Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sloppy Retainer = Pro Bono

Top Stories From Law.com
Sloppy Drafting of Retainer Means Client's Estate Not Liable for Expert Fees
Michael Booth
New Jersey Law Journal
March 31, 2009

Someday, someone will devise a bullet-proof retainer agreement by which to make a client unequivocally responsible for all litigation fees and costs. Until then, Farmer v. Estate of Patel (.pdf) offers a teaching example of what not to do.

The Retainer Agreement

In addition to legal fees, you may be required to pay for expenses in connection with the institution and prosecution of your claim. Such expenses may include, among other things, expert's fees and expenses for other testimony or evidence, court costs, service fees, investigators' fees, deposition costs, cost of briefs, transcripts on appeal and photocopying, long distance telephone and postage expenses.

Meanwhile, the medical malpractice suit went on, though Patel died in early 2002 before trial. It ended in an Atlantic County jury's no-cause verdict.

Farmer then billed the estate's executor but was paid only $13,000 so he sued.


Any ambiguity had to be construed against the lawyer who drafted it.

The term "may be required to pay" was not specific enough

Farmer did not make full and complete disclosure to the client of all material facts and potential consequences from signing the retainer agreement.

Nor did he renegotiate the retainer agreement with Patel's executor, whose command of the English language is limited.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Evelyn and Diana Sakow were told that they were impoverished after their father died in 1956. At the time he died, Diana was 15, Evelyn 20, and Walter 25. They were never told about the will which divided his estate between his wife and his three children. A trust fund was supposed to be established for his daughters until they turned 23, but they never received a penny from the estate. The girls grew up, put themselves through school, and went on to become teachers.

In the early 1980s Diana and Evelyn learned of the will and its contents, and in 1984 instituted a compulsory accounting procedure against their mother and brother. The sisters claimed fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment.

Their older brother Walter with the knowledge of their mother, had built an empire from their father's estate and left the two out completely.

Quoted from the article - The “conspiracy to deny us our inheritance destroyed my family, broke my heart and left me with scars that I have painfully struggled with and have not fully overcome even now, after all these years,” Diana, 68, said in a recent affidavit.

What ensued was a 25 years of litigation where eventually the sisters were awarded one-third rights to nine-properties. Two have been sold and the other seven are the subject of what is probably the last battle in the decades-long fight.

The properties had an estimated value of about 11.3 million two years ago. Walter wants a quick sale, but the real estate values have declined so much that the sisters believe he is trying to force a sale so that he can buy them back at basement level prices. The holdings include the 62-unit Rose Garden apartment building on Pelham Parkway named after their mother. The sisters have asked the courts to divide the properties among the three siblings.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Still Dancing with the IRS

Joann Levitt and IRS agent testified this morning that the Indy 5000 winner Helio Castroneves owes at least $2.3 million Levitt is the final prosecution witness and the defense will present its case next week.

The IRS is accusing Costroneves of of setting up a Panama-based shell corporation solely for the purposes of protecting U.S.-earned income from the IRS. Then they used stall tactics to keep royalty payments frozen until they come come up with a plan to have them delivered to an off-shore tax haven, most likely Monaco.

Sweat Equity

From the Salem News comes a story of two sisters who believed that they stood to inherit the Devereux School where they worked for their aunt for 30 years. For 30 years, they labored at Devereux School on Smith Street, accepting what they saw as "below-market" wages in exchange for promises from Aunt Mildred Dooling, that the building and the land would be theirs.

Yet, when Dooling died at age 80 in May 2003, the two women said they were shocked to learn that six other nieces and nephews were named as equals in her will. In other words, the estate was to be divided into eight matching parts.

So now a legal battle ensues. The will has been declared valid, and apparently incompetency or undue influence are not issues. The sisters are persisting based on verbal contract and are describing themselves as creditors of the estate. According to their attorneys the two sisters did everything at the school. Their principle job was teaching, but they also did the administrative work, janitorial, landscaping, snow removal, etc. If they knew they weren't going to be provided for they claim the could have received better pay along with benefits, somewhere else.

Across the pond a very similar situation has been reported out of Sommerset, England. The House of Lords reversed the lower court ruling against a David Thorner, a farmer who has been fighting to inherit his cousin Peter Thorner's farm worth £2m where he worked unpaid for 30 years.

Peter originally left the farm to David Thorner in a 1997 will but later revoked the will and didn't make another before he died in 2005. In July last year the Court of Appeal ruled he could not inherit the farm, and said it should go to Peter Thorner's three sisters and niece.

The Law Lords said no. Peter Thorner had led David to believe he would take over the farm. It was proved that he worked up to 18 hours a day for no years and was not paid for it. They ruled he should inherit the farm.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The right price for home health care

Editorial in yesterday's NY Times

Health care reformers have long advocated providing more care to patients in their own homes or communities instead of hospitals and nursing homes.

"So it is disturbing to learn that charges have risen well above reasonable levels in one segment of the home health care market — short-term care provided to Medicare beneficiaries after, or sometimes instead of, hospitalization. The problem is compounded by fraud."

The overpayment problem is exacerbated by fraud and manipulation. These included overstating a beneficiary’s condition to get an improperly high reimbursement, billing for patients who were not homebound, and making unnecessary visits.

Some of the worst abuses were in Texas and Florida.

Convicted Tax Cheat Partying in Dubai Makes the Feds Mad

Wesley Snipes took a detour to Dubai for New Years and it has irritated the federal prosecutors who convicted him of income-tax evasion.

Sentenced to three years, Snipes is free on bond pending appeal. He was photographed mixing it up with the other VIP guests, which included Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Charlize Theron and Janet Jackson.

He is allowed to travel on work-related film projects, but his wings may be completely grounded because of that unauthorized stop.

Snipes is asking permission to go to Namibia and Italy to shoot for the movie Gallowwalker and action flick Game of Death.

But the prosecutors don't like it at all.

"Defendant Snipes abused the court's trust and did so in a very public way. For that reason alone, the court should deny his current request for international travel."

Snipes side says, "It is essential that Mr. Snipes complete this project to satisfy his civil tax liabilities and provide for his family."

Snipes was convicted nearly a year ago of failing to file federal tax returns on at least $11 million in income earned between 1999 and 2001. He was ordered last August to reimburse the court for $217,363.75 in legal fees.

Heirs try to Re-gain Assets they Stole over 20 Years ago

"Now we've got all of madame's requisites and all in madame's size
Madame's taste is truly exquisite she must accessorize
The belts are alligator the bags are kangaroo
Enchante, may I say, the jade was made for you."

written by Mark Knopfler

The heirs of the late president Ferdinand Marcos are taking steps to regain assets seized during a military revolt that toppled his 20-year reign. The family has restored its political clout and are trying to recoup assets that were taken as ill-gotten gains. The Marcos amassed a fortune that was estimated to be from $5 to 10 billion during their years in power.

