Another Lesson Learned from the Life and Death of Michael Jackson: Take Steps to Prevent Successful Challenges to Your Estate Plan
By Stacey L. Sklaver, J.D.
Michael Jackson is back in the public spotlight, as much of his family resumes its attack on the validity of his will. MJ’s will left the entire estate to his mother and three children and left nothing to his siblings. Randy Jackson, who is supported by Jermaine, Janet, and Rebbie, alleges that the five-page, signed document is “a fake” even though Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff accepted the will in November 2009.
So what is a will contest? A will contest is a legal proceeding to challenge the validity of a will. Only a person who would have inherited under a prior will or through the laws of intestacy (i.e., when one dies without a valid will) can bring such an action.
Why now? The siblings argue that they were too overwhelmed with grief at the time that the original will contest was brought, and weren’t able to fathom the possibility of what they now claim is obvious to them: that the will is fake. Siblings complain that the will is not authentic because MJ was in New York City on the date that the will was signed, but the will states that it was signed in Los Angeles. Randy Jackson has a photo of MJ with Rev. Al Sharpton in New York that Randy claims was taken on the day that the will was signed in California. Yet, this evidence is unlikely to hold up because three witnesses signed the will.
It is not likely that the family members will be successful in contesting the will a second time. As the California Second District Court of Appeals stated in October 2010, when it ruled against MJ’s father, the period to challenge the will has already passed. The Court further noted that even if the will were invalidated, under California law, the estate would still pass to MJ’s children rather than the siblings.
Below are some ways individuals can safeguard against others successfully contesting their will and potentially traumatizing loved ones. Please note that these general recommendations are not intended as legal advice. To properly address your own situation and legal needs, consult a licensed attorney.
1. Start Early: Plan your estate while you still have full mental capacity. You never know what the future may hold.
2. Ensure Proper Execution: Make sure that you have followed all of the required formalities that your state requires. Avoid using a generic template when creating a will in lieu of a customized will. Hiring a licensed attorney who will tailor the will to your individual needs and assets is worth the money because you will receive extra security.
3. Communicate: Let your loved ones know ahead of time what you plan to do with your estate and your reasons why. If you keep them informed, you can eliminate surprises. If you have bad news for family members, prepare them early. Don’t lie to avoid conflict. Doing so could be the basis for a will contest.
4. Document: Obtain adequate documentary evidence of your mental capacity. You can do this by asking your attorney to write an affidavit for witnesses to sign at the time the will is executed or obtain a letter from your doctor. This is especially important if you are in the hospital.
5. Add a No-Contest Clause: A no-contest clause is a provision in the will that states that anyone entitled to a share of the estate under the terms of the will forfeit that entire benefit if he or she contests the will and the will is validated. Treatment of no-contest clauses differs from state to state, so this is another reason to consult a licensed attorney.
6. Add a Simple Explanation: Draft a letter or add a simple clause to your will that clearly and objectively states your intention and rationale if you plan to deny an heir rights to take property under your will. You should also do this if you plan to leave more to one family member than another of the same relationship.
7. Review and Update: Do not simply lock your will away in your file cabinet and forget about it. Review it at least once a year and contact your attorney if necessary to bring it up-to-date.
8. Pre-Death Will Validation: This is also known as pre-mortem or ante-mortem probate. In few states, such as Alaska, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Ohio, you may initiate a court proceeding during your lifetime to validate the will. However, if you later amend your will, be sure to have it pre-probated again. Other states that follow the Uniform Probate Code allow for a self-proving, notarized affidavit, which creates a presumption that the will is valid.
9. Execute a New Will rather than Codicil: A codicil is an amendment to a will. It creates additions to an already existing will rather than creating a new will. This can lead to confusion if the terms of the codicil are inconsistent with the terms of the will. To be on the safe side, create a new will even if many of the provisions in the new will are the same. The more wills you execute, the more difficult it will be to contest each and every one of them; if the most recent will is invalidated, it no longer revokes your prior will, assuming it has not been destroyed. So, keep prior wills with your current will. The contestant will have to contest every previous will for intestacy laws to apply.
10. Create a Trust: A revocable living trust is a personal document that is meant to be kept private, whereas a will is a public document that anyone can view once it is probated. In addition to privacy, revocable living trusts cover all phases of your life, while you are alive and after you die, whereas a will only is effective once you have died. A living trust avoids probate, which means faster distribution to your heirs. Also, you can appoint someone who can automatically oversee your affairs under the trust if you become incapacitated. Moreover, costs and hassle are typically borne by the grantor during his lifetime rather than by the executor post-mortem.
My friends @FernandaCamino and @KarlaJorge have asked for my help in summarizing California AB 109, SB 87, and AB 111. Hopefully the overview below will resolve the questions they have about those laws. As always, anyone may feel free to ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them as soon as I have an opportunity to do so.
## Read more…
Drug Abuse Prevention Organization Cites Moderation, Preparation.
January 17, 2012 - Washington, DC - Today, a national coalition dedicated to reducing prescription drug abuse recognized Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorneys David Walgren and Deborah Brazil for their excellence in the prosecution of Dr. Conrad Murray. A jury unanimously found Murray guilty last November of involuntary manslaughter for causing the 2009 death of pop star Michael Jackson. Murray received the maximum sentence, four years in prison.
