Former volunteer gives DIA $1.71 million

Michael H. Hodges, Detroit News Fine Arts Writer 6:39 p.m. EST January 12, 2016

Elizabeth Verdow

Elizabeth Verdow, Retired schoolteacher and museum volunteer Elizabeth Verdow left the Detroit Institute of Arts $1.71 million.(Photo: Detroit Institute of Arts)

It’s the sort of thing museum development directors fantasize about.

The Detroit Institute of Arts announced Tuesday that a former volunteer at the museum gift store left the DIA $1.71 million in her will.

Elizabeth Verdow, who died in 2014 at age 86, was a former Detroit Public Schools art teacher who volunteered at the museum from 1990-2009. The Farmington Hills resident was a graduate of Albion College and apparently a devotee of contemporary art.

“We are humbled by Elizabeth’s longtime dedication to and support of the DIA,” said museum Director Salvador salort-Pons in a prepared statement. “We are deeply grateful and moved.”

Museum officials said Verdow was unmarried, had no children, and no close relatives.

Verdow’s will stipulated that three-quarters of the money, or $1.26 million, be used to buy new contemporary painting and sculpture. The remaining $450,000 will go into the museum’s operating endowment.

Retired museum store manager and buyer Anna Helkowsky remembered Verdow as a quiet, unassuming woman who was a pleasure to work with.

“She was part of what I called my ‘Sunday sunshine’ crew,” Helkowsky said. “Elizabeth came in, and whatever I needed, she would do.”

She was aware Verdow loved the museum, Helkowsky added, “but I did not know the extent of her passion. And who knew she had this much money?”

Verdow’s name will go up on the Robert S. Tannahill Society donor wall, and any art acquired with her funds will have the source noted on the gallery label.



Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Estate Planning Conundrum: What to do when a beneficiary has a substance abuse problem

Will ImageIn my 28 years of working with families on their estate plans, many parents have raised the issue of what to do when a child or grandchild struggles with substance abuse. With the recent death of Whitney Houston and her connection to substance abuse, it reminds me of what this means during the estate planning process. These parents are heartbroken and need guidance on how to address this difficult situation in their estate planning documents. Substance abuse – whether it’s alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal narcotics – affects many of the families we advise. As a result, we developed a list of questions for families to consider when designing their estate plan:

  1. Has the beneficiary ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?
  2. Is the beneficiary having a particularly hard time – is divorce on the horizon? Has he lost his business? Does he gamble?
  3. What is his relationship with other family members?
  4. Who does he trust?
  5. Who is giving him money?
  6. Is he eligible for government assistance?
  7. Who is paying his health insurance?
  8. Is he employed? For how long? What types of jobs?
  9. Has he ever been treated for his addiction?
  10. Is he a member of Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar organization?
  11. Do these issues run in the family?
  12. Has there been a family intervention?
  13. Is he open to counseling? Has this topic been addressed?
  14. Where is he living? Can he live alone?

I have noticed that substance abuse often masks other underlying mental health issues, including undiagnosed or untreated schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. That these issues are often part of a larger family pattern makes having the discussion much more difficult, but much more essential.

Families in Conflict

An addicted child may have already taken a significant emotional, physical, and financial toll on the entire family. Parents who find it difficult to handle this child become increasingly disturbed when they consider who would step in if they are unable or unavailable. This helplessness often leads to anger, frustration, and conflict.

One parent may want to cut off the beneficiary while the other parent cannot consider doing so. One parent may want to kick the child out of the home, while the other parent believes that doing so would make matters worse. These conflicts add stress to their marriage and the family at large.

Grandparents may have different opinions than the parents. Siblings may already be resentful of their addicted sister or brother. In many families, the troubled child has already received significant emotional and financial assistance. His troubles have already taken center stage at the dinner table. His presence in the home and attitude toward the family may have already created constant disruption.

Estate Planning Tools and Options

As complex and emotional as these issues are, families must address them. And they will welcome having an impartial, yet compassionate advisor to provide guidance, suggestions, and choices.

One planning tool for parents to immediately consider is for that child to designate them as the agent under his health care proxy and his attorney in fact under the durable power of attorney. Without these documents, HIPPA will prohibit the parents from being involved with his treatment. Also, these documents give parents legal access to his health and financial records, which could be extremely important if it becomes necessary to apply for government benefits.

