Monthly Archives: August 2014

Daughter of late model loses in probate court

What may go down in judicial history as the longest fight for an inheritance has finally come to an end in a Texas court.

A Texas judge has determined the daughter of the late centerfold /model/actress/movie star, Ana Nicole Smith, will not be the recipient of the tens of millions of dollars from the estate of E. Pierce Marshall. Smith was married to the son of the billionaire Texas oil baron for a short time.

A U.S. District judge recently determined that efforts by the child’s biological father’s legal advisors to impose sanctions against the billionaire’s estate have led nowhere.

After almost 20 years of litigation, the judge indicated he was one of the few trial observers still living, who had in addition witnessed the setting of a precedent in bankruptcy court. Advocates for the late actress and her child’s biological father could not prove the Marshall family had caused damages to award sanctions.

The story was sensationalized in the news following the death of the model due to an alleged drug overdose but also served to set a precedent in bankruptcy law.

In previous cases, bankruptcy courts had been omitted from issuing judgments of the magnitude of the Smith case. However, in 2000, a judge had awarded the late actress $475 million due to improprieties in the in the billionaire’s estate. This was later reduced to $90 million two years later.

This was later reversed since the Texas probate court’s decision took place prior to the bankruptcy case.

Legal advisors for the actress stated the billionaire’s estate got bogged down too long for sanctions to be effective. The judge stated too much time had elapsed to incorporate that argument successfully.

The billionaire’s estate has been mired in other legal woes, including the resolution of defamation of character, a long-running battle with the Internal Revenue Service and a spat with his own brother.

In the state of Texas, you have the right to marry a centerfold and leave all your money to her. But in most cases that unfold in the real world of probate court, it is in your best interests to get assistance in how to navigate the world of heirs, beneficiaries and estate planning so that after you pass into the next world, your wishes will be carried out the way you wanted them to.

Source: Forbes, “Anna Nicole Smith’s Daughter Loses Fight For Marshall Millions” Daniel Fisher, Aug. 19, 2014

Heirs to pancake guru file lawsuit claiming legal issues

Being proud of grandma’s cooking is likely something many Texans can understand. Whether it’s biscuits and gravy, fluffy breakfast pancakes or spicy tamales, whatever your grandmother made better than anyone else was always a treat on the table. For one family, a great-grandmother’s pancake expertise went beyond the family table. According to a $2 billion lawsuit, that woman’s pancake recipes became a favorite at tables across the country in the last century.

The woman was Anna Short Harrington. Her heirs have filed a lawsuit stating that she was the inspiration for the Aunt Jemima brand. They further claim legal issues exist between the woman’s estate and both Quaker Oats and its parent company.

The lawsuit alleges that the companies participated in a conspiracy meant to keep royalty payments from Harrington and her estate. According to the family, Quaker said there were no records that Harrington every worked for them or that they had images on file of her. The lawsuit claims that Quaker deposited the woman’s image with the U.S. Trademark Office, however.

The family reportedly filed the lawsuit after obtaining a death certificate. The certificate allegedly named Quaker Oats as Harrington’s employer. In addition to using the woman’s image on packaging and in branding, the family alleges that the companies stole the woman’s pancake recipes for use in their mass-market products. They say the woman was never fairly compensated for this.

The suit is being filed as a class action. Harrington’s great-grandsons are reportedly bringing the action on behalf of her descendants, seeking what they believe to be fair royalty payments dating back to Harrington’s initial involvement with the companies.

Source: CNN Money, “‘Aunt Jemima’s’ heirs sue product makers for $2 billion” Patrick M. Sheridan, Aug. 11, 2014

Last will and testament holds up for Texas billionaire

The reason for a last will and testament is obvious — to ensure that your fortune or assets go to the person or party you choose. After all, you probably worked hard for what you have, and it is your right to decide who gets it. But if it is not in writing, don’t expect someone’s word that you wanted them to have something to hold any weight.

After almost 20 years, J. Howard Marshall, a Texas billionaire, finally can rest in peace along with his last will and testament. Marshall died in 1995, but was well-known not only as a Texas oil tycoon, but for his marriage at the age of 89 to Anna Nicole Smith, who was only 26 at the time. His death occurred just a year after their marriage.

His estate at the time of his death was worth $1.6 billion. Marshall’s last will and testament left the entire estate to his son. Smith, whose real name after her marriage to Marshall, was Vickie Lynn Marshall, was left nothing, although during their short marriage, he had lavished her with gifts and money.

