Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Will James Brown’s Estate Finally Be Settled after 15 Years?

The South Carolina Supreme Court in June finally began sorting out the litigation that has been part of Brown’s estate since his death. The court held that Brown was never legally married to his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, because she had not annulled a previous marriage.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Might The Battle Over James Brown’s Estate Finally Be Coming To A Close After Nearly 15 Years” explains that the court’s decision weakens her claim to the estate. The estate has been valued to be worth between $5 million and $100 million. It’s the first real move forward in years. According to The New York Times, “the Supreme Court instructed the lower court to “promptly proceed with the probate of Brown’s estate in accordance with his estate plan,” which called for the creation of a charitable trust to help educate poor children.”

South Carolina law stipulates that Hynie, as Brown’s widow, would have had the right to a third of his estate’s value, no matter what his will instructed.

Hynie was married in 2001 to Javed Ahmed, a Pakistani man who already had three wives in his native country. Her lawyers argued that since Ahmed was a bigamist, their marriage was void. South Carolina’s lower courts agreed, holding that her marriage to Brown was valid.

However, the South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed. “All marriages contracted while a party has a living spouse are invalid, unless the party’s first marriage has been ‘declared void’ by an order of a competent court,” the Court explained.

Hynie’s counsel will be filing “a petition to reconsider and rehear the decision.”

Hynie is entitled as spouse to a share of Brown’s valuable music copyrights under federal law. She has already settled part of her dispute with the estate, agreeing to give 65% of any proceeds from her so-called termination rights—copyrights that, though once sold, can return to the songwriter or his heirs after several decades—to charity.

Brown’s will had bequeathed $2 million for scholarships for his grandchildren. The will said that his costumes and other household effects were to go to six of his children, and the remainder of the estate was to go to the charitable trust for the poor, called the “I Feel Good Trust.”

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruling is significant, because Brown’s 2000 will said, “Any heirs who challenged it would be disinherited. However, several of his children and grandchildren sued after his death,” notes The New York Times.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 20, 2020) “Might The Battle Over James Brown’s Estate Finally Be Coming To A Close After Nearly 15 Years”

What Happens When a Will Is Challenged?

What happens when estate planning doesn’t go according to plan? A last will and testament is a legally binding contract that determines who will get a person’s assets. However, according to the article “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?” in the Augusta Free Press, it is possible for someone to bring a legal challenge.

Most will contests are centered around five key reasons:

  • The deceased had a more recent will.
  • The will was not signed voluntarily.
  • The deceased was incapacitated, when she signed the will.
  • The will was not signed in front of the right number of witnesses.
  • The will was signed under some kind of duress or mental impairment.

What is the best way to lessen the chances of someone challenging your will? Take certain steps when the will is created, including:

Be sure your will is created by an estate planning attorney. Just writing your wishes on a piece of paper and signing and dating the paper is not the way to go. Certain qualifications must be met, which they vary by state. In some states, one witness is enough for a will to be properly executed. In others, there must be two and they can’t be beneficiaries.

The will must state the names of the intended beneficiaries. If you want someone specific to be excluded, you’ll have to state their name and that you want them to be excluded. A will should also name a guardian, if your children are minors.  It should also contain the name of an alternate executor, in case the primary executor predeceases you or cannot serve.

What about video wills? First, make a proper paper will. If you feel the need to be creative, make a video. In many states, a video will is not considered to be valid. A video can also become confusing, especially if what you say in the paper will is not exactly the same as what’s in the video. Discrepancies can lead to will contests.

Don’t count on those free templates. Downloading a form from a website seems like a simple solution, but some of the templates online are not up to date. They also might not reflect the laws in your state. If you own property, or your estate is complex, a downloaded form could create confusion and lead to family battles.

Tell your executor where your will is kept. If no one can find your will, people you may have wanted to exclude from your estate will have a better chance of succeeding in a will challenge. You should also tell your executor about any trusts, insurance policies and any assets that are not listed in the will.

