Last week, multiple news outlets in Florida reported a story about John Goodman, heir to the Texas Goodman Air Conditioning and Heating company fortune. It appears that Goodman, a 48 year-old billionaire, engaged in some very creative estate planning when he adopted his 42 year-old girlfriend, Heather Hutchins.
Goodman is currently facing a myriad of criminal and civil charges, including driving under the influence, vehicular manslaughter, and leaving the scene of an accident. All of the charges arise from an alleged drunk-driving incident where he is purported to have fled the scene after having killed a motorist. Goodman could receive up to 30 years in prison if convicted, and he could be forced to pay millions in damages for his liability in a wrongful death suit filed by the parents of the killed motorist.
According to Florida law, Goodman is perfectly within his right to adopt an adult like Hutchins. As a result of having adopted his girlfriend, Hutchins becomes a beneficiary of a trust established for Goodman’s children. The reasoning behind Goodman’s decision is more apparent in light of his legal issues. The assets in the children’s trust are shielded from civil judgments and cannot be touched by the Court in most circumstances to pay damages if Goodman was found liable for the death of injured motorist. At the same time, since Hutchins is now considered to be one of Goodman’s children, distributions can be made to Hutchins out of the trust and would escape being deemed to be distributions to Goodman. Thereby, Goodman can indirectly benefit from the Trust even if a Court has determined that he is liable to the family of the motorist he is alleged to have killed.
Estate planning is meant to be a constructive method to help individuals plan for the future and protect their assets from excessive tax liability. Although Goodman’s motivations do not appear to be so pure, his creative estate planning highlights the fact that estate planning can be used in a variety of situations for a variety of purposes. If you have any additional questions about your estate planning and ways to help you protect your assets in the future, please contact Ford + Mathiason LLP for assistance today.