Probate Litigation in the News

The estate of deceased multimillionaire Frank Blumeyer of Naples, Florida, is embroiled in controversy.

The 92-year old Blumeyer’s $10 million estate is being fought over by his children and, his neighbor, a disbarred lawyer.  Aisling Swift, writing for Naplesnew.com says:  "The tangled web of litigation and love is like a made-for-TV movie. There’s a suspended lawyer who has been in trouble with courts and state bar associations; a now-defunct escort service the lawyer operated with his current wife before his prior wife died of cancer; naked photos of his current wife found on Blumeyer’s computer; and allegations of elder financial fraud."

And if that is not enough, the deceased Blumeyer’s son Arthur, who is serving 22 years in federal prison for money laundering, is trying to remove his brothers as estate representatives.

Hat tip to Gerry W. Beyer at Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

 

 

 

 

Gene Upshaw, one-time Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame lineman and head of the NFL Players Association for 25 years, died in August 2008. He led the union through a strike, decertification, the victory of free agency, soaring player salaries and disputes with retired players.

Upshaw was married for the second time and had three sons, Eugene III from his first marriage, and Justin and Daniel from the second. Upshaw, his wife Terri, and another couple, Norman and Sandra Singer, arrived in Lake Tahoe for vacation. Upshaw suddenly became ill and went to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on August 17, 2008. He was hospitalized and died 3 days later at the age of 63.

On the day he died, August 20, 2008, Gene Upshaw’s will was signed, according to court filings. It left everything to his wife Terri.

Son Eugene III arrived in Tahoe the day after his Dad was hospitalized – he had planned on joining the vacationing couples. In Eugene III’s court filing, he said that by early August 2008, his Dad "had deteriorated substantially. . . He was not coherent, and was not speaking." How could his will have been signed that day?

Eugene III contested the will and sought to have his step-mother removed as executor. It came out that Mr. Upshaw didn’t sign his will. One of the witnesses signed it on his behalf. The fact that he did not sign the will is unusual, but not in itself a reason to overturn the will. Most states (including Pennsylvania) have a statute of wills that includes the alternative that a valid will may be signed by the testator or by some person in his presence and at his direction. There were a number of problems in Upshaw’s case, however. First, one of the witnesses was also the one who signed the will on behalf of Upshaw. Second, according to Eugene III, on the day Upshaw died and the will was also signed, he lacked all capacity to make a will.

The witness and signer of the will was Upshaw’s friend who went on vacation with him, lawyer Norman H. Singer. The litigation here was to contest the will and remove Terri as executor. Norman Singer was not sued.

The trial was scheduled for May 2011 (almost 3 years after death) but was settled by a confidential agreement a few days before it was to begin.

One of the assets that was uncovered was a previously undisclosed $15 million deferred compensation that the union paid to his surviving wife, Terri Upshaw. Retired NFL players, who were angry with Upshaw for not getting them better pensions and medical benefits, were outraged. Upshaw’s estate also apparently received $1.73 million in "past due compensation." The Upshaws lived in a home in Great Falls, Virginia. The probate inventory showed eight luxury vehicles, a 32-foot boat, and another home in Lake Tahoe, California.

When the will was submitted to probate in Fairfax County, Virginia; both Norman and Sandra signed a document in which they answered "yes" to the question: "Did the decedent sign this paper in your presence and in the presence of other witness(es), with all of you together at the same time?" When they were deposed, the Singers changed their answer to "no" and acknowledged that Norman Singer had actually signed it. What a mess.

If Upshaw had died intestate, his widow would have received a 1/3 share of his estate, and 2/3 would have gone to his children. That would have given a 2/9 share to son Eugene III. Which side do you like in this argument? If I had to bet, I’d say that Eugene walked away with a big chunk of his 2/9 share.

Certainly his is an interesting story, but here is my question. How can a 63 year-old man with a second wife, 3 children from two marriages, and a net worth of more than $20 million not have a will? Seriously.

A 2009 Wills and Estate Planning survey commissioned by lawyers.com found that only 35% of adult Americans currently have wills and only 29% have powers of attorney. Another survey found that 32% of respondents would rather have a root canal than make a will.

Please make a will. It is not too expensive. You have enough assets to plan for no matter how small your estate is. Signing a will does not hasten your death. You can die at any age, you don’t have to be old. Really.

"Extreme wealth is a menace to happiness."

                                                          – Huguette Clark

Reclusive heiress Huguette Clark died May 24, 2011 at the age of 104. Her estate is estimated at $500 million. She has lived in a New York hospital for the last 22 years. No visitors or family have seen her. Her affairs are controlled by an attorney and an accountant.

Huguette had been living at a New York hospital under pseudonyms – the latest was Harriet Chase. She had a guarded room with full-time private nurses. Her hospital room number didn’t even exist – outside her room on the 3rd floor, a card with the fake room number "1B" and the name "Chase" was taped over the actual room number.