Imelda Marcos' extravagant lifestyle reportedly included five-million-dollar shopping sprees in New York, Rome and Copenhagen in 1983. They owned a number of properties in Manhattan in the 1980s. Her New York real estate was later seized and sold, along with much of her 20 million jewelry collection and most of her 175 piece art collection, which included works by Michelangelo and Botticelli. She responded to criticisms of her extravagance by claiming that it was her "duty" to be "some kind of light, a star to give [the poor] guidelines."

Imelda, whose lavish lifestyle was widely viewed as contributing to her husband's downfall, sued Presidential Commission on Good Government's officials for graft and fraud. Her complaint is the takeover since 1986, allegedly without proper accounting, of $42.6 million worth of family-owned assets.

PCGG officials however say the assets were not confiscated but rather "surrendered" to them by a self-confessed Marcos crony, businessman Jose Campos, in exchange for immunity from civil and criminal suits. Campos had admitted that he acted as a front for the Marcoses in acquiring the properties.

Alzheimer's from the inside out

Artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1995. From then until 2000, when he lost his ability to paint, he documented his struggle in a series of self-portraits. Read the report on the Artist from the Associated Press in 2006




2009 Alzheimer's Report

2009 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures," documents the multilevel impact of the disease that 5.3 million Americans are living with today, which translates into a new case of Alzheimer's every 70 seconds, by midcentury, someone will develop Alzheimer's disease every 33 seconds. As the burden of Alzheimer's disease grows, states' healthcare infrastructure will be strained; some states will see more than an 80 percent increase in residents with Alzheimer's by 2025.

Alzheimer's disease causes death, as its progression eventually prevents the individual from engaging innate abilities like moving and swallowing.

Mood and behavior changes, an early warning sign of Alzheimer's, often get misdiagnosed as depression, for example.

People 65 or older with Alzheimer's disease or dementia pay 30 percent more in out-of-pocket healthcare costs than those without such disease

Family caregiving is often a long-term prospect. At any one time, nearly a third of family caregivers have been at it for five years or longer and nearly 40 percent have been doing so for one to four years.

The annual report estimates that by 2025, the western states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Alaska will experience growth in the number of residents with Alzheimer's of between 81 percent and 127 percent compared with 2000.

No Conservatorship, but maybe you can visit

A judge refused to establish a conservatorship for Peter Falk on Monday. For much of the hearing, the judge seemed inclined to rule against Catherine Falk and allow Shera Falk, the actor's wife of more than 32 years, to continue to manage his care and affairs. However he has scheduled testimony to decide whether court intervention is necessary to allow visits between the ailing actor and his daughter, according to the Associated Press.

Really Awful

Olga Ostern suffered a stroke and doesn't remember the lawyer who came to her room to oversee her signing a power of attorney. Last week her daughter and son-in-law, Kimberly and Christopher Gerard, were charged with 18 counts of felony theft, four counts of misdemeanor theft, three counts of criminal attempt, and one count each of criminal conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property.

Bank records showed that Ostern's daughter paid her own bills and her own mortgage out of her mother's account. From June 18, 2007, and Sept. 5, 2007 she wrote checks on her mother's account that dwindled from a balance of $1.3 million to just $1427.

They also stole the Ostern's home. The deed was transferred for the price of $1.00. They moved into the home took over the master bedroom and put their father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, into the guest room. At one point Mrs. Ostern was told the house was no longer hers. Olga was bullied and eventually left when Christopher Gerard threw a large bag of coffee at her. She and her husband are now living with a son.

In less than four months they took $1,298,573 in cash. Add the value of the house which was worth 429,000, this woman and her husband were stealing at a rate of 21,594.66 a day, 899.78 every hour. From her own mother.

Beaver County Times & Allegheny Times March 26, 2009.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

War of Amendments

By a 51-48 vote, the Senate embraced a nonbinding but symbolically important amendment by Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln D-Walmart AR and Arizona Republican Jon Kyl to exempt estates up to $10 million from the estate tax. Estates larger than that would be taxed at a 35 percent rate.

The amendment is taking heavy fire.

NY York Times snarks, "for Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, and Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, the most pressing issue is clear: America’s wealthiest families need help. Now."

Even from the tax-cut friendly Washington Post.

It asks

More Tax Cuts for the Rich?

"The hypocrisy here is breathtaking. Reducing the estate tax would harm charities because it eliminates some of the incentive for making charitable bequests -- yet some of the very senators who back estate tax cuts were quick to denounce Obama administration tax proposals that they argued would hurt charitable giving. More fundamentally, it is hard to stomach those who argue for more tax cuts -- and then bemoan the failure to stanch rising deficits. A vote for this amendment, at this time of so much red ink and so much suffering, would reflect the most skewed of priorities."

On the flip side, Senator Durbin D-IL introduced and passed an amendment 56 to 43 that provides that no additional estate tax relief beyond that which is already assumed ($3.5/$7.0)in this resolution, which protects over 99.7 percent of estates from the estate tax, shall be allowed under any deficit-neutral reserve fund unless an equal amount of aggregate tax relief is also provided to Americans earning less than $100,000 per year.

Practical Drafting Tips--Financial Powers of Attorney

This entry refers you to actual language I put in my financial powers of attorney.

In Wilson Rawl’s Where the Red Fern Grows, Billy says of his small hunting dog Little Ann, “Dynamite comes in little packages.” In my opinion, the small, throw-away document known as a "General Durable Power of Attorney" or "financial power of attorney" is a little package of dynamite. Inadequate financial powers of attorney are at the heart of numerous explosive, expensive, and painful probate cases. At the same time, carefully handled, I think financial powers of attorney are as important and powerful in doing good as revocable trusts and demand as much attention.

I recently read an informative article about powers of attorney written by Linda S. Whitton, titled “Durable Powers as an Alternative to Guardianship: Lessons We Have Learned.” The article is found in 37 Stetson L.Rev. 7 (2007) and was revised in August 2008. The article can be downloaded from here

In sum, Ms. Whitton's article states three lessons learned about powers of attorney (I have changed the order):

1. A Power of Attorney is Only as Effective as the Willingness of Third Parties to Accept It.

2. A Power of Attorney is Only as Protective as the Agent is Trustworthy.

3. A Power of Attorney will Not Prevent Family Power Struggles over the Principal’s Assets.

That first lesson is spot on (as the Aussies say). If a third party refuses to accept a financial power of attorney, then the power of attorney is not very effective.

A word about this first lesson in terms of Utah law. As of the date of this entry, there is no Utah statute or Utah judicial decision that requires a third party to accept a financial power of attorney or that offers any statutory redress against a third party for unreasonably refusing to accept a financial power of attorney. Utah statutory law governing financial powers of attorney is quite basic, essentially recognizing and authorizing the use of financial powers of attorney, but not much more. (U.C.A. §75-5-501 to 504.)

Therefore, in Utah, if a client is incapacitated and if third parties will not accept a durable financial power of attorney signed by the client, then the named agent has only two options: the agent can sue the third party to force acceptance of the power of attorney or seek a conservatorship.

