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Archive for November, 2009


Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 by


(Deathbed Wills)


          Writing a Will on one’s death bed is often featured in the movies, but is a bad idea in real life.  In “Power of the Press”, a 1943 film written by Samuel Fuller, the publisher of a New York newspaper, is stricken with remorse after a long time friend’s editorial lambasts the muckraking journalism of his newspaper.  He decides to force out the managing editor who is leading the newspaper astray.  However, the managing editor has the publisher assassinated as he begins a major speech to outline the new change in policy.


            While the publisher is lying on his deathbed, he summons his trusted secretary to bring him a piece of paper and a pen and he writes out a Will leaving his controlling interest in the newspaper to his old friend who had criticized him.  That old friend was running a small town weekly newspaper in Nebraska.  The intrepid secretary tracks him down and brings him back to New York to confront the ruthless editor.  They show the editor the handwritten Will.  At first, he permits the reformist to have the illusion of control, but as real changes are attempted, he obtains a court injunction declaring the handwritten Will to be void.  The small town newspaper man and the secretary do not have the funds to fight this injunction, so other tactics are required.


            This movie is more well known for its somewhat preachy (remember this was war time) defense of freedom of the press.  The estate planning lesson is that in the movies, as in real life, a deathbed Will is not the best planning tool.

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Thursday, November 12th, 2009 by

This is the third newsletter in our series discussing the 6 common mistakes parents make when naming guardians for their children.          Mistake #3:  You probably did not exclude anyone who might challenge your decisions or who you know you would never want raising your children.


            Have you thought about excluding someone who might challenge your guardianship decisions or who you are certain you would never want raising your children?  In every family, there is at least one relative that you just try to avoid.  Whether it is crazy Uncle Leo or snobby sister Jennie, you know that under no circumstances would you ever want that person to raise your children.  However, (a very important word here!) if you do not spell out your concerns in writing, who do you think would be the first person to approach the Court and ask to be named guardian of your children?  So, what can you do to prevent this from happening?


            In our comprehensive Children’s Protection Plan, we include a document called “Confidential Exclusion of Guardian”.  This document is meant to see the light of day only if crazy Uncle Leo really does ask to be named guardian of your children.  In this document, you would list anyone who you absolutely would not want to serve as guardian and you will list all of the reasons why you feel that way.  These reasons usually are sufficiently embarrassing enough to the person you have named that they would not want them made known and likely would withdraw their challenge to your choice of guardian.  (For example:  “I am concerned that Uncle Leo’s 20 year history of alcohol abuse, including 2 DUI’s, would compromise my children’s safety.”)


            By planning ahead and addressing all contingences, you can select the right guardians for your children and also exclude the wrong ones. 


            It sounds like a broken record – - – but planning …….. works …… try it!

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Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 by

We previously reviewed the Frank Capra film “You Can’t Take It With You”. Another movie with estate planning overtones is the 1932 classic “Emma”, starring Marie Dressler in an Oscar-nominated role.  Emma is the story of an elderly housekeeper who cares for a motherless family, actually raising the youngest, Ronnie, when his mother dies in childbirth.  The entire family is very dependent upon her.  The father, Frederick Smith, becomes very wealthy.  The children grow up in wealth and, with the exception of Ronnie, become spoiled brats. 


            When Emma leaves for her first vacation ever, Mr. Smith accompanies her to the train station, buys an extra ticket for Niagara Falls and proposes.  The two have a short period of happiness before Mr. Smith’s heart gives out and he dies.  In his Will, Mr. Smith leaves all of his money to Emma with the understanding that she take care of the children, whom he believed would squander every cent if left unsupervised.  The children assume Emma is going to take all of the money for herself.  In order to break the Will, they accuse her of murdering their father and Emma actually is put on trial for murder.  Ronnie is away hunting in the wilds of Canada and doesn’t learn what is going on until after the trial is underway. 


