Oct 6, 2018

With comedian Tim Conway incapacitated, a familiar family drama unfolds

On November 2 a Los Angeles judge is scheduled to decide who will serve as guardian for comedian Tim Conway: his wife of 33 years, Charlene, or his daughter from his first marriage, Kelly Fusco. The case has been postponed until then while Conway recovers from a September operation to alleviate water on the brain.

We of a "certain age" will remember Conway's hilarious performances on the long-running Carol Burnett Show. Unfortunately, at 84, Conway is no longer up to his old antics. He is suffering from severe dementia and according to reports, is now nonverbal.

Kelly has alleged that Charlene is not providing appropriate care for her father, and is concerned that she will move him into a substandard facility, and out of the skilled nursing facility he resided in up until his surgery. The latter provided registered nurses round the clock and speech therapy for Conway's swallowing difficulties. Conway also had a personal 24-hour caregiver. According to reports, the cost was $24,000 per month.

"The reason I am trying to get conservatorship," Kelly has said, "is to make sure that my dad can live his life to the fullest... The person making decisions for his care must be competent. There are others around him that have only their best interest at heart and not my dad's. That's why I want to be the one in charge of his care."

Charlene has denied Kelly's allegations and said she does not intend to move her husband to a different facility. She also claims Conway had signed a durable power of attorney and health care documents giving her sole authority as his decision maker. While the case is pending, Kelly has been blocked from seeing her father. She is one of six children from Conway's first marriage.

Longtime readers of this blog know that in cases of second marriages, legal struggles of this nature are not uncommon. When it unfolds in a celebrity's family, it makes headlines. In recent years I have written about similar conflicts in the family of musician Glen Campbell, radio personality Casey Kasem, comic book titan Stan Lee, entertainment mogul Sumner Redstone, and actor Peter Falk.

Planning for incapacity is important for everyone, but as this kind of headline always demonstrates, even more so when a second marriage is part of the family dynamic. Make sure you consult an experienced estate planning attorney to minimize the chances of this unfortunate situation occurring in your family. 

Sep 23, 2018

Honor Flight October 13 to Include Vietnam Veterans

The last of the 2018 Southeast Florida Honor Flights takes on October 13, 2018. The program began several years ago with the mission of escorting World War II and Korean War veterans, free of charge, to Washington. D.C. to see the memorials that honor their service and sacrifice. The October flight is the first time Vietnam War veterans will participate; 27 of them will join 14 World War II vets and 41 Korean War vets. Participants represent all branches of the military. To date, Southeast Florida Honor Flights has hosted 2,650 veterans from Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

Honor Flights is a non-profit organization and has no paid employees, relying on donations to fulfill their mission. If you would like to make a donation, click here. If you would like to volunteer with the organization, click here. If you would like to refer a veteran who deserves an honor flight, click here.

Also key to the program are the guardians who accompany elderly vets on these trips. Many of the veterans are in wheelchairs or need assistance walking safely. Priority is given to guardians who are family members of participants, those with medical training, and active duty military. The cost is $400, and includes mandatory training. If you would like to be a guardian for an upcoming flight, click here.

Every Honor Flight begins early in the morning, ending when the veterans touch down at  Palm Beach International Airport. The tradition is for them to be given a heroes' welcome. Anyone who wants to participate in the October 13 welcome should be at Concourse A-B on Level 2 with enough time to greet the arrivals. The plane is scheduled to arrive at around 7:20 p.m. Banners, signs, cheers and smiles are welcome!

You can see photos of prior honor flights here, here and here. 

Burt Reynolds Kept His Estate Planning Private With a Trust

Actor Burt Reynolds was raised in Riviera Beach, Florida, the son of a police chief. After an injury sidelined him from playing football at Florida State, he pursued acting. His career took off in the 1970s and he went on to star in over 200 movies, winning an Oscar for "Boogie Nights."

When Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown asked the charismatic hunk to pose nude for the magazine's centerfold, he agreed immediately. For that iconic 1972 photo, he put it all out there - well, almost - lounging on a bearskin rug. 

