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Houston Estate Planning Law Blog

AUCTION OF SUICIDAL MAN’S ESTATE FINALLY SET IN MOTION

The last two years have been a difficult one for the widow of an elderly Ohio man who killed himself in 2011. Some people here in Texas may remember hearing the story about the man on the news. Just prior to killing himself, he cut the locks to cages on his property, freeing the exotic animals inside. It took two days for local law enforcement to round up the animals, many of which needed to be killed because of the danger they posed to the community.

Much like the police, the man’s widow also had some rounding-up to do when it came to his estate. He had left behind an enormous collection of vehicles–everything from motorcycles to a hovercraft–horse-back riding equipment, and other animals. Though still grieving, she had the enormous task of figuring out what to do with his remaining belongings. According to reports from around the time of his death, the two had become estranged, and she may have been left with little direction as to how he wanted his estate distributed. In the end, she felt that an auction would be best.

It’s taken nearly a year to gather and identify the items going up for bid; but with the help of an auction house owner, the estate is finally ready to be sold. “She’s spent day and night assembling these things. It’s all a part of settling the estate,” explains the auction owner in a recent interview. It’s being seen as another step now to moving on–something many of our readers can relate to having had to go through similar processes with their own deceased love one’s estate.

While some people may specify in their estate plans that their belongings be auctioned, others may want these items to stay in the family or be donated to charitable organizations. It’s no surprise that having clear instructions in your will can make sure that your this happens and that your final wishes are carried out exactly as you wanted.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Zanesville’s exotic animal owners’ estate going on block,” Eric Lyttle, Aug. 4, 2013

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LAW OFFERS LITTLE END-OF-LIFE GUIDANCE FOR MANDELA’S KIN

Millions of people across the nation, including many right here in the state of Texas, have been anxious watching the failing health condition of the former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. This may partially be because, like so many families here in the United States, the complexities of estate planning laws have left Mandela’s kin with little end-of-life guidance.

For those who have not been following the story, Mandela has been reportedly lying on the edge of death for the last few months. While doctors insist that he is in “critical but stable condition,” this confronts his family with the difficult decision of when to take the ailing 94-year-old off of machines. Friends who recently visited him in the hospital say he is awake and smiling but family members know that they will need to come up with an end-of-life plan soon.

In the United States, living wills make situations such as this quite easy and often relinquish the burden of making the difficult pull-the-plug decision to the person who is dying. As we’ve mentioned in past posts, this is part of your estate plan where you dictate your medical wishes and end-of-life instructions to your family. But according to reports, this may be less clear under South African law.

Current laws are vague and unclear about who gets to make the decisions for Mandela if and when he is unable to. This can get especially complicated if he has not designated a proxy in his stead. Situations such as this are not uncommon here in Texas though our state laws do offer more guidance than what the Mandelas may be getting.

Source: The New York Times, “Mandela’s Kin Face Gray Area on End of Life,” Rick Lyman, July 11, 2013

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ESTATE PLANNING CAN SAVE YOUR LOVED ONES A LOT OF HEADACHES

Whether you live in Texas or New York, Alaska or Hawaii, planning for what happens to your assets after you’re gone is never an easy thing to do. No one wants to plan for that day or discuss what will happen upon their death or the death of a loved one. But estate planning is critical if you want things to go smoothly upon your death.

Experts say estate planning can be a difficult subject to discuss, but there are many reasons why it is a subject that simply needs to be considered. A recent news report detailed the story of a financial planner who found himself in a very difficult situation. A client of his had died and the adviser was left to divvy up the man’s estate between two ex-wives, one widow and four children. Each party believed they were not getting an equitable share of the man’s estate.

The difficult situation could have been avoided had the man done some estate planning ahead of time. Experts are no recommending families to counseling organizations in order rationally make future estate plans. They say it is absolutely key to discuss ahead of time with your loved ones how you intend to divide your estate upon your passing. That way, everyone knows what to expect after you are gone.

According to the Institute for Preparing Heirs, an organization that trains advisors, “70 percent of wealthy families fail to sustain their level of assets for two to three generations.” When estate planning involves multiple generations and a significant estate, the process can certainly be daunting. Throw into the mix blended families and a family-owned business and the waters can really get muddy.

Source: Reuters, “Your Practice: Tap shrinks, coaches to avoid estate battles,” Jessica Toonkel, Nov. 1, 2011

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FUND DISTRIBUTION UNDERWAY IN JACKSON ESTATE

Since the sudden death of Michael Jackson two years ago, his estate has made more than $310 million in gross revenues. According to filed court documents in regards to Jackson’s estate planning, the executors of his estate will give a payment of $30 million to his children and his mother.

The Jackson compound is now on the market as his mother has sought to sell it in order to purchase a new home for her and Michael’s three children. Although the estate is facing income and estate tax audits, following the posthumous release of the movie “This Is It,” the family was able to make more money with which to repay outstanding debts. It is reported that the estate has also continued to generate income from other interests of the estate.

Although some creditor claims are still pending, the family purportedly reduced Michael’s debt obligations by more than $90 million and was able to refinance some loans at lower interest rates. In so doing, the additional revenue that the estate has generated may be enough to repay the debts, particularly once the sale of the compound is finalized. Currently, it is unknown if there are any offers to purchase Michael’s home.

Even though this is a widely-publicized case, Texas residents may be able to take something away from it. When estate planning is done in advance, it cuts the stress for those left to deal with property and asset issues. As is in Michael Jackson’s case, an experienced attorney can help make the process easier for all involved.

Source: Chron.com, “Jackson estate makes $30M payment to mother, kids,” Sept. 14, 2011

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