The not-for-profit Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD) praised Walgren and Brazil’s “sophistication in handling complex issues” related to the prescribing and dispensing of prescription medications. CLAAD is a coalition of some 30 health and safety organizations committed to reducing prescription drug abuse while protecting patient access to medical care.
“The successful prosecution of Dr. Conrad Murray by Deputy District Attorneys David Walgren and Deborah Brazil was professional and impeccably presented to the jury,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. “Their work serves as a guide to other deputy district attorneys as we in Los Angeles County prosecute ‘Dr. Feelgoods’ whose indiscriminate dispensing of prescription drugs so often results in needless deaths.”
CLAAD commended Cooley for his national leadership in implementing the policy recommendations set forth in the National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy, which urges prosecutors to exercise moderation and to analyze facts in prescription drug cases from a medical perspective.
“Cooley’s office has set an example for other prosecutors across the country,” stated CLAAD spokesman Michael Barnes, a Washington, DC attorney and drug policy advisor. “Walgren and Brazil obviously did their homework. They handled complex medical and legal issues with extraordinary preparation and professionalism,” added Barnes, who analyzed the Murray trial for television networks CNN and HLN.
As part of CLAAD’s award for excellence, the organization presented Walgren and Brazil with engraved plaques and made a donation in their honor to the non-profit of their choice, Children’s Home Society & Family Services of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Murray committed 17 egregious violations of the medical standard of care during the hours before Jackson’s death, according to an expert who testified during the trial.
“As a practicing physician, I find Conrad Murray’s behavior abhorrent and an embarrassment,” said Lauren Trainor, D.O., of Huntington Beach, California.
Primary among the deviations was the prescribing of Propofol, a powerful anesthetic, to mimic the effects of sleep. A coroner’s investigation identified an overdose of Propofol and other controlled substances prescribed by Murray as the cause of Jackson’s death.
Prescription medications are increasingly used for purposes other than those for which they are intended and approved. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labeled prescription drug abuse a national epidemic. More than 40 Americans die every day from overdoses involving pain relievers alone.
“The conviction of Conrad Murray sends a strong signal to rogue prescribers that there is no defense for their actions,” Barnes said.
About the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence
The non-profit Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD) coordinates a comprehensive national effort to prevent the diversion, misuse, and abuse of prescription medications while ensuring adequate medical care for patients in need. CLAAD enables health professionals, law enforcement, businesses, and government, among many other entities, to share resources and work together to reduce prescription drug abuse, addiction, and overdoses. CLAAD’s National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy has been endorsed by 30 non-profit organizations and may be accessed online at http://www.claad.org.
About the Los Angeles County District Attorney
Los Angeles County District Attorney (LADA) Steve Cooley directs some 1,000 attorneys, 300 investigators, and 800 support personnel who prosecute 60,000 felonies and 130,000 misdemeanors annually. Cooley oversees an annual operating budget of more than $330 million. In the midst of his third consecutive term, Cooley has established the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office as a premier prosecutorial agency in the nation. His staff includes recognized national experts in areas such as DNA evidence, public corruption, foreign extradition, fraud, and gang prosecution. To advance public safety, the District Attorney created the Criminal Justice Institute to provide training to justice system professionals.
About Children’s Home Society & Family Services
Founded in 1889, Children’s Home Society & Family Services (CHSFS) works to ensure that every child has security, opportunity, and a loving family. In its 122 years of service, Children’s Home Society & Family Services has united more than 23,690 children with permanent families. Nationally, CHSFS is fully accredited by the Council on Accreditation; fully accredited by The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption; a founding member of the Child Welfare League of America; and a founding member of Children’s Home Society of America. CHSFS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota, with offices in Virginia and Maryland.
Next Tuesday, my friends and colleagues at the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD, @claad_coalition) will recognize Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorneys David Walgren and Deborah Brazil for their excellence in the prosecution of Dr. Conrad Murray. CLAAD is a national coalition dedicated to preventing prescription drug diversion, misuse, and abuse.
CLAAD will commend the LA County prosecutors for their national leadership in implementing the policy recommendations set forth in the National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy (of which I am a primary author). The National Strategy urges prosecutors to exercise moderation and to analyze facts in prescription drug cases from a medical perspective. Some 30 non-profit organizations have endorsed this year’s National Strategy.
CLAAD will issue a news release on Tuesday, Jan. 17. If you are interested in obtaining information about the award before then, please e-mail info[at]claad[dot]org.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.
My friends and colleagues at the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD, @claad_coalition) are urging the public to turn off their TVs this Friday night when MSNBC airs its documentary showcasing Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted for the homicide death of Michael Jackson. This evening, the organization will be issuing a national news release via PRLeap.com and updating its website with the announcement. In the meantime, you may read the CLAAD call to action here.
CLAAD is a national coalition dedicated to preventing prescription drug diversion, misuse, and abuse. Its National Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy (of which I am a primary author) sets forth recommendations for preventing overdoses resulting from intentionally wrongful prescribing, as well as prescriber and patient errors. Some 30 non-profit organizations have endorsed this year’s National Strategy.
I am proud to support CLAAD as it seeks to shun and isolate white-coat criminals like Conrad Murray. Join us tomorrow night!