But privacy was important to the actor, at least as far as his estate plan goes. His died on September 6 following cardiac arrest at his Jupiter home. His will, signed in 2011, was filed in Florida probate court. It indicates all the actor's assets are in a trust for the benefit of his son Quinton, age 30. Unlike a will, a trust is a private document, which is among the many reasons for its popularity as an estate planning tool. The will states: "I intentionally omit him from this, my Last Will and Testament, as I have provided for him during my lifetime in my Declaration of Trust." 

The 82-year-old actor's net worth is rumored to be around $5 million, which doesn't sound like a great deal for someone whose celebrity spanned so many decades. Reynolds had a very public history of money woes. His investment in a restaurant chain put him millions of dollars in debt. At one point he bought a private helicopter and jet and had two pilots on standby at all times. He declared bankruptcy at least once. In a 2015 Vanity Fair interview, he said:  I've done well in terms of owning property and things like that. But I haven't been somebody who's been smart about his money."

Since the current federal estate tax exemption is $11.2 million, it is unlikely his estate will be affected by estate taxes. Florida has no estate tax.

Reynolds' will names his niece, Nancy Lee Brown, as personal representative, and his great nephew Brian Ritchey Brown and great niece Tracy Erin Rogers as back-ups.

Aug 23, 2018

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, Dies Intestate

Singer Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018. The 76-year-old "Queen of Soul" died at her Detroit home of pancreatic cancer, surrounded by family.

Winner of 18 Grammy awards and known for iconic songs like "Respect," Franklin was intensely private about her life and her finances. A 2016 New Yorker profile revealed that she asked for payment for a performance in cash, and would keep the money she received in a handbag onstage during her performance.

It looks like the era of privacy is over for Franklin and her family, because she died intestate (without a will). This past week, her sons Edward Franklin, Kecalf Cunningham and Ted White, and the guardian of her oldest son Clarence Franklin, filed papers in a Michigan Probate court indicating that their mother did not leave a will or trust. Her estate will be probated, and the details open to public inspection. 

The attorney who represented Franklin in her entertainment dealings, Don Wilson, has said that he repeatedly encouraged his client to create an estate plan, with no luck. "I was after her for a number of years to do a trust," he said. "It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private." Like many Americans, Franklin resisted dealing with the issue - even though she had plenty of time to do so after the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that would ultimately take her life.

In addition to opening up the family's finances to public view, Franklin's failure to plan opens the door to several other potential issues for the family: 

Estate taxes: Without tax planning, Uncle Sam likely gets a bigger bite of federal estate taxes than it would if she engaged in appropriate tax planning. This will leave less for her family. The current estate tax exemption for an individual is $11.2 million; the difference between that and the $80 million currently in her estate could be taxed up to 40%. 

Distribution of the estate: Michigan intestacy law will govern how Franklin's estate is divided. She was not married at the time of her death, so the estate will be divided equally among her four sons. This seems equitable on the surface, but may actually be a negative for her oldest son, Clarence, who has special needs and may require more money than his brothers. 

Royalties may complicate the estate: Franklin had rights to an extensive song catalog, so that $80 million is probably the tip of the iceberg. Managing the estate could get more complicated as time goes on.

Fortunately, it looks like Franklin's four sons get along well, so that's a good omen for the future. Of course, time will tell.

Please see a competent estate planning attorney to create your own estate plan, so that your family does not need to deal with unnecessary complications and loose ends when you are gone!

Aug 12, 2018

Anthony Bourdain not yet divorced when he died, potentially complicating estate plan

Anthony Bourdain's estranged wife, Ottavia Busia, filed his will in New York Surrogate Court in July. The celebrity chef committed suicide in June, while on a film shoot in France. He was 61.

Busia and Bourdain married in 2007 and had a daughter, Ariane. According to Bourdain, their relationship was always amicable, but they effectively led separate lives. They officially separated in 2016 and were in the process of divorcing when Bourdain died - and therein is a potential problem for Bourdain's estate. Because Busia was still officially his spouse, she may be entitled to more than he left her under his will. Litigation is a possibility.

