Tag Archives: probate

Brooke Astor Estate Settlement: Marshall Gets His Just Desserts

News broke last week about the Brooke Astor estate settlement.  The renowned New York society queen and philanthropist, who died at age 105, left behind an estate of nearly $200 million dollars.  brooke astor estate settlement
Brooke Astor’s assets — along with the $50 million charitable trust of her late husband — have been tied up since she passed in 2007.  The fighting was so extensive that it dragged in a “who’s who” of top New York City institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, the New York Public Library, Rockefeller University, and even the United Nations, among many others.
Under Astor’s 2002 will, her only son, Anthony Marshall, stood to inherit tens of millions of dollars, with most of it slated to pass to charity after he died.  But Marshall wanted much more.  He and a lawyer,  Francis X. Morrissey, Jr., convinced the elderly Astor — when she was suffering from dementia — to sign a series of codicils to Astor’s 2002 will.  These codicils would have allowed Marshall to leave Read more...

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Amy Winehouse Estate: Amy Didn’t Have a Will After All, But Did Have Millions

Shortly after Amy Winehouse passed away from accidental alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 last July, reports surfaced that she not only had a will, but she had the foresight to update her will after her divorce from ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.  These early reports have recently been proven wrong.

Probate records were recently filed showing that Winehouse died intestate, meaning without a valid will.  The estate value is listed as £4,257,580 (worth about $6.7 million U.S.) in total assets, but taxes and other debts reduce the value to £2,944,554, or $4.66 million, U.S.  Many believed her estate would be worth much more, perhaps as high as $15 to $20 million.

But, let’s not jump to conclusions so quickly.  The assets passing through probate court are those left in her individual name when she died.  So anything held jointly with someone else, or that had a beneficiary designation (like a life insurance policy), would pass outside of probate, directly to the other person.  Also, if Winehouse had a trust — Read more...

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Steve Jobs Appears To Have Protected His Estate With Living Trusts

Soon after the tragic news broke of the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and innovator extraordinaire, people began wondering what would become of his fortune.  Forbes recently estimated Jobs’ wealth at $7 billion.  

ABCNews.com recently interviewed Danielle Mayoras on this very topic.  It reported how Jobs, the largest single shareholder of Disney (which of course owns ABC News), has received $242 million in Disney stock dividends alone, since 2006.  How much is his Disney stock worth?  $4.4 billion, for 138 million shares, good for 7.4 percent of the total Disney stock.

As Danielle pointed out in the interview, usually people with that much wealth do the proper estate planning, including using living trusts, charitable bequests, and more.  Not only does this keep their affairs private, it can help minimize estate taxes.  Topping out at 35%, the current estate tax laws — while much lower than in years past — will obviously take a big bite out of Jobs’ family fortune.  That comes out to almost $2.45 billion in taxes, Read more...

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Five Reasons To Beware Of Joint Ownership Between Generations

Celebrities are not the only ones to make mistakes with their estate planning.  It happens to people all across the country on a regular basis.  The end result — just like with the rich and famous — often is an ugly and expensive family fight in court.  One of the most common estate planning mistakes that people make is joint ownership.  estate planning

For the most part, we’re not talking about when a husband and wife have joint bank accounts or the title to their home is held in both of their names.  While not ideal for estate planning, this is quite common and can often be used without problems, except in many second-marriage situations or large estates that may suffer adverse tax consequences.

The area where we see significant problems, however, is when a parent adds a child’s name to an asset, such as a bank account, investment, or real estate.  This is often done to help with bill paying, as a will-substitute to avoid probate court (often called a “poor-man’s Read more...

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Rosa Parks Trust and Estate Tied Up In Lengthy Court Fight

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks passed away at the age of 92 on October 25, 2005, in Detroit, Michigan.  Almost six years later, her legacy is still tied up in a lengthy court battle.  The case features allegations of abuse, cronyism and corruption by the probate judge as well as the two lawyers he appointed to oversee the estate and trust

It also involves who will receive all of the considerable civil rights memorabilia owned by Rosa Parks when she was alive, and even the rights to use her name and likeness.

Rosa Parks’ will and trust left the majority of her assets to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, operated by Rosa Parks’ longtime friend, Elaine Steele.  Parks and Steele had formed this Institute.  Steele says she was close to Parks for 45 years and that Parks looked at her as the “daughter she never had.”

But the probate judge did not approve of how Steele handled the estate and trust of Rosa Parks and removed Read more...