Smith challenged the validity of the will, saying that Marshall had vowed to leave her in access of $300 million. Even though a jury found Marshall’s will was written under no undue pressure and that he was mentally stable when he wrote his will, a legal battle ensued.

Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007 from an apparent drug overdose, and her estate continued to challenge Marshall’s will and to request a sanction on his estate, which now belonged to his son.

Monday, an Orange county judge finally laid the battle to rest. He denied the request to sanction Marshall’s estate, and claimed that this case had gone on far too long. At this point, Smith’s estate was attempting to obtain $44 million dollars from the Marshall estate. The last will and testament had served its purpose.

Just as important as it is to have a will drawn up so heirs or courts will not have a guessing game when it comes to distribution of your assets, it is just as important to update your will on a regular basis, especially when family members or beneficiaries may have changed.

Source: Texas Chronicle, “Anna Nicole Smith’s estate loses bid for millions” Aug. 19, 2014

What are some basic will requirements in Texas?

The basic requirements that make a will valid in Texas are similar to what makes a will valid across the country. In fact, in most cases, a will is still valid even when a person moves states as long as the will execution is legal.

According to the Texas Estates Code, not everyone can execute — or legally sign — a will. A person must first be deemed of sound mind. Unless the person is married or serving in the armed forces, he or she must be 18 years old or older to execute a will.

The will must be signed by the person making the will or by a legal representative of that person. At the time the will is signed, at least two witnesses who are 14 years old or older and are considered credible must sign to indicate they witnessed the will’s execution. The witness requirement is waived if a person writes and signs an entire will in their own hand; this is known as a holographic will.

The Estates Code says that a will can include directions about how property will be distributed among heirs. It may also include a list of people to be disinherited; those people would not receive property under the will.

In some cases, individuals may create a self-proved will. Such a document is accompanied by an affidavit that attests to the validity of the will. Numerous options exist for completing a legal will, and drafting a will may not be the only thing a person can do to protect heirs and the estate. Understand all estate planning options and how those tools work together is the best way to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Source: Texas Estates Code, “Fundamental Requirements and Provisions Relating To Wills” Aug. 15, 2014

Texas real estate has a system in place to resolve disputes

In the state of Texas, people often have disputes over property. When a real estate transaction turns ugly, there are a series of steps for you to follow that can lead to the resolution. There are some details for you to be aware of in order to resolve any issues you might encounter.

Real estate transactions are usually monitored by a licensed realtor. This is generally someone who has undergone training and received a license after passing a comprehensive test. A real estate licensee is someone who is state-licensed to engage in the practice of real estate. Holding an agent’s or broker’s license does not make someone a realtor. The national, state or local associations issue licenses.

Working with a realtor during a transaction implies you have an informed person who assists in the process of transferring property. This person should be dedicated to professionalism and integrity. The difference between a licensee and a realtor is the latter is obliged to serve his or her clients in an ethical and dedicated manner.

Since the client is always a priority, when the code of ethics is violated, there are additional committees in Texas that can impose sanctions on a realtor. Depending on the severity of the violation, a letter may be dispensed or disciplinary action may be warranted.

There is a code of ethics that must be enforced so that if a member of the public or another individual feels they have been treated incorrectly, a complaint may be filed. The complaint can be anonymous or be addressed in court by the Texas Real Estate Commission.

Some real estate advisors will attempt to resolve the matters without court appearances. Communication and openness can solve misunderstandings, as well as a program that uses mediators to try to work out an amenable solution. Mediators do not provide solutions; they are part of a private conversation that attempts to offer unbiased alternatives or options to the clients.

If you have a real estate dispute in Texas, there are informed entities and agencies that can determine if something inappropriate or unprofessional has taken place. In order for your rights to be protected under the law, you deserve the highest quality of care to move forward in what could involve the biggest investment of your life.

Source: The Chronicle, “Realtor View: Learn how to file a complaint in real estat” Chaille Ralph, Aug. 01, 2014

Previous homeowner watches over her home in foreclosure

El Paso residents with homes in foreclosure they want to keep should realize that they have options. To those who are unaware of the options available, seeking the advice of a real estate attorney is probably the first step. Remember that banks have as much to lose as you do when they foreclose on a home. They may be willing to work with you on a loan modification. As a last result, filing for bankruptcy may also help to save your home. If you really love your home and want to keep it, don’t be willing just to give up and walk away. A home is more than just a building; it is often the repository of precious memories and security to a family.