Busia is the executor of his will. Bourdain appears to have had about $1.2 million in assets at the time of his death. This includes $425,000 in cash and savings, $500,000 in intangibles such as royalties and residuals from his books and television show, $35,000 in brokerage accounts, and $250,000 in personal property. 

Bourdain left the bulk of his assets to his daughter. The will also calls for the creation of a trust for her benefit. She is to receive a distribution at age 25, another distribution at 30, and the rest of the money will be released to her age 35. Distributing the money through the trust prevents Ariane from receiving her  inheritance in full at age 18, when she may not yet be mature enough to properly handle finances.

Aug 3, 2018

New 1040 Tax Form: Really Simpler?

In keeping with the administration’s vow to simplify tax filing, the Internal Revenue Service is putting finishing touches on its revised 1040 income tax form. The new form has been touted as postcard-sized, and is to replace the current 1040,1040A and 1040EZ forms. About three-quarters of taxpayers currently use one of those three forms.

So does the new form ease taxpayers' burden? Maybe - depending on who you are. Although not quite as small as a postcard, the new form has only 23 lines, down from the 79 lines of the current one. Because the new tax law roughly doubles the standard deduction, many taxpayers will not bother to itemize. For them, the new form will be simpler.

For others, the new form won't simplify much. For example:
  • The 19 million taxpayers who according to the Tax Policy Center will continue to itemize, will still need to complete one or more of six associated tax schedules. 
  • The form has space for five forms of income: wages, salaries, tips, etc;  interest; dividends; pensions; IRAs; annuities; and Social Security. If you have other types of income - for example, business income or capital gains income - you will still need to fill out additional schedules. 
  • According to a recent article in Inc, some very common tax strategies will also require completion of additional tax schedules - for example, reporting retirement savings contribution credits.
You can read more about the new form in this article in the Wall Street Journal(sign-in required to read).

Jul 24, 2018

CHRONIC Act expands coverage for Medicare Advantage enrollees with chronic illnesses

Beginning in 2020, people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans who have chronic illnesses will be covered for certain supplies and services not previously covered. Examples include bathroom grab bars and wheelchair ramps; and services such as home meal delivery, at-home visits from personal assistants and pharmacists, and transportation to/from doctors' visits. Medicare Advantage plans currently serve about one third of Medicare’s 60 million beneficiaries.

Those with chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s will benefit. The AARP reports that more than two thirds of current Medicare beneficiaries have multiple chronic conditions. These individuals account for 75% of all Medicare spending, according to Kenneth E. Thorpe, chairman of Emory University's health policy department. 

The new policy arises from the passage earlier this year of the CHRONIC Act (“Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care"). The law received bipartisan support. Its proponents anticipate that covering these services and supplies will result in better patient outcomes and save Medicare money in the long run. 

The new law also expands coverage for telehealth services, in recognition that those with one or more chronic conditions often face obstacles to traveling for medical care and are often better off staying away from the doctor's office if they have a compromised immune system. The new law will also expand telehealth services for anyone experiencing symptoms of stroke, covering the cost of a neurologist to remotely review CT scan images and recommend treatments, including the use of highly effective clot-busting drugs. 

The Department of Health and Human Services is currently working out the details for the program.You can read the CHRONIC legislation here.

Jul 21, 2018

Can You Bequeath (Or Inherit) Airline Rewards Points?

Many of our clients are frequent travelers who have accumulated significant reward points with one or more airlines. Naturally, they would like any miles that remain in their accounts at their deaths to go to loved ones.

This topic has generated increased interest this past month, following the death of Anthony Bourdain. The globe-trotting celebrity chef mentioned his airline miles in his will, requesting that his ex-wife Ottavia “dispose of them in accordance with what she believes to have been my wishes.”

This approach may work for Bourdain – after all, no airline would want negative publicity arising from refusing to honor a celebrity's wishes. But for the rest of us, it's not so simple, and bequeathing miles to loved ones in an estate plan is not a workable approach. That is because your rewards account is a contract specifically between you and the airline. It is the airline's policy that determines if, when and how miles can be left to others.

