Can You Make Heirs Behave from the Grave?

Imposing strange or amusing conditions upon heirs may make for good novels. However, in the real world, terms and conditions are limited by the law. A last will or trust contains language specifying how you want assets to be distributed after your death. There are some conditions and terms included, but others should be left for fiction authors, according to a recent article titled “What Can You Force Your Heirs to Do To Get Your Wealth” from Forbes.

If something is illegal or against public policy, it is not acceptable in a last will. Defining public policy is not as easy as whether something is illegal, but it can be described effectively enough, or clarified by your estate planning lawyer. For example, making a gift of land to the town on the condition that an offensive statue be placed in the middle of the land would be against public policy. Requiring heirs to not marry a specific person or type of person before they can inherit is considered illegal in a last will. Beneficiaries are not to be prevented to live their lives freely through the force of a last will.

Whether a condition is valid also depends upon whether it is a precedent that existed at the date of your death or a condition that occurs after your death. For instance, a requirement for a beneficiary to live in a specific location at the time of your death might be considered valid by a court. However, a condition requiring a spouse to never remarry would not be valid.

Blatantly illegal terms of an inheritance are easy terminated. Leaving money to a known terrorist organization or requiring an heir to commit a crime is an easy no-go. However, sometimes things get murky. Restraints on getting married or selling or transferring property are two of the biggest problems, and often the stories behind the last wills are sad ones.

A condition of not marrying, divorcing, or remarrying is not legal. However, a condition that heirs do not marry outside of the faith has been enforced as a valid last will condition. A complete prohibition of a second marriage by a surviving spouse has been deemed void. It should be noted that certain requests have been permitted, like having a surviving spouse lose payments from a trust when they remarry. As antiquated as it may sound, courts have affirmed the concept of the specific limitation to provide financial support only until the surviving spouse remarries and is, therefore, not void.

A probate court will not void a condition on a bequest automatically, even if it is clearly illegal. The beneficiary, or another interested party, must file with the probate court to have the condition voided. If you fail to do so, when the last will or trust is allowed, it is possible to lose your right to void the condition.

A better way to go: don’t try to control your heir’s behavior from the grave. It creates terrible ill will and may cloud a lifetime of happy memories. If you don’t want to give something to someone, your estate planning attorney will help you create an estate plan, and possibly a trust, to control how your assets are distributed.

Reference: Forbes July 21, 2021 “What Can You Force Your Heirs to Do To Get Your Wealth”

 

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Why Did Texas Siblings Come to Blows Over Inheritance ?

Inheritance – A lawsuit in Texas alleges that Michael Mowrey hit his sister Stacy Alley, shoved her and choked her. He was criminally charged with felony assault and accepted a plea deal.

However, these criminal proceedings do not result in repayment to the victim.

San Angelo Live’s recent article entitled “Sibling Choked Over Inheritance” reports that the reason for the incident wasn’t stated by the plaintiff in the court documents. However, court documents do reveal that their father’s inheritance was an object of contention.

Alley originally brought the lawsuit against her brother for monetary damages for medical bills, legal fees, lost wages and the emotional effects of the life-threatening attack.

Instead of going to trial, the brother and sister agreed to submit to mediation.

The results of the mediation were recently released. The outcome is binding.

They agree to partition or split the 446-acre cotton farm owned by their deceased father Gene Mowrey. In the agreement, Alley gets 306 acres and Mowrey gets 140 acres.

Mowrey must convey his one-half interest in the estate’s Oklahoma minerals to Stacey Hamilton (another sibling), along with his one-half interest in the escrowed mineral production attributable to the Oklahoma minerals.

The two sisters (Hamilton and Alley) are required under the deal to execute a deed that conveys all of their rights, title and interest in their father’s home to Michael. As a result, he will own 100% of that home.

The reason for the violent incident appears to have been a fight over their inheritance.

It was not clear if Michael Mowrey suffered any real losses as a result of the outburst.

While he lost a majority of the rights to the family cotton farm, and his share of the family’s mineral rights, he gained the home.

Reference: San Angelo Live (June 27, 2021) “Sibling Choked Over Inheritance”

 

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What are the Advantages of a Testamentary Trust ?

