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Litigation

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Are you at risk of getting sued, if you agree to act as a Fiduciary (Executors, Trustees and Agents under Power of Attorney)?


Trust and estate litigation is on the rise. The conflict can arise due to beneficiaries who feel they were entitled to more money or Trustees, who are supposed to act as fiduciaries with care, loyalty and impartiality, but often don’t.

Unfortunately, you cannot plan for every contingency. You hope that the Trustee that you picked will act as a proper fiduciary, will not steal the beneficiary’s money and will act in accordance with the Trust’s provisions. You also hope that beneficiaries will honor the wishes of the Grantor, even when the Trust provides for unequal distributions.


Read more . . .


Friday, July 15, 2016

Rich and Famous Planning: Lessons learned from Prince’s mistake


As most people by now know, the artist Prince died without a Will. The family is now set up for tens of thousands in legal costs and years of delay before the money gets distributed.

When a person dies without a Will, regardless of the size of his estate, numerous problems come up. These include:

  1. Executor. The person who will be named in charge of your estate may not be the person that you would have liked.


Read more . . .


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rich and Famous Planning: B.B. King’s Estate – 15 children, a few million dollar and legal battles for many years to come


B.B. King acknowledged 15 children from 15 different women during his life. 11 of the children survived him. Yet the executor of B.
Read more . . .


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What happens when a Will is lost? A case illustrates a need for properly storing your documents!

A New York case, the Matter of the Estate of Robyn R. Lewis, is going up in front of New York Court of Appeals now, to decide a case of a missing Will.

Robyn Lewis executed a Will in Texas in favor of her husband; the Will also provided that if the husband predeceased her, her father-in-law would be the executor and sole heir. Later, the couple divorced. As a result of the divorce, under New York law, the husband was effectively disinherited, but the ex-father-in-law was not.

Later, Ms. Lewis executed another Will, leaving everything to her two brothers. She gave this second Will to her neighbor for safe keeping. When she died, the brothers, who were not aware of the new Will, applied for and received Letters of Administration (if there is no Will, then the law determines who gets the assets). Later, however, the ex-husband found out that Ms. Lewis was dead, and his father applied for the Letters Testamentary, on the basis of the original Will. Unfortunately, the neighbor lost the second Will given to him for safekeeping.

The Surrogate revoked the Letters of Administration granted to the brothers and admitted the earlier Will to probate. It is very unlikely that Ms. Lewis would have wanted her ex father-in-law to receive her family house! The brothers, of course, have appealed. Given that this is a modest $200,000 estate, by the time this litigation is finished, the majority of the estate may be consumed by the legal costs!

Lesson to everyone: be careful how you store your estate planning documents. Make a copy or two (but do not unstaple the original!)  Keep the original (either in your home, safe deposit box, or give it to the drafting attorney) and give a copy to your family.

 

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.

 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is asset protection a necessary part of estate planning?

Why estate planning: In general, there are many reasons why people engage in estate planning. Those include: death time tax mitigation, avoidance of probate, smooth transition of property at death, and making sure the deceased’s dispositive wishes are followed. Asset protection is an additional aspect of estate planning, which safeguards the assets from the risks they would otherwise be subject to.

What is asset protection: The goal of asset protection is generally to deter litigation. At the same time, the plan must be flexible enough to provide options to the client and to change over time in response to changing laws.  However, asset protection will not aid the client in the avoidance of taxes and it will not aid the client in the fraudulent hiding of assets.

Timing is crucial. There is no one particular planning tool that will aid every client in protecting the assets. Every situation is unique. The main lesson, however, applies to everyone: planning must be done in advance of litigation. Protecting or transferring assets after there are claims, may expose the client and the attorney to criminal and civil liability.

What one can be sued for: In general, one can never be sure what one will be sued for. If a person is a sole proprietor, then he can be sued for his business. If there is a corporation or an LLC, the corporate veil can be pierced. If one is a general partner, the partnership’s debts may cause personal issues. And generally, there is a “deep pocket syndrome” in America, where lawyers often base their analysis on whether the opposing party can pay a judgment.

Tools of asset protection: Gifting, joint ownership, insurance, corporations, family limited partnerships, domestic trusts, foreign trusts.

Result of asset protection: The client will divest himself of assets and still retain a degree of control over the property. As a result, if  / when in the future a cause of action accrues, there will be little incentive for the opposing side to sue, because there will be little or no assets to pursue.

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Can a Will be Contested? Part 1 (Undue Influence)

There are several ways in which a Will can be challenged. The three main reasons for contesting the Will include:

  1. Proper execution of a Will

  2. Whether the decedent had testamentary capacity to execute a Will

  3. Whether the Will was the product of undue influence or duress.

Whether or not the Will was the product of undue influence or duress is not easy to prove. The answer is usually determined at trial, and it is very fact specific.

In general, the objectant to the Will must establish a motive, an opportunity and actual exercise of undue influence (specific instances in which undue influence was actually exercised). Some of the issues that the court will examine include:

  • Was there was a dependency upon and subjection to the control of the person supposed to have wielded the influence.

  • Was the person who was supposedly wielding the influence present at the time of the Will execution? Was that person involved in preparing the Will?

  • Was there a prior Will? Did the new Will change the disposition of assets in unexpected and unexplained ways?

  • Did the beneficiary have a confidential relationship with the decedent? A confidential relationship includes being a lawyer, an accountant, a financial advisor, or other person of trust, who assisted the decedent in managing his financial affairs.

 

The court is likely to review all evidence regarding the decedent, including mental capacity, physical capacity, relationships with the beneficiary and relationship with the remaining family before deciding whether or not a Will should be invalidated.

Estate litigation is expensive, time consuming and embarrassing. It is better to avoid it all together, if possible. Talking to an experienced attorney who will anticipate the issues that can arise in litigation and advise about the best methods of avoiding it may save your loved ones money and heartache.

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.


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