Taking the proverbial busman’s holiday, I recently read the novel “A Perfectly Good Family,” by Lionel Shriver. The book was about what happens when three siblings inherit the family “mansion” in Raleigh, North Carolina, after the death of their parents. The father was a “great man” character, a judge and civil rights advocate, the mother was the typical woman behind the man of her era, the oldest son was a rebel and bully, the youngest son was the obedient one who never left home and took care of the mother during her last illness; and the middle daughter (and narrator) shared characteristics of each of her brothers.
One of the saddest movies of all of time is “Make way for Tomorrow” a 1937 Paramount Production directed by the renowned Leo G. McCarey. The film is a neglected masterpiece, so by all means watch it. Just make sure you have a box of tissues nearby. Orson Welles is reported to have said that this film could make a stone cry. The film stars excellent character actors, Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell and Porter Hall. McCarey won an Oscar for best director that same year for his work on “The Awful Truth.” When he received his Academy Award, he said: “You gave it to me for the wrong picture.”
Here is a new twist to follow our recent series titled “Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law, Part 1”, “Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law, Part 2”, and “Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law, Part 3”. A case illustrating the difficulties in determining jointly owned versus individually property is the Connell case. In that case, the decedent was an elderly retired jeweler who liked expensive jewelry. While shopping with his wife, (a woman he married only eleven (11) months prior to his death), Mr. Connell bought a $60,000.00 men’s Rolex watch and a $20,000.00 men’s diamond ring. On both occasions he used funds from a checking account titled jointly with his wife; his wife knew of these purchases and did not object. Mr. Connell wore the watch and ring every day. Shortly before his death, he was hospitalized and gave the watch and ring to his wife for safekeeping. She put them in her purse. After Connell’s death, his son/personal representative asked the wife to return the watch and ring. She refused and the lawsuit ensued.
From the Cramer Law Center family to yours, we wish you the happiest of holidays and a healthy and prosperous New Year. Our office will be closed from December 26, 2016 until January 3, 2017, so that our entire team can spend some much deserved time with their families.
When we return to start the New Year, we will hold our first “Truth About Estate Planning” Workshop on Monday, January 16, 2017 from 9:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. This is a day off of work for many. So, if you haven’t had time to come to one of our workshops because they are held on week days, now is your chance! Our workshops are packed with vital information about estate planning, taxes, how to protect loved ones from creditors and predators - - and much more. We hope you will be able to join us. R.S.V.P. to 904-448-9978 to start your New Year off wiser and better informed about your estate planning options.
Our last blog talked about a case where possession of “lost “cash did not result in the “finder” of the cash ending up with it. In a famous “treasure trove” case involving Mel Fisher and the wreck of the Atocha, the opposite result was reached. The Spanish ship Atocha sunk in the sea off the Marquesas Keys, in 1622 while on route Spain. Throughout history it was thought that the Atocha contained gold and other valuables. The treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, eventually found the Atocha after years of searching in the 1970s and recovered millions of dollars’ worth of artifacts. The State of Florida, the United States Government and the Government of Spain eventually made claims to ownership of the lost treasure. The court awarded Fisher possession of the salvage, reasoning that the title to abandoned property vests in the person who reduces that property to his or her possession. The court reasoned that disposition of a wrecked vessel whose very location has been lost for centuries as though its owner was still in existence, stretches a fiction to absurd lengths.
So, what we learned from these cases is: if property has been lost for centuries, “finders, keepers”. However, if the rightful owner of the lost property (or the daughter of the owner) is still around to claim it after it is found, “losers weepers”.
We hope that you now more fully appreciate the nuances of those famous legal principles - “finders keepers, losers weepers” and “possession is 9/10 of the law.”
You have heard the old adage “possession is 9/10 of the law.” Well, here is a case dealing with the other 1/10. The Arizona case of Grande v. Jennings involved a hoarder by the name of Robert Spann. When he passed away in 2001, his daughter, Karen Grande, became personal representative of his estate. She knew from experience that he had hidden gold, cash, and other valuables in unusual places in previous homes that he owned, so she started looking for valuables that her father may have left or hidden in this particular home. Over the course of seven (7) years, she found stocks and bonds, as well as hundreds of military-style green ammunition cans hidden throughout the house, some of which contained gold or cash. After seven (7) years of searching and making repairs to the home, it was sold, “as is” to Jennings in 2008.
In 2013 the Florida Legislature enacted Fl. Stat. 736.202 to clarify when Florida courts have jurisdiction to hear disputes involving trusts. Lawyers refer to this type of statute as establishing “long arm” jurisdiction. The reason will become apparent.
The Florida Legislature recently has answered the emotional question of how a dispute of over a person’s cremated remains is to be split resolved. Two years ago, there was a court case involving a dispute between two divorced parents over the disposition of their son’s ashes. The father argued the ashes were assets of his son’s probate estate, so they should split like the rest of their son’s property, 50/50 with his ex-wife. The court ruled against him and the legislature now has codified the correctness of that decision.
Almost every month I present an educational workshop called “The Truth About Estate Planning”. We start off our small group discussion citing similar horrible statistics. It is interesting to see that someone finally surveyed people to find out if their will was up to date. But, it appears that the definition of “up to date” used was rather narrow. A will was considered to be out of date for this survey if made before a person got married or had children. No one could argue with that.
But what about other life changes such as divorce, death of a family member, child becoming an addict, child taking on significant debt, child getting a divorce, a significant increase in net worth, a significant decrease in net worth, a change in the estate tax law, a change in other laws affecting estates, such as Florida’s Homestead law….and on and on. Using these broader concepts, I believe over 90% of Americans do not have an estate plan that will work when the time comes that it had better work.