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July Review: Aretha, Pop Culture Gifts, and So Long

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July, 2023

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.

The AARP has five specific estate planning lessons all of us can take away from the Franklin estate. And copyrights demand special consideration.

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.

The estate of Andy Kaufman has authorized a new documentary based on the comedian’s life. You may remember Kaufman from Taxi, Saturday Night Live, or David Letterman.

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.”

Here’s more: tips for planning with crypto and for pets.

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.

Regardless of whether you move closer, you can still help out by engaging and offering tips for aging in place and employing technology. Here’s a personal account.

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.

Jacquelyne Mingle


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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.