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$100 Million Trust To Be Divided After 92 Years

The interesting case of a wealthy Michigan lumber baron who died in 1919 highlights how creative someone can be when using a trust in estate planning.
Wellington R. Burt did not want his children, or even his grandchildren, to inherit his wealth, which is now worth around $100 million. So he created an unusual trust, which is described in this article from ABCNews.com:

The descendants of Wellington R. Burt, who became fabulously wealthy in the age of the robber barons, will finally inherit his fortune — 92 years after his death.
Burt, who died in 1919 at age 87 in Saginaw, Mich., made his wealth in the lumber and iron industries. For reasons not described in his will, he stipulated that the majority of his fortune would be distributed 21 years after his last surviving grandchild’s death.

That granddaughter died in 1989. Now 12 descendants will split the fortune, estimated at $100 million to $110 million.
“I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly what it was that ticked him off

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Anna Nicole Smith Estate loses out on $88 Million

Can the Granddaddy of all probate disputes finally be nearing an end?  Those in charge of the Anna Nicole Smith Estate certainly hope not.  Smith, also known as Vickie Lynn Marshall, battled for a share of her late husband’s multi-billion dollar estate for almost 12 years before she died.  Here’s the Probate Lawyer Blog’s discussion of the case to bring you up to speed. 

To cut to the chase, Smith was broken hearted when she didn’t inherit anything from the estate or trust of J. Howard Marshall II, her late husband (who was more than 60 years older than she was).  Smith filed legal claims seeking a piece of his fortune in two different states; she lost in Texas but won in California.  Her victory was snatched away by the federal court of appeals, but she found new hope when that ruling was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2006.  Yes, that’s right, the highest court in our land ruled in favor of the ex-Playboy Playmate.

But, now,

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Michael Jackson Estate’s record deal raises questions

The Probate Lawyer Blog featured this article about the Michael Jackson Estate several weeks ago, posing the question of whether it is ethical for estate executors to seek a 10% fee for certain business deals they reach for such a high-profile estate.  It’s especially problematic when you factor in that one of the executors was Michael Jackson’s attorney.  Michael Jackson Estate

Well, this attorney, John Branca, and his co-executor, John McClain (a music executive), just hit the mother-load.  It was widely reported yesterday that they brokered a deal worth up to $250 million dollars (that’s right — one quarter of a billion dollars!). What was the deal for?  Sony announced a seven-year distribution agreement for unreleased music recorded by the late King of Pop (as well as related video footage).

Yes that means that Branca and McClain earned $12.5 million each for one deal.

Why do we question this?  For several reasons, actually.  First, it’s the job of executors to bring in as much money as possible for an estate that has earning

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The Redd Foxx Estate mess

There was an interesting article recently in AOL News about the Redd Foxx Estate.  The successful comedian and star of Sanford and Son (whose real name was John Elroy Sanford) died October 11, 1991.  Apparently, the Estate has no assets.  Even if it did, there’s an outstanding tax bill owed that’s a bit hefty — a whopping $3.6 million as of the day he died.  Redd Foxx estate

But the court-appointed executor for the estate is trying to change all that.  John Cahill, who is a public administrator in Las Vegas (where the estate is pending) was put in charge in 2007.  The prior administrator was Debraca Foxx, Foxx’s daughter, who was removed from her position in 2006.  Apparently, she failed to comply with a court order to account for what she had done with royalties and other monies the estate brought in under her watch.

In fact, Foxx’s widow (and fourth wife), Ka Ho Foxx, accused Debraca of stealing the money instead of paying down the tax debt.

Since Cahill took over,

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LA Times article about estate planning

The business section of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times featured an article called “Time to prepare your will”.  Discussing the importance of estate planning, the article included quotes from both of us.  Here’s a few selections from the article:

If you’re rich, the best estate planning advice would be to die quickly. If you’re not, the best advice is to either review or rewrite your estate planning documents to make sure your heirs aren’t left high and dry if you die.


FOR THE RECORD: The Personal Finance column about estate planning in Sunday’s Business section misidentified the book “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!” by Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras as “Trial & Errors: Famous Fortune Fights.” 


That’s because estate taxes that could allow Uncle Sam to nab up to 45% of your bequeathed assets are currently — and very temporarily — kaput. 

A decade-long phase-out of the estate tax eliminated the tax completely as of January. The catch: If nothing’s done, estate taxes will boomerang back to historic

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