So the question is, what can be done in Utah to encourage third parties to accept financial powers of attorney?

I have asked the legal departments at Zions Bank, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Key Bank, and Mountain America Credit Union what they are looking for in financial powers of attorney that encourage them to acknowledge the agent’s authority to access the principal’s accounts. The responses are summed up as follows:

1. First, are the formalities honored? Is the document signed and notarized? (A few of the legal departments said they would be impressed if the principal’s signature was witnessed, even though there is no statute requiring witness attestation.)

2. What is the liability of the third party in accepting or rejecting the power of attorney? The less liable these third parties are, the more likely they said they would be in accepting the agent’s authority under the power of attorney.

3. How recent and well-organized is the document? The more “fresh” and readable the power of attorney is, the more likely these third parties will accept it.

With these ideas in mind, I suggest that financial powers of attorney include language at the very beginning of the document that releases third parties from liability for accepting the agent’s representations regarding the validity of the power of attorney (and places liability for abusing the principal or the power of attorney squarely on the agent). I suggest this language include clear language as to what third parties are and are not obligated to do in accepting a financial power of attorney. I have presented such language in my website under “Practical Drafting Tips,” which can be accessed at estateessentials.com

In regard to Ms. Whitton’s second lesson about the importance of trustworthy fiduciaries: again, spot on. Perhaps more on that in another blog.

As to Ms. Whitton’s third conclusion, I disagree. I disagree based on personal experience. Yes, Ms. Whitton is correct that a power of attorney in itself will not make controlling family members suddenly loving, giving individuals. However, I am convinced that a well-drafted power of attorney, required acceptances, and communication can keep the urge to control from raging out of control.

To this end, my clients have liked the term in my latest financial power of attorney requiring (during a limited time period after the client’s incapacity and upon pain of being disinherited at the client’s death) that all interested beneficiaries sign a document acknowledging the validity of the power of attorney and agreeing to be bound by all its terms. The document’s terms then include strict requirements imposed on both the agents (such as strict accounting and investment requirements) and the beneficiaries (such as strict requirements prohibiting the beneficiaries’ personal use of the client’s assets). I have personally experienced in meetings with an incapacitated client’s family how these terms and requirements defuse initially very tense situations that undoubtedly would have escalated into litigation with less thoughtful planning.

In sum, financial powers of attorney are as dangerous as poorly-handled dynamite if not well-drafted and thought out. But if carefully conceived and communicated, the financial power of attorney can effectively protect the client upon his or her incapacity, avoid the hassles associated with conservatorships (especially recently here in Utah), and preserve family relationships, or at least prevent poor relationships from disintegrating further.

Craig E. Hughes
As always I am interested in any comments you wish to post. Please keep them civil! Or feel free to call me. Please also review the Disclaimer at the top of the blog, which Disclaimer applies to this entry.

An Alice in Wonderland Moment

The wayback machine takes us into the looking glass and we find ourselves in the year 1999.

Highlights of the Trip. . .

Congress approved landmark legislation today that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commerciqal banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another's business.

''Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century,'' Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said.

The decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 provoked dire warnings from a handful of dissenters that the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation's financial system.

Administration officials and many Republicans and Democrats said the measure would save consumers billions of dollars and was necessary to keep up with trends in both domestic and international banking.

''The world changes, and we have to change with it,'' said Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, who wrote the law that will bear his name along with the two other main Republican sponsors, Representative Jim Leach of Iowa and Representative Thomas J. Bliley Jr.

Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.''

The opponents of the measure gloomily predicted that by unshackling banks and enabling them to move more freely into new kinds of financial activities, the new law could lead to an economic crisis down the road when the marketplace is no longer growing briskly.

''I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010,'' said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota.

''Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place,'' said Senator Paul Wellstone.

If anything, the supporters said, the new law will give financial companies the ability to diversify and therefore reduce their risks. The new law, they said, will also give regulators new tools to supervise shaky institutions.
''The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown,'' said Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska.

H/T Boing Boing
Original Article here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fight for Falk Continues

Looks like the Falk conservatorship dispute isn't settled at all. Daughter Catherine Falk argues that a conservatorship is the only way to prevent the actor's wife from blocking her regular visits.

She claims there has always been some resentment felt by Falk's wife towards his two daughters who were adopted when the actor was married to Alyce Mayo. Alyce Mayo defends Catherine's position. Another declaration was submitted by a personal assistant to Mr. Falk from 1968 to 1981 that he always maintained a relationship with his daughters, even after he remarried. She claims that there was some resentment from his new wife so the visits took place at Mayo's home or in public places.

New Report - Elder Abuse a Growing Threat

PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Blog gives a good rundown of a newly issued study by Met Life Mature Market Institute here. The study is called Broken Trust: Elders, Family, and Finances.

"Elder financial abuse is a problem in every community and among all social strata. It is underrecognized, underreported, and underprosecuted.

From what source data were these key points and overview derived? News articles." (emphasis mine)

Every single day you can google "elder abuse" and come up with a news stories that should scare anyone with an older relative or anyone that is expecting to grow old. In other words all of us.

Here's the results of today's quick search . . .

Albertlea (MN) tribune.com
In December, Broitzman and Larson were charged as adults with 10 or more charges each, ranging from fifth-degree assault, criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult and mandated failure to report suspected abuse of residents at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea. Four others were charged as juveniles for mandatory failure to report suspected abuse.

The charges came after an investigation into allegations of abuse by the Albert Lea Police Department, the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Health. The details of the allegations surfaced after the release of the Department of Health’s report in August that concluded four teenagers were involved in verbal, sexual and emotional abuse of 15 residents at the nursing home in Albert Lea. The residents suffered from mental degradation conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Danville Weekly
Aging and Adult Services Department Director John Cottrell takes issue with a report made last week by a Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury that claimed that, as of January, the county had stopped providing services to protect elderly residents from financial abuse.

Cottrell said that while his department has been slashed to the bone in all of the recent rounds of budget cuts, it is still providing basic services to the elderly in the county.

In the past two years, nearly one-third of the 3,500 reported cases of elder abuse in Contra Costa County (population 1,024,319) were financial in nature. And of those, Cottrell said 50-60 percent were perpetrated by family members.

wtok Newton County, MS
Sheriff Jackie Knight said 30-year-old Ann Burnham, and her husband, Timothy Burnham, 32, were charged after allegedly whipping an elderly woman with a belt.
Knight said the victim was in her late eighties.

Osawatomie Graphic (Florida)
The Osawatomie Police Department investigated a possible case of elder abuse or mistreatment of a dependant adult Monday.

An 89-year-old female was transported by Miami County EMS to an area hospital from her residence at 607 First Street for treatment and evaluation, said Osawatomie Fire Chief DuWayne Tewes.

LA Times
Live-in caretaker charged with financial elder abuse, fraud and forgery
Police say Cindi Dee Powell bilked an 84-year-old Huntington Beach woman out of about $200,000 and put the woman's house at risk of foreclosure.