When it comes to planning to leave miles to loved ones, there is no getting around it: You will need to do your homework! Read the fine print on the airline's web site. Call customer service, too, as our clients often report there is some "wiggle room" between what the web site says and what customer service is prepared to do. Document everything you are told.

The same goes for survivors of someone who held an account: Call customer service to see if those miles can be salvaged. Some airlines may comply, regardless of written policies, after requesting certain documentation from you.

Here are the current policies of two major airlines servicing our South Florida area: 

Delta Sky Miles Program

Miles are not transferable. The website says: Restrictions on Transfer: Miles are not the property of any Member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding.
Jet Blue True Blue Program

Jet Blue has a "family pooling program" that allows family members to transfer points to one another. But when an account holder passes away, the points die with the holder. The Jet Blue web site says:  Accrued Points and Award Travel do not constitute property of Member and are non-transferable (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise. 

Also, remember to check back with the airline from time to time. Airline policies can change over time... sometimes in your favor. Good luck.

Jul 3, 2018

Houston, We Have A Problem

Houston, we have a problem.

Nearly 50 years after becoming the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin is undertaking a more earthly mission: fighting guardianship proceedings  to stay in control of his own affairs.

In May, two of Aldrin’s three children asked a Florida court to grant them guardianship over their father so they can manage his financial affairs and make other decisions for him.  Andrew Aldrin, 60, and Janice Aldrin, 51, claim that their 88-year-old father, now a Satellite Beach resident, has Alzheimer’s Disease and is being manipulated by others and spending money at an alarming rate.

The Apollo 11 pilot is having none of it. On June 7 the he filed a lawsuit against his children and his business manager, Christina Korp.  “Nobody is going to come close to thinking I should be under a guardianship,” he told The Wall Street Journal. Aldrin requested an evaluation from James Spar, a geriatric psychiatrist at UCLA. According to Spar, Aldrin scored normal to superior on tests of cognitive ability. Spar concluded that Aldrin is "...substantially able to manage his  finances and resist fraud and undue influence."

Aldrin's lawsuit is multifaceted. It accuses his son, daughter and business manager  with elder exploitation and misuse of funds. He claims that Andrew, who is involved with his businesses and nonprofit ventures, has stolen half a million dollars from him and used his credit card without authorization. He alleges that Janice has failed to perform her fiduciary duties. The lawsuit also accuses Andrew and Korp of seizing control of millions of dollars of Aldrin's "space memorabilia" and "space artifacts." Aldrin claims Korp has been taking, without his knowledge, a 5% commission on all the speaking engagements she has booked for him.

Aldrin claims all three have slandered him and his legacy by telling people that he has dementia in order to "...gain further control over Plaintiff's personal relationships, business contacts and assets." He says that his children have taken his passport away from him, and undermined his romantic relationships by forbidding him to remarry. Aldrin is thrice divorced.

Janice and Andrew deny their father's allegations and have pushed back. Through their lawyer, they issued this statement: "We are deeply disappointed and saddened by the unjustified lawsuit that has been brought against us individually and against the Foundation that we have built together as a family to carry on Dad's legacy for generations to come." Interviewed on Good Morning America about the situation, Aldrin called it "the saddest thing that has ever happened in my family." Watch the interview here

Aldrin was scheduled for another mental health evaluation on June 26 and 27. At this writing, the results are not yet known. Aldrin says he expects to pass with "flying colors" - an appropriate boast from the former air force colonel who flew to the moon and back. Aldrin remains an outspoken advocate for travel to Mars. In June he occupied a front-row seat when the president announced the formation of the Space Force, the sixth official branch of the military. 

Remember, you don't need to be an astronaut to find yourself the subject of a guardianship. Your best defense doesn't require a visit to the moon - just a consultation with a competent estate planning attorney.

Jun 27, 2018

Be Your Own Superhero: Protect Yourself From Financial Predators

Spider Man. Ant Man. The Fantastic Four. The Hulk. These comic book superheroes sprang from Stan Lee's imagination and made their creator a wealthy man. But at 95, the Marvel mogul's own powers appear diminished, potentially putting him and his estimated $50-$70 million fortune in jeopardy.

