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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

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What was Stephen Sondheim Estate Plan?

Ninety-one-year-old Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim died suddenly at his Roxbury, Ct. home in November, one day after celebrating Thanksgiving, according to his lawyer and friend F. Richard Pappas at the time.

New York Post’s recent article entitled “Stephen Sondheim left behind an estate worth an estimated $75 million” reports that the “West Side Story” songwriter’s assets totaled about $75 million, according to documents accompanying his 2017 will filed in Manhattan Surrogate’s court last month.

Sondheim’s will gives all of his wealth, including his personal effects, the rights to his music and literary works, to the Stephen J. Sondheim Revocable Trust. Sondheim left his nearly $75 million estate to his husband, charities and other friends as beneficiaries of the trust. The trust was created with Sondheim’s pour-over will, where everything goes to the trust.

It is believed that Sondheim worked with an estate planning attorney to create a very good sound estate plan that will benefit his spouse, as well as friends and charitable organizations that were important to him. It also keeps order of his intellectual property, so there’s somebody managing his musical legacy.

The Broadway legend named 20 people and charities as beneficiaries to his trust, including his husband Jeffrey Romley, the Smithsonian Institute, the Museum of New York City, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Dramatists Guild Fund and the Irish Repertory Theater Company. His “Into the Woods” collaborator and director James Lapine is also listed as a beneficiary to the trust.

Irish Repertory Theater co-founders Ciarán O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore called the bequest “a lovely surprise.”

Sondheim “never failed to honor us with his staunch support … especially of our musicals and musical adaptations,” their statement continued. “Having ‘Himself’ in our audience, while absolutely terrifying, confirmed our right to venture into the mysterious worlds in which he was the undisputed master.”

Whitney Donhauser, the Ronay Menschel Director of Museum of the City of New York, said in a statement, “We feel honored that Stephen Sondheim — theater titan, lifelong New Yorker and 2013 Louis Auchincloss Prize recipient — recognized our mission as New York’s storyteller, by including us as a beneficiary of his trust.

“His generous contribution allows us to continue sharing the powerful, diverse and important role of the theater in New York City.”

Reference: New York Post (Jan. 23, 2022) “Stephen Sondheim left behind an estate worth an estimated $75 million”

 

estate planning

James Brown Estate Battle Resolved … Almost, but Not Quite

A company specializing in buying and marketing estates and song catalogs has bought the assets of James Brown’s estate, including music rights, real estate and control over Brown’s name and likeness. It is hoped that the sale, worth an estimated $90 million, will finally achieve Brown’s wishes to finance scholarships for needy children, according to a recent article from The New York Times titled “After 15 Years of Infighting, James Brown’s Estate is Sold.”

The money will be used to endow the Brown scholarship trust in perpetuity, said the accountant who has served as the Brown estate’s executor since 2009. The deal includes a provision for the buyer, Primary Wave, to also contribute a percentage of future earnings to the scholarships, intended for children in South Carolina, where Brown was born, and Georgia, where he grew up.

This is a step forward in one of the longest and most contentious estate conflicts in the high-profile world of celebrity estates. Multiple lawsuits in state and federal courts have cost millions in legal fees and left behind what one official described as “As big a tangle as you’ve ever seen.”

Part of the mess centered around Ms. Tommie Rae Hynie, a singer who married James Brown in 2001. It was later learned she was already married to another man. With her spousal status unclear, Ms. Hynie and five of Brown’s children battled over the estate. Their goal was to set aside his will and negotiate a settlement of their own to receive big chunks of the estate.

They found a willing listener in a state attorney general and a state judge who approved their agreement in 2009. However, four years later, the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down their settlement, calling it “a dismemberment of Brown’s carefully crafted estate plan.” It also ruled unanimously that Ms. Hynie was not Mr. Brown’s legal spouse.

Brown’s heirs and several executors have also fought over the estate’s value. One estimated it as $5 million, while another put it at $84 million. The discrepancy was claimed to be a result of savvy management of the estate after Brown’s death.

Negotiations for the sale were handled by John Branca, who was Michael Jackson’s longtime attorney and one of the executors of Jackson’s estate.

