Why the Knives May Come Out at Death

The box office success of the 2019 murder mystery Knives Out led to franchise status, with Glass Onion, the first sequel, released in late 2022. The original Knives Out featured whodunit intrigue surrounding the murder of a wealthy author and surprise changes to his will.

While Knives Out endeared itself to fans because of its interesting characters and dramatic plot twists, the more mundane topic of estate planning is central to the movie. In Knives Out, there are several common estate planning issues that may trigger real-life family drama fit for a Hollywood movie.

Estate Planning Issues in Knives Out

Knives Out begins with the death of Harlan Thrombey, an internationally famous novelist who has just celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday at his country mansion, surrounded by family. Detective Benoit Blanc has been anonymously hired to investigate the death, and several family members have a murder motive, including his son-in-law, his son, his grandson, and the widow of his late son.

It turns out that Harlan’s death was a suicide, but that is just one thread in a jumbled knot of family dysfunction. Drawn into the fray is Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s nurse and the sole beneficiary of his estate. The large inheritance is revealed at a dramatic will reading that, although used as a dramatic device, nonetheless raises real-world estate planning lessons.

Lesson 1: Do Not Assume That You Will Receive an Inheritance When Your Family Member Dies

Harlan is survived by two living children (Linda and Walt), a widowed daughter-in-law (Joni), and three grandchildren (Ransom; Joni’s daughter, Meg; and Walt’s son, Jacob). Each of his presumptive heirs received financial support from him to some extent. And they […]

2023-02-25T09:41:58-08:00February 4th, 2023|Common Problems, Estate Fights, Estate Planning, Lawsuits|

End of the Six Year Battle Over Prince’s Estate

The Daily Mail published an article that says:

“The legal battle over Prince's estate came to an end on Sunday five years after his untimely death at 57 in 2016. The star's wealth, which totaled $156.4 million, was fought over by a number of that star's potential heirs because the Purple Rain singer did not leave a will.  The Internal Revenue Service and Comerica Bank & Trust, the estate's administrator, finally came to an agreement on the valuation after giving wildly different estimations at the beginning.”

2022-11-16T10:12:21-08:00November 16th, 2022|Estate Fights, Lawsuits, Rich & Famous|

California Recognizes Tort of Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance

California has finally joined the majority of states and recognized the tort of intentional interference with expected inheritance (“IIEI”).  This adoption was done by the California Court of Appeals based on the fact that the IIEI claim is consistent with other California laws, the fact that of the 42 states that have considered adopting an IIEI claim, 25 states have adopted the claim, that the US Supreme Court has called IIEI as “widely recognized” tort, and other public policy considerations.

The ruling came out of the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District, after the deceased's longtime partner was denied any inheritance by the California probate court.  Brent Beckwith was in a committed relationship for nearly 10 years with partner Marc Christian MacGinnis.  MacGinnis had no living family members other than his sister, Susan Dahl.  But MacGinnis was estranged from his sister.

At one point, MacGinnis showed Beckwith a will on his computer that divided his $1 million plus estate between Beckwith and Dahl.  MacGinnis never signed the will.  MacGinnis wanted to print and sign the will, but was never able to do so.  MacGinnis later fell ill.  He asked Beckwith to print the will.  When Beckwith couldn't locate the will, MacGinnis asked Beckwith to prepare a new will, based on the distribution plan MacGinnis had already discussed with Beckwith.  When Beckwith called Dahl to discuss the will, Dahl claimed that she had friends who were attorneys and she would have them draft a trust for MacGinnis, which she claimed was more appropriate for her brother.   She told Beckwith not to give the new will to MacGinnis for signing.  A few days later, MacGinnis went in for surgery.  […]

Arizona Heirs May Keep Money Found in Walls of Father’s Home

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the heirs of Robert Spann, a Paradise Valley resident, may keep the $500,000 cash found in the walls of his home years after he died.  Spann died in 2001.  Before selling his home 7 years later, Spann's daughters found cash, bonds, stocks and gold hidden in ammunition cans inside the walls of the home.