Don’t expect that everything will go as you planned. Prepare for things to go sideways, to protect your loved ones. It is costly, time-consuming and stressful to bring an estate challenge, but the same is true on the receiving end. If you want your beneficiaries to receive the assets you intend for them, a good estate planning attorney is the right way to go.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (July 12, 2020) “Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?”

Can I Disinherit Anyone I Want?

If there’s someone you believe is more deserving or needs more of your help, that may mean someone else in your life may receive little or nothing from you when you die. However, be careful—disinheriting an heir is not as simple as leaving them out of your will, explains the article “How to Disinherit an Heir” from smart asset.

Disinheriting an heir means you’ve prevented them from receiving a portion of your estate, when you die. A local estate planning lawyer will know what your state requires, and every state’s laws are different.

One way is by leaving the person out completely. However, this could also leave your will up for interpretation, as there may be questions raised about your intent. A challenge could be raised that you didn’t mean to leave them out—and that could create stress, expenses and family fights.

You may also disinherit a person, by stating in your will that you do not wish to leave anything to this specific person. You might even provide information about why you are doing this, so your intent is clear. There could still be challenges, even with your providing reasons for cutting the person out of your will.

Disinheriting someone can be a tricky thing to do. It requires professional help. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney who has experience in will contests, may be your best choice for an estate planning attorney.

There are instances where relatives known and unknown to you are entitled to make a claim on your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney may suggest a search for relatives to ensure that no surprises come out of the woodwork, after your passing.

There are some relatives who cannot be disinherited, even in a legally binding last will and testament. In many states, you may not disinherit your spouse or children. Most states protect spouses from being disinherited, and in some states, children are legally entitled to a certain amount of your property. However, in most states, you may disinherit parents, if they outlive you.

There are many reasons you may want to disinherit someone. You may have been estranged from a child or a cousin for many years, or you may believe they have enough financial resources and want someone else to receive an inheritance from you.

Many high-profile individuals have declared that their children will not receive an inheritance, preferring to give their assets to charitable foundations or organizations working for causes they support.

Whatever your reasons for disinheriting someone, make sure you go about it with professional help to ensure that your wishes are followed after you die.

Reference: smart asset (June 1, 2020) “How to Disinherit an Heir”

Cat Is Fighting for Her Inheritance?

A year later, and the estate of Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld is not yet finalized. However, some details have emerged that, while Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette is an heir, she isn’t the only one who will inherit a share of Lagerfeld’s grand fortune.

The seven beneficiaries are trying to access Lagerfeld’s assets that include real estate in Paris and Monaco, a bookstore and designer furniture.

Choupette is a blue-cream tortie Birman cat who was owned by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld from around December 2011 until Lagerfeld’s death in February 2019 at the age of 85.

The designer’s feline has her own agent and, according to The New York Times, at the height of her fame she had two minders, a bodyguard, a concierge veterinarian and a personal chef.

Wealth Advisor’s article entitled “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is locked in inheritance battle” says that Lagerfeld’s “trusted” accountant for many decades, 87-year-old Lucien Frydlender has been named to manage the creative director’s finances. In addition, Frydlender is responsible for distributing the estate, according to Lagerfeld’s will.

However, an investigation by French publication Le Parisienfeatured in Voici magazine found that Frydlender hasn’t been taking calls from the beneficiaries. The magazine also says that “after closing his office in September 2019, the former collaborator of Karl Lagerfeld has simply disappeared from the radar,” raising questions for those involved.

Frydlender’s wife has defended her husband and assured the public that there’s nothing suspicious going on. She says he’s not “on an island paradise with a hidden treasure.” Instead, she tells reporters that he’s “very sick”.

When Choupette the cat will get her inheritance and what that will look like is unknown. It’s been more that a year since the death of her owner, Lagerfeld. Choupette fans have been concerned for the pet, but the cat isn’t scrounging in garbage cans: she made over $4 million in 2015.

“People came by the store and said how sad they were, and half of it was about Choupette,” Caroline Lebar, head of communications for the Karl Lagerfeld brand, admits. “They’d say, ‘If she’s alone, I’ll take her home.'”

