Category: Family

When a “Fair Share” May Not Mean “Equal Share” | Houston Will and Trust Lawyer

As a Houston will and trust lawyer, I can confidently say that estate plans are not one-size-fits-all. Just because most of the people you know have divided their assets evenly between their children, does not mean that is the right decision for you. To some, it may seem unfair to leave unequal amounts or different instructions to children after you die, but it may be necessary in your family and it is important for you to do what is right and best for your heirs.

For example, if you have a child with disabilities, it would make sense to leave them a larger inheritance to ensure that they receive proper care for the rest of their lifetime. Other times, we have seen clients with one financially established child that does not need a large inheritance while another child has not fared as well in life (possibly suffering a divorce, spousal death, or bankruptcy) and requires a little financial “help”. We have also had cases where the client’s child was unable to properly handle their finances, and the parents preferred to set up a trust with specific instructions on how the funds should be distributed to protect this high-risk child from themselves.  While these situations may not be “apples to apples,” it is clear that equal is not always best in such circumstances.

This choice to leave your kids an unequal inheritance is NOT to be confused with cases where parents unintentionally leave more money to one child than the others.  This is a danger and a huge reason for working with a Houston will and trust lawyer to ensure that your estate is properly distributed when you pass away.   For example, if you have only one of your children named as a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement account, that money will only go that child – even if you have a will saying otherwise.  Worse, that child is not required to share the money with his or her siblings.  This is because life insurance and retirement accounts are distributed outside of probate court and your beneficiary designations are the final authority as to what will happen with such funds.

Here at Hegwood Law Group, we help families stay in complete control of their assets during their lifetime, and help people uniquely divide assets according the family’s needs once they are gone. If you would like the peace of mind knowing that the distribution of your assets is a result of careful consideration and choice, call us today at (281) 218-0880 to schedule your consultation.

Former Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Makes Headlines with Estate Dispute

The 63-year-old Wolff, who is married, is also the father of a baby with a much younger TV personality. He now is also a defendant in the new Manhattan civil suit with his estranged spouse, attorney Alison Anthoine. Wolff was under the impression that he’d settled a suit with his 93-year-old mother-in-law and his wife’s three siblings in 2011 over family real estate, as reported in The New York Post article, “Ex-Vanity Fair editor tangled in $6M legal battle with in-laws.” 11-01-16

The settlement allows matriarch Edith Anthoine to live in the one-bedroom apartment until she dies, with access for Alison permitted two times a year. The settlement was reached after a judge found there was evidence supporting Edith’s claims that she’d swapped a four-bedroom on Lexington Avenue and 77th Street with Michael and Alison in exchange for her one-bedroom apartment. Edith claims the two later attempted to evict her, which resulted in her suffering a heart attack.

Nina, Robert, Nelson and mother Edith Anthoine are suing Wolff and Alison. They claim the two stole artwork from her home, took a box of antique jewelry and refused to share proceeds from the sale of a $1.85 million Manhattan apartment.

Alison, who lives apart from Wolff, visited her mother’s home in June 2015 to photograph artwork. This escalated to violence with Alison grabbing her sister’s arm and hitting her mother’s hand, according to court papers.

The lawsuit says the two “have stolen millions to support their lavish lifestyles.” The papers petition the court to disbar Alison—in addition to the $6 million in damages.

The family has been fighting over the multimillion dollar estate of Alison’s father, the late Columbia Law School Professor Robert Anthoine. The thrice-married attorney passed away in 2015 at 94. A will contest is still pending in Florida.

“These defendants have been the ultimate recipients of their parents’ bounty, in every way, and they represent an unchecked greed that has swept the society,” the New York suit says.

Wolff said he didn’t know about the lawsuit.

Reference: New York Post (September 12, 2016) “Ex-Vanity Fair editor tangled in $6M legal battle with in-laws”

Children Challenge Pittsburgh Publisher’s Will After Being Left Out

10-13-16Two times in the past four years, the attorney for the late publisher Richard Mellon Scaife unduly influenced the billionaire to change his estate planning documents to disinherit his daughter Jennie Scaife and give assets to newspapers and foundations the lawyer controlled, according to a court petition Scaife’s daughter filed recently.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, in “Daughter of Scaife files new petition challenging will,” that Jennie got nothing after her father’s 2014 death because she wasn’t included in his 2013 will or a 2010 codicil. Those changes followed a 2008 will that left her family memorabilia, according to the courts papers filed in Westmoreland County’s Orphans Court Division.