            Frederick Smith incorrectly assumed that because Emma was like a member of the family, the children would readily accept her.  Even with a “pretty good for the movies” lawyer, Mr. Smith was unable to avoid a family tragedy with his estate planning.  Instead of leaving his entire fortune to Emma, perhaps if he had left his assets to the children in individual, lifetime protected trusts, he could have avoided their resentment.  He could have named Emma as either a trustee or co-trustee and still accomplished his main objective of protecting the children from their spendthrift ways.  The tragedy that ensues exemplifies the need for extra special care in estate planning when there are blended families and second marriages involved. 


            Unfortunately, Emma is not presently available on DVD.  Try to catch it when it next plays on TCM.  The movie is extremely well-acted, genuinely touching and not at all outdated.  You don’t have to be an estate planning attorney to enjoy it!

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Special Anniversary Edition

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 by

Well, well… It was 25 years ago today that I hung out my shingle on a vintage house built in 1906 (behind a car wash) in Pensacola, Florida.  The car wash was the source of many jokes at my expense!  I scrounged up some used furniture, bought a brand new IBM Selectric typewriter and hired a legal secretary with sensible shoes.  The Law Office of Jeffrey A. Cramer was open for business.  The practice grew and we opened a second office in Jacksonville over 16 years ago.  The commute back and forth while managing 9 attorneys and 26 support staff in offices 350 miles from each other started to become more management and less law.  I had a decision to make, and my decision was to focus my efforts on Jacksonville. So, here we are today folks.  I want to thank all of you who have put your faith in us over the years and we look forward to the next 25 years!

Categories : Newsletter
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Mrs. Astor Regrets

Monday, November 9th, 2009 by

This week I thought that I would share with you some comments on an interesting book I just finished:  Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon.  This is the story of Brooke Astor, the last Mrs. Astor, who lived one hundred and five years before passing away in August, 2007.  The book is captivating because it tells the story of one of the richest women who ever lived and is full of anecdotes about the rich and famous.  The Rockefellers, the Whitneys, Henry Kissinger, Tom Brokaw, and Oscar de la Renta are just a few of the famous names that moved in and out of Brooke Astor’s life.  These stories alone make for fascinating reading.


            However, it is the subtitle of the book “The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach” that makes the book riveting.  Who really expects or plans to live to age 105?  What happens when an 80 year old son is tired of waiting for his inheritance? 


            When John Jacob Astor went down with the Titanic, he left $87 million to his son Vincent.  Vincent later married Brooke.  When Vincent Astor died in 1959, he left an estate worth over $120 million.  $60 million was left in trust for his wife and another $60 million was left to the Astor Foundation.  Brooke Astor was well known for her active philanthropy as the head of the Astor Foundation.  Over the next 40 years, she gave away $200 million to New York City charities, making her the most influential person in the City.  She also lived the “good life” and thought nothing of wearing a $250,000 necklace when dressing to go out for dinner. 


            Brooke Astor lived a vigorous and active life right on through her 100th birthday party, but her mental and physical health then began to deteriorate.  Her last years of life became tragic because she did no disability planning.  The richest woman in America did not have a Revocable Living Trust.  Instead, her estate planning was confined to a Will and many codicils (she changed her Will 38 times). 


            As her mental health deteriorated, her only son “took over” and acted in ways that ultimately resulted in his being indicted on criminal charges of elder abuse and theft.  He cut his mother’s staff, shut her up in her Park Avenue apartment, isolated her from her friends and seriously diminished the quality of her healthcare.  As a result, her close friends, led by Annette de la Renta, filed a court petition to have a formal guardianship established.  Needless to say, the filing of this guardianship petition was heaven for the tabloids and the family tragedy was page-one news in every New York newspaper.  Eventually, Annette de la Renta was appointed as Brooke Astor’s guardian and Mrs. Astor’s last year of life was made more tolerable. 


