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Jay Brinker, Attorney
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Persistence of Illegitimacy

Salvador Dali died in 1989 and left his entire estate to the Spanish government. Pilar Tabel is a Tarot card reader and fortune teller who claims that she is Dali’s daughter due to a brief romance between her mother and the famous artist in the mid-50's. She has tried for 10 years to prove that Dali is her father. A DNA test conducted from his death mask was inconclusive. She alleged that she did not receive the results of a DNA test conducted the next year. Dali was allegedly gay or simply preferred masturbation or voyeurism so the paternity claim of this woman seems far fetched. She also sued an author for supposedly basing a fictional character on her. Nonetheless, a Spanish court has ordered the exhumation of his body.

Several points:

1. If you read the entire article, you might wish to shower afterwards. A guy who is turned on sexually by Hitler is abnormal.

2. I would think that a case brought 28 years after someone’s death would be barred by the statute of limitations or the principle of laches.

3. In the U.S., Dali would not be obligated to leave his daughter, legitimate or illegitimate, anything.

4. It is unlikely that the woman did not receive the results of the second DNA test - I believe that they were negative and she simply waited another 9 years before pursuing this claim.

5. I doubt I am the only person who finds this matter incredibly surreal. 

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Don't Ask - Don't Tell

Resorting again to advice columns for material. In “Ask Carolyn,” a reader with three children including a son with ADHD who has threatened violence is miffed that her pregnant sister has not chosen her to be the guardian of her forthcoming child. The sister has continued to agree to serve as the guardian for the reader’s three children. The reader believes that her sister is judging her parenting skills even though “every single day is a struggle for her due to her son.”

A few poignant and sad points:

1. The pregnant sister has two likely concerns about the reader - the ability of her sister to handle another child when “every single day is a struggle” and the possibility of physical harm to her child from his cousin.

2. I always advise my clients to discuss guardianship with the potential guardians. I do not advise telling someone that they are not the guardian because of the possibility of unnecessarily bruised feelings for a scenario that might never arise.

3. There is a never right answer on the guardianship question - there is merely a best answer or least worse answer. No one will raise your child the same way you would (nor will someone clean your house like you or cut your grass the way you would), but you have to settle for the best option considering all factors such as location, parenting style, educational beliefs, and demographics. Not having a child raised by a family with a potentially violent child who causes his mother to struggle every day is an easy decision to make.

4. I love people who think about estate planning while they are pregnant.

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Justice Is Blind

Not an estate planning post, but more of a public service announcement in the financial arena. Lori Sattler is an acting NY Supreme Court Judge. In the process of selling an apartment and buying another one, she followed the instructions in an email supposedly from her attorney and wire transferred $1 million to a fraudulent account which then wired the money to a bank in China. The money is long gone.

Several points of varying interest:

1. When transferring $1 million, it makes sense to verbally confirm the instructions regarding the wire transfer.

2. It has been a tough month for judges in NY between this judge getting scammed and the Court of Appeals justice who died with an outdated will that contained deceased beneficiaries and ignored her husband.

3. Perhaps Judge Sattler can commiserate with John Podesta at a Democratic fundraiser about the travails of falling for a link in an email.

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Prayers For Otto

Otto Warmbier is the Cincinnatian who was held captive by North Korea for 17 months for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda sign on a college visit. While starting to serve a 15 year sentence of hard labor, he was beaten so severely that he suffered a brain injury and returned home Tuesday night in a coma. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center have described his condition as "unresponsive wakefulness."

One small legal point:

1. Once a child turns 18, I encourage parents to have their child sign a health care power of attorney, living will, and HIPAA Release so the parents can access their child's medical records and make medical decisions for them. Without those documents, the parents might be stymied in making decisions in the best interest of their child.

2. This story breaks my heart. No snark here out of respect for Otto and his parents. Tell your child you love him/her tonight.

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Not a Great Day in Harlem

The suspicious April death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Black woman to serve on New York’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) has been ruled a suicide. Her body was pulled from the Harlem River the day after her fourth husband reported her missing. Video recorded her walking near the banks of the river.

This is not a whodunnit piece. Instead, the interesting info is that Judge Abdus-Salaam left an estate worth $2 million and a 2004 will that pre-dated her most recent marriage by 10 years. The will left 25% of her estate to her mother who died in 2012 and the balance equally among her siblings, including her brother who died in 2014. The primary asset in her estate was a Harlem brownstone valued at $2 million which she purchased in 1980 for $6,000. Her husband is a minister and has blessedly waived his statutory right to inherit part of her estate even though he was not included in her will.

Several points, some salient:

1. Judge Abdus-Salaam missed many opportunities to update her will - the death of her mother, the death of her brother, and her subsequent fourth marriage.

2. I advise my clients to review their estate plan every five years to assure that key events like the death of a beneficiary or the divorce of the designated guardian are taken into account in the documents.

3. The widower of Judge Abdus-Salaam might have waived his rights to inherit due to a pre-nuptial agreement between him and the judge although he might simply be an honorable man and waived the rights so her family could benefit.

4. I doubt that I am the only person who wishes he had invested de minimis amounts in Harlem real estate in 1980.

5. I am aware of the Hudson River and the East River, but the Harlem River is new to me.

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Memorial Day Fun(draising)

Seven guys, 38 miles, four squares (Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, Glendale, and Fountain), 2 states, and $1,750 raised for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I hope you enjoyed the holiday.

Photo

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No Winning Here

Barbara Schwartz was a Manhattan socialite who was stabbed to death by her shut-in son, Jonathan, in 2011. She was survived by second husband, Burton Fischler, the son who killed her, and a second son, Kenneth. Her estate was estimated at $6 million at the time of her death.

