Houston Estate Planning Law Blog

WOMAN WILLS $1 MILLION TO A ZOO

As Texas residents know, it is a very good idea to make financial plans and arrangements for our assets after death. After all, people want to guarantee that their money and property are in the right hands. This is why we have wills. However, in a recent story, a North Carolina woman made very specific and unusual estate plans.

According to a source, the North Carolina resident bequeathed $1 million to the North Carolina Zoo Society after her death so that the zoo could purchase land for animals. The woman passed away last May.

Specifically, the woman’s will says that the money should be used to buy one or more wilderness areas to benefit North Carolina wildlife. An article reports that the woman has been associated with this specific zoo for approximately 10 years. The zoo has stated that it is extremely happy to have been chosen to carry on the woman’s passion for nature.

The woman in this story had a very unique estate plan. Regardless of your desired estate plan, it is extremely important that you make structured arrangements for your assets. Passing without a will can have serious financial and emotional consequences–especially for your family or loved ones.

After experiencing a loss, people need time to mourn and should not be concerned about the financial situation that has resulted from the death of someone close. For this reason, if you have a specific plan for your assets after your death, you may want to speak to an attorney. A lawyer can assist you in drafting these complex documents and ensure that all financial matters are addressed.

Source: Greensboro News & Record, “Estate of Greensboro woman leaves $1 million to zoo,” Tina Firesheets, Jan. 30, 2012

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COUNTRY SINGER’S WIDOW’S WILL IN DISPUTE, YEARS AFTER HER DEATH

Readers in Houston probably know that nearly 50 years after his death in a plane crash in 1964, country music singer Jim Reeves’ songs and recordings continue to sell well. His albums and other intellectual properties, once valued in the millions, earn about $400,000 per year in sales to fans around the world. Income from those sales went to her widow, who died in 1999.

More than 12 years after her death, the question of who should inherit the rights to Reeves’ recordings will finally be determined in probate court. Reeves’ widow, who managed the business affairs of Reeves’ estate, remarried after his death, and her second husband is fighting the provisions of her will that granted him a lump sum of $100,000 and some other property, but not the rights to the intellectual property. On the other side of the dispute are Reeves’ niece and nephew, who want the widow’s will to be executed as written.

It is not clear how much Reeves’ intellectual property is worth. One of the parties filed a professional evaluation of the estate with the court, but the valuation remains under seal. Around 2001, a buyer came forward and offered $7 million for the property, so it is likely to be worth even more now.

The husband’s behavior in the case has been somewhat erratic and contributed to its long delays. According to the judge overseeing the dispute, the husband has gone through six attorneys, and fired his most recent lawyer on Jan. 21, just days before the case was scheduled to go to trial. The judge rebuked the husband in his denial of a motion and called him “the architect of [his] own disaster.”

Source: The Tennessean, “Jim Reeves legacy at stake in court case,” Anita Wadhwani, Jan. 24, 2012

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STAKES IN ROSA PARKS’ ESTATE RETURNED TO FRIEND, INSTITUTE

A $10 million collection of memorabilia that belonged to civil rights icon Rosa Parks will return to the control of the institute that bears her name and the friend Parks asked to help administer her estate after she died. A recent decision by the Michigan Supreme Court overturned an appellate court ruling that the trustees of the estate were rightfully stripped of their authority over an alleged confidentiality breach.

According to an attorney representing the friend and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, a probate judge put a pair of attorneys in charge of Parks’ estate after she died in 2005. In administering the estate, the attorneys allegedly ran up excessive fees for themselves and convinced the judge to strip the institute and the friend of control of Parks’ memorabilia collection and rights over her name.

The friend and the institute appealed the decision, but the appellate court upheld the probate court’s decision. They further appealed to the state supreme court, which on Dec. 29 reversed the lower court’s ruling. Neither the institute nor the friend had violated a confidentiality agreement, so there was no basis to take ownership of the memorabilia away from them, the court said.

The collection is believed to be worth up to $10 million. An auction house is currently seeking a buyer.

Parks is best known for a 1955 incident where she refused the orders of a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus, as required by the state’s Jim Crow laws. Her civil disobedience and subsequent arrest led to the famous bus boycott by black citizens of the city, which eventually led to the end of segregated busing in the city.

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Rosa Parks estate ruling overturned; institute regains financial stakes,” David Ashenfelter, Dec. 30, 2011

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HOUSTON ATTORNEY’S ESTATE SETTLES WITH LONGTIME PARTNER

The estate of the prominent Houston-area attorney John O’Quinn and the woman who said she was his common-law wife when he died reached a settlement in her lawsuit on Jan. 4, shortly before trial was to begin. Though the couple never married and O’Quinn did not name her in his will, the woman had contended that he had been her “husband, partner and lover” and meant to provide for her out of his estate.

O’Quinn, who operated a successful civil litigation firm and is the namesake of John O’Quinn Field at the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium, died in a car accident in October 2009. His will instructed that his entire estate should go to his foundation.

But his longtime partner contested the will. She described herself as O’Quinn’s common-law wife and therefore entitled to a large share in the estate. The couple was together for more than 10 years, lived in the same home, and the woman was the beneficiary of O’Quinn’s life insurance policy. Common law marriages, in which a couple never legally marries but lives and holds themselves out to the world as a married couple, are recognized under Texas law.

Not all of the evidence points to O’Quinn and the woman having been a common law married couple. Besides the fact that O’Quinn never amended his will to name her as a beneficiary, he may have told people shortly before his death that he was single. Still, the estate’s attorneys were concerned about bringing the case to trial, since the jury may have sympathized with the plaintiff.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The woman’s attorney said it was “a fair and reasonable agreement.”

Among the notable assets in O’Quinn’s estate is a collection of classic cars. The plaintiff had previously fought the estate managers to prevent the sale of some of the vehicles. It is not clear whether the settlement included the handover of any of the vehicles to the plaintiff.

Source: Houston Chronicle, “Settlement reached in O’Quinn estate case,” Mike Tolson, Jan. 4, 2012

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