            The irony is that the world’s richest woman could have avoided this entire spectacle had she planned for disability by establishing a Revocable Living Trust, leaving specific instructions and appointing someone she trusted to administer her affairs according to those instructions, if she became mentally incapacitated.  Her failure to do so resulted in a family tragedy of Shakespearian proportions, tabloid headlines, millions of dollars of attorney’s fees and her only son being indicted.  His criminal trial is going on right now, providing more grist for the tabloids’ mills.  (see:  http://www.nypost.com/seven/07082009/news/regionalnews/manhattan/marshall_collapses_in_courthouse_mens_ro_178228.htm) 


All of this could have been avoided by a common estate planning technique that is readily available to everyone, not just the mega-rich.  Don’t let a similar family tragedy occur to you, your friends, or clients.  Everyone needs to plan for the potential of being alive, but mentally incapacitated.  Estate planning is not just about what happens after death.  Brooke Astor’s final years are a fascinating testament to this fact.

Categories : Newsletter
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Friday, November 6th, 2009 by

Well, since there is no way you have been able to hide from the media frenzy, I will add my comments about the talented entertainer who hails from my wife’s home state! 


Michael Jackson, it appears, engaged in thorough and thoughtful estate planning, by establishing a Revocable Living Trust.  This means Mr. Jackson’s pertinent provisions about the distribution of his wealth would be written down in a Living Trust document, which is entirely private.  The Will, which has been made public, is a standard “Pour Over” will that says any wealth not previously transferred to the Michael Jackson Family Trust should be transferred to the Trust after his death.  The Will also explained who are the preferred guardians for Michael’s minor children.  The Trust probably names Trustees to manage the financial assets and wealth for the children.  Michael Jackson created an estate plan designed to make sure his wishes were kept private.


The media, whether newspapers or TV “talking heads”, are clueless about estate planning ideas.  The media does not understand the difference between a Trust and a Will.  It might have helped many people had the media understood the basic concepts.


It is so important to be totally informed before making life decisions, and Michael Jackson did his homework when it came to his children and family wealth.


At the Cramer Law Center, that is our goal, to educate and help you make the best decisions for you and your family.

Categories : Newsletter
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Our Back to School Special! – Protect Your Children

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by

Shopping for school supplies and clothes or uniforms is a busy time for parents.  As you cross off each item on the list – don’t leave out the most important one!


Protecting your Children in an Emergency


Whether your children or grandchildren are heading back to a local school, or boarding school, or college further away, you want to be sure that your children will be protected in an emergency if they are not with you.  The Cramer Law Center can help!

Here are some reminders and suggestions.


For Children under 18 – “Minors”


1.         In addition to your child’s school, make sure all of the people who take care of them – including grandparents, babysitters, older siblings, or neighbors have your up-to-date contact information, including changes in your cell or pager numbers.  And don’t forget to update that emergency contact list on your fridge or bulletin board!


2.         Contact our office about the documents that you need to ensure that the appropriate people in your life have the ability to make decisions about your child (e.g. in a medical emergency) if you can’t be reached or are out of town.


3.         Enroll your child in the DocuBank Family Care Card, so that your child’s caregivers (babysitters, grandparents, etc.) as well as doctors and hospitals can have immediate access to the information they need to care for your child in an emergency.  And, you get an alert if the card is used.


For Children over 18 – “Young Adults”


1.         Make sure that your 18 year old signs, at the very least, a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a HIPAA Release, even if they are in college.  They are now legal “adults” and these documents can ensure that a hospital will still give you medical information about them in an emergency.


2.         Ensure that these documents will be available immediately at the hospital when needed by enrolling your child in DocuBank I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) for college-age children.  You will receive an alert from DocuBank if your child’s I.C.E. card is used by emergency staff.  (Additional note:  I.C.E. and an “adult child” planning package can also make a great gift for grandchildren.)


Call the Cramer Law Center today to discuss these special documents and services that can make a critical difference for you and your child in the event of an emergency.

