Why Is Family of a Texas Governor Fighting over His Estate?

Dolph Briscoe Jr. was a Texas rancher and businessman and was the 41st Governor of Texas between 1973 and 1979. His oldest child, Janey Briscoe Marmion, established the foundation with her father to honor her only child, Kate, who died in 2008 at the age of 20.

The Uvalde Leader-News’ recent article entitled “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will” reports that Marmion’s original will filed in 2011 directed her assets to be placed in a revocable trust.

The foundation was to have received income from half of her wealth for 22 years. The rest was directed to the children of her brother Chip Briscoe and those of her sister Cele Carpenter of Dallas.

However, a second will executed by Janey Briscoe Marmion in 2014 and admitted to probate in the County Court in December 2018— a month and a day after her death—calls for three trusts, including two child’s trusts created by her father and a generation-skipping trust (GST). A GST is a type of trust agreement in which the contributed assets are transferred to the grantor’s grandchildren, “skipping” the next generation (the grantor’s children).

Marmion created the Janey Marmion Briscoe GST Trust, dated November 1, 2012, in which she gave a third of her assets to the foundation and the other two-thirds to be divided equally between Chip Briscoe’s sons.

Carpenter’s three children filed suit in Dallas and in Uvalde County last year challenging the validity of the 2014 will and contesting the probate.

Their complaint alleges that Janey Briscoe Marmion intended to include the three as beneficiaries, in addition to Chip’s two sons, and that the situation creates a disproportionate inheritance in favor of the Briscoe men.

The amount in question is more than $500 million, since the former Texas governor’s estate was estimated by Forbes to be worth as much as $1.3 billion in 2015. Governor Briscoe died in Uvalde in 2010 at the age of 87.

Reference: Uvalde (TX) Leader-News (March 11, 2021) “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will”

 

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Larry King and his Holographic Will .

The dispute over Larry King’s estate shines a harsh spotlight on what happens when an elderly person makes major changes late in life to his or her estate plan, especially when the person has become physically weakened and possibly mentally affected, due to aging and illness. A recent article from The National Law Journal, “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways,” examines lessons to be learned from the Larry King will contest.

A handwritten will is most likely to be probated. King’s handwritten will was witnessed by two individuals and may rise to the standards of California’s rules for probate. California was likely King’s residence at the time of his death. However, even if King’s won’t satisfy one section of California estate law referring to probate, it appears to satisfy another addressing requirements for a holographic will.

Holographic will requirements vary from state to state, but it is generally a will that is handwritten by the testator and may or may not need to be witnessed.

The battle over the will is just a starting point. Most of King’s assets were in revocable trusts and will be conveyed through the trusts. He did not seek to revoke or amend the trusts before he died. News reports claim that the probate estate to be conveyed by the will is only $2 million, compared to non-probate assets estimated at $50 million—$144 million, depending upon the source.

Passing assets through trusts has the advantage of keeping the assets out of probate and maintaining privacy for the family. The trust does not become a matter of public record and there is no inventory of assets to be filed with the court.

Any pre- or post-nuptial agreements will have an impact on how King’s assets will be distributed. This is an issue for anyone who marries as often as King did. Apparently, he did not have a prenuptial agreement with his 7th wife, Shawn Southwick King. They were married for 22 years and separated in 2019. While Larry had filed for divorce, the couple had not reached a financial settlement. California is a community property state, so Southwick will have a legal claim to 50% of the assets the couple acquired during their long marriage, regardless of the will.

It is yet unclear whether there was a post-nuptial agreement. There are reports that the couple separated in 2010 after tabloid reports of a relationship between King and Southwick’s sister, and that there was a post-nuptial agreement declaring all of King’s $144 million assets to be community property. Southwick filed for divorce in 2010, and King sought to have the post-nup nullified. They reconciled for a few years and King was reported to have updated his estate plan in 2015.

The claim of undue influence on the will may not be easy to challenge. Southwick is claiming that Larry King Jr., King’s oldest son, exerted undue influence on his father to make a change using a Holographic will. They were not close for most of Larry Jr.’s life, but in the later years of his life, King made a transfer of $250,000 to his son. Southwick wishes to have those transfers set aside on the basis of undue influence. She claims that when King executed his handwritten will, he was highly susceptible to outside influences and had questionable mental capacity.

