Jun 9, 2018

Estate Planning When Your Beneficiary Has A Drug Problem: The Sad Story Of Matthew Mellon

Do you have a beneficiary with a drug problem? You are not alone. The Federal Reserve's Report on the Well-Being of American Households in 2017 reveals that one in five Americans knows someone who is addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers. That’s doesn’t even include all the other available habit-forming drugs.

If you have a loved one with a substance abuse problem and want to include that person in your estate plan, proceed with caution. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to explore the best approach. Inheriting a large sum of money can be detrimental to your loved one's health. The recent death of Matthew Mellon, scion of the banking dynasty, illustrates this sad point.

A South Florida native, Mellon was raised in Delray Beach by his mother and stepfather. Mellon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and his substance abuse problems emerged while he was still in school. He was in and out of rehab facilities from an early age. Nevertheless, in 1998, the 21-year-old inherited $25 million from one of 14 trusts under which he was a named beneficiary. For someone like Mellon, having that kind of kind of money can be a curse, not a blessing.

Mellon met his first wife at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London. They had one daughter. In 2015, Mellon married again and had two more children. The drug problems were ever-present. In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, Mellon said that at one point his oxycontin habit was costing him $100,000 every month. But he could afford it. He was living in luxury at a swank New York hotel and he was rich, and about to become even richer as a result of his timely investment in cryptocurrency. Thanks to that investment, Mellon went from multi-millionaire to bitcoin billionaire.

In April 2018, with his second marriage failed, Mellon headed off to another rehab facility in Mexico. Upon arrival in Mexico, he checked into a hotel rather than going directly to the facility. He was later found dead in his hotel room. His death was attributed to ingestion of ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic.

Mellon's estate is now in probate. According to reports, the estate consists almost entirely of cryptocurrency, whose value is rapidly declining. Estate administrators are eager to sell off the assets before they decline further. Given all the circumstances, I suspect we will hear much more as the probate process goes on. Mellon left behind a fortune, albeit a greatly reduced one, and three children from two wives. If the way he planned for death resembled the way he lived, the family may have a legal mess on its hands.

If you have a loved one like Matthew Mellon, even if you don't have a lot of money, it's critical to get your estate planning right for your peace of mind, for your family's protection, and to protect your loved one from himself. The Karp Law Firm's attorneys have helped many families facing this dilemma. Contact us for advice.

Jun 4, 2018

Hear Kim Campbell talk about her Alzheimer's journey, June 12 in West Palm Beach

Our law firm is co-sponsoring this wonderful event on June 12!

May 16, 2018

Estate Battle Continues Between Alan Thicke's Wife, Children

Blended family? Better pay close attention to your estate planning! Inheritance conflicts between stepparents and grown stepchildren are all too common. And since women tend to outlive men, it’s usually the stepmother at the center of the controversy. In his book, The Wolf At The Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse, California attorney Michael Hackford notes that half of his probate litigation cases involve stepmothers and stepchildren. 

Over the years I’ve written about many such conflicts. Here’s an update on one: The estate of Alan Thicke, singer and star of TV's Growing Pains.  You can read my original blog post here.

Thicke died suddenly in 2016, leaving behind his third wife, Tanya Callau, and children from prior marriages. His trust named his two sons from a prior marriage, Robin and Brennan, as co-trustees. The children were to inherit the California ranch he and Callau lived on, but she would get to remain there so long as she maintained the property. His children would get over half of the remaining estate, while Callau would get the furnishings, her late husband's pensions and union death benefits,  half a million dollars in life insurance, and 40% of the remaining estate.

Without Thicke to hold the family together, and with co-trustees Robin and Brennan holding the purse strings, things started going off the legal rails almost immediately. As I noted in my prior blog post, Callau questioned the prenuptial she'd signed previously, alleging it did not properly distinguish between personal property and community property. Robin and Brennan went to court to block her right to challenge the prenup, but lost that legal battle last year.