The Elder Abuse Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been investigating Huguette’s lawyer Wallace Bock and accountant Irving Kamsler. The investigation began in 2010 when three relatives of Huguette sought to have an independent guardian appointed for her alleging mismanagement of her funds by Bock and Kamsler. Huguette hadn’t been seen since she left her 42-room Fifth Avenue apartment in an ambulance 22 years ago. The action for appointment of an independent guardian was unsuccessful. The court allowed Huguette’s finances to remain in the hands of Bock and Kamsler. Bill Dedman writes for MSNBC: "The case presented something of a Catch-22: The judge said the relatives were not able to provide first-hand information about Clark to prove their allegations against the attorney and accountant, but the relatives said they had been prevented for many years by the attorney and accountant from visiting Clark." But the DA’s office launched an investigation that is ongoing.

Is this another case like Brooke Astor? Her son and her attorney were convicted in 2009 of taking $10 million f rom her. Astor’s estate was valued at $131 million. Huguette’s estate is estimated at $500 million and includes three opulent homes: an estate on the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA, worth an estimated $100 million (she had not visited this home since the 1950s); a country house in New Canaan, CT, now on the market for $23 million (which she built but never spent a night in); and the largest apartment on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, actually 42 rooms on the 8th and 12th floors, valued at about $100 million. All three homes have been carefully maintained and staffed.

Huguette Clark was born in 1906 in Paris. She was the daughter of then 67-year-old U.S. Senator William A. Clark of Montana and his second wife, 28-year-old Anna Eugenia La Chapelle. William and Anna had another daughter, Louise, who died at the age of 17 from meningitis. Clark had 5 children with his first wife. The issue of these children are now parties of interest in Huguette’s estate, being her closest kin.

New York Post columnist Veren Dobnik writes of Huguette: "At 22, she married a poor bank clerk, but they parted ways after only nine months. Huguette Clark cited desertion by her husband. He claimed she failed to consummate the marriage, according to ‘The Clarks: An American Phenomenon.’"

In 2002 another mutual client of Bock and Kamsler died – Donald L. Wallace, Bock’s former law partner and Huguette’s former attorney. Wallace’s will (drafted by Bock) gave Bock and Kamsler $100,000 each, his Mercedes, and his New York apartment, not to mention the $368,000 in fees for settling Wallace’s $4 million estate. In New York, when a lawyer who drafted a will receives a bequest from that will, that fact automatically raises a suspicion of undue influence. The surrogate must determine if the bequest to the attorney was made voluntarily – a so-called Putnam inquiry. In Wallace’s estate, the surrogate determined that the bequests should be paid.

In September 2010 a spokesman for attorney Wallace Bock revealed that Huguette Clark did have a will which had been in existence for some time. Now we await the production of the will. Who will be the beneficiaries? And of course, we await the results of the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation.

The take away: it can happen to anyone. Who protects the elderly, not only from physical abuse but from financial abuse. Who protects an old person who has no children and whose distant relatives have been prevented from visiting him or her? Does our current legal structure suffice?

According to the American Psychological Association, over 2 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect every year. Further, for every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts believe there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported.

Andrew Wolfe writing for the Nashua Telegraph:

NASHUA – A daughter of the late developer Samuel Tamposi will appeal a judge’s decision that cut her out of the family fortune and left her with millions of dollars in debt to the family trust, probate court records show.

Last month, Elizabeth “Betty” Tamposi, 55, of Gilford, lost a long, high-stakes battle with her brothers, Samuel Jr. and Stephen Tamposi, for control of her share of their family’s fortune.

Hillsborough County Probate Court Judge Gary Cassavecchia concluded that Betty Tamposi had violated the “no contest” clause of her father’s trust and would thus be disinherited. Rather than gain control of her share, Betty Tamposi could lose everything.

In addition, Cassavecchia ruled that she must pay back all the money she has received over the last two years, since she first filed the suit, and pay her brothers’ legal bills, which by their reckoning exceed $2 million.

Betty Tamposi and her lawyer, Michael Weisman, of Boston, had asked the judge to reconsider his rulings, but they withdrew their request on Aug. 31, court records show. On Sept. 17, one day before the 30-day deadline, they filed notice that they will appeal his decisions before the state Supreme Court.

It isn’t clear exactly how many millions of dollars Betty Tamposi would owe under Cassavecchia’s order – the figure could be $17 million or more – and neither side would comment on whether any post-trial settlement negotiations were under way.

Betty Tamposi declined to comment on the case by e-mail, writing that while the court case is public, “I view this as a private matter among my family.”

Andie Schwartz wrote an excellent article for Trusts and Estates analyzing the case.  It is entitled "Cementing Family Bonds."  Read it here.

Schwartz writes:  "As an expert witness for Betty, John Langbein, a professor at Yale Law School testified that the investment directors ‘have a continuing duty to diversify trust assets to afford sufficient liquidity to meet the … distribution requests of the trustee.’ He stated also that it wouldn’t benefit the beneficiaries to hold assets that were illiquid or undiversified. "

"The court held that in bringing and prosecuting the litigation, Betty acted in bad faith. Because she challenged the investment directors’ role and specific investments—both of which were expressly provided in the trust document as well as through Sam, Sr.’s intent—her lawsuit was a challenge to the trust provisions. "

The court’s 54 page opinion: Shelton, Tamposi v. Tamposi, Jr. & Tamposi, 316-2007-EQ-0219 (August 2010).