Expect this will contest to continue for a while, with the possibility that the probate court dispute extends to other litigation between King’s last wife and his oldest son.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 15, 2021) “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways”

 

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How Do Special Needs Trusts Work?

A trust of any kind is a document that expresses your wishes while you are alive and after you have passed. The need for a dedicated special needs trust for loved ones differs with the situations or issues of the family. Getting this wrong can lead to financial devastation, explains the article “Take special care with Special Needs trusts” from the Herald Bulletin.

A Special Needs Trust or supplemental trust provides protection and management for assets for specific beneficiaries. The trustee is in charge of the assets in the trust during the grantor’s life or at his death and distributes to the beneficiary as directed by the trust.

The purpose of a Special Needs or supplemental trust is to help people who receive government benefits because they are physically or mentally challenged or are chronically ill. Most of these benefits are means-tested. The rules about outside income are very strict. An inheritance would disqualify a Special Needs person from receiving these benefits, possibly putting them in dire circumstances.

The value of assets placed in a Special Needs trust does not count against the benefits. However, this area of the law is complex, and requires the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Mistakes could have lifelong consequences.

The trustee manages assets and disperses funds when needed, or at the direction of the trust. Selecting a trustee is extremely important, since the duties of a Special Needs trust could span decades. The person in charge must be familiar with the government programs and benefits and stay up to date with any changes that might impact the decisions of when to release funds.

These are just a few of the considerations for a trustee:

  • How should disbursements be made, balancing current needs and future longevity?
  • Does the request align with the rules of the trust and the assistance program requirements?
  • Will anyone else benefit from the expenditure, family members or the trustee? The trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the beneficiary, first and foremost.

Parents who leave life insurance, stocks, bonds, or cash to all children equally may be putting their Special Needs child in jeopardy. Well-meaning family members who wish to take care of their relative must be made aware of the risk of leaving assets to a Special Needs individual. These conversations should take place, no matter how awkward.

An experienced elder law estate planning attorney will be able to create a Special Needs trust that will work for the individual and for the family.

Reference: Herald Bulletin (March 13, 2021) “Take special care with Special Needs trusts”

 

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Why Won’t IRS and Social Security Like My Power of Attorney?

The IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA) don’t recognize traditional powers of attorneys (POAs). Forbes’s recent article entitled “Two Times When Your Power of Attorney Isn’t Going to Work” explains why.

The IRS says that you must use Form 2848, “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative” to allow anyone to act on your behalf. This form requires you to state the tax matters and years for which the agent is authorized to act. That’s different from a traditional POA for financial matters, which usually has blanket statements allowing the agent to take any or a broad range of actions on your behalf in certain matters.

A married couple that files joint tax returns must also have each spouse separately complete and sign a form. There is no joint form.

Technically, the IRS might accept other Power of Attorney as the instructions to Form 2848 indicate this. However, the POA must meet the requirements of Form 2848 to be accepted as a substitute. That can be a tall order.

The Social Security Administration is similar. It says on its web site that it doesn’t recognize a Power of Attorney. When you need someone to manage your Social Security benefits, you contact the SSA and make an advance designation of a representative payee.

A 2018 law created this feature that lets you name one or more individuals to manage your Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration must usually work with the named individual or individuals. You can rank up to three people as advance designees. Therefore, if the first one isn’t available or is unable to perform the role, the SSA will move to the next person on your list.

Someone who already is receiving Social Security benefits can designate an advance designee at any point, and a person claiming benefits for the first time can name the designee during the claiming process. The designation can be made using your “my Social Security” account on the Social Security web site or by contacting the Social Security Administration by phone (800-772-1213) or at the local field office. A designee can also be named through the mail by using Form SSA-4547 – Advance Designation of Representative Payee.

