Mud Flies in NOLA: Estate Battle with Millions at Stake

Jessica Fussell Brandt of New Orleans filed an eviction petition against her daughter, Julie Hartline, her son-in-law Darryl Hartline and two grandchildren, Alexis and Zachary Hartline. She is pitted against them in a legal fight over an estate valued at more than $300 million, reports nola.com in the article “In Ray Brandt estate battle, widow tries to evict family from Old Metairie compound.”

Before auto magnate Ray Brandt died at age 72 from pancreatic cancer, the entire family shared a compound that includes two mansions located next to the Metairie Country Club. Brandt has been trying to sell the property which belongs to the estate, as its executrix. The family members living there don’t want to move, even taking down “For Sale” signs from the lawn.

Her attempt to evict them comes after she won a case in her attempt to maintain control of her late husband’s estate, which includes a large number of auto dealerships and collision centers across Louisiana and Mississippi.

On January 25, a Jefferson Parish judge invalidated the last will and testament that Ray Brandt signed just weeks before his death and another last will drafted in 2015. The district judge ruled that both last wills contained a flaw in how they were notarized: neither notarization specified that Ray Brandt, the witnesses, and the notary were together when it was signed. If we need one, the case is a reminder that an effective estate plan can avoid family disputes, in large or small estates.

The decision is being appealed, but it appears to leave the fate of Brandt’s empire to a last will he made in 2010. Unlike the others, this last will places Jessica Brandt in full control of his estate and trust, including the auto dealerships, until her death.

Ultimately, Ray Brandt directed that her grandchildren, who he legally adopted as adults before he died, would split the estate’s assets.

Despite issuing a statement saying that Jessica was “pleased with the prospect beginning the healing process,” after the Jefferson Parish decision, the eviction filing revealed that Jessica’s attorneys sent an email urging family members to leave the property by January 31, 2021.

Jessica made a statement that her wish to evict family members was a result of the multiple citations issued by Jefferson Parish for continuing violations at the compound. The latest one was for a trailer and mud buggy parked in a driveway on a vacant lot. She also said that the family members own two other homes, one in Metairie and one in Fort Beauregard.

The compound where the family settled seven years ago is estimated to be worth more than $8 million.

The heart of the dispute pits Jessica Brandt against Archbishop Rummel High School principal Marc Milano, who Ray Brandt named as a trustee to oversee the auto group and the rest of the estate until Jessica Brandt dies. Milano has accused Jessica of taking money from the estate and trying to claim an ownership interest in the dealership. She sued him for defamation.

Now the grandchildren have filed their own legal action, challenging a petition to put Ray Brandt’s last will into effect. Their argument is the trust that Ray Brandt set up in 2015 makes it clear that he meant for Milano to oversee the assets.

This estate battle will no doubt keep the Jefferson Parish courts and newspapers busy for some time. It’s a lesson to keep your family’s business private, by ensuring that your estate plan is properly prepared and up to date.

Reference: nola.com (Feb. 3, 2021) “In Ray Brandt estate battle, widow tries to evict family from Old Metairie compound”

 

Can Women Slow Mental Decline?

New research shows that women who work during early adulthood and midlife have slower rates of memory decline later in life, than women who didn’t work outside the home.

Money Talk News’ recent article entitled “Here Is How Women Can Slow Mental Decline” reports that the National Institute on Aging aided the study financially. It was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

More than 6,000 women ages 55 and older reported their employment, marriage and parenthood statuses between ages 16 and 50. The participants also did word recall memory assessments every two years over an average of 12 years.

The researchers evaluated rates of memory decline later in life, which is one measure linked with dementia. They found that women who worked — regardless of marriage and parenthood status — had a slower average rate of memory decline later in life.

Further, after age 60, the average rate of memory decline was 50% faster among women who didn’t work for pay after having children, compared with working mothers.