Let us handle this burden, so you and your children can enjoy a great school year!

Categories : Newsletter
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How Will You Be Remembered?

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 by

A basic tenet among trust and estate lawyers is that communication is the key to peacefully transferring one’s assets – communication to the beneficiaries at the time the Will is made and by the Personal Representative when it is probated after the death.  (In the case of a living trust, an advantage of the trust is that it can keep family money matters private by avoiding the probate court, where records are public.)


            As a teenager in the 1960’s, I remember a funny story on a record called “The Reading of the Will”.  It went something like this:   A family gathers in court for the reading of their husband and father’s will.  The Judge begins reading the deceased Marvin’s own glowing descriptions of his wife and sons, to each of whom he leaves $1 million dollars.  Family members “ooh and ahh” at Marvin’s wealth and generosity.  Then the Judge’s tone of voice changes as he reads:  “And to my brother-in-law, Sam, who lived with us for 10 years rent-free, and who never lifted a finger around the house, and who said I would never remember him in my Will . . . . .   “Hello Sam.”


            Will you leave a positive communication like a devoted great Aunt, for example, who opened up bank accounts on the day each young relative was born and added to them every year so that by the time she died she left a lovely, surprise bequest to each. 


            Or, will you be like a man I know who died at age 50 of a heart attack.  He had long known that his family had a history of premature death from cardiac arrest.  This competent professional man did not have a Will or Trust because it seemed he couldn’t face the choices he would have had to make in allocating money between a second wife and the children from his first and second marriages.  Or, maybe, he was afraid to make a Will because he was superstitious.  This was and always is a serious mistake.


            So whether you are remembered like “Marvin” or that great aunt, be remembered as someone who planned for your loved ones and was not so afraid or superstitious so as to leave them in a mess.


            As the season begins to change, change your thinking  about estate planning.

Categories : Newsletter
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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 by

Frank Capra:  Genius Director on What is Really Important in Life

A Vision of Good People in a Great Country.


            Capra movies are quintessentially American.  His dramas are inspirational, patriotic and filled with a sense of duty.  His comedies are witty and warm.  His films are richly entertaining, and his vision of the nation’s heart and soul will make you yearn for simpler times. 


            In 1938, Frank Capra directed a movie called “You Can’t Take It With You”.  Capra uses some of his favorite cast members, Lionel Barrymore as the adorable grandfather of a free-spirited and loving family, who unfortunately live in the last house in the neighborhood that the local banking family needs to buy for some under handed financial scheme.  Jean Arthur stars as the closest-to-normal member of the family, and Jimmy Stewart as the banker’s son madly in love with her.


            Capra spins his yarn and teaches the banker that there is more to life than money and power.  In the end, the banker realizes he will lose his son and self-respect if he goes through with his scheme.  The film resonates with everyone because it’s all about relationships, friendships, and the values by which you live your life!


            “You Can’t Take It With You”.  1938.

Categories : Newsletter
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Monday, November 2nd, 2009 by

This is the second newsletter in our series discussing the 6 common mistakes parents make when naming guardians for their children.   Mistake #2:  You may have named a couple to act as guardians and you have not indicated what should happen if the couple broke up or if one of the partners in the couple died.  This means your children could end up in the care of someone you wouldn’t really want.


            As an example, you name your brother and his wife, Bill and Mary, as guardians.  But what if they divorce?  Or, what if Bill died before you?  Would you want Mary, who is not related to you, to still serve as guardian for your children?


            Some options to consider would be:  1) naming Bill and Mary to serve as guardians only as a couple (jointly only);  2) naming Bill and Mary to serve jointly, or the survivor can serve, if you are comfortable with either of them serving alone; 3) Bill to serve alone; 4) Mary to serve alone.


            As this series illustrates, there is more to naming guardians than most people think.  This helps explain why the real value received by consulting an estate planning attorney is in the counselling, not the documents.

Categories : Newsletter
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