Representative payees generally must be individuals, but it also can be a social service agency, nursing home, or one of a number of other organizations recognized by the SSA to serve as payees. If you don’t name any representatives, the SSA will name a representative payee for you, if it decides you need help managing your money. A relative or friend can apply to be representative payees, or the SSA can make the selection.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 28, 2021) “Two Times When Your Power Of Attorney Isn’t Going To Work”

 

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Does My Family have to Pay My Credit Card Debt when I Die?

Market Realist’s recent article entitled “What Happens to Credit Card Debt When You Die?” says that the short answer is that the deceased’s estate pays off any credit cards they have left behind. Credit card  and other debts can pass on to others in some cases, which is a big reason why estate planning is so important.

When a person dies, their assets are frozen until his or her will is verified, their obligations are settled and their beneficiaries are identified in the probate process.

Then, the state will order that the deceased’s remaining assets (such as leftover cash and property with cash value) be used to pay off the credit card. However, retirement accounts, eligible brokerage accounts, and life insurance payouts are usually protected from this debt reconciliation. Once the debts are settled, the beneficiaries get their inheritance.

The obligations are paid off until they’re all settled, or until the estate runs out of money. Unsecured debts, like credit cards, are usually paid off after secured debts, administrative fees and attorney fees.

There are some circumstances in which another person is legally obligated to pay the deceased’s debt.

Typically, no one is legally required to pay off a deceased individual’s debts, but there are some exceptions:

  • Co-signers must pay loans
  • Joint account holders must pay credit card accounts
  • Spouses have to pay particular types of debt in some states; and
  • Executors of an estate must pay outstanding bills out of property jointly owned by the surviving and deceased spouses in some states.

In addition, surviving spouses may be required to use community property to pay their deceased spouse’s debt in certain states.

The community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Alaska would also be included in this list, if a special agreement is in place.

If there was no joint account, co-signer, or other exception, only the estate of the deceased person owes.

Reference: Market Realist (Feb. 11, 2021) “What Happens to Credit Card Debt When You Die?”

 

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Remind Me Why I Need to get a Will

There are a number of reasons to get a will as soon as possible. If you die without a will (intestate), you leave decisions up to your state of residence according to its probate and intestacy laws. Without a will, you have no say as to who receives your assets or properties. Not having a will could also make it difficult for your family.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “Top 7 Reasons to Fill Out a Will” reminds us that, before it is too late, consider these reasons why a will is essential.

Avoid Family Disputes. This process occasionally will lead to disagreements among family members, if there’s no will or your wishes aren’t clear. A contested will can be damaging to relationships within your family and can be costly.

Avoid Costly and Lengthy Probate. A will expedites the probate process and tells the court the way in which you want your estate to be divided. Without a will, the court will decide how your estate will be divided, which can lead to unnecessary delays.

Deciding What Happens to Your Assets. A will is the only way you can state exactly to whom you want your assets to be given. Without a will, the court will decide.

Designating a Guardian for Your Children. Without a will, the court will determine who will take care of your minor children.

Eliminate Stress for Your Family. Most estates must go to probate court to start the process. However, if you have no will, the process can be complicated. The court must name personal representatives to administer your estate.

Protect Your Business. A will allows you to pass your business to your co-owners or heirs.

Provide A Home For Your Pets. If you have a will, you can make certain that someone will care for your pets if you die. The law considers pets as properties, so you are prohibited from leaving assets to your pets in your will. However, you can name beneficiaries for your pets, leaving them to a trusted person, and you can name people to serve as guardians of your pets and leave them funds to meet their needs.

Get a will with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney can give you and your family peace of mind and convenience in the future.

Reference: Legal Reader (Jan. 28, 2021) “Top 7 Reasons to Fill Out a Will”

 

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How Does Home Ownership Transfer after a Parent Dies?

In most cases, the home is owned by a couple as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” or as “tenants by the entirety.” The latter is less common. The first thing you’ll need to know about selling a home after the death of a parent, is how your parents held title, or owned, the home, begins the recent article “Home ownership after the death of a spouse” from nwi.com.