The study’s author Elizabeth Rose Mayeda of the UCLA School of Public Health said that even mothers who took a time off when their children were young and then returned to work had slower rates of memory decline later in life.

They also found that the exact timing of a woman’s time in the workforce wasn’t significant.

Mayeda explains in an American Academy of Neurology announcement:

“Rates of memory decline were similar for married working mothers including those who consistently worked, those who stayed home for a few years with children as well as those who stayed home many years before returning to the workforce, suggesting that the benefits of labor force participation may extend far into adulthood.”

Other demographic characteristics — including race, childhood socioeconomic status and level of education — didn’t explain the relationship between work history and memory decline.

Mayeda remarked that cognitive stimulation, social engagement and financial security could be possible explanations for why working for pay is associated with slower rates of memory loss.

Reference: Money Talk News (Feb. 2, 2021) “Here Is How Women Can Slow Mental Decline”

 

Estate hassles start here

‘Real Housewives’ Ex under Temporary Conservatorship

Tom Girardi’s brother, Robert, has been named to take care of the daily and personal activities of the reality star’s estranged husband. The news comes a month after Robert filed a petition to be in control of Tom’s estate and ongoing legal battles.

A conservatorship is when a judge appoints someone to manage an incapacitated person’s financial and personal affairs. The conservator’s duties include overseeing finances, establishing and monitoring the physical care of the ward and managing living arrangements. Conservatorships and guardianships are often necessary when powers of attorney and trusts are not in place or are poorly drafted.

Screen Rant’s article entitled “RHOBH: Erika’s Ex Tom Girardi Now Under Temporary Conservatorship Due to Illness” reports that Tom and Erika have been entangled in some legal drama since she filed for divorce in November of last year.

Despite the May-December romance (more than 30 years’ difference), they always appeared to be happy together. However, as they battle in divorce, their relationship has turned ugly. Tom refused to pay spousal support, but he has her involved in another legal issue: the couple is being sued by Tom’s former clients for embezzling over $2 million. The plaintiffs say that Tom and Erika stole the money to maintain their lavish lifestyle.

According to Us Weekly, the 81-year-old’s attorney Rudy Cosio said that Tom wouldn’t be able to attend the hearing because he suffered a medical emergency over the weekend. His brother filed a petition in January to control Tom’s estate and legal battle because he’s not currently well enough to handle this on his own. The petition was approved by the judge. Robert was given temporary conservatorship of his brother’s estate, as well as his daily activities and personal matters until the end of March. Another hearing is set for mid-March when the judge will decide whether to grant Robert’s other requests. These include granting him approval to place Tom in facility that treats patients with neurocognitive disorders like dementia.

Robert’s attorney released a statement to Us Weekly on the conservatorship and its urgent nature.

“There was an urgent need for Bob Girardi to have the power to engage counsel in the bankruptcy proceeding on his brother’s behalf, and Tom’s court-appointed counsel clearly agreed, as did the court today,” the statement read.

According to court filings, Robert admitted Tom’s health has been declining since Erika filed for divorce and the embezzlement lawsuit last year. Tom is currently unable to understand the ramifications of the bankruptcy filings pending against him and needs Robert to help him.

In December, it was reported that Tom was secretly hospitalized due to a serious illness. While Tom’s illness is not yet known, many are worried about his mental capabilities.

Reference: Screen Rant (Feb. 2, 2021) “RHOBH: Erika’s Ex Tom Girardi Now Under Temporary Conservatorship Due To Illness”

 

Signing estate plan documents

Producer Phil Spector Had an Estate. Did He Have an Estate Plan?

Music producer Phil Spector is regarded as one of the most influential producers of all time. He worked on iconic albums and songs of some of the biggest names in music history. Spector made his mark in the 1960s, producing more than 20 albums that scored on the Top 40 charts, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Phil Spector Net Worth: Music Producer Leaves Behind $50 Million Wealth.”