However, it’s not over yet. For one thing, the longstanding battle between two executors, Mr. Bauknight and Ms. Pope, removed as executor in 2009, isn’t over. She is suing the estate; he and others have filed suit against her. These cases are under appeal and until they are settled, or a court decision is made, no distributions can be made and no scholarships can be paid.

Reference: The New York Times (Dec. 13, 2021) “After 15 Years of Infighting, James Brown’s Estate is Sold.”

 

Trust Administration

Prince Philip’s Will: Are Royals Different than Regular People?

There’s a royal battle brewing over Prince Philip’s will, but it’s not what you might expect. The lawsuit isn’t being brought by a creditor or even a potential beneficiary of the estate, A major United Kingdom newspaper, The Guardian, has instead announced that it’s taking legal action. This is according to a recent article titled “The Legal Battle Over Prince Philip’s Will” from Wealth Management.

The newspaper is arguing that the press should be allowed to attend the hearing for the will and claims that doing so constitutes a serious interference with principle of open justice. In other words, the Royal Family is a public family, funded by the public and the public is entitled to know what’s in the will.

A hearing was held in September concerning keeping the will sealed for 90 years, and the press was neither notified nor invited. The only people in attendance were Prince Philip’s estate attorney and an Attorney General. The court’s position is that the presence of the Attorney General represented the people.

British law is similar to American law, when it comes to making wills public. Once the will goes into probate, following the death of the person, it’s a public document. This is why estate planning attorneys recommend using trusts, which remain private and allow assets to pass outside of the probate process. It’s also why certain information should never be in a will, like financial account titles and numbers.

The idea of sealing a will is an exception under rare circumstances, and in England this has to date only been done for the royal family. The president of the family division of the high court ruled that these exceptions are necessary to enhance the protection of the royal’s private lives and the dignity of the sovereign and other close family members.

There have been many attempts to challenge the privacy of royal wills. So far, none has been successful.

The question posed by this lawsuit concerning the public’s right to know is not a new one. However, it will be interesting to watch in a day and age when royalty and the role of the royal family is under severe scrutiny.

The royal family is funded by taxpayers, who routinely question how much privacy should be permitted when the money comes from their pockets. Whether such special rules are really needed to protect the “integrity” of the royals has been an on-going debate in the U.K.

In the United States, individuals and families use trusts and other methods to maximize their privacy and to convey assets to their heirs.

Reference: Wealth Management (Dec. 1, 2021) “The Legal Battle Over Prince Philip’s Will”

 

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Is Prince’s Estate Settled Yet?

The long-running estate battle over Prince’s estate may be coming to a close, according to a recent article from Yahoo! News, “Minnesota probate court set to discuss ‘final distribution’ of Prince estate in February.” The Carver County probate court has set a date to start talking about Prince’s assets with heirs and beneficiaries.

Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in April 2016, with no estate plan. Administering the estate and coming up with a plan for its distribution among heirs has cost tens of millions of dollars, in an estate estimated at more than $100 million. One of many obstacles in settling the estate: a complicated dispute with the IRS over the value of Prince’s assets.

The estate will be almost evenly split between a music company—Primary Wave—and the three oldest of the pop icon’s eldest six heirs or their families.

Primary Wave bought out all or most of the interests of Prince’s three youngest siblings, one of whom died in August 2019. Three older siblings, including one who died in September 2021, rejected the offers from Primary Wave.

Comerica Bank & Trust, the administrator of the estate, settled with the IRS over the value of the estate, according to a late November filing in the U.S. Tax Court. The Carver County probate court has to approve this agreement.

Another tax dispute, this one between Prince’s estate and the state of Minnesota, has not yet been resolved.

Last year, the IRS set a value of $163.2 million on Prince’s estate. Comerica valued the estate at $82.3 million—nearly half of the IRS value. The value was so low the IRS penalized the estate with a $6.4 million “accuracy-related penalty.” Comerica followed by suing the IRS in U.S. Tax Court, saying the IRS calculations were loaded with mistakes. With the settlement now underway, the tax trial has been cancelled. The estate and the IRS have been ordered to file a status report on the case in February 2022.

The IRS and Comerica agreed on the value of Prince’s real estate holdings at $33 million. The harder task was to place a value on intangible assets, like Prince’s music rights.

The full IRS settlement most likely led to the probate court setting a date for a hearing. With the settlement, certain parts of the estate may move forward.

However, don’t expect it to be quick. It may be months before the court approves any distributions.