Tenancy by the entirety is a form of ownership available only to married people in a limited number of states and offers several advantages to the owners. It creates an ownership interest where the spouses own property jointly and not as individuals. It also creates the rights of survivorship, so that the surviving spouse owns the property by law when the first spouse dies.

Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship is similar to tenants by the entirety, in that they both convey rights of survivorship. However, joint tenancy does not treat the owners as a single unit. If you own entireties property with a spouse, you may not transfer your interest without your spouse’s permission because you own it as a unit.

In joint tenants, if one of the tenants want to transfer their interest in the property, he or she may do so at any time—and do not need the permission of the other tenant. This has led to some sticky situations, which is why tenants by the entirety is preferred in many situations.

If your parents own their home as tenants by the entireties or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, the surviving spouse owns the home as a matter of law, and legally, ownership begins at the moment that first spouse dies.

Different states record this change of ownership differently, so you’ll need to speak with an estate planning attorney in your community (or the state where your parents lived, if it was different than where you live).

To notify the recorder’s office of the death, some state laws require the submission of a surviving spouse affidavit, which puts the recorder and the community on notice that one of the owners has died and the survivor now owns the home individually. Here again, an estate planning attorney will know the laws that apply in your situation.

There was a time when people recorded a death certificate, but this does not occur often. The affidavit makes a number of recitals that are important, and the recorded document proves the change of title.

In most cases, there is no need for a new deed, since the surviving spouse owns the property at the time of death, and the affidavit itself demonstrates proof of the transfer of title in lieu of a deed.

Reference: nwi.com (March 14, 2021) “Home ownership after the death of a spouse”

 

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A Trust Fund can Work for ‘Regular’ People

A trust fund is an estate planning tool that can be used by anyone who wishes to pass their property to individuals, family members or nonprofits. They are used by wealthy people because they solve a number of wealth transfer problems and are equally applicable to people who aren’t mega-rich, explains this recent article from Forbes titled “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy.”

A trust is a legal entity in the same way that a corporation is a legal entity. A trust is used in estate planning to own assets, as instructed by the terms of the trust. Terms commonly used in discussing trusts include:

  • Grantor—the person who creates the trust and places assets into the trust.
  • Beneficiary—the person or organization who will receive the assets, as directed by the trust documents.
  • Trustee—the person who ensures that the assets in the trust are properly managed and distributed to beneficiaries.

Trust Funds may contain a variety of property, from real estate to personal property, stocks, bonds and even entire businesses.

Certain assets should not be placed in a trust, and an estate planning attorney will know how and why to make these decisions. Retirement accounts and other accounts with named beneficiaries don’t need to be placed inside a trust, since the asset will go to the named beneficiaries upon death. They do not pass through probate, which is the process of the court validating the will and how assets are passed as directed by the will. However, there may be reasons to designate such accounts to pass to the trust and your attorney will advise you accordingly.

Assets are transferred into trusts in two main ways: the grantor transfers assets into the trust while living, often by retitling the asset, or by using their estate plan to stipulate that a trust will be created and retain certain assets upon their death.

Trusts are used extensively because they work. Some benefits of using a trust as part of an estate plan include:

Avoiding probate. Assets placed in a trust fund pass to beneficiaries outside of the probate process.

Protecting beneficiaries from themselves. Young adults may be legally able to inherit but that doesn’t mean they are capable of handling large amounts of money or property. Trusts can be structured to pass along assets at certain ages or when they reach particular milestones in life.

Protecting assets. Trusts can be created to protect inheritances for beneficiaries from creditors and divorces. A trust can be created to ensure a former spouse has no legal claim to the assets in the trust.

Tax liabilities. Transferring assets into an irrevocable trust means they are owned and controlled by the trust. For example, with a non-grantor irrevocable trust, the former owner of the assets does not pay taxes on assets in the trust during his or her life, and they are not part of the taxable estate upon death.

Caring for a Special Needs beneficiary. Disabled individuals who receive government benefits may lose those benefits, if they inherit directly. If you want to provide income to someone with special needs when you have passed, a Special Needs Trust (sometimes known as a Supplemental Needs trust) can be created. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to do this properly.