Spector produced or helped produce hits like “Unchained Melody,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He worked with The Beatles, Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen and many others. As a result, his net worth could actually be larger, if royalties and current inflation rates are taken into account.

Spector, a Bronx, New York native, won the 1973 Grammy for album of the year for his work on “The Concert for Bangladesh” and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

Prior to his career as a producer, he was in the band, The Teddy Bears. He then started his own record label.

However, for all his success, his reputation took a hit when he was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009 for the fatal shooting of actress and model Lana Clarkson. She was found dead of a gunshot wound in February 2003 in Spector’s mansion in Alhambra, California. Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison and would have been eligible for parole in 2025.

Phil married Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett in 1968 and divorced in 1974. Spector again tied the knot with Rachelle Short in 2006. In 2019, they also divorced.

After his second divorce, Spector’s mansion was put on the market for $3.9 million. It was originally listed for $5.5 million, but buyers were not taken with a property where a murder took place. The property has nine bedrooms, two full kitchens and a view of the San Gabriel Valley.

Spector was being treated at a Northern California hospital for COVID-19 before he died, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 19, 2021) “Phil Spector Net Worth: Music Producer Leaves Behind $50 Million Wealth”

Prince’s Estate Troubles Back in the Headlines

The Internal Revenue Service has said the executors of Prince’s estate made a serious mistake in their tax calculations, reducing its value by about $80 million, as reported in the article “IRS says Prince’s estate undervalued by 50%, triggering another dispute in settlement” from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Once again, Prince’s lack of an estate plan means a world of hurt for his family, including millions in taxes and penalties.

The tax discrepancy comes from the value of music publishing and recording interests, according to court documents. The IRS claims Prince’s estate owes $32.4 million in federal taxes, about double the tax bill as valued by Comerica, a financial services giant. That is a pricey difference, but it is not the only bad news for heirs.

The IRS has slapped the estate with a $6.4 million accuracy related penalty, to be paid by Prince’s estate, because of the sheer size of the undervaluation.

Estimates of Prince’s estate’s net worth have varied from $100 to $300 million, since the time of his death. There was no will and no estate plan when Prince died in 2016, creating one of the largest and most complicated probate court proceedings in Minnesota’s history.

Comerica and the law firm representing the financial institution maintain that the estate valuations are accurate. This past summer, Comerica sued the U.S. Tax Court in Washington, D.C., charging the agency with having many mistakes in its calculations.

The IRS believes the fair market value of Prince’s ownership of NPG Music Publishing should be $36.9 million, and not $21 million as calculated by the estate. The estate placed the value of his ownership of NPG Records at $19.5 million, and the IRS says it is actually worth $46.5 million.

With a case dragging on for more than four years, Prince’s six sibling heirs are increasingly unhappy. Prince’s heirs range in age from 50 to 80 and one brother has already died of heart disease in 2019. They have seen the estate shrink, as tens of millions of dollars are being paid to consultants and lawyers.

In the meantime, Primary Wave, a company that invests in music copyrights, has been very interested in the estate, and two of the siblings have already agreed to sell large portions of their rights to Primary Wave. The company recently spent a reported $100 million to purchase an 80% interest in Fleetwood Mac star Stevie Nick’s publishing rights, and Bob Dylan sold his song catalog to a different company for around $400 million.

Eventually, when the case does settle, the siblings will enact their own “transition plan” to the Carver County Probate court, according to recent court filings.

Reference: Star Tribune (Jan. 2, 2021)  “IRS says Prince’s estate undervalued by 50%, triggering another dispute in settlement”

 

Time to Decide

It Is Important to have a Digital Estate Plan

Just as you organize your physical possessions and financial accounts, you need to organize and plan for your digital estate now. Otherwise, according to the recent article “Why You Need a Digital Estate Plan and How to Make One” from Next Avenue, you will leave a giant mess for your family.