The couple who purchased the home tried to claim the cash after a worker found it in the walls during a remodel.  The Court of Appeals ruled that since the money and property was only mislaid and not abandoned, it still belonged to Spann's estate.

2012-06-06T08:44:35-07:00June 6th, 2012|Lawsuits|

More Famous Examples of Bad Estate Planning

Wealth Strategies Journal:  “A wise person once observed that a wreck on the shore serves as a beacon at sea.

Perhaps the estate planning errors of others can also serve as instructive examples. But one must concede that the most egregious train wrecks of bad planning can be mesmerizing.

Without further adieu, here is a collection of testators who left behind estates with notable errors, issues, and messes.”

2016-12-13T20:33:29-08:00May 22nd, 2012|Estate Fights, Estate Planning, Lawsuits, Rich & Famous|

Reese Witherspoon Heads To Court To Help Her Father

Estate of Denial: “One of Reese Witherspoon‘s more famous roles was as the perky young attorney in Legally Blonde. Late last week, she accompanied her parents to court in a much more somber setting.

On Friday, we wrote about the efforts of Reese Witherspoon’s mother, Mary, to protect her 70-year old husband from a woman who had entered into a bigamous relationship with Reese’s father. Mary’s lawsuit alleges that the woman, Tricianne Taylor (legally named Patricia Taylor) used the relationship to try to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars and otherwise take advantage of Dr. John Witherspoon.

Mary says her husband, from whom she has been separated but still in love with, suffers from a host of medical conditions, including possible dementia, and does not remember marrying the other woman.”

2012-05-22T09:27:20-07:00May 22nd, 2012|Lawsuits, Rich & Famous|

Probate Abuse Highlighted By Famous Cases

Examiner.com:  “That’s a headline to grab attention in Austin, Nashville, L.A. and for entertainers across the country – as it should. Growing use of probate instruments like wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney is putting at risk both individual liberties and property rights. An ongoing legal battle involving the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown’s estate helps illustrate this point as also does the case of Nashville rocker Danny Tate who in past years fought a questionable conservatorship (guardianship) and now is targeted in what appears a series of retaliatory actions for speaking out against the perpetrators of his alleged probate abuse and the “justice” system that allows it to continue. The general public may read or hear of such actions while continuing to enjoy an “it can’t happen to me” mindset, but such confidence is misplaced as a reality emerges in which people at all levels of wealth – be it worth $50,000 to $100,000, $1 million or far more – are targeted for Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) actions. Wealth is relative and in today’s world – there’s always someone happy to take yours.”

2012-05-21T15:19:43-07:00May 21st, 2012|Estate Fights, Lawsuits, Probate, Rich & Famous|

Lawsuits Claim National Future Benefits Caused Its Estate Planning Clients Big Bucks in Unnecssary Fees

Arizona Republic:  Arizona seniors lost millions in annuity fees, lawsuits say.  Hundreds of Arizona senior citizens cashed in their retirement investments and paid millions of dollars in unnecessary fees, according to lawsuits accusing a Scottsdale-based estate-planning company of taking advantage of vulnerable clients.  Federal and state court lawsuits claim officials with National Future Benefits Unlimited generated large commissions by scaring and misleading elderly clients into bailing out of existing annuities and buying new ones. The moves left the clients paying steep surrender fees to insurance companies and facing potential tax liabilities, according to the lawsuits. . .  . In one of the lawsuits, an insurance company is accusing National Future Benefits of systematically targeting clients to cash out their annuities; in the other, an elderly Phoenix couple contend they were defrauded out of most of their assets.  National Future Benefits President Randall Jaeger denies any wrongdoing. . . . In addition to facing the two lawsuits alleging fraud and illegal activity, National Future Benefits has a history of state regulatory complaints and this year was investigated by Arizona Adult Protective Services. The lawsuit involving the elderly couple led to an $866,000 settlement this year and triggered an elder-abuse claim filed with the Arizona Attorney General's Office.”

Do you think that you were defrauded by National Future Benefits Unlimited?  If so, we may be able to help.  Please contact Norm Keyt at 602-265-0273 or [email protected].

2016-12-13T20:33:38-08:00November 7th, 2011|Estate Planning, Lawsuits|
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