Thursday, May 28, 2009

Attorney Abuse

A California paralegal plead guilty to felony grand theft from an elderly person and was sentenced to two years in prison for inducing an 84-year-old lawyer to sell his law practice to him for $20.

The lawyer was suffering from early-stage dementia. . Paralegal Mario David Abernathy befriended the lawyer last year and gave him $20 as a down payment for the law practice valued at $750,000. Escrow closed on the practice, transferring it to Abernathy without any further payments.

The lawyer also signed a power of attorney giving Abernathy control of his assets and changed his will to benefit Abernathy’s mother and daughter. ocregister

H/T ABAJournal

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ad-Opting Out

Did Leonore Annenberg adopt her butler Micheal?

Heirs to Leonore Annenberg, billionaire widow of publisher Walter Annenberg, are said to be fretting over a bequest she made to a loyal caregiver.

Reports are that she became so close to her butler, Michael, she adopted him. Lee, as she was known, had an attorney who is denying it as absolutely false.

Adult adoptions are used, but rarely, as a financial planning tool by wealthy trust beneficiaries to steer the trust funds to the person they want to receive them after they die, rather than the person dictated by the trust. For example it is common for parents to leave wealth in trust to their children and when the children die require the remaining trust funds go to grandchildren.

Though most adult adoptions, which are used to provide for a partner, friend, stepchild, etc., remain private, some blow up in spectacularly public ways.

The late Doris Duke inherited $100 million dollars in 1925 when her father died. The money was left in trust and was payable to any children after Doris died. At the age of 75, Doris Duke legally adopted Chandi Heffner, a 35-year-old companion. The women had a falling out. In her final will Duke specified that she did not want to leave Ms. Heffner anything and said she regretted the adoption.

According to this article in the New York Times, Heffner challenged the will and eventually settled for more than $65,000,000.

The stakes are very high because while you can divorce someone you can rarely dis-adopt them. The result, sadly is that the family money can bypass intended heirs, and pass outside the family to strangers.

Laws vary from state to state.

The Utah code provides for adult adoption. In an convoluted attempt to dictate public policy, the law was changed in recent years to allow adult adoption by married couples and any single couple as long has they are not "cohabitating in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage under the laws of this state."

(3)(b), "cohabiting" means residing with another person and being involved in a sexual relationship with that person.

I guess in Utah, single people in Utah can adopt as long as they don't live with the person they're having sex with. If they are not in a sexual relationship at all that's okay, too. Hmmm, could make for some interesting testimony in an adoption annulment case.

At any rate all state laws are different and you should really, really think twice and consult an attorney.

Laying Around

Or maybe waiting for the service to start.

A Reverend and two deacons purchased an old vacant funeral home Gary Indiana to remodel and turn into a new home for their church. When checking the place out they found four bodies that had been left behind. One was in a body bag, one a cardboard burial box, and two were in caskets. Nobody knows who they are. They've been there for more than three years and can't be identified.

The previous funeral home owner lost his Illinois license in 2003 and was sanctioned in Indiana after several customers filed complaints.

Indiana's Post-Trib

Surfing for Dollars

MSNBC has your guide to missing unclaimed property. It's all free; there is never a reason to pay someone to do it for you.

The article has a link to all state unclaimed property web pages. Utah's is

Also, if you're the heir to the person who owned the money or property you may still be able to claim it if you have the necessary information and documentation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Of Mice and Millions

Steinbeck novels are the issue of a dispute between Steinbeck's biological heirs and his legal heirs. The disagreement probably has its origins in long-held family tensions according to the Los Angeles Times. Steinbeck was married three times. He had no children with his first or third wife. The second wife bore his two sons and his last surviving son Thomas and his daughter Black Smyle are fighting the heirs of Steinbeck's third wife.

The Steinbecks lost in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the family's petition, which argued that Steinbeck's biological heirs had a right under U.S. copyright law to terminate earlier publishing agreements with Penguin and negotiate a newer, more lucrative one. The Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

Steinbecks Grandaughter Blake Smyle issued a press release saying "This is about family. My grandfather would be deeply saddened to know that his contributions are now in the hands of strangers."

The specifics of the case had to do with interpretations in certain changes to copy right law. Which is weird because as pointed out at, if copyright law hadn't changed to extend copyright protection, Steinbeck's works would be in the public domain by now.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Family battles for Civil War Navy Secretary's Estate

Some heirs of Gideon Welles are asking to reopen a 59-year-old probate case. According to Wikipedia, Gideon Welles was a Democrat from Connecticut. Welles switched to the Republican Party, mostly because of his strong anti-slavery views. He strongly supported Lincoln's election and Lincoln named him Secretary of the Navy in 1861, a position he held until 1869.