Virginia enacted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act in 2017, allowing an executor or administrator of an estate, the trustee of a living trust, the guardian and conservator of an incapacitated person, and the agent under a power of attorney, to manage a person’s  digital assets, including computer files, web domains, and even virtual currency. Nearly all states have already passed similar laws to give a person’s family or their executor the right to access and manage some of their digital assets after they die. However, if the digital platform does not allow an executor or anyone to access and manage accounts, the problem will not be easily resolved.

Facebook has created a “Legacy Contact” and Google has an “Inactive Account Manager,” but they only work if you take the time to go through the process in advance. Sharing passwords and instructions or setting up an online password manager may or may not solve the problem for the 200 other accounts. Why?

Increasing security means that many accounts require confirmation codes, typically sent to a mobile phone or email address, before an account may be accessed. If the phone or email is locked, then access will be impossible. Two-factor authentication makes it harder for digital criminals to access your accounts, but it also makes it difficult for heirs and executors. Some people have taken a step into the future to have their accounts opened via facial recognition. How then do you access accounts?

Not all digital accounts and services have the same requirements for access.

Here is a way to think about your digital estate: what is the level of importance for each account? If it were deleted and all contents removed, how would it impact your life? Is it a “single sign on,” where credentials are needed to log into other accounts? Are there payment methods attached to the account, like automatic withdrawals or credit cards?

Many accounts may be dormant, like an old email address you stopped using ten years ago. However, what about the important accounts that are central to the business of your life, like checking and savings accounts, or personal email?

Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have made their way into many aspects of our lives. If you have a library of ebooks, or an online gaming presence with digital assets, would you wish to maintain those assets? Think about all the autopayment accounts that you have—and how much money your estate would lose if those accounts could not be shut down.

Once you have identified all of your important accounts, examine them one by one to see what if they have a legacy process. Then start thinking about what you would like to happen to the accounts and their contents, in case of your incapacity or death. Having a digital estate plan today is not futuristic at all—it’s how we live, and our estate plans should be updated accordingly.

Your estate planning attorney will know what your state’s laws are for digital assets, just as they do for more traditional assets.

Last word: do not include your usernames or passwords in your will. A will becomes a public document upon probate, and this information must be protected from identity thieves if the accounts are to remain secure.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 1, 2021) “Why You Need a Digital Estate Plan and How to Make One”

 

You've got a lot to protect.

Do We Need Estate Planning?

Estate planning is not just about making a will, nor is it just for rich people who live in mansions. Estate planning is best described in the title of this article “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan” from Business Insider. Estate planning is a plan for the future, for you, your spouse and those you love.

There are a number of reasons for estate planning:

  • Avoiding paying more federal and state taxes than necessary
  • Ensuring that assets are distributed as you want
  • Naming the people you choose for your own care, if you become incapacitated; and/or
  • Naming the people you choose to care for your minor children, if you and your spouse left them orphaned.

If that sounds like a lot to accomplish, it is. However, with the help of a trusted estate planning attorney, an estate plan can provide you with the peace of mind that comes with having all of the above.

If those decisions and designations are not made by you while you are alive and legally competent, the state law and the courts will determine who will get your assets, raise your children and how much your estate will pay in death taxes to state and federal governments. You can avoid that with an estate plan.

Here are the five key things about estate planning:

It’s more than a will. The estate plan includes creating Durable Powers of Attorney to appoint individuals who will make medical and/or financial decisions, if you are not able to do so. The estate plan also contains Medical Directives to communicate your wishes about what kind of care you do or do not want, if you are so sick you cannot do so for yourself. The estate plan is where you can create Trusts to control how property passes from one person or one generation to the next.

Estate planning saves time, money, and angst. If you have a surviving spouse, they are usually the ones who serve as your executor. However, if you do not and if you do not have an estate plan, the court names a public administrator to distribute assets according to state law. While this is happening, no one can access your assets. There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of legal fees. With a will, you name an executor who will take care of and gain access to most, if not all, of your assets and administer them according to your instructions.