The lesson from Prince’s estate: everyone needs an estate plan, whether the estate is modest or includes multi-million assets and multiple heirs. Tens of millions in legal fees plus a $6.4 million penalty from the IRS adds up, even when the estate is this big.

Reference: Yahoo! News (Dec. 22, 2021) “Minnesota probate court set to discuss ‘final distribution’ of Prince estate in February”

 

estate planning newsletter

Court Upholds Kelly Clarkson’s Prenup

News outlet TMZ reported that Kelly Clarkson was on the set of her TV show, The Voice, when she heard the news and “let out a scream” of joy, with fellow coaches Blake Shelton and Ariana Grande about her prenup.

The Daily Mail’s recent article entitled “Kelly Clarkson’s prenup UPHELD by judge in divorce battle” says that while Clarkson was filming the singing competition, she received an email from her lawyers informing her of the good news that her prenup had been kept in place. As a result, she’ll keep the bulk of her assets and income.

In July, Clarkson, who is estimated to be worth $45 million, was ordered to temporarily pay ex-husband Brandon Blackstock about $200,000/month in spousal and child support. Court documents also showed some details of Clarkson’s finances: she personally earns $1,583,617 a month. With the court’s decision, Clarkson will keep most of their assets, including the Montana ranch where her ex-husband is currently living.

Blackstock had been contesting the prenup and wanted to split their properties 50/50, as well as the money she earned throughout their marriage, but a judge denied this request.

A judge found for Clarkson that the signed prenup had to be taken into account. The pop star now has the right to sell the Montana ranch because she’s the one who bought it.

The parties’ divorce has been bifurcated—which means that the end of the marriage has officially been declared. Clarkson has been awarded primary custody of their minor children – River and Remington.

It was previously reported that Clarkson would pay 70% of her children’s school fees and expenses. However, she had refused to pay for the Montana ranch. The judge ordered that Blackstock carry the financial burden of his Montana ranch that costs around $81,000 a month to run in expenses. Now it looks as though Clarkson will sell it.

Blackstock is currently living at the ranch and is using it as his primary residence. He’s earning around $10k a month. In comparison, Clarkson was bringing home around $1.5M a month.

Court documents confirm that Kelly will continue to pay her ex $150,000 per month while the divorce case continues, as well as $45,000 in child support. Clarkson has sold a staggering 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide in her career, and currently has her own hit talk-show. She started dating Blackstock, a country music manager, in 2011. They married in 2013.

Reference: Daily Mail (Aug. 13, 2021) “Kelly Clarkson’s prenup UPHELD by judge in divorce battle”

 

estate planning

What’s the Latest on Country Star Charley Pride’s Estate?

Grammy-winning country star Charley Pride died from COVID-19 in December, and an article from 5 NBC DFW entitled “Charley Pride’s ‘Secret’ Son Contests Will” reports that his son Tyler has revealed the family “secret.” His story started with an affair between his mother, a flight attendant, and his father, country music’s first Black superstar.

At the time of their relationship, Charley was already married to his wife of many years, Rozene, and the couple had three children. A paternity test later confirmed that Tyler was also Charley’s son.

“We made it through and had the best relationship that we could, per the circumstances,” said Tyler. “We still got to talk on the phone a lot and get to know each other that way, but it was difficult because of his situation and having to keep peace at home, as he put it over and over.”

Tyler said his father visited when he was able, and even after he turned 18 and Charley’s obligation to financially support him ended, Tyler said his father stayed involved in his life. However, when Charley died of COVID-19, Tyler said the family did not even tell him that his father was sick. In fact, Tyler’s name was not included in the obituary, and he said he was not allowed to attend the funeral.

Tyler also wasn’t named in Charley’s will, which Tyler has filed a lawsuit to contest. He says there was undue influence by Rozene over her husband, who’d publicly acknowledged mental health struggles.

“I don’t think he could imagine that this is going on right now and I don’t think it’s what he wanted. Because he always said he wanted his kids taken care of equally. Up until his death, that’s what I was told every time we talked,” said Tyler.

Rozene’s statement said, “Tyler does not have a valid claim, so he has resorted to a hurtful smear campaign. His attack on Charley hurts me and his other children deeply, but we all know that Charley was doing great physically and mentally and making his own decisions, until he was taken down by COVID. Much of what Tyler is saying about Charley and me is a lie that Tyler hopes reporters will spread to grab headlines.”