Welles and Lincoln were frequent correspondents and the fight is over priceless personal correspondence between the two men, an unused ticket connected to the Gettysburg Address, historical documents, a Spencer rifle, and civil war era wine decanter, among others. An expert looked through a trunk in the attic of the old Ruth Trost Welles house in Covington, CT. He catalogued 713 letters and notes from Lincoln and wrote about it in the American Society of Appraisers. That article touched off this convoluted family fight. There have been allegations of theft, fraud, income tax evasion.

The federal government is also watching the case hoping to get important documents into the national archive.

Interesting story and video from the Courant.

Hillary fight on at the Museum

A huge and public row has erupted over the boxes of writings, private letters, diaries, and photographs the Sir Edmund Hillary left to the Auckland City Museum.

Hillary's two children Peter and Sarah are contending that a clause in their father's bequest allows them veto rights on the use of material. It state's that no one can publish the material for 20 years without the consent of the children. The museum wants unfettered access to make the collection available online.

The family says they are not trying to take collection, but as it is also a family treasure with lots of family photos and memorabilia, they demand their say as to how it is used.

Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1919 and died in January 2008.

Here is an article from the New Zealand Herald

Thursday, May 14, 2009

He Survived

Survivor winner Richard Hatch, that we commented on after we noticed him on Boston Globe's list of famous tax scandals, is out of jail after serving four years for tax evasion, reports He was sentenced to just over four years for not paying taxes on his million dollar winnings. He won early release for good behavior and will be hanging out at the local halfway house for a few months. Hatch maintains his innocence and felt he had shoddy legal representation.

Francs for Francois and Francoise - L'Oreal's Bettencourt has plent to go around

The sanity of 86-year-old Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune valued at about $23 billion dollars, is being questioned by her daughter Francoise-Marie Banier. She claims that her mother has been manipulated into giving a $1 billion gift to her gentleman companion Francois-Marie Banier, a sixty-one year old photographer. The gift is in the form of life insurance policies, artwork, and other non-specified gifts.

Liliane's thoughts on the matter. "What I gave to Francois-Marie Banier, although it is a large sum is really not that much when put in proportion." Bettencourt says her daughter will inherit most of her estate when she is gone, but for now will spend her money any way she wants.

Liliane agreed to evaluation by an independent psychiatrist who gave her a clean bill of mental health, but the prosecutor is asking for an additional report by a panel three experts including one of his own choosing. Bettencourt has not yet responded to the new request.

IRS Ruling on Non Profits and Political Activism

The IRS ruled that the Niemoller Foundation funded by financial backers of Texax Gov. Rick Perry did not risk losing their tax-exempt status for engaging in political acts on behalf of issues such as traditional-values advocacy.

The Texas Freedom Network filed a complaint saying that the Niemoller Foundation brought together pastors and politicians to champion moral issues during Republican Gov. Rick Perry's 2006 re-election campaign.

Short of endorsing a particular candidate or spending substantial portions of their nonprofit budgets on legislative lobbying, ministers and their churches are free to engage in political acts on behalf of moral values, the IRS said.

From the Washington Times.

Wang Wars

In 1968 Teddy Wang, founder of Chemchina, a paint and chemical business, allegedly discovered his wife Nina was having an affair, so he changed his will. Instead of his wife, he named his father the beneficiary of his $128 million dollar estate. In 1990 Mr. Wang was kidnapped for ransom and was probably murdered. He was declared dead in 1999.

Nina (known as "Little Sweetie", thanks to her trademark pig-tails, heavy make-up and mini-skirts)produced a second will dated a month before her husband's disappearance, which named her as the sole beneficiary. In 2002 a Hong Kong judge ruled that Nina had probably forged the will and awarded the estate to Teddy Wang's father. That ruling was overturned by Hong Kong's highest court in 2005.

Under Mrs. Wong, Chemchina became a real estate giant in Hong Kong and her personal wealth increased to an estimated $4.2 billion dollars. When she died in 2007 of cancer, Mrs. Wong, who had no children, left a will which gave her fortune to her charitable foundation, which she hoped would fund a Chinese version of the Nobel Prize.

Enter Tony Chan, a bartender turned feng shui master and married father of three. In an ironic twist of fate, he's showing up with a second will.