However, Lebar promises Choupette is in safe hands, living in Paris with Lagerfeld’s former housekeeper Françoise Caçote. “She is in good shape, and is surrounded by love.”

Reference: Wealth Advisor (June 9, 2020) “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is locked in inheritance battle”

Did ‘The Gambler’ Have Estate Planning?

An article from Wealth Advisor entitled “What Kenny Rogers Leaves Behind After Four Divorces And Restaurant Armageddon,” says that he was a hit machine, racking up an estimated $250 million through extensive touring, TV appearances, and constant radio play.

Rogers was a singer, songwriter, actor, record producer and entrepreneur.

He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013 and charted more than 120 hit singles.  He topped the country and pop album charts for more than 200 individual weeks in the U.S. alone. He sold more than 100 million records worldwide during his lifetime, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

However, Rogers may not have left a lot of that money behind. He built a 425-restaurant chain in the 1990s that should have been his retirement plan. However, those restaurants closed everywhere, except in Asia. He had no licensing fees for use of the name, so there’s no revenue for his heirs.

The issue is whether Rogers accumulated sufficient wealth in life to support the lifestyles of his family. He left a wife (his fifth) and five adult kids behind. Kenny paid out $60 million to settle his fourth divorce in 1993, which was half his fortune.

While it was a while after his commercial peak, he started working on a smaller scale and married again, raising his two youngest kids. Kenny continued to tour and record, but his health became an issue. He decided the 2017 tour would be his last— and he was forced to cancel that one as well.

Kenny most likely only had whatever cash he set aside in conventional investment accounts, working real estate and other retirement assets. It’s unclear how much that was, but it’s probably enough to keep his widow comfortable for the rest of her life. That’s another challenge with late marriages. Roger died at 81, and wife No. 5 is just 57.

So, in theory, she needs those assets to last another 40 years to maintain her lifestyle.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (March 23, 2020) “What Kenny Rogers Leaves Behind After Four Divorces And Restaurant Armageddon”

Should I Create an LLC for Estate Planning?

If you want to transfer assets to your children, grandchildren or other family members but are worried about gift taxes or the weight of estate taxes your beneficiaries will owe upon your death, a LLC can help you control and protect assets during your lifetime, keep assets in the family and lessen taxes owed by you or your family members.

Investopedia’s article entitled “Using an LLC for Estate Planning” explains that a LLC is a legal entity in which its owners (called members) are protected from personal liability in case of debt, lawsuit, or other claims. This shields a member’s personal assets, like a home, automobile, personal bank account or investments.

Creating a family LLC with your children lets you effectively reduce the estate taxes your children would be required to pay on their inheritance. A LLC also lets you distribute that inheritance to your children during your lifetime, without as much in gift taxes. You can also have the ability to maintain control over your assets.

In a family LLC, the parents maintain management of the LLC, and the children or grandchildren hold shares in the LLC’s assets. However, they don’t have management or voting rights. This lets the parents purchase, sell, trade, or distribute the LLC’s assets, while the other members are restricted in their ability to sell their LLC shares, withdraw from the company, or transfer their membership in the company. Therefore, the parents keep control over the assets and can protect them from financial decisions made by younger members. Gifts of shares to younger members do come with gift taxes. However, there are significant tax benefits that let you give more, and lower the value of your estate.

As far as tax benefits, if you’re the manager of the LLC, and your children are non-managing members, the value of units transferred to them can be discounted quite steeply—frequently up to 40% of their market value—based on the fact that without management rights, LLC units become less marketable.

Your children can now get an advance on their inheritance, but at a lower tax burden than they otherwise would’ve had to pay on their personal income taxes. The overall value of your estate is reduced, which means that there is an eventual lower estate tax when you die. The ability to discount the value of units transferred to your children, also permits you to give them gifts of discounted LLC units. That lets you to gift beyond the current $15,000 gift limit, without having to pay a gift tax.

You can give significant gifts without gift taxes, and at the same time reduce the value of your estate and lower the eventual estate tax your heirs will face.

Speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about a family LLC, since estate planning is already complex. LLC planning can be even more complex and subject you to heightened IRS scrutiny. The regulations governing LLCs vary from state to state and evolve over time. In short, a family LLC is certainly not for everyone and it appropriately should be vetted thoroughly before creating one.

Reference: Investopedia (Oct. 25, 2019) “Using an LLC for Estate Planning”

Picasso’s Sole Heir Continues to Sell Artwork

The great artist was also known for the many women he was involved with, but he only married two of them, says a recent article that asks “Who are Picasso’s heirs? Auction at Sotheby’s reignites dispute,” appearing in The Wealth Advisor. Officially, there is only one legitimate heir to Picasso’s vast estate, but that wasn’t settled until after his death.

Picasso’s first child was Paulo, born to Olga Khokhlova, a famous Russian dancer. They wed in 1918, during World War I. Paulo would have been an heir, but he died in 1975. Picasso fathered other children outside of wedlock, including Paloma in 1940, Claude in 1947, and Maya in 1935. Only after their father’s death and legal battles, were Picasso’s grandchildren recognized as rightful heirs to part of his inheritance.

Long-standing disputes between Picasso’s second wife, Jaqueline Roque, and the children from his previous lovers went from slow simmer to boil after his death in 1973. Picasso had married Roque in 1961, after Khokhlova had died. He was 80 and had never divided his estate or did any estate planning. He left an enormous empire—villas, artwork and other possessions—with no plan and no will.

After his death, a famous Parisian auctioneer was commissioned to log all of his artwork, creating a list for the French government. The task took from 1974 to 1981.

The entire estate was estimated to be worth 3.75 billion francs, including $1.3 million in gold, $45 million in cash and a personal art collection valued at 1.4 billion francs. The collection included many pieces created by friends like Matisse, Miro and Cezanne.

One of the many problems he left for his heirs: an inheritance tax of several million francs on his property. To pay his taxes, 3,800 artworks became state property and instead of belonging to his heirs, they are now in the Picasso Museum in Paris. The museum has the largest collection of Picasso’s work. However, that might not have been his or his heirs’ intention.

Picasso’s granddaughter, the daughter of his eldest son Paolo and the only surviving relative by marriage, Marina Ruiz-Picasso, said that the state took a large selection of artwork, and the rest was raffled off to the individual heirs like a lottery.

She wrote a book about being his granddaughter, and it was not flattering. She said that his father’s work “demanded human sacrifices.” Needless to say, she had a difficult relationship with her famous grandfather. For many years, she left his artwork untouched in storage. However, in recent years, she has auctioned off many paintings and drawings, earning millions from the sales.

An online auction of more than 200 pieces, including drawings, paintings and gold medallions, took place in mid-June at Sotheby’s. Marina Ruiz-Picasso is one of the wealthiest women in Switzerland and lives in a villa on Lake Geneva.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 16, 2020) “Who are Picasso’s heirs? Auction at Sotheby’s reignites dispute”

Why Did Spain’s King Renounce His Inheritance from His Father?

In addition to saying no to his father’s money, King Felipe VI of Spain has also renounced his right to any shares, investments, or financial vehicles that “may be inconsistent with the law or the standards of honesty and integrity which govern his institutional and private activities and should inform the activities of the crown,” according to a statement from the royal household.

CNN’s article entitled “Spain’s King Felipe VI renounces his inheritance from his father” explains that Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 amid scandal. Felipe pledged to improve transparency around the royal family, with the country becoming more frustrated by its expense to the public during a financial crisis.

The statement is an attempt by Felipe to distance himself, and the institution, from media reports that the royal family had benefited from two financial funds linked to Juan Carlos. The former monarch will also no longer receive an annual grant payment from the royal family budget.

King Juan Carlos ended his 39-year reign under suspicious circumstances. There were accusations of corruption and excess plaguing the royal family. That was a great fall from when Spaniards held him in high regard for leading the country into democracy, after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

However, Juan Carlos’ popularity took a blow in 2012 over a controversial elephant-hunting trip to Africa, while the nation was in the middle of a deep economic crisis. He resigned from public life in June 2019, as several scandals were made public.