No superhero is swooping in to save Lee - but there is Tom Lallas, Lee's former estate planning attorney. Lallas recently filed a petition with a Los Angeles court alleging that Lee is being abused by his business partner, Keay Morgan. Lee reportedly has hearing, visual and possibly cognitive impairments. The court issued a temporary restraining order against Morgan on June 13 and appointed Lallas as Lee's legal guardian, pending further investigation.

Morgan deals in artifacts related to cultural figures, particularly Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. He met Lee years ago through Lee's daughter and only child, J.C. Both Lee and his wife Joanie have had a combative relationship with their daughter, with disputes often revolving around money (more on that later). When Joanie passed away in July 2017, Morgan stepped in as Lee's caregiver. According to the court filing, Morgan began isolating Lee.  He fired Lallas and other longtime staff members, including the housekeeper and  gardener. He replaced Lee's accountant with his own friend. He changed Lee's phone number and refused to allow family and friends to visit. He also moved Lee out of his longtime family home and into a condo.

The Los Angeles police are currently investigating the matter. It is far from clear-cut; Lee himself has defended Morgan's behavior. On one Twitter post he wrote: "I just want to go on the record and say I have only one partner, only one person who does represent me, and that's Keay Morgan. Anybody else who claims to be my rep is just making that story up." Whether that post was actually written by Lee is not known.

Daughter J.C. is now 67. According to an  April 10, 2018 story in The Hollywood Reporter, she has never been self-supporting and relies on funds from the trust her parents established for her. A prodigious spender who reportedly blows through $20,000 to $40,000 every month, she nonetheless resents the trust's financial restrictions and has been known to take out her frustration on her parents. The family housekeeper recalled that J.C. would phone her father several times a day to berate him about money, leaving Lee hoarse and agitated from fighting with her. At one point he allegedly said he would cut her off completely. Another individual familiar with the family relates that in 2014, J.C. became infuriated when she learned that a new Jaguar parked in her parents' driveway was a leased vehicle in her father's name, and not a gift for her. She physically attacked her mother and father. The Lees did not press charges out of concern about negative publicity and the impact on their daughter. 

Legal Steps You Can Take To Protect Yourself From Financial Predators

Regular readers of this blog will recognize that this situation is not an outlier. Elder financial abuse is becoming increasingly common as Baby Boomers age. Numerous initiatives continue to be taken at both the state and federal levels to protect seniors and to encourage reporting of potential abuse. One recent step in that direction is the federal Senior Safe Act, which you can read about here. 

You can also take your own proactive steps to protect yourself and your assets from financial predation. We often recommend establishing a Predator Protection Trust for clients who are concerned that as they grow older, their adult children or others may try to take advantage of them financially. It is an unfortunate fact of life that it is family members - the ones we should be able to trust the most - from whom we most need protection.

How The Predator Protection Trust Works

A Predator Protection Trust is an irrevocable trust in which you specify how the trustee may expend funds on your behalf. This gives you, the grantor of the trust, the ability to establish a trust for your benefit and anyone else you desire, and put someone else in charge. Then, when demands are placed on you for money - usually from a "loved one" - you can respond that you cannot meet those demands because you have no authority to give money away. 

You may appoint one or more trustees.  Some clients select a financial institution, or their accountant or lawyer as co-trustee along with a family member. 

Here's a case I had that illustrates the value of this kind of trust. My client complained about a conniving granddaughter who was constantly bullying her and demanding money. She had given in to the badgering many times. My client was exhausted from the battle, and was increasingly worried about her own financial welfare. We solved my client's problem by setting up a Predator Protection Trust for her. I then followed up by sending a letter to the client's granddaughter, and to all her grandchildren and children, indicating that the client no longer had control of any of her assets under her new irrevocable trust and therefore would no longer be able to gift any assets to them. I explained that although my client presently had full competency and capacity, she recognized that she could lose capacity in her declining years and become vulnerable to financial manipulation. The Predator Protection Trust provided my client with peace of mind because she now knew her assets were kept safe for her use, and that her loved ones' inheritances were also secure.

Contact our office at 561-625-1100 to discuss establishing a Predator Protection Trust.
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