Mr. Chan was introduced to Mrs. Wong on a promise that he could help her find her husband using something like a Ouija Board. Apparently Mrs. Wong was a very superstitious person. This initial meeting led to a series of bizarre events which included midnight meetings where Ms. Wang and Mr. Chan would run around to various real estate holdings and throw jade into the ground and a "reincarnation ceremony" where Ms. Wang spent a night in a coffin in order to attain eternal life.

In the last few years of her life, Mrs. Wang gave Mr. Chan hundreds of millions of dollars. He claims that they had been lover's for 15 years. Her family denies that is even a possibility and claims Tony Chan duped her by playing on her suspicions and fears.

In another ironic twist of fate, the second will was said to be forgery by the two handwriting experts including one chosen by Tony Chan.

Friday, May 8, 2009

More Proof - Utah is like a whole different (Vulcan) planet.

If you go to the new "Star Trek" film this weekend, you'll be seeing Utah scenery. Spock's homeland Vulcan was shot in Emery County, in an area called San Rafael Swell in eastern Utah.

Emery County Economic Director Mike McCandless said the crew spent five days at the reef. The SL Trib quotes executive producer Bryan Burk as saying when the location scouts came back with images of the area, “This is the most beautiful place on the planet. In fact, it should be its own planet.”

Emery County

Slayer Statute Kills Any Chance of Taking the Estate of Murdered Mom

Joshua Hoge, who fatally stabbed his mother and half-brother 10 years ago in Renton, won't be able to collect thousands of dollars from a lawsuit in the deaths even though he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that someone who willfully kills is barred from profiting from it — even if he isn't convicted of the crime. They ruled that this killing was premeditated, willful and deliberate.

The ruling settles years of legal argument over a technicality in the state's so-called "slayer statute." But it also leaves some room for future debate.

Hoge had not been taking the anti-psychotic medication prescribed to treat his years-long mental illnesses, which included schizophrenia and Capgras syndrome, which led him to believe his family had been replaced by impostors.

Earlier reporting by the Seattle Times says that Pamela Kissinger's estate sued King County for failure to Hoge his medication and was partially responsible for the murder. The ruling will finally allow the settlement money to go to Hoge's brother who also suffers from debilitating mental illness that requires constant care.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Maria Shriver on Alzheimer series

Maria Shriver at the Stanford School of Medicine on HBO Alzheimer's series

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rockers to the End. Alzheimers and Music

Researchers and clinicians are finding that when all other means of communication have shut down, people remember and respond to music. People with Alzheimer's disease who can't recall their children's names, can often sing word for word songs from their distant pass. Music seems to access something and cause an array of emotions from calming, happiness, even melancholy.

This New York Times article tells the story of a man who danced with his wife for thirty minutes Frank Sinatra's Time after Time was played. "His wife broke down and sobbed. She hand't been held by him in three years.

Music memory is preserved than verbal memory, because it is not seated in a specific area of the brain. As long as there is funtioning in the brain, it will process music.

The best music is what was popular when the patient was a teen. Those songs are often associated with powerful life events, like falling in love, graduating from school, etc. Young caregivers to the boomer generation will be lucky enough to work to the sounds of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, and yes my favs, the Bee Gees.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spotlight on Alzheimer's coming to HBO

Alzheimer's is an irreversible and progressive brain disorder that robs people of their memory. A four-part documentary starting May 10 on HBO takes a look and the effects of the disease on its victims and their families as well as developments that make give us reason to be optimistic. The HBO site is here. Watch a preview over at AARP

Monumental House Cleaning

Cleaning out the belongings of parents who passed away or moved out due to illness is a tremendous chore. When the parent specifically dictates in writing where they want everything to go it is much easier on the family and may avert family fights. Start having conversations with your parents event if it's uncomfortable at first. Pare away at belongings as they age and items fall into disuse.

Other suggestions:
Siblings should go through the house together if a distribution hasn't been specifically dictated.
Shred documents that have person identification and health info in them.
Consider having things professionally appraised.

Differenatly Abled Thirteen Year Old Fascinated by Planes

From the Miami HeraldA diferrently-abled thirteen-year-old Florida boy with Asperger's syndrome fixates on all things airplanes. He collects planes and will do anything to get to the airport. Twice in one week, authorities returned the boy after picking him up at the local rail station where he was trying to get a ride to the airport.

Last week the boy took his father's Ford Explorer and after never having driven before, drove all the way to the airport and parked on the third level of the airport parking garage, all without incident. And it get's better, he apparently used a stolen credit card number to book a coast to coast flight to San Jose where his mother lives. How he got the ticket or on the flight without identification, is not known.