Who Owns Marilyn Monroe’s Estate?

Marilyn Monroe’s photos and likeness are used to sell t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, and, well, you name it. When she died in 1962, she left no family and had a net worth of $800,000, which is equivalent to about $7 million today. Monroe spent her money freely, and gave some to relatives, employees and strangers. After her estate was settled, her fortune had declined to about $370,000. (That’s a 54% reduction in her estate during probate!)  In her will, Marilyn gave $10,000 each to her longtime assistant and to her half-sister. She put $5,000 in a trust fund for the education of her assistant’s child, and she left a $100,000 trust fund for her mother. Where did the money in her estate go?

Celebrity Net Worth’s recent article entitled “How A Random Venezuelan-Born Actress Ended Up Owning The Rights To Marilyn Monroe’s Estate” says that her physical property was left to her acting coach Lee Strasberg. In her will, Monroe gave Strasberg 75% of her intellectual property rights. The remaining 25% was given to her therapist, Dr. Marianne Kris.

Dr. Kris died in 1980, and her stake in the Monroe estate was given to the Anna Freud Centre for the Psychoanalytic Study and Treatment of Children in London. However, what happened to the Strasberg 75% share?

Just a few years after Monroe died, in 1966, Paula Strasberg died. In 1967, Lee re-married actress Anna Mizrahi, a 28-year-old from Venezuela. Lee died in 1982, so the actress was then the owner of 75% of Monroe’s estate.

After taking over Lee’s 75% share of the Monroe estate, she signed deals that used Monroe’s name, signature and image on thousands of products and endorsements. Over time, Anna made Marilyn one of the highest-paid dead celebrities in the world, generating tens of millions in revenue and profits.

Eventually, Anna partnered with the celebrity management company called CMG. Years later, a lawsuit revealed that the CMG deal reportedly guaranteed Anna a minimum of $1 million a year. However, as it turned out, Anna made more than $7.5 million in licensing revenue in just the four years between 1996 and 2000, when she created Marilyn Monroe, LLC.

In January 2011, Anna sold her 75% stake in the Monroe estate to Authentic Brands Group for an estimated $20-30 million.

Reference: Celebrity Net Worth (April 2, 2021) “How A Random Venezuelan-Born Actress Ended Up Owning The Rights To Marilyn Monroe’s Estate”

 

Who makes medical decisions?

What Paperwork Is Needed after Someone Dies?

Tax return issues, family matters, business associates, partners, trustees, bankers, investment advisors and tax collectors from the IRS to state and local taxing authorities all require attention after someone has died. There is a lot of work, and often a grieving family member finds it helpful to enlist the aid of a professional to lighten the load. There is so much paperwork. A recent article, “Checklist for Working With a Decedent’s Estate” from Accounting Web, contains a list of the tasks to be completed.

General administration and legal tasks. At the very earliest, the executor should create a timetable with the known tasks. If you’ve never done this before, there’s no shame in enlisting help from a qualified professional. Be realistic about your familiarity with tax and legal issues and your organizational skills.

Determine with your estate planning attorney whether probate is necessary. Is the estate small enough for your state’s laws to allow you to expedite the process? Some jurisdictions can do this, others do not.

If an estate plan was created and executed properly, many assets may not need to go through probate. Assets like IRAs, joint tenancies, accounts that are POD, or Payable on Death and any assets with named beneficiaries, and assets owned by a living trust do not require probate.

Gather information about family owners or others who may have a claim to the estate and who may have useful information about the assets. You’ll need to locate and notify heirs of the decedent’s passing.

Others who need to be notified, include charities named in the will. You’ll need to identify prior transfers to charities that were partial transfers, such as Charitable Remainder Trusts. If there is a charitable remainder trust with a retained lifetime income interest, it will need to be in the estate tax return, albeit with an offsetting estate tax charitable deduction.

Locate the important documents, including the will, any correspondence relating to the will, any letters explaining the decedent’s wishes, deeds, trusts, bank and brokerage statements, partnership agreements, prior tax returns, federal and state tax forms and any gift tax returns.

An estate planning attorney will be able to help determine ownership issues, including identifying assets and liabilities. This includes deeds, vehicle titles, club memberships, personal possessions and business assets, including copyrights and patents.

Social Security will need to be notified, as will Medicare, pension administrators, Department of Veteran Affairs, the post office, trustees, and any service providers.