Estate planning includes being sure that investment and retirement accounts with a beneficiary designation have been completed. If you don’t name a beneficiary, the asset goes through the probate court. If you fail to update your beneficiary designations, your ex or a person from your past may end up with your biggest assets.

Estate planning is also tax planning. While federal taxes only impact the very wealthy right now, that is likely to change in the future. States also have estate taxes and inheritance taxes of their own, at considerably lower exemption levels than federal taxes. If you wish your heirs to receive more of your money than the government, tax planning should be part of your estate plan.

The estate plan is also used to protect minor children. No one expects to die prematurely, and no one expects that two spouses with young children will die. However, it does happen, and if there is no will in place, then the court makes all the decisions: who will raise your children, and where, how their upbringing will be financed, or, if there are no available family members, if the children should become wards of the state and enter the foster care system. That’s probably not what you want.

The estate plan includes the identification of the person(s) you want to raise your children, and who will be in charge of the assets left in trust for the children, like proceeds from a life insurance policy. This can be the same person, but often the financial and child-rearing roles are divided between two trustworthy people. Naming an alternate for each position is also a good idea, just in case the primary people cannot serve.

Estate planning, finally, also takes care of you while you are living, with a power of attorney and healthcare proxy. That way someone you know, and trust can step in, if you are unable to take care of your legal and financial affairs.

Once your estate plan is in place, remember that it is like your home: it needs to be updated every three or four years, or when there are big changes to tax law or in your life.

Reference: Business Insider (Jan. 14, 2021) “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan”

 

estate planning legacy

Wealthy Women Face Challenges in Estate and Tax Planning

Election cycles often mean changes to estate and tax planning strategies around estate planning, charitable donations and capital gains, but that’s not the only challenge facing wealthy women now, says a recent article “For Wealthy Women, Tax and Estate Planning is Weak Link” from Think Advisor. Preparing for big changes, from presidential elections to death or divorce, is all too often a surprise, even for accomplished and financially successful women.

Statistically, women do outlive men, so there needs to be a plan for the unexpected. As attitudes shift and more women build their own wealth, they are less likely to stay in unsatisfying marriages. Although the overall rate of divorce in America is declining, the number of “gray” divorces is increasing. So now is a good time to review.

One essential step in planning for high net worth women is to consider what assets they will need to continue their current lifestyles, and what assets would be at risk, in case of death or divorce.

Some assets are not available to singles, like the Spousal Lifetime Access Trust, an irrevocable trust available to couples but not to singles. For those considering divorce who have a SLAT agreement, speak with your estate planning attorney, as the SLAT may include a provision that terminates spousal trust rights upon divorce. Women should not assume that these or other assets will be available to them in case of a divorce.

There are also future costs associated with losing a spouse. If women do not have long-term care insurance, it should be purchased, if she still qualifies. These policies become more expensive as time goes by, so the 40s and 50s are the ideal time to invest in them.

Timing and tax policy changes from a new administration make this a good time to begin planning for any changes that may come in the next year. Women with substantial net worth should be making plans for gifting and trusts now. The gift tax lifetime exemption remains at $11.7 million, but even if there is no legislative action, on January 1, 2026, this will return to $5 million.

Dramatic changes in asset valuation resulting from the pandemic may make this a good time to transfer shares to children and grandchildren, including real estate holdings and closely held family businesses.

The effects of COVID-19 have provided a global lesson in preparing for the unexpected. Among many other issues has been a huge backlog in most surrogate courts. Even families who had an estate plan in place, found their estate planning hampered by waiting for courts to appoint executors.

In many cases, surviving spouses (mostly women) found themselves unable to move an estate plan forward, gain access to assets, even to pay household bills. Families who have been lucky enough to escape the impact of COVID-19 so far, should take the opportunity to plan for the unexpected, including the creation of a revocable trust, so the trustee can swiftly access assets and start managing right away, rather than waiting for courts to clear.

