Tragedy in West, Texas

As many are aware, the City of West, Texas suffered a catastrophic tragedy on the evening of April 17, 2013.  An explosion at a fertilizer plant caused severe damage to the community, including multiple causalities.  Many questions remain how families and the community will rebuild in the aftermath.

Family members of individuals who died as a result of the explosion have many issues to confront in the coming months.  Among those is how to handle the decedent’s estate.  Whenever an individual dies as a result of an accident, more often than not, a  wrongful death lawsuit is filed on behalf of the individual’s estate.  This litigation must be settled before the decedent’s estate can be completed.

However, this does not mean that the family should just be waiting.  The estate can and should be opened and a personal representative needs to be appointed by the Court.  Many times the personal representative for the estate will need to pursue the decedent’s wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate.  The Texas Probate Court imposes a duty on all personal representatives to pursue any and all claims on behalf of the estate, including wrongful death claims.

The attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP are experienced in dealing with all aspects of estate litigation matters.  If you have questions concerning estate, trust or guardianship litigations issues contact our office today.

Mediation in Estate Disuputes

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article discussing the use of mediation as a method to resolve estate and trust disputes.  The Journal asked a series of questions to William Zabel, a Estate and Trust Attorney from New York.

According to Mr. Zabel, a driving force of estate disputes center around the lack of clarity in the Will regarding who receives the Decedent’s tangible personal property.  This can include anything from clothes, furniture and antiques to jewelry and automobiles.  As one can imagine, if the Will says “everyone receives an equal share of the personal property”, determining who inherits the jewelry collection or the crystal glasses can become difficult.

Additionally, Mr. Zabel warns that sibling rivalry, including influence from in-laws, and over-aggressive attorneys are at the root of why most mediation proceedings break down.  However, the reduced cost of the mediation process versus the expense of litigation is sometimes the best way to entice all parties to at least attempt mediation, which Mr. Zabel recommends.  Additionally, Mr. Zabel says, “But in general, the lasting anger and bitterness of litigation doesn’t seem to occur when matters are settled by mediation.”

Mediation is one of several tools implemented by the attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP.  Managing Partner Don D. Ford III completed the required course work to become certified as a mediator at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University’s School of Law in Malibu, California.

If you have questions regarding settling an estate and trust matter, contact our office today.

Goodman Heir Denied Adoption of 43 Year Old Girlfriend

An appellate Court in Florida struck down John Goodman’s attempt to adopt his 43 year old girlfriend.  The Court cited fraud on the part of Goodman as their basis for the decision.  You may remember John Goodman from earlier posts.  Good man, 49, is an heir to the Goodman air conditioning fortune.  Goodman was convicted for his hit and run, killing a young man on a motorcycle.  He is appealing his 16 year prison sentence.

The story drew national attention when Goodman attempted to adopt his 43 year old girlfriend in order to shield his assets from a civil judgment.  Goodman’s girlfriend would have been a 1/3 beneficiary of the $300 million trust that benefits his children, both under 18 years of age.

The trust for his children was created before the hit and run, and therefore the trust assets are protected from any judgment against Goodman.  By adopting his girlfriend, Goodman would particularly become a beneficiary of the trust himself.

The Court struck down the adoption because Goodman intentionally hid the plans for the adoption from his ex-wife, the children’s mother legal guardian, until after the adoption appeals process had passed.  The fraud nullified the adoption and puts Goodman back where he started, without access to the protected trust assets.

This story further demonstrates that you cannot use estate and trust planning as a way to protect yourself for your own negligence.  If you have questions regrading estate or trust planning, please contact the experienced attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP today.