Insurance Agent Carlos Chavez of Long Beach, Calif., has been charged with one felony count of elder abuse, three felony counts of computer fraud and four felony counts of grand theft, the California Department of Insurance announced. If convicted on all counts, Chavez faces a maximum of six years in prison. Bail is set at $130,000.

Chicago Tribune
On Tuesday, Heidi Leon of Bensenville, a 23-year-old nursing assistant, was charged with criminal neglect of a long-term care facility resident, criminal neglect of an elderly person and obstruction of justice in connection with the death of Sarah Wentworth, 89, whose body was found in an Itasca nursing home's courtyard after she was outside for perhaps as long as five hours.

You can download the highly readable 40-page report at the PA blog linked to above.

Friday, March 20, 2009

That's no way to say goodbye

Excellent article by Paul Sullivan of the NY Times
Smaller Though It May Be, It’s Time to Look at the Estate

For all the upheaval that has attended Barack Obama’s presidency so far, at least one initiative has caused little commotion: a proposal to extend the estate tax at the current level.

Estate planning is not primarily about avoiding a tax that few have been subject to since it was instituted in 1916. The primary goal has always been how to bequeath what you have to the heirs you picked. And if handled wrongly, wills can become a vehicle that destroys families.

The biggest issue, given both the recession and the flux in federal estate tax laws, is whether wills already drawn up still fulfill their intent.

While estate-planning advice for the wealthy is more complicated, this is a time when all Americans can stand to re-emphasize the basics.

The article cites some stories from “Where There’s an Inheritance: Stories From the World of Two Wills Lawyers

In one, a favored sibling begged her mother not to cut her sister out of the will entirely. The mother gave in and left the other daughter 10 percent of the estate. That act dogged the favored daughter for years as her sister disputed every value in the estate to get her full 10 percent. A lump sum payment would have eliminated this.

It ends with an interesting story about the estate of Charles Kuralt. It's no way to sign off. Read the article here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We laugh until we cry

Checking in on local news . . .

In scientific studies, Utah always comes out on top -- or all the way on the bottom.

In surveys conducted one year apart, by institutions no less illustrious than Gallup and Mental Health America, Utah was named, respectively, the happiest state in the country and the most depressed state in the union.

Estate Planning for Gamers

AP - March 15 - When Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father's gaming friends know that he hadn't just decided to desert them.

It wasn't easy, because she didn't have her father's "World of Warcraft" password and the game's publisher couldn't help her. With online gaming and social social networks becoming an increasing part of every day living, they're also becoming something to consider when we die.

A new industry is developing around the idea.

Deathswitch will send out emails if you don't check in periodically.

Slightly Morbid. It also sends e-mail when a member dies, but doesn't rely on them logging in periodically while they're alive. Instead, members have to give trusted friends or family the information needed to log in to the site and start the notification process if something should happen.

A third site is Legacy Locker will charge $30 per year. It will require a copy of a death certificate before releasing information.

(World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. It has more 11.5 million monthly subscribers.)


On the Net:




Does a Lincoln still Live?

Obituary for Margaret Fristoe Beckwith
Margaret "Maggie" Beckwith, 87, a volunteer with the American Red Cross and the widow of President Abraham Lincoln's last heir, died March 10 of lung cancer at the Orchard, an assisted living facility in Warsaw, Va.

In 1950, she married James Poor Fristoe, an Air Force officer. That marriage ended in divorce. In 1979, she married Robert "Bob" Todd Lincoln Beckwith, the great-grandson of the president and the last Lincoln heir. She enjoyed accompanying her husband on Lincoln-related trips throughout the country and researching the family's heritage. Her husband, the grandson of Robert Todd Lincoln, died in 1985.

From the Washingtonpost Post Mortem by Joe Holley. (Taken from a Michael Beschloss article in the New Yorker 1994)

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was President Lincoln's great-grandson and was thought to be the last Lincoln heir when he died in 1985.

Some people think that a Lincoln heir survives.

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was married three times and claimed that he had no heirs. His second wife claimed otherwise. His third wife found out she was pregnant six months after the wedding, but Beckwith had had a vesectomy.

They divorced in 1976 where a trial was set in motion to determine whther the boy Timothy Lincoln Beckwith was a leigtimate Lincoln heir. He was seven at the time and stood to inherit more than $10,000,000. The boys mother left for Europe and refused to return. The divorce was granted and the court ruled that the child was the product of an "adulterous relationship." The judge said that another court would have to rule whether young Timothy could still seek the Lincoln fortune.

When Beckwith died in 1985, the three groups that were to inherit his millions -- Iowa Wesleyan College, the American Red Cross and the First Church of Christ, Scientist -- were worried about Timothy Beckwith, then 17 years old. The groups made him an offer -- the teenager said yes, and with that the "Lincoln family tree withered into history."
Wickipedia article here
Lincoln Family Tree Here,

Tax Help

Super Saturday Sites in Utah

Volunteer sites and IRS ofice will be open March 21, to provide free taxpayer assistance.

Brigham City - Building Assets Together Coalition
325 W 1100 S
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Ogden IRS
325 25th St.
9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Ogden - Building Assets Together Coalition
3159 Grant Avenue
10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Provo IRS
173 E. 100 North
9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

St. George - Southern Utah Coalition
2610 S. Pioneer Road
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Salt Lake City - GAIN
1300 W. 300 N.
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Salt Lake City - GAIN
3100 S redwood Road
9 a.m. - 2p.m.

Salt Lake City - IRS
50 S. 200 East
9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Super Saturday Sites for other states here.

Uniform Guardianship law for the states

On March 17, 2008 Utah became the first state in the country to enact the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA).

The uniform act addresses the issue of jurisdiction over adult guardianships, conservatorships, and other protective proceedings. The objective of the uniform act is to ensure that only one state has jurisdiction at any one time. The act contains specific guidelines to specify which court has jurisdiction to appoint a guardian or conservator for an incapacitated adult by prioritizing the states which might claim jurisdiction.

If the priority states decline jurisdiction, or if the individual has no home state or "significant-connection" state, then another state may claim jurisdiction. The act provides that once a court has jurisdiction until the proceeding is terminated or transferred.

The act also provides procedures for enforcement or transfer of guardianship proceedings from one state to another.

Because there are more than fifty guardianship systems in the United States, problems of determining jurisdiction are frequent.

The Alzheimers Association lays out scenarios where current law is inadequate.

#1 If an adult child is granted guardianship in one state and has to move to another state that guardianship may not be recognized and the whole process has to be done again.

#2 If an adult child finds an elderly person in distress in a state where they live only part-time (snowbirds) that state may refuse jurisdiction. If the adult child lives somewhere other than the parents "home state," that adult child would have to go to the parent state for the order, which then may not be recognized in the state where he lives. The UAGPPJA allows state courts to communicate with each other to avoid situations like this and determine the best jurisdiction.