More recently Callau filed papers accusing her stepsons of violating their fiduciary duties. She claims they are spending the estate assets recklessly, denying her her inheritance, not keeping her informed, and that she is being charged for taxes and other expenses that are not her responsibility. Among her specific complaints is that Thicke's sons refused to reimburse her for the cost of the monument she selected for her late husband's gravesite. This particularly irked her because his sons reportedly threw a pre-funeral memorial party for their father -- to the tune of $105,000. 

Callau's attorney, Adam Streisand, says: "America's dad would would be ashamed of his own sons who disgrace their father's legacy out of greed and resentment against the woman whose only crime was loving her husband with everything she had... the fact that Tanya still hasn't received her inheritance is unconscionable." 

No doubt more legal fireworks are ahead. If you are planning your estate and you too have a "blended family," remember that you may be more responsible than you realize for the peace in your family. When you're gone and money is at stake, relationships can suffer, so it's vital to make sure every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed in your estate plan. The Karp Law Firm attorneys can help.

May 6, 2018

What Can You Do If You're Denied Visitation With An Incapacitated Loved One?

Recent news is replete with stories about spouses, guardians and caregivers accused of refusing to allow family members to visit an incapacitated loved one. These stories have made headlines because they involved celebrities. Among them were disc jockey Casey Kasem and actor Peter Falk. Of course, the problem is not confined to celebrity families. When it happens to "ordinary" people, the stories just don't make headlines.

The most recent high-profile case is that of Glen Campbell, who died from Alzheimer's Disease in 2017. His children from a prior marriage allege that their stepmother Kim, Campbell's wife, did not allow them to see their ailing father. Son Travis said he learned she had moved his father from California and into a Tennessee assisted living facility only when he heard it on the news. Kim denies his allegation. She has said Travis was an absentee son who had not visited his father in 20 years. She told Inside Edition: "I never denied them a visit, ever. They never ever called me to ask how he was doing... It's a nightmare to have people on the internet threatening to kill you because they think you're this horrible person who wouldn't let people visit, which is totally false."

Whomever you believe, the Campbell family's conflict spurred Tennessee to pass legislation providing legal recourse to family members denied visitation with an ailing family member. "If there had been a law in effect," Travis says, "I would have had the most precious gift of all - time with my father."

Peter Falk's daughter has established the  Catherine Falk Organization that advocates for laws protecting the rights of family to visit incapacitated loved ones. Eleven states - unfortunately, not yet Florida - have adopted visitation laws. Surely more will do so as the population ages and the problem becomes more widespread. Below is a graphic from the Pew report showing the states that currently have visitation laws on the books.

Apr 18, 2018

Importance of Advance Directives, End-Of-Life Wishes Reflected in Barbara Bush's Passing

Former First Lady Barbara Bush died at her Houston home on April 17, surrounded by her family. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, and had been hospitalized multiple times in recent weeks. Following an Easter weekend in the hospital, the 92-year-old decided to let nature take its course. She rejected additional life-prolonging measures, which likely would have included being attached to a breathing machine. The family announced her choice for "comfort care" only and supported her decision. She died with her husband of 73 years, President George Herbert Walker Bush, holding her hand.

The timing of her decision and passing has particular significance given that National Healthcare Decisions Day was April 16. Established in 2008, the purpose of NHDD is to encourage Americans to complete advance directives and to talk to their family about their healthcare wishes, including their end-of-life wishes. According to a 2013 survey by the Conversation Project, only 27% of Americans have done so -- even though 90% say it's very important!

Nathan Kottkamp created National Healthcare Decisions Day as a result of his experiences serving on hospital medical ethics boards. He writes on the NHDD website: "Time and time again, families, providers and health care administrators struggle to interpret the wishes of patients who never made their healthcare wishes known (or who failed to create an advance directive to record their states wishes.)" Kottkamp applauds the Bush family for going public with this most personal decision and hopes it will encourage others to create health care documents and to discuss these issues with family. And Ellen Goodman, chair of the Conversation Project, which provides tools for families to talk about these sensitive issues, said of Bush: "It sounds like this forthright, outspoken woman has made her wishes known and the family is standing by her."

Under Florida law, a competent adult has the right to make his/her own health care decisions. That includes the right to reject unwanted medical procedures. You also can name people to make your decisions if you are incapacitated and cannot do so yourself. Creating advance directives for healthcare can give you peace of mind and do the same for your family, making them confident they are doing what you want if they are called on to make decisions on your behalf.