However, Tyler says this isn’t a financial fight. It’s instead about honoring his father’s wishes and finally being recognized as his son.

“He is my dad and I’m proud to be able to tell that part of the story because I am part of his story,” said Tyler.

Reference: 5 NBC DFW (June 11, 2021) “Charley Pride’s ‘Secret’ Son Contests Will”

 

estate planning and elder law

Will Melinda Gates Changed Estate Plan after Divorce?

Divorce experts say there are signs that Melinda Gates’ divorce filing shows that she’s going to change her three children’s inheritance after her estranged husband, Bill Gates, has said he’s leaving them only $10 million each.

Page Six’s recent article entitled “Melinda Gates could be angling to change kids’ $10M inheritance in split” says that Melinda has taken the highly unusual step of designating some top trust and estate lawyers as her representatives in her divorce filing, along with the customary matrimonial attorneys. This move signals that Melinda has potential plans for her family which are not the same as Bill’s.

Bill Gates has previously said his children will get a “minuscule” piece of his $130 billion fortune. The Microsoft mogul plans to leave just $10 million to each of his three children.

Melinda said in her divorce filing that a separation agreement was in place, and sources say that if the parameters of the couple’s inheritance are not detailed in the pact, either party could change the amount their children inherit.

Inheritance typically isn’t addressed in such separation agreements.

Melinda’s filing for divorce and potentially changing her children’s inheritance follows a path of female empowerment increasingly expressed by the philanthropist. Gaining control in her share of the fortune and coming out from under Bill’s shadow is a big step for empowerment. Bill and Melinda announced on May 3 that they were getting divorced after 27 years of marriage.

They added: “Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

There are reports that Melinda grew concerned about Bill’s association with the late pedophile investor Jeffrey Epstein. Melinda had reportedly warned her husband that she was uncomfortable with Epstein after they met him in 2013. That was the same year Bill allegedly flew on Epstein’s private jet from New Jersey to Palm Beach, Florida.

A spokesperson for Gates has previously said he stands by a 2019 statement that he met Epstein but “didn’t have any business relationship or friendship with him.”

Reference: Page Six (May 17, 2021) “Melinda Gates could be angling to change kids’ $10M inheritance in split”

 

Trust Administration

Did Pop Entertainer Pink Change Estate Plan because of COVID-19?

Pink and her four-year-old son, Jameson, tested positive for the virus in March 2020, but her husband, Carey Hart, and daughter, 9-year-old Willow, did not contract the coronavirus.

MSN’s recent article entitled “Pink Reveals She Rewrote Her Will Because She Thought ‘It Was Over’ Amid COVID-19 Battle” reports that the entertainer did change her will.

“It was really, really bad, and I rewrote my will,” she said. “… At the point where I thought it was over for us, I called my best friend and I said, ‘I just need you to tell Willow how much I loved her.’ It was really, really scary and really bad. ”

The experience inspired her single, “All I Know So Far.” Pink described the song as “a letter to my daughter.” The single was released May 7, and a documentary and album of the same name will follow on May 21.

“As a parent, you think about, ‘What am I leaving for my kid? What am I teaching them? Are they going to make it in this world, this crazy world that we live in now? What do I need to tell them if this is the last time that I get to tell them anything?'” she said. “So, that was kind of the song.”

Pink first announced that she and Jameson were fighting the coronavirus in April 2020. That same month, she described “the scariest thing” she has ever been through on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, sharing that her son was the first one to get sick.

“[It] started with a fever for him and it would come and go, and he would have stomach pains and diarrhea and chest pains and then a headache, sore throat,” she said. “It sort of was just all over the place. Every day was just some new symptom. His fever stayed it did not go. It just started going up and up and up and up and then at one point it was at 103.”

As for herself, Pink said, “I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t breathe and I needed to get to a nebulizer for the first time in 30 years. I have this inhaler that I use, this rescue inhaler, and I couldn’t function without it, and that’s when I started to get really scared.”

In a December 2020 Instagram post, Pink, whose real name is Alecia Beth Moore, called 2020 a “poop sandwich of a year.” She also had a staph infection and a broken ankle.

See your estate planning attorney about changing your will based on current events.