In the six years since her murder, her widower allegedly lost $4.3 million of her estate in six months due to poor financial management including day trading, Kenneth committed suicide in 2013 when he learned of the financial losses, and Jonathan was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Schwartz’s first husband is now in charge of the estate and has sued to stop Kenneth from inheriting her estate. Got it? Jonathan killed her and survived. Kenneth did not kill her and committed suicide.

As if that is not complicated enough, Fischler is now challenging the pre-nup he and Schwartz signed in 2000. He claims that he signed it under pressure from her family and that he received bad legal advice. He also claims that Schwartz promised him she would tear it up later. His share of the estate under the pre-nup is $1.25 million which is in trust.

There are so many fun issues, let’s address a few:

1. The inheritance of the mentally ill son is being challenged under NY’s Slayer Statute which prohibits individuals from inheriting due to killing someone.

2. The ex-husband is not a truly disinterested party in trying to stop his son from inheriting from Mrs. Schwartz. If the committed son does not inherit, his share will go to the share of the son who committed suicide. Because that son is deceased and did not have children, his share will go to his father (the ex-husband).

3. I think that Fischler might have a statue of limitations issue with his challenge to the pre-nup. Post-2008, NY has a 3 year statute of limitations for such challenges which does not apply to prior pre-nups. That statute was six years although it did not start running during the marriage during some areas of NY. Either way, the statute is most likely applicable to challenges from divorce, not death.

4. Fischler’s arguments for contesting the pre-nup seem to be in the “let’s throw a bunch of mud and hope something sticks” vein. The poor legal advice line might work in a death penalty case with a court appointed attorney but should not work in a pre-nup matter where Fischler chose his own attorney. President Trump would likely call Fischler a “loser.”

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Dying Pains

Alan Thicke’s sons, who are trustees of his 2016 trust, filed suit this week against his widow, Tanya Callau. They asked a court to enforce the terms of Thicke’s trust. They contend that Callau, who Thicke married in 2005, is trying to void the terms of the pre-nuptial agreement she and Thicke signed.

The pre-nup provided that at Thicke's death Callau would receive 25% of his estate and 5 acres of a ranch Thicke owned. The trust meanwhile provides that Callau will receive a $500K insurance policy, his pension benefits, and 40% of his estate. If Callau wants to live in the house, she may do so if she pays the mortgage and other expenses. Despite these generous terms, Callau’s attorney claims that the trust is “the worst document ever drafted by an attorney” and “the attorneys should still be writing in crayons.”

Trying to piece together several points:

1. The terms of a trust can override the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement if the trust terms are more generous than what is provided in the pre-nup. That seems to be the case here.

2. The claims by Callau’s attorney about the quality of the trust drafting are obnoxious, but a trust typically would not address insurance policies and pension benefits because those are non-probate assets (i.e. they have their own beneficiary designation) and not included in a trust.

3. Perhaps the attorney who drafted the trust is the same attorney who advised Robin Thicke to foolishly sue Marvin Gaye's estate over "Blurred Lines" which resulted in a $7.2 million judgment against the younger Thicke. 

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Rules Are For the Little People

In an unusual moment of sanity, the federal government announced on Friday that it would stop seizing the tax refunds of taxpayers whose parents owed money to Social Security from years ago. This has been governmental policy since late 2008. In typical bureaucratic efficiency, the IRS would send letters to addresses that had not been used in 40 years or would inexplicably be unable to contact someone who had lived at the same address for 40 years. In its defense, the IRS does not pass these inane laws, it merely enforces what Congress has passed.

Three quick points:

1. Typically debts die with a person and the heirs of an individual are not liable for his debts. This is an exception.

2. If you want to point fingers for this law punishing innocent taxpayers for the alleged sins of their parents, point to Todd Platts, a former Republican Congressman; a Democratic House and Senate in 2008; and a legislative process that allows crap like this to get inserted into a Farm Bill.

3. It is nice of the WaPo to take a breath from its anti-Trump obsession and to focus on the injustice caused by this process. 

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Gronk Would Not Do This

Aaron Hernandez is the former New England Patriot who committed suicide last month while imprisoned for murdering a friend. He had only recently been acquitted of the murder of two other individuals and was still appealing his prior murder conviction. Since his suicide, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has vacated his murder conviction because his appeals were still in process. Within hours after his arrest in 2013, the Patriots terminated his contract and did not pay the remaining guaranteed money owed to him.

In his suicide note addressed to his fiancé, Hernandez wrote “you’re rich.” Many reporters have interpreted that to mean that he was thinking not only of what money he still owned but also that she would collect $6 million owed to him by the Patriots under his last contract. Some think that the Patriots would be on the hook if they terminated Hernandez’s contract because he was convicted of murder but was later exonerated due to this peculiarity of Massachusetts law.

A few points on the intersection of two of my favorite topics - probate law and the NFL:

1. Hernandez and the Patriots actually settled his grievance for unpaid guaranteed money under his last contract for $1 million in 2014 likely meaning there is no further money to collect from the Pats.

2. The victims of Hernandez have filed lawsuits against him. Any judgments against him would be paid from his estate probably rendering it insolvent.

3. Unless Hernandez signed a will, his fiancé will not receive any portion of his estate because fiancés are not statutory heirs. His daughter would inherit his estate if he did not leave a will.

4. Drafting a will and thinking about the application of an obscure Massachusetts law involve long term planning and thinking which seem beyond the acuity of a guy seemingly lacking impulse control. 
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