Filing taxes for the last year of the person’s life and their estate tax filing needs to happen on a timely basis. Even if an estate tax return may not be required, it is useful to file to establish date of death values for assets. It is important to resolve income tax statute of limitation issues and any IRS or state examination issues.

Estate administration is a big job, especially if you’ve never done it before. Having the help of an experienced estate lawyer can alleviate much of the worry that comes with settling an estate.

Reference: Accounting Web (March 19, 2021) “Checklist for Working With a Decedent’s Estate”

 

Estate Planning Lessons from Celebrity Nightmares

Another celebrity messes up his estate plan. The dispute over Larry King’s estate will shine a harsh spotlight on what happens when an elderly person makes major changes late in life to his or her estate plan, especially when the person has become physically weakened and possibly mentally affected, due to aging and illness. A recent article from The National Law Journal, “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways,” examines lessons to be learned from the Larry King will contest.

A handwritten will is most likely to be probated. King’s handwritten will was witnessed by two individuals and may rise to the standards of California’s rules for probate. California was likely King’s residence at the time of his death. However, even if King’s won’t satisfy one section of California estate law referring to probate, it appears to satisfy another addressing requirements for a holographic will.

Holographic will requirements vary from state to state, but it is generally a will that is handwritten by the testator and may or may not need to be witnessed.

The battle over the will is just a starting point. Most of King’s assets were in funded revocable trusts and will be conveyed through the trusts. He did not seek to revoke or amend the trusts before he died. News reports claim that the probate estate to be conveyed by the will is only $2 million, compared to non-probate assets estimated at $50 million—$144 million, depending upon the source. Legal title is critical in estate planning: King may have thought he was changing his whole estate with his hand-written changes to his will. He should have had a qualified estate planning attorney change his trusts.

Passing assets through trusts has the advantage of keeping the assets out of probate and maintaining privacy for the family. The trust does not become a matter of public record and there is no inventory of assets to be filed with the court.

Any pre- or post-nuptial agreements will have an impact on how King’s assets will be distributed. This is an issue for anyone who marries as often as King did. Apparently, he did not have a prenuptial agreement with his 7th wife, Shawn Southwick King. They were married for 22 years and separated in 2019. While Larry had filed for divorce, the couple had not reached a financial settlement. California is a community property state, so Southwick will have a legal claim to 50% of the assets the couple acquired during their long marriage, regardless of the will.

It is yet unclear whether there was a post-nuptial agreement. There are reports that the couple separated in 2010 after tabloid reports of a relationship between King and Southwick’s sister, and that there was a post-nuptial agreement declaring all of King’s $144 million assets to be community property. Southwick filed for divorce in 2010, and King sought to have the post-nup nullified. They reconciled for a few years and King was reported to have updated his estate plan in 2015.

The claim of undue influence on the will may not be easy to sustain. Southwick is claiming that Larry King Jr., King’s oldest son, exerted undue influence on his father to change the will. They were not close for most of Larry Jr.’s life, but in the later years of his life, King made a transfer of $250,000 to his son. Southwick wishes to have those transfers set aside on the basis of undue influence. She claims that when King executed his handwritten will, he was highly susceptible to outside influences and had questionable mental capacity.

Expect this will contest to continue for a while, with the possibility that the probate court dispute extends to other litigation between King’s last wife and his oldest son.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 15, 2021) “Larry King Will Contest—Key Takeaways”

Why Is Family of a Texas Governor Fighting over His Estate?

Dolph Briscoe Jr. was an Uvalde, Texas rancher and businessman and was the 41st Governor of Texas between 1973 and 1979. His oldest child, Janey Briscoe Marmion, established the foundation with her father to honor her only child, Kate, who died in 2008 at the age of 20.  An expensive family feud is shaping up in Probate Court. Why are they fighting?  Money, of course.

(Former U.S. House Speaker and FDR’s vice president John Nance Garner — descended from the Virginia Nance’s — was also from Uvalde. Oh. And so is Matthew McConaughey, but I digress.)

The Uvalde Leader-News’ recent article entitled “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will” reports that Marmion’s original will filed in 2011 directed her assets to be placed in a revocable trust.

The foundation was to have received income from half of her wealth for 22 years. The rest was directed to the children of her brother Chip Briscoe and those of her sister Cele Carpenter of Dallas.

However, a second will executed by Marmion in 2014 and admitted to probate in the County Court in December 2018— a month and a day after her death—calls for three trusts, including two child’s trusts created by her father and a generation-skipping trust (GST). A GST is a type of trust agreement in which the contributed assets are transferred to the grantor’s grandchildren, “skipping” the next generation (the grantor’s children).