Reference: Think Advisor (Jan. 6, 2021) “For Wealthy Women, Tax and Estate Planning is Weak Link”

Suggested Key Terms: High Net Worth Women, Wealthy, Capital Gains, Charitable Donations, Estate Planning Lawyer, Tax, SLAT, Irrevocable Trust, Trustee, Executor, Surviving Spouse, COVID-19, Surrogate Courts

Do I Assume My Parents’ Timeshare when They Die?

You’ve seen the commercials and heard the stories. A timeshare can be great, but there can be trouble in paradise. Ridding yourself of a timeshare contract can be difficult. Frequently, heirs of a timeshare owner don’t want to take on the liability and the responsibility.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I leave a timeshare to the timeshare company in my will?” explains that as a general rule, unless it’s in an attempt to defraud creditors, a beneficiary may always renounce or disclaim a bequest made to him or her in a will.

However, if you write a provision in your will, it doesn’t mean that it’s legal, needs to be followed, or can be carried out.

As an example, a beneficiary designation on a bank account or certificate of deposit (CD) to your brother Dirk would take precedence over a specific bequest in your will that the same account or CD goes to your brother Chris. In that instant, the bank will pay the bank account or CD to your brother Dirk—no matter what your will says.

Likewise, with shares in a closely held business. If there is a contract between the shareholders dictating what happens to shares of the business if someone dies, that agreement will also override a provision in your will.

A timeshare is a contract. That means the terms of that contract control what happens. Your will doesn’t.

If the will doesn’t contradict the contract, like bequeathing the timeshare to a third-party who will continue to pay the contract obligations, both documents can co-exist.

A timeshare owner can’t avoid contractual obligations by just giving back the unit back to the corporation, unless that’s permitted in the contract.

The timeshare company isn’t required to take back a timeshare unit whether it is returned by the terms of the will or by the executor in administrating the estate, unless the signed timeshare agreement provides for this, or terms of the return are negotiated.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 24, 2020) “Can I leave a timeshare to the timeshare company in my will?”

 

How to Plan for ‘Black Sheep’ Kid in Will

Every family has unique circumstances as far as wealth, financial planning and plans for the future. Therefore, it is critical that you consider your individual beneficiaries’ circumstances, when it comes to estate planning.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning for ‘Black Sheep’ Beneficiaries” explains that this may take the shape of child with a substance abuse issue, a lack of financial acumen and responsibility, or a mental illness. You also may want to reward certain behaviors in the future. All these situations can be addressed thoughtfully and effectively in your estate planning documents with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. Let’s dispel some of the common myths surrounding these issues:

Myth #1: You are required to split your estate evenly among your children. Disinheriting a beneficiary happens a lot. It can occur for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with disapproval of a potential beneficiary’s lifestyle choices. Regardless of the reason for disinheriting completely or making unequal distributions, it’s best to discuss this in your estate documents or in a separate letter. Give the reasons for your decision to head off any possible claim against the estate or even just hard feelings among family members.

Myth #2: Once you’ve disinherited your black sheep, it’s irreversible. Not so. You should review your estate planning choices regularly because situations change (hopefully for the better), and you can revise your estate plan to provide incentives for your beneficiary to continue making progress.

Myth #3: You have no control of the issue after you pass away. While there’s no direct control after you die, you can, however, make specific instructions in your trust to reward and motivate your black sheep to behave in a certain fashion. You can also treat the share of inheritance for one beneficiary differently than others. Therefore, a financially responsible child may be allowed to access such a share of the estate in one lump sum; but you create a trust for the second child who has issues.

Myth #4: Trusts are huge hassle. Certain trusts permit you to name a person to help your beneficiary manage their inheritance. This can be a family member or friend, as well as a professional trustee who will assume the administrative responsibilities of a trust.

Don’t avoid the subject of estate planning. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney and discuss the options available.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 8, 2020) “Estate Planning for ‘Black Sheep’ Beneficiaries”

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