#3 A Utah woman falls and breaks her hip. She and her daughter decide that she should stay with the daughter who lives in Colorado while she recuperates. While there, her daughter realizes her mother's worsening cognitive state. Utah and Colorado have both passed the UAGPPJA so the Colorado Court can talk to the Utah Court to see if anyone has petitioned there. If Utah finds that no petitions have been filed, the state can give Colorado jurisdiction, even though Utah is the home state.

So far the bill has been adopted only in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, and Utah. Fourteen other states have introduced bills for consideration this year.

For real life demonstrations, nothing has made it more clear than what's called the Hotel Connecticut, here and here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Estate goes after the URL

Domain Name Wire reports that the estate of the late Jim Morrison wans the domain name JimMorrison.com and they are willing to fight. The fight goes the World Intellectual Property Organization (WITPO), which administates various IP treaties, in this case the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Disputes. The name is currently owned by a Rick Sentierei. It is a mash up of Jim Morrison stuff, with side bars on Health Shopping, Family Fun, and Places to go.

Jim Morrison, who died in 1971 of a likely overdose, willed his estate to Pamela Courson, his long-time companion. After her death in 1974 of an overdose, her parents battled Morrison's parents for control of the estate, which was eventally decided in favor of the Coursons.

Altovise Davis

NY Times reports the death of Altovise Davis, a dancer and actress and the widow of Sammy Davis Jr., Saturday of a stroke.

Sammy Davis Jr.'s estate is still unsettled. Mr. Davis squandered millions nad Altovise had to hire an attorney to help settle a multi-million tax debt to the IRS. The settlement required the sale of his Beverly Hills mansion, jewelry and other personal items. She also sued to former business partners claiming they fruadulently convinced her to release her rights to her husband's estate. That suit has not been settled. Mrs. Davis was 65.

Who are your Beneficiaries

CNN Money reports on the 5 things you need to know about naming beneficiaries.

1. Your estate plan can create havoc if you have out-of-date beneficiary designations on accounts like IRA's, 401Ks, insurance policies, etc. If you write your ex-wife out of your will but leave her as beneficiary of your life insurance, you can expect a family fight.

2. Always name a runner-up. If you don't and your beneficiaries die before you do, your estate will go to probate.

3.IRAs and 401Ks are written with advantages to spouses over children. This one is not wholly correct these rules have changed as part of the recovery package enacted in December, Congress gave other heirs the ability to deter taxes by rolling money into an individual IRA. See here. As always consult a professional advisor.

4. A minor beneficiary means probate. In most states courts will supervise the distribution left to kids under 18. Better to set up a trust in the child's name and name your own trustee.

5. Changing beneficiaries is not hard. A lot of the big companies have forms online. Keep a master list of accounts and beneficiaries with the rest of your estate documents.

Wired Funerals

Tim Tuntland, the President co-owner of Litehouse LLC, is starting to introduce video streaming technology to Arizona funeral homes in an effort to help ease the financial and physical burden of travel.

The funeral is a chance to gather, grieve and pay last respects, but sometimes traveling to the goodbye ceremony can be a financial burden on families and a physical burden on people with disabilities.

The technology enables out-of-town funeral guests to watch the funeral, live, via the Internet.

"It's becoming real popular," he said.

From Phoenix abc15.com

The Cash is Gone, I've Nothing but My Songs.

Michael Jackson set to release music after death.

King of Pop Michael Jackson has reportedly recorded more than 100 songs but is refusing to release the tracks until after his death.

The collection of songs is also set to be heard by his children Prince, 11, Paris 10 and six-year old Prince Michael II.

Some people think Jackson is leaving the songs as his children’s inheritance in lieu of cash because of his current financial struggles.

If this is true it could be quite the legacy. Composer of Billy Jean is Not My Lover, Bad, The Girl is Mine, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', Jackson has had nine platinum singles in the U.S., the longest running non-soundtrack album Thriller was on #1 for 37 weeks and produced seven Top 10 singles.. The album spent 80 weeks in the Top 10. Four of his albums have debuted at #1. And his continuing ability to make money is not in doubt. Last week in the U.K. fans purchased 900,000 tickets to see him in concert.

Trivia - The song Ben was written for Donny Osmond, but he was unavailable so it was offered to Jackson. The song became the first number-one pop hit as a solo artist. It won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for best original song. In his career Jackson has sold over 500 million records. #4 on the list of best selling artists, after the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Bing Crosby.

Friday, March 13, 2009

RIP Annenberg

The historic Sunnylands estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, which required such privacy for visiting world leaders that it earned restricted air space status, soon will open to the public.

Leonore Annenberg, who died Thursday morning, is expected to be interred in a mausoleum in a private portion of the estate next to her late husband, Walter.

But the estate at Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope drives in Rancho Mirage, home to a prestigious art collection and nine-hole golf course behind pink brick walls, eventually will open for tours three days a week. In the early 1950s, the Annenbergs began building a renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces that was worth an estimated $1 billion when they pledged it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991. The collection of about 50 works -- including paintings by Cezanne, Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh -- usually hung in their 32,000-square-foot mansion in Rancho Mirage.

Family spokeswoman Kathleen Hall Jamieson (I never got the connection) said the 240-acre estate passes into a family trust with Annenberg's death, but an administrative staff headed by Gaddi Vasquez and former Palm Springs Art Museum executive director Janice Lyle will oversee a staff to run the facility to be called the Annenberg Center.

Mrs. Annenberg is survived by her sister, Mrs. Frank Wolf; two daughters, Diane Deshong of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Elizabeth Kabler of New York; a stepdaughter, Wallis Annenberg of Los Angeles; seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

There will be a private family service. The family asks that individuals make a donation to their favorite charity in lieu of sending flowers.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

RIP Donald Alexander - IRS commissioner in the -70s

Donald Alexander IRS commissioner from 1973 to 1977 died Tuesday of cancer. Alexander served when the agency came under severe public scrutiny for its earlier role in investigating political opponents and radicals on the far right and left. A prominent tax lawyer when he took the IRS job, he learned the day after his swearing-in of a secret band of IRS investigators who combed through the tax returns of 3,000 "notorious" groups and 8,000 individuals.

Within three months, he ordered the unit disbanded, saying that political views "extremist or otherwise, are irrelevant to taxation," he wrote in a 1999 editorial for the publication Tax Notes. "The evening of the same day, President Nixon made his first effort to fire me."

Alexander alerted then Treasury Secretary George Shultz in the early 1970s that Nixon's name came up for an audit under the agency's randomized process. The president was reported by Al Haig to be "up the wall over this -- the IRS never audits a president."

Alexander proved that many previous presidents had been audited, and the Nixon audit went forward. It turned up a number of irregularities, which were leaked to the press and led to a special prosecutor's investigation. In the end, it was determined that the president owed more than $400,000 in back taxes and penalties. Whole story at the LA Times.

Silence is Golden

Taylor Stein, the mother of Estée Lauder CEO William Lauder's love child, is going to court to get him to pay a $9.5 million settlement he agreed to last November in exchange for her silence, according to the Gawker Stein agreed to move to California and not disclose the identity of Djuna's father to anyone, even Djuna herself.

