Update: Warhol Portrait Of Fawcett, Contested In Will Dispute, Goes to Ryan O’Neal

In an earlier post, we talked about an estate battle between the University of Texas and actor Ryan O’Neal over an Andy Warhol portrait of the late Farrah Fawcett.

To briefly recap: The University of Texas claimed that the portrait belonged to it, because Fawcett left her entire art collection to the school (her alma mater) in her will. O’Neal, who had a decades-long informal relationship with Fawcett, believed that the painting was his, and so removed it from one of Fawcett’s residences (with the permission of her trustee).

In late December, a Los Angeles-area jury decided that the portrait belonged to O’Neal after all. During the trial, it considered how to construe Fawcett’s articulated last wishes, as well as O’Neal’s argument that the painting had been his all along and was merely stored with Fawcett’s belongings.

The painting has been estimated as being worth between $800,000 and $12 million.

The reason we covered this story is because it is a good example of how someone (in this case, Fawcett) can think that he or she is being crystal clear as he or she outlines his or her final wishes, and yet there can still be lingering ambiguity. If you engage in estate planning (and you certainly ought to), then it is very important you work closely with your attorney to make your desires as explicit as possible.

If you are interested in speaking with a Texas estate planning attorney, please feel free to contact us at any time. We’re here to help.

In Estate Battle, Family Contests 11th-Hour Deathbead Marriage

An estate battle currently playing out in Pennsylvania recently caught our attention. Although we focus our energies on Texas-area clients, there are some aspects to this story that are worth discussing, because they are not uncommon to estate disputes.

The story starts with a  61-year-old former steamfitter who died a very wealthy man after he settled several lawsuits with former employers, whom he accused of exposing him to asbestos. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that although his exact net worth isn’t clear, public records indicate his estate (that is, the sum of the assets he had at the time of his death) was worth somewhere between $650,000 and $1.4 million.

Hours before the man died, he formally wed a woman who had been caring for him for some time. As his wife, she was automatically entitled to a portion of his estate, regardless of what his will said. States have these spousal provisions because they do not want spouses to be left destitute after their husband or wife dies.

The man’s family believes that the wife had money as an ulterior motive and has sought to have her excluded from the estate. The wife, however, points out that she and the deceased man had a long, informal relationship (they had a child together out of wedlock in 1989) and that she had been his caretaker for years.

What interested us here is how a rather complicated personal situation resulted in a tangled-up estate. This is not at all uncommon. People’s lives are not always orderly; that is just how life is. As estate planning attorneys, we help our clients prepare for the inevitable and are available to help if clients who didn’t work with us in the first place need assistance sorting things out.

To learn more about Ford + Bergner LLP, please feel free to contact us.

What is a trust, and is it helpful to have one in order to avoid probate?

Most people have heard of trusts, but many people don’t know what a trust is or whether or not it would be appropriate for their estate or financial planning to include one.

A trust describes a particular type of disposition of money or property. As defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, a trust is “An equitable obligation, either express or Implied, resting upon a person by reason of a confidence reposed in him, to apply or deal with the property for the benefit of some other person, or for the benefit of himself and another or others, according to such confidence.” In other words, a trust is actually an obligation imposed upon someone to care for money or property for another’s benefit.

A trust involves:

  • a trustor, who creates a trust of money or property
  • a trustee, who manages the money or property, and has certain duties that she must follow
  • a beneficiary, for whom the trust is managed.

Are trusts just for people with a lot of assets? No, of course not. Trusts can have advantages for people of any financial means. Trusts are sometimes used to avoid the difficulty of probate (the court proceedings related to disposition of a will). However, Texas probate is fairly simple, so the use of a trust may not be terribly advantageous from a time or simplicity standpoint. However, there may be other reasons you don’t want a court involved in your estate, and if this is the case for you, a trust may be a good alternative.

There are other reasons a trust may be advantageous, but the best way to determine the best estate plan for you is to contact us so we can tailor your plan to your unique situation.

Estate Planning Is Important, Even If You’re Not Elvis Presley

Earlier this month, Authentic Brands Group announced that it had purchased Elvis Presley’s intellectual property rights from CORE Media Group.

The sale, which is unofficially believed to have been around $125 million, includes the marketing, merchandising and licensing rights to Presley’s image, likeness and name. It also includes a collection of his personal memorabilia and the right to operate Graceland as a tourist attraction, though ownership of the Memphis mansion itself remains with Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ daughter with Priscilla Presley.

The reason we are discussing this sale on an estate planning blog is that it does an excellent example of proving why you need to be careful, thorough and forward-looking when planning for the future.

Do you have intellectual property rights that are worth an estimated $125 million? Likely not, as very few people do.  However,

  • Do you own a business? You will want to discuss a succession plan.
  • Do you have investments that will mature in 20 years? How do you want to plan for those to be distributed in the even that something happens?
  • Do you have a cherished family heirloom? You and a lawyer should discuss whether there are ways to keep it in the family.

Many people have these concerns and others like them.

The point is, people (like Elvis) who work with a lawyer to create an estate plan tend to fare better than those who do not. That’s because with an estate plan, there are fewer uncertainties and surprises. In fact, like Elvis, you can almost certainly leverage your assets better with an estate plan than you can without.

At Ford+Bergner LLP, we help Texas clients with their estate plans. For more information about our firm, please feel free to contact us.