One reason to have a last will and testament is to protect minor children. A will offers a means of providing for a minor child through a testamentary trust, which is also a good tool for leaving an inheritance to someone who might not use their bequest wisely, says the recent article “What is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?” from wtop news.

Trusts are legal entities that hold assets, and money or other assets in the trust are managed according to the wishes of the person who created the trust, known as the grantor. A testamentary trust is created through the person’s will and becomes effective upon their death. Once the person dies, their assets are placed in the trust and are distributed according to the directions in the trust.

A trust can also be created while a person is living, called a revocable trust or a living trust. Assets moved into the trust are distributed directly to heirs upon the person’s death and do not go through the probate process. However, they are administered without probate, as long as they are in effect. Living trusts are also managed outside of the court system, while testamentary trusts are administered through probate as long as they are in effect.

A testamentary trust is used to manage money for children. However, it can also protect assets in other situations. If you are concerned about an adult child getting divorced and don’t want their inheritance to be lost to a divorce, a trust is one way to keep their inheritance from being considered a marital asset.

The oversight by the court could be useful in some situations, but in others it becomes costly. Here’s an example. Let’s say a testamentary trust is created for an 8-year-old to hold assets until she turns 25. For seventeen years, any distribution of assets will have to take place through the court. Therefore, while it was less costly to set up than a living trust, the costs of court proceedings over the seventeen years could add up quickly and easily exceed the cost of setting up the living trust in the first place.

If someone involved in the estate is litigious and likely to contest a will or a trust, having the court involved on a regular basis may be an advantage.

Having an estate planning attorney create the trust protects the grantor and the beneficiary in several ways Trusts are governed by state law, and each state has different requirements. Trying to set up a trust with a generic document downloaded from the web could create an invalid trust. In that case, the trust may not be valid, and your wishes won’t be followed.

Once a testamentary trust is created, nothing happens until you die. At that point, the trust will be created, and assets moved into it, as stipulated in your last will and testament.

The trust can be changed or annulled while you are living. To do this, simply revise your will with your estate planning attorney. However, after you have passed, it’ll be extremely difficult for your executor to make changes and it will require court intervention.

Reference: wtop news (July 19, 2021) “What is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?”

 

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Walt Disney Grandson Loses Appeal of Probate Court’s Decision

Bradford Lund, Walt Disney ’s adult grandson, lost an appeal in a battle with a Los Angeles probate judge who appointed a guardian ad litem without a hearing and rejected a proposed settlement that would have given Lund a $200 million inheritance, says this recent article “Walt Disney’s Grandson Loses Appeal in Fight for $200M Inheritance” from The Hollywood Reporter. Despite its decision, the appellate court described the probate court’s behavior as “troubling.”

In 2020, Lund filed a lawsuit in California federal court arguing that his due process was violated when a County Superior Court judge rejected a settlement reached by family members and trustees. The judge appointed a guardian ad litem, even though an Arizona judge had determined that Lund was not incapacitated and another judge in California stated that Lund had the capacity to choose new trustees.

The lawsuit was later amended to include a claim under the Americans With Disabilities Act because in the 2019 settlement, Judge Cowan had stated that he would not give 200 million dollars to someone who may suffer, at some level, from Down syndrome.

Six months later, a U.S. District judge dismissed the matter. During the appeals process, the Superior Court discharged the guardian ad litem and granted Lund’s request for a new judge.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, finding that most of Lund’s claims had become moot, as a result of the judge recusing himself and removing the guardian ad litem. The panel also held that, while the judge’s statements were inappropriate and without factual basis, they were protected by judicial immunity.

It may be small comfort to Lund, but the 9th Circuit judge criticized the probate court and acknowledged his frustration with the system. The district judge no longer serves in probate court, although no connection between his departure and the Lund matter was recognized by the 9th District.

Regarding the ADA claim, the panel of 9th Circuit judges says that judges must remain completely independent, and subjecting judges to liability for grievances of litigants would compromise that.

Reference: The Hollywood Reporter (July 16, 2021) “Walt Disney’s Grandson Loses Appeal in Fight for $200M Inheritance”

 

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How Do I Cancel a Loved One’s Driver’s License?