A court date has been set for March 20.

William, who has two daughters with his wife, Karen, decided last year he had to meet his new daughter. So he flew to Los Angeles. Stein's lawyer says Karen Lauder learned of the visit and ordered William not to contact his daughter or her mother again — yet, according to emails filed with the court petition, he continued to correspond with her.

William then asked Stein to fly with Djuna to New York. Evelyn Lauder, William's mother, learned of her granddaughter's presence in town and asked to meet her. William's wife Karen then reportedly demanded Stein and Djuna stay out of New York and threatened to divorce William.

Stein's attorney believes that Karen is less concerned about William seeing Djuna than her mother-in-law getting to know the child. He says, if Evelyn and Leonard Lauder write Djuna into their will, Karen's daughters will get a smaller cut of the family's estimated $3 billion fortune.

Death Tax by Foot Note - Inheritance Tax Subterfuge

From Human Events
Obama Hides Death Tax Proposal in a Footnote
by Dick Patten

"Footnotes are generally used to disclose sources or to explain an obscure fact. They are not used to recommend massive tax policy changes. Yet this is just what Obama does in his Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Proposal.

Slog through the budget to page 127, and see footnote 1, which states, “[T]he estate tax is maintained at its 2009 parameters.”

"Clearly, if Obama can’t be upfront about the [inheritance] tax plans in his budget proposal, he knows that he faces strong opposition.

Let’s see how long he can keep his secret."

Secret's out!!!

July 25, 2008
Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog

McCain does not favor permanent repeal of the estate tax. And Obama does not want it fully restored. Obama would impose a 45 percent tax rate with $3.5 million exclusion, which is lower than pre-Bush tax cuts, yet significantly higher than 2010 scheduled law ($0).

Obviously neither humanevents.com or the author Dick Patten are reliable sources of information on the "death tax." Actually when it comes down to it, "death tax" is a pretty accurate clue that the information forthcoming is going to be misleading or outright false.
The Iranian government has begun implementing controversial legislation that allows women to inherit all forms of their husband's property.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued a decree that instructs all government bodies to enforce a recently passed law, modifying women's inheritance rights, Iranian newspapers reported on Wednesday.

On January 25, the Iranian parliament passed legislation making it possible for women to inherit up to a quarter of the land and standing property that their husbands owned while alive.

The previous law only allowed women to inherit a portion of portable property and those non-portables that were standing, such as buildings, trees and such. However, the new legislation has added ground assets, such as land, to that list.

The president ordered the legislation to be implemented, in spite of the Guardian Council's silence over the issue.

According to Iranian law, the Guardian Council, made up of six religious and six legal experts, must approve all parliamentary legislations before they can become law.

However, if the Council decides to not take any official stance on any legislation in a set period of time, the legislation becomes official automatically, as in the case of the new legislation on women's inheritance rights.

The Guardian Council's decision to remain silent on the issue follows heavy criticism from several top religious figures, who view the legislation as in clear contradiction with the Islamic law.

Commenting on the criticism, the country's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that the parliament passed the law after receiving approval from the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

"The Guardian Council asked the Leader for a Fatwa [religious ruling] on the matter and the parliament passed the Leader's exact Fatwa," Larijani explained.

In defense of the decision, Iranian journalist and legal expert Majid Dehlavi says the implementation of the new inheritance law is 'a step in the right direction.'

"This new law is far more in harmony with the social system governing our relations," Dehlavi told Press TV on Thursday.

"The previous law was used in the past to safeguard the property of the children after their mothers remarried, but that has nothing to do with the society we live in today," he added.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Gift from Grandma

Filter Pure Inc., a nonprofit company started by Tracy Hawkins started last year with a partner in the Dominican Republic, combines old know-how and modern technology. Unglazed clay pots fired with the right ingredients can trap parasites, E. coli and other bacteria while the clean water drips through pores in the clay.

At a cost of about $30, a ceramic pot nestled in a 5-gallon plastic bucket can turn contaminated river water into clean drinking water for a family for five years.

After earning an industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech in 1985, Hawkins worked nearly 15 years in corporate America. She left corporate life in 1999, thanks to an inheritance from her grandmother. She spent her time learning pottery and volunteering at the school her children attended in Atlanta.

Hawkins said she strongly believes she’s found her life’s mission, thanks in large part to the money left by her grandmother.

“When she’s looking down on me from afar, I hope she’s saying: ‘That’s why I wanted you to have this. I knew you would do good works.’ “

From ATJ.com


Another good reminder! Do your estate planning. Keep your plans up to date.

Advice for the Ethically Challenged

We blogged about Bernie Ecclestone, billionaire owner of Formula One, who may lose a lot of his money because he put it in trusts in his soon to be ex-wife's name to avoid taxes. Here's the flip side of the coin. Bernie Madoff, according to Bloomberg, blows holes in the assumption that smart rich guys should never put money in a spouse's name. It seems the Madoffs told a 3rd District Court that Ruth is the owner of the $7 million dollar apartment and also of $62 million in securities. Investors trying to recoup pennies on the dollar in the $50 million Ponzi scheme can't touch her assets, the couple is trying to claim.

The Madoffs could get away with it if they can show that it really is her money. If Bernie Madoff got the $62 million by pulling off a fraud, though, his wife can’t shield it and his creditors are likely to get access to it, according to Sandy Ain a Washington divorce lawyer quoted in the article.

The key for the ethically challenged executive, the article says, is to stash the money before breaking the law so it’s not a “dirty” asset. The article by Susan Antilla at Bloomberg is pretty funny.

Addams Family's Vacation.

The Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield Illinois features maybe facing it's own imminent demise. Even with it's location a stone's throw from Lincoln's Tomb it can't attract enough visitors to support it. The museum includes a re-created 1920s embalming room, coffins and funeral paraphernalia, post-mortem photograph, and a scale model of Lincoln's funeral train. The gift shop sells key chains and paper weights that look like little coffins, and books on funeral customs like “Do It Yourself Tombstone.” There are coffin-shaped chocolates and even T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Everybody’s Gotta Go Sometime.”

Mr. Duane Marsh the director of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, which operates the museum said he was working on a plan to keep the museum from closing, but he would not disclose details.

Dancing with the IRS - Part 2

Two-time Indy 500 winner and Dancer with Stars, Helio Castroneves allegedly helped to pull off an elaborate tax fraud scheme involving unusual financial instruments in Panama and the Netherlands. According to Sports Illustrated, a conviction would ruin his career. He would face up to six and a half years in prison and, as a non-U.S. citizen, possible deportation. He could also lose his contracts with Penske Racing and product endorsement contracts.

He has been accused of using a Panamanian bearer share corporation to hide taxable income. These use of such a corporation routinely triggers suspicion.

Under Panama law a bearer share corporation can be formed that is owned by the possessor of the physical certificates of stock with no recorded owner on record anywhere. The government of Panama does not even know who the owner of the offshore corporation is. Shares for a Panama Corporation do not have to have the owners name on them and they do not have to be kept in Panama. The books and records do not have to be kept in Panama either. If the offshore corporation is Panamanian, banks in Panama, has a resident address in Panama yet has offshore derived income it pays no Panama taxes and does not even need to file a Panama tax return. This is a true bearer share corporation.

