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October review: mysterious wills, celebrity estate plans and probate

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last will and testament

We’re nearing the end of October, which means it’s almost Halloween. To be on theme, we tried to keep this newsletter spooky with stories of mysterious wills, lessons from celebrity estate plans, and the scariest topic of all– probate.

Mystery Millionaires

One story that caught our eye this month was the story of Joseph Stanack, a Chicago-based recluse who died with unclaimed estate nearing $11 million. His life was a mystery. No one knew how he made his money or what he did for a living. Stanack had no close family and no one brought forth a will when he died at the age of 87. Over 100 distant relatives were notified that they would be receiving portions of his estate.

But then, in a surprising turn of events, a will turned up leaving the entire estate to Smart Kids Childcare, Inc., an organization based out of the Bronx. Attorney Ken Piercey, the court-appointed independent administrator of Stancak’s estate, says Stancak had no connection to Smart Kids Childcare, Inc. Further, there were only two copies of the will. Smart Kids Childcare, Inc. had one copy. The attorney who drafted it, a personal injury attorney, held the other. The attorney died a few months after the will was said to be signed and his copy hasn’t been located. 

The administrator of the estate has called the will “poorly drafted” and “highly suspicious” but ultimately it will be up to the Cook County Probate Court to determine the validity of the will. Judge Daniel O. Tiernan has asked the lawyers to present their arguments Dec. 13 in his Daley Center courtroom.

Celebrity Estate Plans

Forbes put out an article on lessons we can learn from celebrity estate plans gone wrong. Among the lessons, don’t procrastinate in your estate planning, keep copies of your estate plans somewhere safe, and if you make a trust, make sure you fund it. There are plenty of other good lessons to take away from this article. Plus, some of the stories are interesting too like the story of Leona Helmsley, a hotel tycoon who cut her two grandkids out of her estate plan to leave $12 million to her dog, Trouble. The grandkids claimed she wasn’t of sound mind when she made that decision. The lesson- if you’re doing something unusual in your estate plan, have a lawyer conduct a mini evaluation and attest to your competence.

On the other hand, Jimmy Buffet’s estate plan seems to be airtight. After the singer-songwriter died last month, his will instructed that his wife, Jane Buffet, be the personal representative of his estate. While Forbes reported last year that Buffet is a billionaire, we likely won’t get to know much about his estate since most of his assets are held in his trust.

Probate

In honor of the spooky season, we’ve been writing about one of the scariest topics in elder law– probate. But, probate may not be as scary as you think. If you’re confused about what probate is, take a listen to our podcast: Probate 101 for Non-Lawyers. This podcast explains the Arizona probate process and explores why it may not be as bad as you think it is. In fact there may even be some benefits to the probate process like protection against creditors claims and formal resolution to beneficiary disputes.

Other Stuff

Robert B. Fleming

Attorney

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

Attorney

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

Attorney

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

Attorney

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.