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 the negative publicity arising from refusing to honor the 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 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 is an example of the current regulations for 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, and 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. Janice is accused of failing 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 also accuses the three of slandering him and his legacy by telling people that he has dementia, and leveraging the allegation 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

He 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.

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. Subsequent events demonstrate that for someone like Mellon, having that 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. And he could afford it. He was living in luxury at a swank New York hotel and he was rich - and in fact, about to become even richer as a result of his timely investment in cryptocurrency. Thanks to that investment, Mellon went from being a mere multi-millionaire to being a bitcoin billionaire.

In April 2018, with his second marriage failed, Mellon headed to a rehab facility in Mexico. Upon arrival in Mexico, he did not go directly to the facility. Instead, he checked into a hotel, and 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 in any way resembles 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 to protect your peace of mind, protect your family, and protect your loved one from himself/herself. The Karp Law Firm's attorneys have helped many families facing this dilemma. Contact us for advice by phoning 561-625-1100 or emailing us here.

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. 

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