There is no Corporation Ownership Registry in Panama and transfers do not have to be reported making trails extremely difficult to follows. Panama has no tax treaties of any sort with any country. A person sets up a corporation for someone else and then submits resignation letters and transfers the certificates privately with no record of sale.

Seven Promotions was created and controlled by at least one member of Castroneves' family, but possibly not by Castroneves himself according to Sports Illustrated. The legal privacy afforded to bearer share corporations makes untangling Seven Promotions' true ownership and control difficult.

The prosecution contends that Castroneves, his sister, and at least one other family member created and controlled Seven Promotions to camouflage about $480,000 in taxable income. The defense insists that Castroneves' father, Helio Castroneves, Sr. created and controlled the company not the son.

Another charge is that Castroneves, his sister, and his attorney devised a way to mislead Penske Racing into depositing Castroneves income into a Dutch company without any withholding. With his $5 million tucked away in the Netherlands, Castroneves would eventually move from the United States to a tax-haven country where residents pay no income taxes.

Can the government prove that Castroneves had a material role in Seven Promotions? The cloaked nature of the bearer share corporation may make it difficult to prove. However according to WEAR-TV ABC, an Attorney testified yesterday that he was involved in contract talks with Castroneves in 1999. He claims the race car driver told him at that time he wanted his money to go to a Panamanian entity that he owned. The case also includes charges of improper business deductions and failure to report in-kind gifts. Trial is expected to last several weeks.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lethal Medication now approved in Washington State

Beginning today, people who are terminally ill in Washington can ask their doctors for a prescription for lethal medication. Washington is the second state in the country, after Oregon, to approve the practice.

The Strange Life and Death of James Brown

A Former Associate of James Brown claims to have proof that Mr. Brown wanted all of his money to go into the "I feel Good Trust that they created in 1987. The estate of James Brown is still unsettled in the Aiken County courtroom. But Jacque Hollander says it was settled 22 years ago.

Jacque Hollander was a songwriter and producer for James Brown in the 80’s. During that time, she says Brown was raising money through benefit concerts for poor and needy children. In 1987 she and Brown created the “I Feel Good Trust” to benefit the poor and needy of So. Carolina and Georgia.

She claims to have proof that Brown wanted 100% to go into this trust.
Hollander says she’s aware of the unraveling her claims could do to the case…but says she’s determined to carry out what she claims are brown’s wishes.

Jacque Hollander accused Brown of raping her at gunpoint in 1988. She filed a suit against him in 2005 asking for 106 million in damages, but it was thrown out because of the statute of limitations. She is trying to appeal.

The estate is estimated to be worth anywhere from 86 to 110 Million dollars.


Ayer Mill, Lawrence Massachusetts

An indictment accuses John F. Doorly, 60, of misappropriating the money and using it for buying real estate, cars, airplanes and golf club memberships. The alleged crimes happened while Doorly was chief operating officer of Tenens Corp., where he worked for more than 30 years. The alleged the embezzlement probably began at least a decade ago without detection.

He was charged in a Wednesday in a federal indictment of assessing millions in phony fees, transferring company funds to himself and hiding the theft with various schemes, including false financial statements.

Tenens Corp. was set up to manage money for the family of Lowell industrialist Ayer, the first president of American Woolen.

The American Woolen Company was established in 1899 under the leadership of William M. Wood and his father-in-law Frederick Ayer through the consolidation of eight financially troubled New England woolen mills. It was purchased by Textron in 1955.

Wills on Fire

The massive brushfires in Victoria Australia claimed the lives of 200 people. Affected families are also finding out the fires destroyed wills and estate documents. Lawyers say the province can expect a rash of inheritance fights among the survivors.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Going Going Gone

After intense protests from India’s government and the Indian press, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s eyeglasses and some of his other belongings were sold on Thursday afternoon for $1.8 million after last-minute attempts to halt the auction of the items. The auction house set the minimum bid at $20,000 - $30,000.

The buyer was identified as the flamboyant liquor tycoon, Vijay Mallya, an Indian who owns the company that makes Kingfisher beer.

Good Grief!

A North Carolina woman shocked a mourning family when she showed up at a funeral and danced in front of them before opening the casket and striking the body, The Greenville News reported Thursday.

Family members had no idea who she was when she interrupted the service, dancing around and waving a wand around the casket. She then laid her hands on the corpse’s face and struck it with the wand. She then hurled funeral flowers at the family before driving off.

The woman later told the sheriff that she did it because “it felt like the right thing to do at the time.

We want it bad, but not that bad.

The NY Times has reported that India’s government rejected a proposal by the owner of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s eyeglasses and other former belongings that would have halted an auction of the items.

On Wednesday, the owner, James Otis, a Los Angeles peace activist, offered to donate the items to India if the government agreed to sharply increase spending on the poor or create an international traveling exhibition about Gandhi that would include the items scheduled for auction — among them Gandhi’s trademark steel-rimmed spectacles, a Zenith pocket watch, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate.

Those demands were rejected.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked India’s embassy in the United States to do everything possible to secure the items, and the country’s culture minister, Ambika Soni, even vowed to “enter the auction if required as a last resort.”

Broadway to Dim Its Lights

for one minute at 8:00 pm tonight.

Very sad news. Playwright
Horton Foote passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

He was one of America's best story tellers. His "The Young Man From Atlanta" received the Pulitzer prize in 1995 and he received Academy Awards for his adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and his original screenplay, "Tender Mercies." He is also known for "The Trip to Bountiful" and his last and wildly acclaimed "Dividing the Estate."

This play is reported to be a comic masterpiece about a small town Texas family.

I'll borrow the starting paragraph of the NY Times Review, Inherit the Windfall

NY Times Slide Show here.
NY Times Obit here

"You probably have one in your family. And the odds are that he or she is making a lot of noise right now. I mean the kind of person who, when the going gets tough, is transformed from a respectable-looking grown-up into a greedy, caterwauling 4-year-old, convinced that everyone else is getting a bigger slice of what’s left of the cake."

Secretary's Daughter finds The Good Earth

Montgomery News out of North Pennsylvania reports that the original hand written manuscript for Pearl Buck's The Good Earth is on display at The Pearl S. Buck House in Hilltown, Pennsylvania.

They had not been seen since Buck reported them missing in the 1950s. In 2007, a daughter of Buck's long-time secretary, found it in a suitcase, along with more than a hundred letters that had been written to the author by such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt and Ezra Pound.

Without knowing it was reported missing, she took it to a Philadelphia auction house to sell. They contacted The Pearl S. Buck Foundation, who contacted the FBI.

"No charges were pressed as all those connected with the manuscript are deceased," PSB House Curator Donna Rhodes said. "We believe it was a former employee who had it, but we don't know why. There's no way of determining whether it was taken, or given to, or what."