Marmion created the Janey Marmion Briscoe GST Trust, dated November 1, 2012, in which she gave a third of her assets to the foundation and the other two-thirds to be divided equally between Chip Briscoe’s sons.

Carpenter’s three children filed suit in Dallas and in Uvalde County last year challenging the validity of the 2014 will and contesting the probate.

Their complaint alleges that Marmion intended to include the three as beneficiaries, in addition to Chip’s two sons, and that the situation creates a disproportionate inheritance in favor of the Briscoe men.

The amount in question is more than $500 million, since the former Texas governor’s estate was estimated by Forbes to be worth as much as $1.3 billion in 2015. Governor Briscoe died in Uvalde in 2010 at the age of 87.

Reference: Uvalde (TX) Leader-News (March 11, 2021) “Briscoe family lawsuit targets Marmion’s will”

 

Choosing your advisors

What Kind of Estate Planning Mistakes Do People Make?

Estate planning for any sized estate is an important responsibility to loved ones. Done correctly, it can help families flourish over generations, control how legacies are distributed and convey values from parents to children to grandchildren. However, a failed estate plan, says a recent article from Tidewater’s Suffolk News-Herald titled “Estate planning mistakes to avoid,” can create bitter divisions between family members, become an expensive burden and even add unnecessary stress to a time of intense grief.

Here are some errors to avoid:

This is not the time for do-it-yourself estate planning.

An unexpected example comes from the late Chief Justice Warren Burger. Yes, even justices make mistakes with estate planning! He wrote a 176 word will, which cost his heirs more than $450,000 in estate taxes and fees. A properly prepared will could have saved the family a huge amount of money, time and anxiety.

Don’t neglect to update your will or trust.

Life happens and relationships change. When a new person enters your life, whether by birth, adoption, marriage or other event, your estate planning wishes may change. The same goes for people departing your life. Death, divorce and tax law changes should also trigger an estate plan review.

Don’t be coy with heirs about your estate plan.

Heirs don’t need to know down to the penny what you intend to leave them but be wise enough to convey your purpose and intentions. If you are leaving more money to one child than to another, it would be a great kindness to the children’s relationship, if you explained why you are doing so. If you want your family to remain a family, share your thinking and your goals.

If there are certain possessions you know your family members value, making a list those items and who should get what. This will avoid family squabbles during a difficult time. Often it is not the money, but the sentimental items that cause family fights after a parent dies.

Understand what happens if you are not married to your partner.

Unmarried partners do not receive many of the estate tax breaks or other benefits of the law enjoyed by married couples. Unless you have an estate plan and a valid will in place, your partner will not be protected. Owning property jointly is just one part of an estate plan. Sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney to protect each other. The same applies to planning for incapacity. You will want to have a HIPAA release form and Power of Attorney for Health Care, so you are able to speak with each other’s medical providers.

Don’t neglect to fund a trust once it is created.

It’s easy to create a trust and it’s equally easy to forget to fund the trust. That means retitling assets that have been placed in the trust or adding enough assets to a trust, so it may function as designed. Failing to retitle assets has left many people with estate plans that did not work.

Please don’t be naive about caregivers with designs on your assets or relatives, who appear after long periods of estrangement.

It is not pleasant to consider that people in your life may not be interested in your well-being, but in your finances. However, this must remain front and center during the estate planning process. Elder financial abuse and scams are extremely common. Family members and seemingly devoted caregivers have often been found to have ulterior motives. Be smart enough to recognize when this occurs in your life.

Reference: Suffolk News-Herald (Dec. 15, 2020) “Estate planning mistakes to avoid”

What’s the Latest on the Zappos’ Founder’s Estate?

Judge Gloria Sturman granted the ex parte motion filed by the attorney representing Zappos’ Founder Tony’s Hsieh’s father Richard Hsieh and brother Andrew Hsieh to serve as co-special administrators and legal representatives for the estate of Hsieh, who seems to have died intestate (dying without a will).

Court filings show that the Zappos’ founder’s family wasn’t aware of a will or other estate planning documents to direct how to handle his financial assets after his death. Because he died without a will, no one can be absolutely sure what he intended.

KTNV’s recent article entitled “Judge awards Tony Hsieh’s father, brother administrative duties over massive wealth, estate,” reports that Tony Hsieh’s wealth could be as much as $1 billion with a variety of assets including real estate and other business dealings. As a result, figuring out Hsieh’s finances will be a time-consuming and complicated process.