Remember: It always seems like it's too early, until it's too late. There are several types of advance directives available to clients. Contact us for assistance. 

Apr 14, 2018

Probate Proceedings Under Way For Estate of Parkland Shooter's Mother

Nicholas Cruz, the gunman who killed 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, now sits in a Broward County jail. He has admitted to the crime, and his court-appointed defense attorneys told CNN that he intends to plead guilty if doing so will allow him to avoid the death penalty. It would seem to be an open-and-shut case.

What’s not open-and-shut is the disposition of his mother's estate. Lynda Cruz, Nicholas’ adoptive mother, passed away in October 2017. His adoptive father, Roger, died in 2014. The details of his mother's estate are murky and the estate is now making its way through the Broward County probate court.

According to several sources, Cruz tried to get his hands on his mother’s money prior to the deadly rampage. On December 19, 2017, he hired attorney Audra Simovitch to open the probate estate. Simovitch subsequently said that Lynda’s friend, who had taken in Nicholas and his brother Zachary following her death, was uncooperative. Simovitch is no longer on the case.

Cruz’s current criminal defense team, Broward County Public Defenders, say he may be the beneficiary of as much as $800,000. He is the beneficiary of his mother’s $25,000 life insurance policy, and may be the beneficiary of two annuities. Broward County property records indicate that the Cruz family home was sold in January 2017 for $575,000.

Of course, Nicholas Cruz will never be able to use the money, except for legal fees and damages arising from his crime. The question now is if he is truly indigent - in other words, how any money he's entitled to impacts on his eligibility for legal representation at taxpayer expense. Cruz faces lawsuits, there are claims against the estate, and the courts must yet determine how the assets would be split between the two brothers. (By the way, Zachary is also in jail at the moment, on charges of trespassing.)

Cruz's attorneys say he wants any money he would otherwise inherit to help the families of his victims. One of his court-appointed attorneys, Melissa McNeill, recently told the judge that “Mr. Cruz does not want those funds, whatever money that he is entitled to. He would like that money donated to an organization that the victims’ family believes would be able to facilitate healing in our community or an opportunity to educate our community about the issues that have ripened over the last four or five months.”

Judge Elizabeth Scherer will make a decision about whether Cruz is officially indigent by the next court date, April 27.

Apr 7, 2018

Veterans Benefits Delay Agonizing for Two Proud Marines

V.A. Aid and Attendance (officially known as Improved Pension with Aid and Attendance) is a little-know benefit available to elderly and disabled veterans who served during certain wartime periods and who can meet financial and other eligibility criteria. However, "available" does not mean "easy to get approved for." With the Veterans Administration under so much criticism these days, it is not surprising to learn that the lumbering agency moves slowly -- at times, far too slowly -- for elderly people who apply for benefits. Getting approved for Aid and Attendance benefits requires onerous paperwork and endless persistence. Cynical veterans have morbidly referred to the V.A.'s approach to processing benefits requests as Deny, Delay, And Wait Till They Die. 

This is precisely what happened to Arkansas residents Robert and Mary DeCicco. Their case was reported in a May 24, 2018 Boston Globe article. The elderly spouses, both Marine veterans, had been married over sixty years. Robert was a Korean War vet who had also survived bladder cancer, had a kidney and lung removed, and undergone a triple bypass. Their adult children were caring for them until the summer of 2017, when it became apparent they needed more intensive help than their kids could furnish. It was decided that moving to a nursing home was the best option. The DiCiccos knew it would be expensive, but their son Stephen had researched veterans aid and attendance and knew his parents qualified for benefits that would defray some of the cost. They completed the benefits application. Trusting that the government they had served would come through for them, the couple moved into a nursing home. Stephen gave his parents the initial $3,000 needed to move in. The nursing home agreed to wait on the rest of the money  until the V.A. approval came through.

But the approval did not come through. The bills kept piling up. In January 2018 the DiCiccos had no choice but to sell their modest home, at a loss. Two thirds of the sale proceeds went to cover nursing home bills. Mrs. DiCicco was heartbroken, telling her son, "That money from the house was for you kids."