Reference: MSN (May 4, 2021) “Pink Reveals She Rewrote Her Will Because She Thought ‘It Was Over’ Amid COVID-19 Battle”

 

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Which Celebrities have Left Spouses Out of Their Wills?

However, it’s not a given that a spouse will become a decedent’s heir or guardian of their estate, says Wealth Advisor in its recent article entitled “These Celebs Cut Their Spouses Out Of Their Will.” This can make headlines because it’s so rare and appears to be cold-hearted.

Some think the first famous person to do this was William Shakespeare. The Bard gave his wife the “second-best bed” and other furniture. He bequeathed his substantial fortune to their daughter. Read about other famous spouses who were disinherited.

Ric Ocasek. In 1989, Ocasek of the Cars married supermodel Paulina Porizkova. In a May 2018 Instagram post, Porizkova announced that she and Ocasek had “peacefully separated” a year earlier. Porizkova also tried to make it clear that she felt no animosity toward Ocasek, and that their relationship had evolved over the decades. According to USA Today, the two had begun the formal process of legally divorcing, before Ocasek died in September 2019. At the time, they still lived together. When Ocasek’s will was read, it included an addendum which said, “I have made no provision for my wife Paulina Porizkova (‘Paulina’) as we are in the process of divorcing.” He added, “Even if I should die before our divorce is final… Paulina is not entitled to any elective share… because she had abandoned me.”

Larry King. The famous broadcaster who survived multiple heart attacks, quintuple bypass surgery, lung cancer, angina and COVID-19, died in January at 87. King was married seven times, the last being Shawn Southwick. They wed in 1997 at UCLA Medical Center right before he underwent heart surgery. Like so many of his other marriages, that one ended in divorce. Just after beginning divorce proceedings, King amended his will — albeit with a handwritten note expressly denying Southwick any claims to the estate he’d leave behind. In the document, King requested that his money “be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Larry Jr, Chance & Cannon.” However, the divorce was never finalized, so King and Southwick were still technically married, and he purposely left her nothing. It is looking like a lawsuit between Southwick and his estate.

Mickey Rooney. Rooney was married eight times between the 1940s and 1970s, among them screen stars Ava Garner and Martha Vickers, and Jan Chamberlin, his final wife. Rooney and Chamberlin wed in 1978 but separated in 2012. They did not divorce, and they were still legally married when Mickey died at age 93 in 2014. The Los Angeles Times says that Mickey “disinherited everyone except one stepson, according to a will filed along with court papers that showed assets of just $18,000.”

Reference: Wealth Advisor (April 5, 2021) “These Celebs Cut Their Spouses Out Of Their Will”

 

estate planning

Did Larry King have an Estate Plan?

Larry King’s health was not good the past few years before he died in the hospital last week. He was 87, with a history of heart trouble, a stroke and then he got sick with the coronavirus. He was also paying spousal support as part of a lengthy divorce negotiation.

This was his seventh wife who outlasted all the others. Since the divorce wasn’t final, she’ll inherit much of his estimated $50 million estate, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Two Bankruptcies, Seven Wives: Larry King’s Estate Planning Miracle.”

The King of Talk wasn’t an early success. He was bankrupt before he was 30 and filed again at 45, when most successful people start eying early retirement. However, Larry had large gambling debts, grand larceny charges for defrauding a business partner and many professional setbacks.

By the time he really became a household name on CNN, he’d already had five divorces to four women as well as one youthful annulment.

Under normal circumstances, this would mean depleted bank accounts, since the households multiplied, and income continues to be split among the exes. However, King continued to work, and while each bankruptcy reset his official net worth to zero, every contract negotiation kept the income flowing.

Since he died before finalizing the divorce, his current wife Shawn is believed to receive everything not otherwise assigned in his will.

If the divorce were a done deal, she would have gotten a lump sum payment and $300,000 in annual support. Shawn had argued that she needed $1 million a year, but now it looks like she inherits everything.

Shawn lists $7 million in assets in her own name, including a house in Utah. That’s usually a good start to a divorce settlement division of property, but she wanted more because Larry was still working.

In fact, only last year, he signed a trial podcast deal worth at least $5 million.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 25, 2021) “Two Bankruptcies, Seven Wives: Larry King’s Estate Planning Miracle”