In addition to canceling cards, insurance policies and automatic payments after a family member dies, it is important to cancel identification cards, like a loved one’s driver’s license. Bankrate’s recent article entitled “How to terminate a license after death” provides some valuable tips on closing out things for a loved one after they pass away.

Every state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has rules about how it issues and cancels a driver’s license. In some states, you may not need to cancel a license because Vital Records will inform the DMV of the license holder’s death, and the license will be canceled automatically. If a state requires you to cancel the license, obtain the death certificate and contact the DMV for the specific procedure. Many states permit the canceling of a deceased’s driver’s license by mail. Typically, you need to send a letter saying you would like to cancel the deceased driver’s license; a notarized or certified copy of the death certificate; and the original driver’s license.

You can cancel a driver’s license to prevent identity theft. In addition, other items should be cancelled to make certain that personal information does not get into the wrong hands. Here are a few other vehicle-related items that should also be canceled or transferred.

Car title. Transfer the title, if you want to sell the car in the future or if you want to keep driving the vehicle. You will need to visit the DMV with the death certificate and the original title certificate to transfer the title. There may also be a state affidavit form certifying there is no probate before the vehicle title may be legally transferred.

Car registration. When the car title transfer is complete and the vehicle’s in your name, you can register it. Get car insurance before registering the vehicle.

License plates and handicap placards. The plates of the vehicle should be surrendered to the DMV with the driver’s license and a certified or notarized copy of the death certificate and a cover letter. If you return the deceased person’s driver’s license and the vehicle’s license plates, you could also send the handicap placard back to the DMV.

Car insurance. Call the insurance company to cancel auto insurance. The insurer may ask for a copy of the death certificate before canceling the policy.

Car loans or leases. A car loan is not forgiven upon death, and the balance will have to be settled from the estate’s funds. You might be able to take over the lease or loan, if you contact the lender with documentation showing you are the beneficiary, but this depends on the lender and state laws.

Reference: Bankrate (June 16, 2021) “How to terminate a license after death”

 

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Do You Have to Do Probate when Someone Dies?

Probate is a Latin term meaning “to prove.” Legally, a deceased person may not own property, so the moment a person dies, the property they owned while living is in a legal state of limbo. The rightful owners must prove their ownership in court, explains the article “Wills and Probate” from Southlake Style. Probate refers to the legal process that recognizes a person’s death, proves whether or not a valid last will exists and who is entitled to assets the decedent owned while they were living.

The probate court oversees the payment of the decedent’s debts, as well as the distribution of their assets. The court’s role is to facilitate this process and protect the interests of all creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. The process is known as “probate administration.”

Having a last will does not automatically transfer property. The last will must be properly probated first. If there is a last will, the estate is described as “testate.” The last will must contain certain language and have been properly executed by the testator (the decedent) and the witnesses. Every state has its own estate laws. Therefore, to be valid, the last will must follow the rules of the person’s state. A last will that is valid in one state may be invalid in another.

The court must give its approval that the last will is valid and confirm the executor is suited to perform their duties. Texas is one of a few states that allow for independent administration, where the court appoints an administrator who submits an inventory of assets and liabilities. The administration goes on with no need for probate judge’s approval, as long as the last will contains the specific language to qualify.

If there was no last will, the estate is considered to be “intestate” and the laws of the state determine who inherits what assets. The laws rely on the relationship between the decedent and the genetic or bloodline family members. An estranged relative could end up with everything. The estate distribution is more likely to be challenged if there is no last will, causing additional family grief, stress and expenses.

The last will should name an executor or administrator to carry out the terms of the last will. The executor can be a family member or a trusted friend, as long as they are known to be honest and able to manage financial and legal transactions. Administering an estate takes time, depending upon the complexity of the estate and how the person managed the business side of their lives. The executor pays bills, may need to sell a home and also deals with any creditors.

The smart estate plan includes assets that are not transferrable by the last will. These are known as “non-probate” assets and go directly to the heirs, if the beneficiary designation is properly done. They can include life insurance proceeds, pensions, 401(k)s, bank accounts and any asset with a beneficiary designation. If all of the assets in an estate are non-probate assets, assets of the estate are easily and usually quickly distributed. Many people accomplish this through the use of a Living Trust.

Every person’s life is different, and so is their estate plan. Family dynamics, the amount of assets owned and how they are owned will impact how the estate is distributed. Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare for the future.