Ever the proud Marines, neither Mr. or Mrs. DiCicco was about to criticize the Veterans Administration. But Mr. DiCicco was becoming increasingly anxious about the mounting debt. By March 2018, the nursing home bill had climbed to $40,000. Kim Mosley, the facility's director, repeatedly called the V.A. "I told them that these veterans could be homeless if it wasn't for our home taking them in, and that they needed to be approved very soon," she says. She recalls that Mr. DiCicco would listen to these telephone conversations from his wheelchair, disappointed each time there was no resolution - in fact, no updates or any information at all. "They were such a sweet, loving couple that we just had to help them," she said. "They didn't even have hardly any spending money." Their son Stephen also tried contacting the V.A., but encountered long holds on the phone and staff who often could not even locate his parents' files.

Finally, in March, the DiCiccos' benefits were approved. Unfortunately, that was six days too late for Mr. DiCicco. He died on March 2, 2018, at age 85, still worried about the unpaid bills. "What makes me the maddest of all is that he didn't die in peace," his son said. "It's amazing how little anyone knows or is willing to help you."  Mrs. DiCicco said, "He died waiting for it. They do everything over there to get him shot at. He paid a debt to his country, and I feel that they owed him something."

So what in the world happened? Claims for those age 85 and older are supposed to get expedited processing. V.A. officials subsequently explained that the couples' benefits were delayed because pension claims for two married veterans must be processed simultaneously; complications in validating some of Mrs. DiCicco's information had created the hold-up. "Regrettably, our efforts to establish entitlement resulted in delays," the agency said in response to the incident. "Clearly we could have done better for Mr. and Mrs. DiCicco."

The Karp Law Firm has several V.A. - accredited attorneys on staff. When a veteran (or veteran's widow) who might qualify for aid and attendance hires us for Medicaid planning, we will submit the V.A. application as a courtesy. The V.A. prohibits lawyers for charging for help to prepare applications (although accredited attorneys may charge to handle appeals). 

The Veterans Administration needs to do better. We will see what happens now that David Shulkin no longer heads the giant agency. Privatizing services has been floated as a solution, but that idea has its critics. One thing all can agree on is that elderly veterans do not have endless months or a year to wait for their applications to be processed. Like Mr. and Mrs. DiCicco, many are in immediate or near-immediate need and must have a quicker response. 

Learn more about V.A. Improved Pension with Aid and Attendance.

Mar 14, 2018

Karp Law Firm Helps Sponsor Tribute to Senior Volunteers

The Karp Law Firm is one of the sponsors of the Area Agency on Aging's 26th annual Prime Time Awards Breakfast. The May 24 event honors seniors in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties who have made outstanding contributions in volunteer work. If you know a senior volunteer who deserves to be nominated, you can download the nomination form here. There are a variety of nomination categories - for example, Foster Grandparent, Law Enforcement, etc.

If you wish to attend the breakfast, find more information here. We will be there!

Mar 11, 2018

Prince's Estate Descends Into Chaos

Many music critics put the late rock icon Prince in a class all his own: unimaginably talented and prolific, churning out hit after hit such as "Purple Rain"and "When Doves Cry." But in one respect the Grammy Award-winning musician was just like many Americans: He neglected his estate planning, and died intestate.

Born Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince died at age 57 on April 21, 2016. He was found in an elevator at his Paisley Park mansion and studio in Minnesota. An investigation determined the cause of death was an accidental opioid overdose. Prince had no spouse, no children, and no living parents. A search failed to turn up a will, and his sister indicated that she believed there never was one.  At that time I wrote in this blog: "You can bet we'll be hearing more about Prince's estate over the next weeks, months, and yes, even years." And that's precisely what has unfolded. Prince's family is now locked in legal battle, with massive legal fees draining the estate.

Bremer Trust National Association was appointed temporary manager of the estate. Its parent company had dealings with Prince and therefore Bremer had some familiarity with his business affairs. Carver County Judge Kevin Eide noted that Bremer “...walked into personal and corporate mayhem where the Decedent’s personal and business affairs were in disarray, a criminal investigation was being undertaken, assets and records were voluminous and scattered, and numerous monetary and heirship claims were about to cascade upon them.”