The will changes benefited the Tribune-Review newspapers, the Allegheny Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Each of these were controlled in part by attorney H. Yale Gutnick, the petition claims.

As a result, everything from an estimated $1.4 billion to the family knickknacks went to those beneficiaries. Jennie claims that this 2010 change “was all part of a carefully orchestrated plan by Gutnick to prohibit Scaife family members from having the ability to contest Richard Mellon Scaife’s will.”

The amended petition adds allegations to those she first made a year ago and looks to strengthen her case, which was complicated by the 2010 codicil. If a judge disqualifies a will due to undue influence, the assets are distributed according to any prior, legitimate will. If there isn’t an earlier will, it goes to the children.

So, if Jennie is going to successfully recover some of the estate, she’ll have to show she was included in the last will that was free of undue influence. She says that’s the 2008 document.

Jennie argued that during her father’s battle with cancer, Gutnick persuaded him to bequeath nearly everything to the newspapers and foundations, which the attorney directed and which were his big legal clients. She also alleged that her father’s bodyguard guided his hand as he scratched his initials on the 2013 will.

“As a person in a confidential relationship with Mellon Scaife, an alcoholic who suffered from many medical issues, an addiction to medication, and weakened intellect for many years prior to his 2014 death, Gutnick received a substantial benefit under both” the 2013 will and the 2010 codicil, Jennie’s amended petition states.

Gutnick was chairman of the Tribune-Review’s board until January. He was aware that, according to the petition, the newspaper’s losses were in the tens of millions of dollars every year and were likely to increase. Because of this, Jennie said the attorney influenced the publisher to put a large part of his estate into a trust fund to support the newspaper.

Jennie’s petition also noted that the estate paid $100 million in state estate taxes, and hundreds of millions of dollars are said to be owed by the estate for federal estate tax. The petition estimates those taxes at $300 million.

Likewise, the late publisher’s son was left out of his father’s will. However, he didn’t join his sister’s case. Instead, he’s a party in a separate challenge filed by the daughter and son in another county. That case alleges that Gutnick and two other trustees improperly allowed Scaife to drain a family trust fund of $450 million, which was primarily used to support The Tribune-Review.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 27, 2016) “Daughter of Scaife files new petition challenging will”

How to Keep the Vacation Home in the Family

If you want to keep your vacation house in the family, start planning. If you don’t include it as part of an overall estate plan, it can result in family disagreements. Money’s recent article, “4 Questions to Ask Before Passing Down the Vacation Home to Your Kids,” suggests that you ask yourself about these issues to make sure you’re making the best decision for your family.

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Who Really Wants It? It’s not uncommon for couples to want to leave vacation homes to their children (or other family members) as a way to preserve the associated memories. Maybe that’s why they miss a critical step—seeing whether family members actually want to own it.

What’s the Best Form of Ownership? There are several options. One of the easiest is to leave it outright in your will to specific family members. But this may create more complexities for your heirs—and possibly disagreements. Another option is to pass down the home through a trust, which can help alleviate some of the resentment from outright ownership.

Who’ll Pay for Upkeep? Vacation homes can be expensive. Your children might not be able or willing to cover those bills with their own money. A key consideration is whether to set aside additional money to cover the home’s ongoing costs. Many families who set up a trust leave extra money to cover operating costs for at least five years’ worth of expenses. That’s enough to pay for the home in the short term. The children can see if they actually want to keep it, and who really wants it.

Keeping the vacation home in your family may not be possible. You can draft your trust so that a sale of the house can be “forced” if, for instance, a majority of the trust beneficiaries want the vacation home to be sold. The trust could give each beneficiary the right of first refusal to purchase the house for its appraised fair market value. And if no one wants to buy it, the trust can require that it be sold to a third party. The proceeds would be divided among the heirs.

With a family vacation home, it’s important to take steps to assess whether it’s the right thing for your family to inherit and how it would be cared for over the years.

Reference: Money (July 18, 2016) “4 Questions to Ask Before Passing Down the Vacation Home to Your Kids”