Reference: Forbes (March 15, 2021) “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy”

 

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What Should I Do with My Valuable Beanie Baby Collection?

Learning a foreign language, making wine and crafting are popular stay-at-home activities, there’s a new trend: childhood collections of Beanie Baby, baseball cards, comic books, video games, sneakers, model trains, and Barbie dolls are being uncovered and re-examined.

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning for Your Collections May Be a Smart Decision to Make” explains that the legacy we leave isn’t always a lot of money or real estate. Artifacts and collections have a value that goes beyond dollars and cents. The importance of hobbies and collections in a person’s estate plan should be noted.

A collector should catalog their collection because an heir might have no idea what he’s holding. Is it a three-buck toy from the local department store or is it a Devi Kroell Barbie from 2010 that sells now for at least $1,100?

One way to start a catalog is to take photos on a smart phone and save them in a shared file called “My Collectible Beanie Baby.”

Next, get an idea what your collection is worth. You can get some idea by looking at prices for similar items on eBay prices. You also should be aware of the “grade” of your pieces. Is your Beanie Baby still in its original packaging in pristine condition, or has your niece chewed on it for a few years as a baby? Of course, the condition makes a huge difference in the price.

You can gift a collection to a trust through a gift memorandum and specifically listed it on a trust’s Schedule A. If the collectible has its own title, like your 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, the title can be transferred to the trust. When it’s part of a trust, a collectible can be distributed or maintained the way other trust assets are governed.

Trusts avoid probate and let a collector have more flexibility to control how her collection is handled, appreciated and sold.

Without a specific bequest in a last will, something like a Beanie Baby collection worth thousands of dollars may only be mentioned as “personal property” in a catch-all category for non-financial accounts or real estate belonging to the decedent. As a result, it’s lumped in with clothing, furniture and household items. An executor who is unfamiliar with Beanie Babies or Barbies may not know enough to maximize the collection’s value.

Some collectors dispose of an unwanted collection while they’re still alive. That is because the owner is the one who understands the market for the collectibles. Obtaining the best prices and letting your heirs  use the windfall for their individual plans may be a win-win.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (Feb. 2, 2021) “Estate Planning for Your Collections May Be a Smart Decision to Make”

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Dr. Seuss Controversy Impact on Estate?

It may surprise you to know exactly how profitable the estate of Dr. Seuss continues to be. Eighty years after the publication of his first children’s book — “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” which is among the works being discontinued — the author’s collection still makes a whole lot of money, says The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How Dr. Seuss became the second highest-paid dead celebrity.”

Forbes.com’s annual inventory of the highest-paid dead celebrities, Theodor Geisel —AKA “Dr. Seuss”— ranks second, only trailing Michael Jackson. The Seuss empire raked in earnings last year of $33 million. In other words, the Vipper of Vipp, Flummox and Fox in Sox generated a bushel-full of dough in 2020.

Add to this, the fact that because of the news that six of his 60+ books will no longer be published, buyers are scrambling to purchase his back catalog. This means more money for the good doctor, as evidenced by the fact that recently nine of the top 10 spots on Amazon’s best-sellers list were occupied by Dr. Seuss, including classics “The Cat in the Hat,” “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

The answer to how Dr. Suess’ estate has maintained a $33 million fortune 30 years after his death, is that it’s his wife’s doing. Geisel died in 1991 at the age of 87. Two years after that, Audrey Geisel, founded Dr. Seuss Enterprises to handle licensing and film deals for her husband’s work.

She passed away in 2018, but Dr. Seuss Enterprises is still going strong. It’s shrewdly built the Seuss brand with kids’ merchandise and several television and film projects, notably the animated “Green Eggs and Ham” series, which debuted on Netflix in 2019, starring Michael Douglas, Keegan-Michael Key and Diane Keaton.

Past Seuss projects include Jim Carrey’s “The Grinch” in 2000; Mike Myers’s mediocre “The Cat in the Hat” in 2003, “Horton Hears a Who!” in 2008; not to mention the 2001 Broadway bomb “Seussical.”

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (March 9, 2021) “How Dr. Seuss became the second highest-paid dead celebrity”

 

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