And cascade they did. To date, 45 people have come forward to claim a piece of the estate's millions. One person stated she is Prince’s niece; two others presented themselves as grand-nieces. Others claimed to be Prince’s half-siblings by various men, alleging that John Nelson, Prince’s presumptive father, was not his true biological father. Even Prince’s one-time security guard said he was a relative. In the end, Judge Eide rejected most of the heirship claims (although some appeals are still ongoing), and identified just six rightful heirs: one full sister, and five half-siblings.

From the start, the siblings tangled over the management of the estate. At this point, there are two major camps in opposition: On one side are half-siblings Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson and John R. Nelson; and on the other side, half-brothers Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson, and full sister Tyka Nelson.

In January 2017, Tyka asked the court to replace Bremer as personal representative. The judge awarded the job to Comerica Bank. At the same time, the judge denied the beneficiaries' request to appoint a “co-personal representative” to serve as mediator between them and Comerica. He noted that the siblings had demonstrated little ability to agree on anything. Getting them to unanimously agree on a co-personal representative was unlikely, would exacerbate their conflict, and drain even more money from the estate, he reasoned.

Comerica’s inventory of Prince's assets found $18,719,062 in cash. Prince owned several homes and lots in Minnesota, in addition to the Paisley Park property. He owned numerous automobiles at the time of his death, including a 1997 Lincoln Town Car, 2004 Cadillac, 1992 Thunderbird, 1995 Jeep, and a 2010 Mercedes. Other assets amounting to millions were held in various music companies. Perhaps the most valuable asset of all is a treasure trove of unreleased master tapes. These tapes could translate into 30 albums, and are estimated to be worth $200 million or more.

In October of last year, the three Nelson half-siblings, dissatisfied with Comerica's management of the estate, requested it be replaced as fiduciary. They complained that Comerica had moved their brother's master tapes from Paisley Park to a facility in California, without their authorization. Comerica responded that (1) the beneficiaries were informed of the move; (2) a temperature- and humidity-controlled facility was needed to protect the tapes from further water and mold damage they'd undergone; and (3) since Paisley Park had been converted into a museum and was open to the public, the tapes needed to be in a more secure location. "Building (or repairing) a relationship requires engagement from all parties and, to date, the personal representative has not had willing partners in the Nelsons," Comerica stated.

Most recently, the TMZ celebrity news site has reported that the six heirs have at least one thing they agree on: They are all concerned about the enormous legal and administrative fees draining the estate and diminishing their ultimate inheritance. It reportedly costs about $600,000 per month just to manage the estate. Comerica recently billed out at $125,000 per month. Another law firm that is handling the tax-related issues billed $440,000 in November 2017 alone. Prince's lack of tax planning is going to take a big bite from the estate, too.

Here is the lesson for the rest of us: Even cohesive families can descend into back-biting when a loved one does not leave a road map for how assets are to be distributed. The attorneys at The Karp Law Firm can help you set up an estate plan that encourages family harmony and puts as much money as possible into your family's pockets... not the lawyers'.

Mar 9, 2018

Social Security Underpaying Some Widowed Spouses

In my July 2017 post I addressed why it is important to educate yourself about Social Security benefits, and to not rely solely on advice from the agency. A recent report from the Inspector General provides fresh support for this notion.

If you can delay taking benefits, the rewards can be substantial: According to the Social Social Security Administration, you will get 132% of your monthly benefit if you wait until age age 70 to collect. However, the Inspector General's audit revealed that Social Security staff often fail to inform widowed spouses that they can claim survivor benefits yet still delay taking their own benefits until age 70. As a result, the audit estimates that 82% of widowed spouses who are entitled to receive benefits are being underpaid. 

The report states, in part: “We did not find any evidence SSA had informed claimants of the option to delay their retirement application when they applied for benefits, as required. We also found that SSA did not have systems controls in place to alert its employees when they should inform [widows] of their option to delay their applications for retirement benefits.”

You can read the original report from the Inspector General  here.  

Some helpful resources to learn about Social Security benefits are:

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