At the end of Pearl Buck's life, several conflicting wills were found. One bequeathed her manuscripts to one organization, another to her hometown in West Virginia, and another leaving the Good Earth to Pearl S. Buck International. Several months of litigation between the family and the foundation have prevented earlier display of the manuscript.

The Good Earth" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, and was an important factor in Buck's 1938 Nobel Prize. It sold nearly 2 million copies in 1931 and was best seller in 1931 and 1932.

From Rags to Riches to Rags

A Modern-Day Bleak House at the American Spectator

In Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce dragged on so long that the original parties had died, and legal costs consumed what was left of the estate.

Today in America another version of Bleak House is being written in Marshall v. Marshall. Anna Nicole Smith and her short-term husband, J. Howard Marshall, II are dead, and so is E. Pierce Marshall, the executor of the estate. Thus, as in Bleak House, all the original participants are dead. Millions have been spent in the case that began more than a decade ago and continues today in the name of Ms. Smith’s daughter Danielynn.

Same Game Different Name

Brown's estate has been subject to of a raft of lawsuits and squabbling involving his business associates, children, grandchildren, children whose paternity has been asserted but not yet proven, three wives and a consort who says she was his fourth wife.

And it's not over.

The court appointed trustee told the judge that a proposed settlement would be appealed.

"A settlement where there are no signatures, where the proper parties are not joined, where two valid wills are skipped over, where it’s not known whether the person is the wife, where there are only a few of the potential thirteen children are even parties to the settlement…it’s not over. It’s not going to be over today, this is just the beginning.” said Pope.

H/T NBC News Augusta

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rick Green - Connecticut's Caped Cusader

CT Confidential

Margot Claus, owes the court who wrongfully imprisoned her almost $1,000 according to Rick Green at the Hartfort Courant. The woman who was not a resident of Connecticut got tied up in the state probate system and had to be rescued German relatives.

Women's Cases Cry Out For Probate Reform from Rick Green at The Hartford Courant

There have been allegations of incompetence, corruption, and bribery that Green reports allows all kinds of people to make money off an old or ill person's estate. His probate blog posts are here.

Connecticut has a 300 year-old probate bureaucracy that runs 117 different courthouses and 117 judges. It does not allow jury trials and judges do not have to have training in the law. Courant columnist Rick Green has followed closely the stories of people caught up in the system and unfairly stripped of their rights. This reporting has finally paid off this year as Connecticut's Governor has introduced probate reform that will require probate judges to be members of the bar and consolidate the 117 courts into 36 courts corresponding to the boundaries of state senatorial districts.

She'll spend it, her way.

Heart Ranch - San Luis Obispo County California

A Conservatorship battle for Phoebe Hearst Cooke the 81-year-old granddaughter of William Randolph Hurst is underway. A temporary conservatorship has been granted and relatives are seeking to place control of Cooke's assets in the hands of her twin brother, George.

The LA Times reports that "documents filed in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court paint a picture of a searing conflict between a woman who can be fiercely independent-minded and relatives who say they are concerned about the alleged vulnerability of an elderly heiress."

Family members contend she has made a number of large monetary gifts and several valuable paintings are missing. Her attorneys allege a number of procedural irregularities.

Ms. Cooke has realized that she has "entered an era where she can be aided in the management of her assets," bus she should not be constrained from spending her money as she pleases. Her attorneys say that if her estate lost 5 million annually it would take 420 years to deplete it. According to Forbes she has a net worth of 2.1 billion. Today Hearst Corp. controls newspaper (San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle) and magazine (Cosmopolitan, Esquire) divisions, flourishing cable networks (stakes in ESPN, Lifetime, A&E). Also TV, radio stations.

See also the San Luis Obispo News Article

Scam Alert

Whittier police are warning their community of inheritance scams. The victims are approached in parking lots. The scammer tells them he has to go back to Africa, but can't take his inheritance with him because of crime and fear of hostage taking.

The scammer flashes some money and asks if the victim can recommend a church to which the inheritance can be donated. Often a finder's fee is offered. The scammer then convinces the victim to withdraw money as proof that the scammer can trust the victim. They are told to drive around the block and when they return, the scammer and the money have disappeared.

The scam has been perpetrated in Whitter, La Habra, and Laguna Beach. Victims have been in their 80s.

Ghandi's Glasses

The Indian government is protesting the auction of some of Gandhi's possessions, including his trademark glasses. Since the sale was first announced this month, Gandhi's great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, has solicited donations to buy the items on behalf of India. He has also called on the government for assistance in blocking the sale and criticized descendants of Gandhi and of his acquaintances who had previously sold the items to collectors.

The items, which include Gandhi’s round glasses, sandals, pocket watch, and some dishes. The bidding is set to begin on today at Antiquorum Auctioneers, assuming no agreement is reached beforehand.

A special Indian government committee has met twice and submitted recommendations for the return of the items. Such committees have generated results in the past: In 2007 the Indian culture ministry was successfully able to negotiate the return of a letter written by Gandhi shortly before his death from Christie's.

In the wake of a campaign to stop the sale, Tushar Gandhi, the civil rights leader's great-grandson, is also calling for the return of other treasures to India, including the Koh-i-noor diamond in Britain.

The 105-carat diamond originated in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. The diamond may have been discovered as much as 5000 years ago. It was seized by the East India Company and presented to Queen Victoria around 1850.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Don't Call, Everything is OK

A disturbing story out of Denver.

A Denver man belonged to an Elk's Club that supported a mental health facility for developmentally disabled children and adults. He walked into the facility last July and left an envelope. On the outside it read, "Wait until you hear from the coroner. Please don't call, everything is OK." Twelve days later Beech took his own life.

Inside the envelope was a check for $100,000 made out to the charity. It was cashed a few days after the man's death.

The family is now suing the facility for the money back because they say the facility could have done something to prevent the death.

Colorado law does not permit a killer to benefit from the estate of the person he murdered, but Beech's death was a suicide.

Chinese Version of Utah's DeChristopher

Also from Forbes

The Yves Saint Laurent Estate Auction included two bronzes that were looted in 1860 by French and British Troops. They are two of a dozen that decorated a fountain at a the Summer Palace in Bejing. The Chinese want them back. Seven have been found; the whereabouts of the five others are unknown.

Cai Mingchao bid 4 million dollars for them in protest of a French court decision that let the sale go forward despite a claim filed by the Association for the Protection of Art of China in Europe.

"I've never heard of a political protest like this, by making a giant bid," Ralph E. Lerner, co-author of Art Law: The Guide for Collectors, Investors, Dealers and Artists, is quoted as saying.

But Utah's Infamous "Bidder 70" is the trail blazer in the art of Protest by Auction.
Bidder 70 is Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah economics student wanted to disrupt the auction and had no means to pay for his winning bids.

DeChristopher won the bidding on 13 parcels totaling 22,000 acres for $1.7 million dollars, and drove up the price of several other pieces of land.

Utah Treasures