July is coming to an end and so has my time writing Elder Law Issues newsletters. This is my last review of the prior month’s developments in elder law. New Fleming & Curti associate Matt Mansour and law clerk Jordan Young will be contributing articles instead. Maybe they’ll continue monthly or occasional news reviews. We’ll see. I’ll be reading along from my office at Moeller & Conway, PLLC, a law firm a few miles away.
July’s Top Story: Aretha’s Will
In July, the biggest story was Aretha Franklin’s will. You no doubt heard that a Michigan jury found that the hand-written will hidden in sofa cushions was valid and enforceable. The Detroit Free Press did the best story relating the proceeding. The dispute is far from over, contrary to much coverage. As the judge pointed out, there are a number of issues she may be asked to resolve. Those include ambiguities in the text and a decision on who will take over as the estate’s administrator.
Then there was additional coverage:
Throughout the battle over the two competing documents no news outlet I came across depicted the documents themselves. Until now, thanks New York Post.
Here’s a great explanation of the law behind why the jury decided what it did, along with some history about how we, as a country, came round to accepting hand-written, or “holographic,” wills.
Interested in the family dynamics playing out in public? People does mini-profiles on each of Franklin’s children and what they stand to gain from the ruling.
In Other July Celebrity Estate News
Clients often ask how long an estate administration lasts. The answer is: It depends. If there’s property to manage, there’s work to be done. Here’s an example: Paloma Picasso has become administrator of her father’s estate, which holds intellectual property rights and rights to the artist’s name. Pablo died in 1973.
Paul Allen’s estate has donated thousands of objects to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. The Microsoft co-founder died in 2018. Objects include handwritten lyrics by David Bowie for “Starman,” the motorcycle jacket worn by Prince in “Purple Rain; and a full-size flying “Spinner” vehicle from 1982’s Blade Runner.
Estates & Courts
California Senator Diane Feinstein is fighting for more money. Actually, it’s her daughter, as Feinstein’s agent under power of attorney, who has filed suits on her behalf. She claims trusts left by Feinstein’s late husband, Richard Blum, are being managed contrary to Feinstein’s interests. The lawsuits illustrate how even well-planned estates can end up with sparring parties, especially blended families.
A less high-profile lawsuit illustrates another danger of litigation: No contest clauses, also known as in terrorem clauses or, in this story, “incontestability” clauses. The son of a Wyoming chiropractor challenged his dad’s will, which left money to friends, family, and care workers. The son, Chad, accused neighbors and health-care workers of undue influence. After a seven-day bench trial, the judge issued a 38-page ruling against him. The judge also affirmed that the clause disinheriting anyone challenging the document applied. Chad is out of the estate, estimated at $10 million to $15 million.
July Estate Planning Tips
Those estates have big problems. Many more estates, even well-planned ones, have smaller challenges. Here’s a first-person account of one of them. The beginning: “There’s never enough time and nobody’s perfect, but families need to talk about these hard topics.”
And a warning: Don’t use AI to draft your estate plan. (Attorneys are better.)
Aging & Us
Here’s a good read from Salon about the challenges of the aging population. Guess what? As a culture, we’re not ready for what we’re already deep into.
As loved ones age, you might be tempted to move closer to help out. Need help deciding? Here you go.
On the dementia scene, AI might be good for spotting it early. You can help prevent it with puzzles and games more than social activities. What else might help? Olive oil, brushing your teeth, volunteering, and warding off loneliness and hearing loss.
That’s it for July’s roundup. I must add a ginormous thank you to the Fleming & Curti team for an incredibly rewarding four years and especially to the extraordinary Robert B. Fleming. I will forever be grateful that he freely and generously shares his vast breadth of knowledge. There are all the nuances of elder law, sure. But there’s also Port wine, electric vehicles, corgi lore, and more. Soaking it up has been a pleasure. Thank you.