Inevitably, an estate planning discussion will include disinheritance. In my experience, this is a subject frequently discussed and rarely implemented. No matter how angry and frustrated they are, parents still want to provide some sort of safety net for their child.

This pressure to disinherit the troubled child may come from the sense that he has already taken more than his fair share of the family’s resources, possibly at the expense of the other, more responsible children. As the family’s advisor, however, you should ask the parents:

  • If you are not here, how will the child be cared for with no existing financial resources?
  • Who will be responsible?
  • Who will he call?
  • Will disinheriting him place a financial burden on your other children, or will they be able to walk away?

Establishing a Trust

Rather than disinheriting him, a common solution is to establish a trust that includes him as a permissible beneficiary – or is only for his benefit during his lifetime. The hard decision, however, is who will serve as trustee after both parents die. Parents are understandably reluctant to place that burden on their other children or on other relatives.

If there are significant assets, then choosing a corporate trustee is the simple choice. The other children or trusted friends or advisors can then have the right to remove or replace that trustee during the trust duration. If there are not sufficient assets to warrant a corporate trustee, then the parents must identify friends or trusted advisors – who should be paid for their services. The trustee should review the trust document to ensure that he has the right to resign from his office, and understand the mechanism for subsequent trustee appointments. The document should provide the trustee with the authority to expend funds for purposes such as counseling, detectives, drug testing, and private security.

Trust Terms and Provisions

After deciding on the line of succession and identifying who will operate the trust, parents need to focus on the various purposes for which the trustee may or may not distribute income and/or principal from the trust to the beneficiary.

If the beneficiary is likely to require government assistance, then the terms of the trust must contemplate that. The trust document may also give the trustee authority to withhold payments if deemed advisable. This is often preferable to asking that trustee to determine whether a beneficiary is drug-free. Those suffering from substance abuse can be clever, and making such a determination is tricky.

Rather than withholding payments, another approach is to provide the beneficiary with incentives for staying clean. The trustee could provide additional distributions if the child holds a full-time job or regularly attends counseling sessions. Making the distribution provisions restrictive and under the trustee’s sole control can help protect those assets from the troubled child’s creditors, or from any of the many “friends” and acquaintances who might take advantage of him if they believe there is money in his pocket.

Many parents have a sense of shame or denial, and may rightly choose not to make these troubles public, or put them in a trust document that others can access. I encourage parents to write an annual side letter to the trustee that describes their observations and offers details that they are reluctant to share while living. This letter could be placed in a sealed envelope, kept with the original estate planning documents, and updated/revised as circumstances change. It can be comforting to the trustee to understand more about the parents’ goals and objectives from their own voice.

Planning for the beneficiary with a substance abuse issue is complex and can have consequences that affect the entire family. Remind parents that life is a movie, not a snapshot. A plan created now should be good enough to handle today’s circumstances, yet flexible enough to contemplate the unknown. Encourage parents who are dealing with this difficult situation to revisit their plan every few years as circumstances change and evolve.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

You are Challenging My Will – I’m Not Dead Yet!

People have been contesting wills and challenging estate plans for a long time, but until recently, they have had to wait until after the testator has died. Now, instead of waiting until Dad dies, a family’s emotional and financial drama can take center stage in court – while he is still alive. Pre-death litigation is on the rise and guardianship litigation is a forum in which the traditional post-death challenges to estate planning documents are now litigated while the testator is alive.

Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Nevada, North Dakota, and Ohio now allow lawsuits that directly contest the validity of a will and/or trust prior to the death of a testator. In those states, the court proceeding will involve notifying the named beneficiaries of the will and/or trust and any disinherited heirs of the existence of the will and/or trust and their contents. The court will set a time frame (typically 30 days) by which any of those persons (known as the interested persons) can mount a challenge. If no challenge is made within a set amount of time, then those persons are barred from mounting a challenge after the testator’s death. A goal of these laws is to provide certainty as to the estate plan.

Drawbacks include:

1) The provisions of the testator’s will/trust is revealed to all interested parties as part of the court proceeding

2) Any subsequent changes to the plan would have to occur through the court system and the ability to attack would arise with each revision

3) The testator may have real estate in jurisdictions that do not allow pre-death will contests and therefore, certainty on those assets may not be foreclosed

4) It is an open question as to whether or not future challenges could be foreclosed if the testator moved during his or her lifetime from a jurisdiction that allows pre-death will contests to a state that does not

In most other states, direct pre-death will contests are not permitted based on the concept that the will speaks only upon the testator’s death, and that a testator can change the will at any time during his or her lifetime. Florida, Indiana, and New York have generally enacted statutes that specifically preclude pre-death will contests.