One Plano woman who had lived in her home for 16 years apparently could not prevent a foreclosure. In the process of losing her home to the bank, but because of her sentimental ties, the former homeowner continued to keep an eye on the house. The woman claims that her father died in the home and her son was raised there, so it meant a lot to her.

In July, her previous neighbors began contacting her about activity at the house. They had allegedly been looking after it as well. One man reported seeing a truck back up to the house, and two people taking furniture into the home.

The home’s former owner contacted the bank to see if the house had already been sold, but she was told that it was slated for auction in August. The woman also saw her house listed on a website with a nonworking number and her name as the contact. This led her to the possibility that someone may have thought they owned the home through a possible scam.

The strangers were said to have stayed at the house for up to a week, and then the former owner put a note on the front door informing them that they were trespassing by occupying the home. She later found the note wadded up in the kitchen. The occupants left, but not before flooding the home, taking out the carpet and leaving holes in the walls. This situation is being investigated for a possible fraud attempt.

Source:, “Plano woman fighting to keep squatters, scammers out of foreclosed home” Jobin Panicker, Aug. 06, 2014

Document your estate plan for family members or heirs

For families in Texas — or anywhere in the country — things like funeral arrangements, wills or asset distribution upon a loved one’s death aren’t popular dinner-table topics. While such things can be difficult to talk about, you don’t have to leave family members or heirs in the dark. Taking time to document an estate plan now can lessen frustrations down the road.

Consider creating a file with all estate-related documents enclosed to make it easier on loved ones. Store the file at home, in a safe-deposit box, with an attorney or other estate professional or as a virtual copy on the computer or cloud.

Perhaps obviously, one of the first documents to include in your file is a will. Copies of other legal documents, such as trusts, power of attorney or health-related forms should also be included. Some of these documents would be used by family members prior to your death should you be unable to make financial or health decisions on your own.

In addition to specific estate documents, consider including copies of life insurance plans in the file. You might also provide a list of all financial accounts along with some instruction on how the executor of your estate would access those accounts. It’s probably a good idea not to keep a list of passwords in the same file, as that could pose a security risk.

Finally, include any other documents relevant to survivor benefits. This might include pension plans, investment accounts or any account that pays a beneficiary upon your death. Creating a comprehensive record of your assets, along with your wishes for those assets, helps alleviate probate issues for loved ones in the future.

Source: Time, “Want Less Stress? Get Your Estate Plan In Order” Beth Pinsker, Jul. 15, 2014

Texas inheritance tips to avoid potential problems

For many Texans, inheriting money from a family member’s estate may contain some unexpected consequences. Your elderly rich aunt may have left you a portion of her assets, but be prepared to deal with envious family members who may descend upon her belongings like vultures on a carcass.

Designated beneficiaries can react like children in a candy store. They might overspend on luxury items and have regrets later, inciting even more family hostility.

Experts agree the best way to handle division of assets is to plan ahead. A benefactor can do a lot of good by anticipating inheritance issues before they can begin to cause problems. It is a good idea to set up trusts instead of specifying large amounts of money to be distributed. An astute benefactor will also consider leaving behind clear instructions for beneficiaries. An estate plan should be updated regularly, especially after a birth, marriage, divorce or death.

One way to avoid potential problems later is to educate the beneficiary on the value of the money left behind. It is not always a good idea to get that dream car or boat. People may not think of how much it will cost to maintain such a costly item. Beneficiaries need to understand their purchases may be squandering the hard-earned life savings of a family member. Relatives may become territorial when items of sentimental value come into question.

Research indicates some people who suddenly find themselves with extra money can end up frittering it away in Las Vegas. Vast quantities of money can disappear quickly in gambling spots, making it is advisable to express prudent judgment when awarded an inheritance.

Blended families can also intensify the risks. As family disputes develop over who gets what, animosity brews that can sever family ties.

It’s better to be practical and seek the assistance of a professional who can help guide you in managing your finances. You can learn to be prudent with your new money, as well as benefit from good advice and suggestions on ways to make your good fortunate work with you and not against you.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, “5 Inheritance Mistakes for Heirs to Avoid” Susan Johnston, Jul. 15, 2014