Some Spaniards have called for the monarchy to be scrapped for the establishment of a republic. Resentment in Spain has grown over the cost of the royal family to the public, despite the monarchy’s relatively austere reputation compared with other European royals.

Of the 10 main royal families in Europe, nine still get public funding for carrying out their duties. The one exception is the Princely House of Liechtenstein, which doesn’t get any taxpayer money to cover its expenses.

Spain’s royal family has the third-smallest budget of the group.

Taxpayers pay the royal family $9 million a year—much less than the $107 million given to the British monarchy or the $54 million spent on the royal family in Monaco.

Reference: CNN (March 17, 2020) “Spain’s King Felipe VI renounces his inheritance from his father”

Why was Widow of Henry Ford II in a Fight over the Estate?

Henry Ford II’s heirs say that his attorney, Frank Chopin, tried to control their access to Ford’s 80-year-old widow, Kathleen DuRoss Ford.

Her daughters, Kimberly DuRoss and Deborah DuRoss Guibord, alleged that Chopin abused her, by “[forcing] pills down her throat.”

The Wealth Advisor article entitled “Ford Heirs Lose Battle to Oust Mother’s Allegedly Abusive Caregiver” explains that Chopin has power of attorney over the widow’s affair and denies the allegations.

A Palm Beach, Florida judge denied their request to have Chopin removed as her caregiver. It was a decision that left her daughters, grandchildren and even her 82-year-old sister, Sharon, distraught.

Tara DuRoss, a 23-year-old granddaughter of Ford’s, said that Chopin had restricted her time with her relatives. They were forced to scheduled conference calls and meetings away from her home. However, the calls then stopped.

“I used to call her every day. We just want to be able … to see her.”

Chopin said that it is untrue that Tara spoke to Kathleen daily. He called her an “idiot child,” and said the family was “estranged,” unless “they wanted something.”

Kathleen DuRoss Ford passed away on May 9.

Henry Ford II was also known as “HF2” or “Hank the Deuce.” He was the eldest son of Edsel Ford and eldest grandson of Henry Ford of the leading family in the American automotive industry.

After his death from pneumonia in 1987, DuRoss Ford was involved in a public fight over the fate of the estate, which was then thought to be at least $350 million. The legal battle eventually settled, and she received an annual allowance that was worth millions of dollars.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (March 31, 2020). “Ford Heirs Lose Battle to Oust Mother’s Allegedly Abusive Caregiver”

Should I Give My Kid the House Now or Leave It to Him in My Will?

Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, the court process that otherwise follows death. However, gifting a home also can result in a big, unnecessary tax burden and put your house at risk, if your children are sued or file for bankruptcy.

Further, you also could be making a big mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being used for your nursing home bills.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children” advises that there are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since passed away.

If you bequeath a house to your children so that they get it after your death, they get a “step-up in tax basis.” All the appreciation that occurred while the parent owned the house is never taxed. However, when a parent gives an adult child a house, it can be a tax nightmare for the recipient. For example, if the mother paid $16,000 for her home in 1976, and the current market value is $200,000, none of that gain would be taxable, if the son inherited the house.

Families who see this mistake in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

Sometimes people transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, the government program that pays health care and nursing home bills for the poor. However, any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for the program can result in a penalty period, when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.

In addition, giving your home to someone else also can expose you to their financial problems. Their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, get some or most of its value. In a divorce, the house could become an asset that must be sold and divided in a property settlement.

However, Tax Code says that if the parent retains a “life interest” or “life estate” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift.

There are specific rules for what qualifies as a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills. To make certain, a child, as executor of his mother’s estate, could file a gift tax return on her behalf to show that he was given a “remainder interest,” or the right to inherit when his mother’s life interest expired at her death.

There are smarter ways to transfer a house. There are other ways around probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let people leave their homes to beneficiaries without having to go through probate. Another option is a living trust.

Reference: MarketWatch (April 16, 2020) “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children”