The Hsieh family released a statement, part of which says that the hope to “carry on Tony’s legacy by spreading the tenets he lived by – finding joy through meaningful life experience, inspiring and helping others, and most of all, delivering happiness.”

Hsieh was described by some as eccentric, unconventional and wasn’t known for fitting into normal business customs. He lived in a 250 square-foot travel trailer in downtown Las Vegas and had a pet alpaca named Marley and pet chickens. The billionaire internet mogul, during a 2015 interview, remarked that he owned just four pairs of shoes—despite running a company that sold millions of pairs.

In August, Hsieh abruptly left Zappos, the company he oversaw for more than 20 years. Reports say he bought millions in real estate in Park City, Utah around that time, which was seen as peculiar, even for Hsieh, who said he believed more in “experiences” than owning physical items or property.

There were signs of substance abuse.

The fire that caused his death is under investigation in New London, CT. Fire authorities there say they were called to a home at 3:30 a.m. on November 18. Initial reports were that a person was barricaded inside a shed on the property. Dispatch audio says that Hsieh was locked inside, and firefighters found him unconscious.

Reference: KTNV (Dec. 3, 2020) “Judge awards Tony Hsieh’s father, brother administrative duties over massive wealth, estate”

 

The New Orleans woman who fought the longest court battle in US history

In an 1850 pamphlet summarizing the ongoing estate litigation of a New Orleans woman, Myra Clark Gaines, journalist Alexander Walker wrote, “The wildest romance ever written, could not contain a greater variety of strange incidents, more affecting details, more strongly marked characters, a more constant succession of stirring events, and stronger exhibitions of folly, intrigue, deception and crime.” If we ever needed a reminder that it is best to keep your estate out of probate and the courts, a story from NOLA’s The New Orleans Collection in 2020 was it.

Walker’s report was published less than a third of the way through the marathon case, a 57-year estate battle involving hidden paternity, a destroyed will, and a multimillion-dollar fortune. The case touched all levels of the judicial system and appeared before the United States Supreme Court a total of 17 times. It remains the longest continuous litigation in the history of the country. The legal fight was covered extensively over the decades, granting Gaines a public platform that she used to advocate for women’s rights and suffrage.

The Gaines case is a real-life American equivalent of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, a fictional court case in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1852–53), which progressed at a wounded snail’s pace in the English Court of Chancery. The case is a central plot device in the novel and has become a byword for seemingly interminable legal proceedings.

Make it a New Year’s resolution to protect your family from “interminable legal proceedings” by updating your estate plan, and talk with an estate planning attorney about ways you can do just that, especially with a revocable living trust.

Happy 2020. And to read about the unfortunate, if ultimately successful Mrs. Gaines, check out the NOLA historical tale here:

https://www.hnoc.org/publications/first-draft/new-orleans-woman-who-fought-longest-court-battle-us-history?button&utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=FirstDraft2020EOYRound-Up&utm_content=version_A&promo=

Estate hassles start here

Prince’s Estate Hits the IRS with a Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit

Filing probate documents was just the beginning of a process that still hasn’t ended the bad news from Prince’s estate. The megastar did not have a spouse or children, but Prince had half-brothers and half-sisters, says a recent article from Forbes titled “Prince’s Estate Sues IRS Over Claimed $135 Million Tax Value.” There were a number of claims against the estate, and claims by Prince’s estate as well, including a wrongful death action that was eventually dismissed. For Prince or anyone else who dies without a will, probate can be lengthy and expensive. Things also get complicated quickly, especially with an estate of this size.

One of Prince’s half-sisters, Tyka Nelson, sold a portion of her share of the estate to Primary Wave, a music publisher. So did another sibling. And then the tax troubles began. Cash poor or not, larger estates must pay a federal estate tax of 40%. A federal estate tax return needs to be filed, and while audits are rare, almost every estate of this magnitude is audited by the IRS. The estate reported a taxable value of $82 million, but the IRS isn’t satisfied.

Estate tax fights with the IRS can go on for a long time. Michael Jackson’s estate battle with the IRS is still going on—and he died in 2009.

Papers filed by Prince’s estate in the U.S. Tax Court show that the estate reported a taxable value of $82 million, but the IRS claims that the value is really $163 million and wants an additional $38.7 million. In every case, Prince’s estate has obtained appraisals to support its reported values, but the IRS has its own appraisers who disagree.