Reference: Southlake Style (May 17, 2021) “Wills and Probate”

 

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Personal Property – How to Prevent Fighting over Baseball Cards?

Estate plans often don’t include personal property or sentimental items. These day-to-day objects can cause some of the worst arguments among survivors, says The Wall Street Journal’s recent article entitled “You Don’t Want Your Heirs to Fight Over Your Assets? Here’s What to Do Now.”

A photograph, dads’ baseball mitt, or mom’s Bible can sometimes have greater sentimental value than we realize. In addition, it can be tricky to determine what is fair, when dividing personal items. So, how do you assign a value to a banged-up saxophone that several family members might want or your collection of baseball cards?

The wisest path on such decisions about personal property is to talk with heirs, while you are still alive and in good health.

Ask your adult children what they might want and why and ask what other family members should have and why.

You might discover, for instance, that your adult daughter thinks her brother should inherit their dad’s baseball glove because they were the ones who played catch. You might be left with the CDs because you are the music aficionado.

The other big plus for discussing personal property is that the would-be beneficiaries can have the opportunity to hear stories and memories that are connected to these gifts. You can even write the stories down. Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Do you want to include in-laws in the decision-making?
  • What happens to personal items, if a parent remarries?
  • When is the best time to begin the actual transfer (the worst time is right after a funeral when family members are not at their best)?

You can also ask an experienced estate planning attorney to draft what is known as a “ personal property memorandum.” It is a list of items and the people selected to inherit them. You should mention the existence of the document in your will, but the memo can be changed as often as you want without having to update your will.

Reference: Wall Street Journal (May 3, 2021) “You Don’t Want Your Heirs to Fight Over Your Assets? Here’s What to Do Now”

 

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Administrator – What Happens when Homeowner Dies without Will?

Administrato – When parents die suddenly, in this case due to COVID-19, and there is no will and no discussions have taken place, siblings are placed in an awkward, expensive and emotionally fraught situation. The article titled “My parents died of COVID-19 and left no will. My brother lives rent-free in their home and borrowed $35,000. What now?” from MarketWatch sums up the situation, but the answer is complicated.

When there is no will, or “intestacy,” there aren’t a lot of choices.

These parents had a few bank accounts, owned their home outright and left no debts. They had six adult children, including one that died and is survived by two living sons. None of the siblings agrees upon anything, so nothing has been done.

One of the siblings lives in the house rent free. Another brother was loaned $35,000 for a down payment on a mobile home. He now claims that the loan was a gift and does not have to pay it back. There are receipts, but the money was paid directly to the escrow company from the mother’s bank account.

How do you determine if this brother received a loan or a gift? What do you do about the brother who lives rent-free in the family home? How does the family now move the estate into probate without losing the house and the bank accounts, while maintaining a sense of family?

For starters, an administrator needs to be appointed to begin the probate process and act as a mediator among the siblings. In some states, the administrator also requires a family tree, so they can know who the descendants are. Barring some huge change of heart among the siblings, this is the only option.

If the parents failed to name a personal representative and the siblings cannot agree on who should serve, an estate administration lawyer is the sensible choice. The court may name someone, if there is concern about possible conflicts of interests or the rights of creditors or other beneficiaries.

A warning to all concerned about how the appointment of an administrator works, or sometimes, does not work. Working with an estate planning attorney that the siblings can agree upon is better, as the attorney has a fiduciary and ethical obligation to the estate. While state laws usually hold the administrator responsible to the standard of care of a “reasonable, prudent” individual, not all will agree what is reasonable and prudent.

One note about the loan/gift: if the mother helped a brother to qualify for a mortgage, it is possible that a “Gift Letter” was created to satisfy the bank or the resident’s association. Assuming this was not a notarized loan agreement, the administrator may rule that the $35,000 was a gift. Personal loans should always be recorded in a notarized agreement.

This family’s disaster serves as a good lesson for anyone who does not have an estate plan. Siblings rarely agree, and a properly prepared estate plan protects more than your assets. It also protects your children from losing each other in a fight over your property.

Reference: MarketWatch (April 4, 2021) “My parents died of COVID-19 and left no will. My brother lives rent-free in their home and borrowed $35,000. What now?”

 

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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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