Legendary Socialite Brooke Astor’s Son Convicted of Theft

A New York Judge ordered 89 year old Anthony Marshall to start serving his one-to-three year term after he was convicted of stealing millions from his philanthropist mother, Brooke Astor.  Astor was a New York socialite known for her charitable initiatives, earning the 1998 Presidential Medal of Freedom for her charitable work.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Marshall had exploited his mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  Marshall took millions from his mother, in the form of lavish gifts, such as a $920,000.00 yacht.  Marshall also stole several valuable pieces of artwork right off his mother’s walls.

Marshall even went so far as to make substantial changes to his mother’s Will, including making himself the primary beneficiary of her estate.  Marshall, assisted by attorney Francis Morrissey, forged Astor’s signature on her new Will.  Morrissey was convicted and sent to prison late last week for his involvement.

Exploitation of the elderly is a serious problem and requires immediate attention.  The attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP has significant experience in assisting clients in uncovering and resolving cases of financial exploitation.  If you or someone you know has this problem, please contact our office today for assistance.

Texas Woman Wins Guardianship of NFL Player’s Orphaned Daughter

A Kansas probate court recently awarded guardianship of the daughter of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher to a Pflugerville, Texas woman. The judge ordered that Sophie Perkins was most suited to raise the nine-month-old child who was left orphaned after her father killed her mother in the family home and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he killed himself last December.

A conservator has been appointed to oversee a trust that has been funded by the Chiefs owners, coaches, players and the public to help with raising the child. Under a NFL collective bargaining agreement, the child is also set to receive more than $1 million, to be paid out in annual sums until she reaches adulthood, or until the age of 23 if she attends college.

Perkins is the first cousin of the child’s mother, Kasandra Perkins. The child’s paternal grandmother had also sought guardianship, which was decided after a three-day hearing.

A guardian is defined as a person who is legally responsible for making the decisions for one who is unable to make those decisions. Though the above case related to guardianship of a child, there are also laws pertaining to the guardianship of an incapacitated adult.

The processes of obtaining guardianship of a child or of an adult are both complex situations that require the help of an experienced attorney. Ford + Bergner is a boutique law firm that handles probate, estate planning and guardianship issues. With offices in Houston and Dallas, our experienced probate attorneys can handle everything from estate planning to care of an aging parent to legal disputes over guardianship or the validity of a will. For more information, contact us.

Wills: What’s Required in Texas?

The basic requirements for a legal will in Texas are pretty simple. In fact, under certain circumstances the state will even recognize an oral will. However, even though your will meets the state’s requirements, it may not be the best course of action for your family. Consider your options.

Legal Requirements

Yes, it’s true. Texas will recognize a will that is not even written. An oral will must meet two requirements. First, it must be spoken “in extremis,” meaning under extreme circumstances. For example, if a person is on his or her deathbed and has not had the opportunity or ability to make a written will. Secondly, an oral will must be heard by at least three witnesses that are not beneficiaries and are over 14 years of age. It is of note that an oral will can only refer to personal property, not real estate.

Oral wills are rare and date back to a time when Texas was a frontier state and many people did not know how to write. It’s highly recommended that you have a written will. Written wills have pretty basic requirements as well, though. First, they must be signed by the Testator, who must be an adult. Second, a legal will has to be written with “testamentary intent,” meaning the Testator was of sound mind at its creation. Third, it must be signed by two witnesses in front of the Testator. The witnesses must be at least 14 years old and not beneficiaries of the will.

Recommendations

While the legal requirements for a will are simple, the confusion that it may cause after your death can be complex and expensive for your family. Having an attorney draft your will helps to decrease the chances of it being challenged and your wishes not being met. An attorney can also recommend special circumstances for your will and bring up situations for which you may not have accounted. For example, if you have minor children you’ll want to make sure guardianship and a trust for their financial needs is legally established so that they are cared for as you would like. Or, you may want to stipulate that your home passes to your children if your surviving spouse remarries. You might need to appoint a long-term caregiver for a disabled spouse or child. Many variables exist beyond the simple decision of who gets your money and property.

Ford+Bergner has extensive experience in Texas estate, probate and guardianship law. Contact us for help with all your estate planning needs.

Living Trusts: Three Considerations to Make

When considering different estate planning options, you’ve probably come across the idea of living trusts.  A living trust doesn’t replace a will; it’s a supplement to it that allows you to transfer the ownership of certain assets to a trust when you’re still alive.  When the living trust is revocable, you can revoke the trust or change its terms whenever you like, keeping control over the assets; when it’s irrevocable, you’re giving away the assets, and your control over them, permanently.

When determining whether or not you need a living trust, what are some issues to consider?

Estate complexity.  If your estate is larger and relatively complex, consisting of greater amounts of money and various properties and assets, you may derive benefits from using a living trust.  The assets in a living trust will by-pass the probate process; probate, in the case of an unusually complex estate, could be more time-consuming.  For example, if you own property outside of Texas, it would need to go through probate in that state; to avoid a multi-state probate process, you may want to place that property in a living trust.  Because probate in Texas itself is relatively straightforward and simple in the majority of cases, property ownership in another state is one of the few reasons to establish a living trust if your main purpose is to avoid probate.  There are also other ways to sidestep probate, so you may not even need a living trust.

Avoiding estate taxes.  There are many people who mistakenly believe that a living trust will automatically allow them to avoid federal estate taxes or give them other tax advantages.  This isn’t the case.  There are certain living trusts that give you tax advantages or exempt portions of your estate from taxation (such as when your relinquish them irrevocably before your death), but there also other ways to benefit from tax savings without establishing a living trust.  You may not even need to be concerned about the federal estate tax, which is why it’s important to discuss tax advantages with an experienced and reputable attorney.

Issues of incapacitation.  You may be concerned that at some point you’ll be incapacitated and unable to oversee your financial affairs.  In that case, a living trust is one possible way to have someone else help manage your assets according to the terms you set.

A living trust should never be something you rush to establish, as they may turn out to be an unnecessary expense and inappropriate for your situation.  Discussing the options with an expert probate attorney is essential; they’ll review the considerations you need to make, including your age and health, marital status and familial relationships, and the complexity of your estate.  To determine whether or not you’d benefit from a living trust, contact Ford + Bergner LLP to discuss your situation and decide on the options that maximize the advantages to you and your beneficiaries.