Even if Prince had a will, there still could have been problems. Heath Ledger had a will, but it was five years old when he died and there was no provision made for his daughter. James Gandolfini had a will, but his estate gave the IRS $30 million of his $70 million. These stories make estate planning attorneys cringe. Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, and James Gandolfini’s estates all ended up with wills in probate, which is public, expensive, time-consuming and unnecessary. A will does have to go through the court process, but the use of a revocable trust could have disposed of their assets outside of probate. A simple pour-over will would have given everything to the revocable trust, simply, and privately in terms of the ultimate inheritance disposition.

Estate planning attorneys advise clients to update wills and trusts every time there is a birth, marriage, divorce, etc. It is good advice for both celebrities and regular people. Probate is complicated.

You can give an unlimited amount to your U.S. Citizen spouse during life or on death. Prince’s estate may face a 40% estate tax, but if he had been married and left his estate to his spouse, there would not have been any federal estate tax until the death of the spouse.

A lesson for the rest of us: have an estate plan, including a will and make sure that it includes tax planning.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 7, 2020) “Prince’s Estate Sues IRS Over Claimed $135 Million Tax Value”

Richmond_Virginia's_Lawyer_Charles_Nance

What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Actually Do?

It’s critical to understand what will happen to your estate after your death. That’s where the help of an experienced estate planning attorney comes in, says VENTS Magazine’s recent article entitled “What Does an Estate Lawyer Do Exactly?”

(And this article is timely.  My wife asks me what estate planning lawyers do all day all the time; at least what this one does all day!)

An experienced estate planning attorney is a legal professional, upon whom you can rely to help protect your estate after your death or in the event that you become incapacitated.

He or she can make certain that your assets and property are handled correctly.

In addition to assisting you with your estate, an estate planning attorney can help handle any family members trying to get involved in your legal affairs.

It may be difficult to please everyone when creating your will. Having an estate planning attorney will help you make the best decisions, when it comes to distributing your wealth.

Estate planning is critical—especially if you’re older, experiencing chronic illness, or just want to be smart about protecting your assets.

As we grow older, we can accumulate a long list of stressful issues and responsibilities. You may worry that your estate will be gobbled up by creditors once you pass away, or that your children will fail to distribute your assets as you intended.

Much of this stress is eliminated with the guidance and counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney. Having an estate plan allows you to enjoy a better quality of life, once you’re older. You won’t have to live every day with worry or stress about the future after you’re gone.

An experienced estate planning attorney is a valuable resource for your family, in the event someone tries to contest the will after your death.

Estate planning attorneys also aid in distributing the wealth, protecting your property from creditors and lowering estate taxes.

Reference: VENTS Magazine (Sep. 28, 2020) “What Does an Estate Lawyer Do Exactly?”

Digital Property Protection

Does Your Estate Plan Include Digital Property Protection?

One of the challenges facing estate plans today is a new class of assets, known as digital property or digital assets. When a person dies, what happens to their digital lives? According to the article “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning” from the Cleveland Jewish News, digital assets need to be included in an estate plan, just like any other property.

What is a digital asset? There are many, but the basics include things like social media—Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat—as well as financial accounts, bank and investment accounts, blogs, photo sharing accounts, cloud storage, text messages, emails and more. If it has a username and a password and you access it on a digital device, consider it a digital asset.

Business and household files stored on a local computer or in the cloud should also be considered as digital assets. The same goes for any cryptocurrency; Bitcoin is the most well-known type, and there are many others.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) has been adopted by almost all states to provide legal guidance on rights to access digital assets for four (4) different types of fiduciaries: executors, trustees, agents under a financial power of attorney and guardians. Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. Virginia enacted the Act in 2017. The new law allows people the right to grant not only their digital assets, but the contents of their communications. It establishes a three-tier system for the user, the most important part being if the person expresses permission in an online platform for a specific asset, directly with the custodian of a digital platform, that is the controlling law. If they have not done so, they can provide for permission to be granted in their estate planning documents. They can also allow or forbid people to gain access to their digital assets.

If a person does not take either of these steps, the terms of service they agreed to with the platform custodian governs the rights to access or deny access to their digital assets.

It’s important to discuss this new asset class with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan addresses your digital assets. Having a list of digital assets is a first step, but it’s just the start. Leaving the family to fight with a tech giant to gain access to digital accounts is a stressful legacy to leave behind.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Sep. 24, 2020) “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning”

 

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