Dr. Michael Brown Hospitalized

Dr. Michael Brown, the former Houston surgeon and founder of the Brown Hand Center, was recently hospitalized after suffering a heart attack.  Dr. Brown, now in Miami, was set to begin his 30 day prison sentence which stemmed from his guilty plea in his most recent legal issues related to choking a flight attendant.

The doctors caring for Dr. Brown stated that he remains hospitalized and is incapacitated at this time.  Additionally, attorneys representing him in both criminal and civil matters are unable to communicate with Dr. Brown.  If Dr. Brown does not recover soon, the Court may be forced into appointed a Guardian to represent his interests.  Guardianship is a court supervised relationship, where a Guardian must be appointed, by  the Court, to act on behalf of the Dr. Brown’s well-being and financial matters.  As for Dr. Brown’s fate, only time will tell.

Guardianship is a complicated legal endeavor, which requires the assistance of an experienced attorney.  If you or someone you know has questions concerning the Guardianship process, please contact the attorneys are Ford + Bergner LLP today.

Judge Grants Guardianship Over 10-Year-Old Girl With Cancer, Despite Amish Parents’ Objections

In the legal realm, a guardianship gives one person legal power over another’s “affairs of the body,” such as where to live and where to seek medical care. Guardianships are often used in situations where a parent is no longer able to make his or her own decisions, so a child steps in as his or her guardian.

Notice that we said “usually.” There are some situations in which a guardianship is a useful, but somewhat controversial, instrument.

Exactly such a situation is developing in Ohio. That is where an attorney for Children’s Hospital of Akron was recently given guardianship over a 10-year-old girl who has cancer after her parents, who are devout;y Amish, decided to stop her chemotherapy treatments.

According to ABC News, the attorney (who is also a registered nurse) was given a limited guardianship because the court felt that following the parents’ wishes with respect to their child’s medical treatment would have a deleterious effect on the child, who does not have legal capacity to make medical decision on her own.

Lawyers and medical ethicists follow cases like this with interest. Medical advances have been a great boon to society, but in some situations, they lead to conflict — what happens when a medical outcome is possible (or at least arguably worth trying for) but there is tension between that possibility and the wishes, beliefs or worldviews of the party or parties at issue?

As we said earlier, we wanted to report on this story because it seems to be an interesting situation in an emerging area of guardianship law.

If you are interested in learning more about guardianships and how they might be useful to you, we invite you to contact us.

High-profile case highlights the difficulties of trust litigation

Managing a trust is a serious responsibility.  The trustee needs to understand the intentions of the individual who drew up the trust (the settlor) and act in accordance with their wishes.  They need to protect and manage the assets and keep beneficiaries appraised of what’s going on.  Trustees may also find themselves in the position of butting heads with beneficiaries over trust management issues.

A recent case highlighting such a conflict occurred between a mother and two of her adult children.  The mother in this case is Gina Rinehart, one of the wealthiest women in the world, who was managing a trust established by her father for his grandkids (her children).  The suit that two of her kids filed against her claimed that she was mismanaging the trust and acting in a misleading way about the assets, including changing the date when they would be eligible to access the trust contents.

The family is still embroiled in the conflict, which has bitterly divided them; Rinehart apparently has agreed to step aside as trustee, but there’s no consensus yet about who will replace her.  According to the article discussing the case, there’s a deed barring any non-family members from managing the trust, which leaves a smaller pool of people to select from, with individuals personally invested in the outcome.

The following are some of the issues this trust litigation case raises:

  • The importance of a settlor naming alternatives for trustees, in case the current trustee refuses to continue managing the trust or must be removed for misconduct.
  • Beneficiaries have a right to receive a transparent accounting of all matters related to the trust, including a full list of assets and any activities related to them (e.g. investments, distribution of assets).
  • Removing a current trustee can be a long and difficult process.  If possible, the trustee and beneficiaries should attempt to mediate their dispute prior to taking it to trial.
  • A trustee can’t be removed simply on suspicion of mismanagement; there needs to be solid proof.  This can range from tax documents to emails.

Resolving a dispute between trustees and beneficiaries requires the assistance of trusted estate lawyers.  Ideally, lawyers will use their expertise to bring about a satisfactory conclusion for all parties before a given case heads to court and deepens rifts between family members.  Unfortunately, when beneficiaries either know for sure or suspect that a trustee isn’t properly discharging trust-related responsibilities, sometimes a trial is the only option left.

Robin Thicke, Estate of Marvin Gaye Tussle Over ‘Blurred Lines’

Robin Thicke’s tremendous hit “Blurred Lines” has prompted all kinds of controversy, from the scandalously provocative music video to the allegation that its racy lyrics promote sexual objectification of women.

Now, there’s more controversy, this time in the legal arena: Thicke and his “Blurred Lines” collaborators T.I. and Pharrell have been sued by the estate of Marvin Gaye. The administrators of Gaye’s estate think there is too much of a similarity between “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s 1970 song “Got To Give It Up” and that Thicke should have paid for his use of Gaye’s song.

Whether the songs are or are not too similar (compare them for yourself and see what you think) is not what we wanted to write about.

Rather, we wanted to call attention to the fact that it is Marvin Gaye’s estate that is taking legal action here. This is a good illustration of how estates can exercise certain legal rights on behalf of deceased people. If it turns out that a court agrees with Gaye’s estate and finds that Thicke and Co. should have paid it a licensing fee, that fee will likely be substantial. Also, one cannot put a dollar amount on artistic integrity and independence, qualities that surely include determining who uses your work and how.

If you are interested in making estate planning arrangements, you might want to look for a Houston- or Dallas-area law firm that specializes in this field. You could contact us as part of your search.

Defining The Legal Concept Of An ‘Estate’

On one level, the concept of an estate is not that unfamiliar. Any Texas fan of “Downton Abbey” can tell you that term refers to a large mansion and its grounds.

That’s true, of course, but in the legal world, the term “estate” means something very different entirely. It is important that all adults have an understanding of what an estate is, because being well-informed about this legal concept makes it less likely that a person will leave some important matter unattended to or valuable rights unexercised.

In very general legal terms, an estate refers to all that a person owns, meaning all the things that may be distributed upon his or her death. While that includes the common-sense things, like cash, real estate and personal possessions, it also means the legal rights that a person has. (Not all legal rights survive the death of the holder, but some do.)

What brings this up is recent news that the estate of an independent contractor who was killed at a Dallas worksite was granted permission by a court to intervene in a related case against an insurance company. The federal judge overseeing the case agreed that the estate of the deceased worker had an interest in the case, and so permitted it to become involved.

We mention this story because it is an example of how an estate can exercise certain legal rights that a person has, even if the person is deceased. Because our legal system recognizes the concept of an estate, worthy and important legal rights do not necessarily vanish upon a person’s death.

A single blog post is not quite the right medium to elaborate in great detail on every aspect and element of the legal concept of an estate, but hopefully, this post has given you a good, fundamental understanding of its contours. It is likely that future posts will also inform your understanding of the legal concept of an estate.

If you are interested in making plans for the future, we invite you to contact us at your convenience.