my daughter, I leave $1.00 for the kindness and love she has never shown me.” 

It is impossible to reconcile a relationship like this after the person has died.  A mean will just leaves bitter thoughts and hurt feelings, which may not be worth it.  Sometimes meanness and sarcasm are best left buried. 

See George, Mean Wills Don’t Ever Mean Well, Fox + Mattson, P.C., Oct. 16, 2014.

October 20, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Conference on Planning Around Tax Entanglements

CLE Photo

Meadows, Collier, Reed, Cousins, Crouch & Ungerman, L.L.P. is holding the 16th Annual Conference entitled, The Web Our Clients Weave: Strategies for Helping Your Clients Plan Around and, if Necessary, Defend Tax Entanglements, in Dallas, Texas at the Cityplace Conference Center on October 28, 2014.  Provided below are just a few of the many topics that will be throughout the conference:

  • Estate Planning—Navigating the Potholes and Speed Bumps. This presentation will explore recent estate planning cases, their holdings and planning techniques.
  • The Affordable Care Act—Employer Planning Opportunities. This will focus on new employer provisions that take effect January 1, 2015.
  • Family Limited Partnerships. This presentation will discuss how family limited partnerships remain the least expensive and most flexible method of estate planning. 

October 20, 2014 in Conferences & CLE, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Online Estate Planning Tools

LaptopMany online and computing tools to assist with estate planning exist now. One such product, is the online software portal TOLI Vault, which stores and monitors a range of planning documents, such as insurance policy, will, and trust documents. The system sends the user alerts when a document update is needed. A detailed review of the product can be seen here.

See Donald Kelley, TOLI Vault, Wealth Management, Oct. 14, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 20, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Treasury Report Asks IRS to Write Clearer

WriteThe Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has written a report that calls on the IRS to use clearer writing in letters and notices that are more understandable to taxpayers. As the report points out, not only does this request make sense, but is also the law under the Plain Writing Act of 2010. In addition to identifying the existing problems of writings for the IRS being difficult to understand, including not defining terms such as “Tax Lien,” it also included recommendations for creating processes to monitor and check the writings for plain language requirements prior to being sent out, and increasing training for IRS technical writers. The IRS responded that it has put in considerable effort to produce clear writing, and agreed to address three out of four of the recommendations in the report.

See Michael Cohn, IRS Urged to Use Plainer English, Accounting Today, Oct. 14, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 20, 2014 in Estate Tax, Income Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Documents Faked to Steal from Dead Woman

TheftPhiladelphia resident Dorothy Kennedy died at age 79 without any heirs in 2010. Her property, including her house and car, were going to pass to the state, but instead her neighbor, Romanoff Quarlas, concocted an elaborate scheme with the help of his attorney to become the administrator of Kennedy's estate and inherit the property, according to police. The alleged plan involved the assistance of two funeral directors, a real estate agent, and a car salesman to fake documents that resulted in Quarlas becoming administrator and receiving the house and car. After four years, the police discovered the scheme and plan to charge the men with multiple criminal charges including conspiracy and theft.

See Meg Wagner, Band of 6 Philadelphia Crooks Concoct Elaborate Plot to Steal Dead Woman's House, Car: Police, New York Daily News, Oct. 18, 2014.

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

October 20, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Book Review: Capacity and Undue Influence

Capacity and Undue InfluenceStan Rule has written a review on John E. S. Poyser's book entitled, Capacity and Undue Influence. Provided below is an excerpt from the review:

John E. S. Poyser has written a remarkable textbook, Capacity and Undue Influence, published this year by Thomas Reuters Canada Limited. The book is about gratuitous wealth transfers including by will, beneficiary designations, through jointures, inter vivos trusts and gifts directly to beneficiaries. Mr. Poyser does not deal with (or purport to deal with) capacity for other legal transactions, such as contracts, except peripherally to assist in explaining capacity to make testamentary and inter vivos gifts.

If, by focusing on gratuitous wealth transfers, the topic is narrower than the book’s title might imply, it is also much richer. In addition to discussing the criteria for capacity to make a will, Mr. Poyser also discusses the requirements of knowledge of approval of the contents of a will, including the doctrine of righteousness, in considerable depth. Estate litigators will be familiar with challenges to inter vivos gifts on the basis of undue influence, including claims founded on relationships of dependence or potential dominance, but how about challenges based on unconscionable bargains and unconscionable procurement? Although unconscionable bargains may be more closely associated with contracts, Mr. Poyser explains the principles and their applicability to gratuitous gifts. Unconscionable procurement? I had never heard of it before. Although perhaps the doctrine is a bit dusty, Mr. Poyser makes a good case that unconscionable procurement is applicable in modern times.

For the rest of the favorable review, see Stan Rule, John Poyser's Capacity and Undue Influence, Rule of Law, Oct. 13, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 20, 2014 in Books, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Retirement Planning for Singles

Single retiree

Retirement planning for couples can be difficult, however, when you are single, the planning can be that much harder. 

While many Americans will retire single for various different reasons (death of a spouse, divorce, changing lifestyles), the one thing senior singles have in common is that their retirement-planning needs can be very different from that of their married peers—and many of them are unprepared. 

A study by the Rand Corporation indicated that single people are at a greater risk of not saving enough for retirement than their married counterparts.  This may be because there are more forces eating away their income and resources.  For the newly widowed or divorced, housing costs may jump as well as living expenses. 

Furthermore, singles miss out on tax breaks.  Tax experts say that single adults will face steeper tax challenges as they near retirement age.  Without tax credits, a spouse exemption, and no one to realize the benefits of filing jointly, singles can take a large tax punch during earning years.  “To lessen the tax bite, I advise my single adult clients who own their won businesses or have side businesses and freelance income to set up a solo 401(k).”  The contributions consist of a salary deferral and a profit-sharing distribution. 

Once singles stop working, they must be smart about planning for withdrawals from their retirement accounts.  Assets like life insurance and alimony become less reliable sources of income, thus, singles should have other resources in place.

See Jane Hodges, Retirement-Planning Tips for Singles, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 5, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 19, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Benefits to After-Born Children

Mark Strasser

Mark Strasser (Capital University Law School) recently published an article entitled, Capato, Art, and the Provision of Benefits to After-Born Children, Michigan State Law Review 985-1001 (2013). Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

In Astrue v. Capato ex rel B.N.C., the United State Supreme Court held that the twins conceived and born after their father’s death in that case were not entitled to Social Security benefits. While the decision might simply be thought to involve deference to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, the decision is nonetheless regrettable because the Court failed to take advantage of an opportunity to provide needed guidance on whether, why, or how Social Security benefits should be based on state intestacy laws in cases involving after-born, ART children. Such guidance would have been especially welcome considering that Congress when passing the Social Security Act did not have ART children in mind, and providing benefits to such children would have been in accord with some of the purposes behind the Act’s passage.

October 19, 2014 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)