Death of Female Partner Puts Cozen Firm in Center of Same-Sex Marriage Comity Case

Law partner in Philadelphia firm dies and her parents and wife to whom she was legally married in Toronto in 2006 fight over her profit-sharing account.

See Martha Neil’s article in the ABA Journal online:  Death of Female Partner Puts Cozen Firm in Center of Same-Sex Marriage Comity Case

See Gina Passarella;s article in New York Law Journal:  Fight Brewing Over Dead BigLaw Partner’s Benefits

COMITY – definition

Courtesy; respect; a disposition to perform some official act out of goodwill and tradition rather than obligation or law. The acceptance or adoption of decisions or laws by a court of another jurisdiction, either foreign or domestic, based on public policy rather than legal mandate.

In comity, an act is performed to promote uniformity, limit litigation, and, most important, to show courtesy and respect for other court decisions. It is not to be confused with full faith and credit, the constitutional provision that various states within the United States must recognize the laws, acts, and decisions of sister states.

Comity of nations is a recognition of fundamental legal concepts that nations share. It stems from mutual convenience as well as respect and is essential to the success of international relations. This body of rules does not form part of International Law; however, it is important for public policy reasons.

Judicial comity is the granting of reciprocity to decisions or laws by one state or jurisdiction to another. Since it is based upon respect and deference rather than strict legal principles, it does not require that any state or jurisdiction adopt a law or decision by another state or jurisdiction that is in contradiction, or repugnant, to its own law.

Comity of states is the voluntary acceptance by courts of one state of the decision of a sister state on a similar issue or question.

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Click here to read about the litigation over trusts in Walt Disney’s family.  Hat Tip to Gary Beyer at Wills Trusts and Estates Prof Blog.

Robert Anglen, writing for the Arizona Republic:  "The court battles revolve around the fortune of one of the legends of American entertainment, Walt Disney. They trace back to secret land deals in Florida. A prominent East Valley developer. A controversial Arizona real-estate baron. And two Disney heirs, his grandchildren, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars.

The cases illustrate how even the most careful estate planning may not prevent vicious court fights from erupting when families feud. Relatives take sides, attorneys clash, and original estate terms may be altered."

Aron Heller writes for the AP:

"JERUSALEM – It seems almost Kafkaesque: Ten safety deposit boxes of never-published writings by Franz Kafka, their exact contents unknown, are trapped in courts and bureaucracy, much like one of the nightmarish visions created by the author himself.

The papers, retrieved from bank vaults where they have sat untouched and unread for decades, could shed new light on one of literature’s darkest figures.

In the past week, the pages have been pulled from safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich, Switzerland, on the order of an Israeli court over the objections of two elderly women who claim to have inherited them from their mother."  Click here to read the rest of Heller’s article.

From Wikipedia:

"Kafkaesque" is an eponym used to describe concepts, situations, and ideas which are reminiscent of the literary work of the Austro-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka, particularly his novels The Trial and The Castle, and the novella The Metamorphosis.

The term, which is quite fluid in definition, has also been described as "marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies"[1] and "marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger: Kafkaesque fantasies of the impassive interrogation, the false trial, the confiscated passport … haunt his innocence" — The New Yorker.[2]

Hat tip to Wills, Trusts and Estates Prof Blog – read his summary here.

Juan Altunez writes in his Florida Probate and Trust Litigation Blog about this recient Florida Supreme Court case:  Olmstead v. F.T.C., — So.3d —-, 2010 WL 2518106 (Fla. Jun 24, 2010). Read his execllent summary and anlaysis of the case here.

An excerpt from the post:

"For those of you interested in understanding the charging-order policy issue I think is lurking in the background of the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling, STARTrightLLC.com is an excellent starting point. Below is an excerpt from that website explaining why charging-order protection makes sense in a multi-member LLC scenario, and why it doesn’t make sense for single-member LLCs.

The charging order protects the company and the member’s investment if one of the members is sued in his or her personal life. . . . The original charging order philosophy protected guys A, B from having to accept D as an unwanted partner if C, the person they originally went into business with gets sued. They don’t want to have to deal with D. To prevent this unwanted member . . . the charging order is all D can get out of C’s membership . . . The charging order limits D. He must wait for A and B to decide to distribute money. No distributions = no money.

The Single Member Hitch: When a the member of a single member LLC is sued, there is no other member to protect from D. Two bankruptcy courts have used this flaw in the LLC protection to allow creditors of a business owner to completely take over his LLC and liquidate it for cash. The first case was in Colorado and the nation held its breath to see what would happen next. The next case was in Idaho and actually used the Colorado case to base its decision on. This means the trend is starting to move in the direction of denying charging order protection to single member LLCs."