Even in those states, however, indirect challenges to a will pre-death are not precluded, and may occur through guardianship or conservatorship proceedings. The theory here is based on the concept of “substituted judgment.” When a person is put under guardianship or conservatorship, a judge can determine (after medical testimony) that the incapacitated person is no longer capable of judgment, and the judgment of the court-appointed guardian or conservator is substituted for the incompetent ward.

A California case (Murphy v. Murphy) involved a family feud. The parents, William and Elaine, were married in 1949 and had two children, William Jr. and Maureen. Elaine became ill and Maureen moved into her parents’ home to help care for her mother. Her mother died and her father suffered a major stroke. William Jr. began a court proceeding asking the court to appoint a professional conservator to make decisions pertaining to his father.

In the papers he filed in court, the son alleged that his sister was imposing her influence on their father. Four days after the court appointed a professional conservator, the father, upset that his son had taken the family’s dirty laundry public, and upset about the underlying allegations, handwrote a will and trust that omitted his son and gave all of his assets to his daughter. A year and a half later, the conservator asked the court to approve the estate plan through a petition of substituted judgment.

The conservator had notified both the son and daughter of the substituted judgment petition and the court proceeding, and the son did not challenge his father’s estate plan. After his father’s death, the son tried to challenge the estate plan, but the California court held that he no longer had the ability to challenge on the legal theory of “collateral estoppel.” In other words, the son was not permitted to relitigate matters that had been already litigated. The issues that the son raised in the post-death challenge (undue influence, fraud, and the existence of an oral agreement), were issues put forward in the substituted judgment case even though those issues were not litigated in that proceeding.

In essence, the court determined that when a conservator obtains the court’s approval for a living ward’s estate plan, any challenge to the will must be made at that time and not after death.

There are several lessons to be learned from states that allow pre-death direct will contests, and from states that allow indirect pre-death will contests through guardianship or conservatorship proceedings:

  1. Weigh the costs and benefits of a pre-death vs. post death challenge. Witnesses, evidence, and testimony that are available now may not be available after death.
  2. Depending on the testator’s capacity, he or she may be a powerful witness. Without his or her testimony, the testator’s wishes may not be given the proper weight – the judge would have to rely on indirect evidence to determine intent.
  3. Understand the possible damage to the testator’s reputation by bringing this type of a proceeding forward while he or she is still alive. This type of lawsuit can be very embarrassing.
  4. If a guardian or conservator wants to bring the fight forward now and preclude future litigation he or she could seek court approval to revise the estate plan, notify all heirs at law and interested parties, and preclude further objections under the collateral estoppel.
  5. If your client receives notice of such a proceeding, the Scarlett O’Hara plan of waiting until tomorrow will not work; action must be taken in that proceeding while the testator is alive.
  6. If a court proceeding ensues, financial discovery will begin and may include the following documents: copies of all current and prior estate planning documents, a statement of who is designated beneficiary of all retirement planning assets, annuities and life insurance policies (primary and secondary), financial statements, tax returns, bank account statements, a complete listing of disbursements and back-up invoices, credit card statements, credit reports, insurance policies, deeds, promissory notes, safe deposit boxes, storage facilities, partnership documents, corporate documents, documentation of all gifting (including gifts not reflected on any return), and philanthropic transfers.

If it appears that your client will be involved in this type of litigation it is prudent to be aware of the scope of the financial discovery.

In summary, forewarned is forearmed. If you have a client whose estate plan will be challenged, or you have a client who will be challenging an estate plan and they believe it’s inevitable that the matter will end up in court, it is important to consider pre-death challenges as a possible avenue.


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Don’t let clients overlook these key estate planning issues

estate planning, estate planning tipsClients tend not to want to deal with estate planning until they absolutely have to. In my 30 years of practice, I’ve found that the two most common times clients revise an estate plan are when a vacation is coming up and when a friend or family member has just died or received a bad diagnosis, leading the client to contemplate his or her own mortality. But both of those events are the wrong time to do proper estate planning. It is very difficult to plan when facing a medical emergency, sudden illness, or recent death in the family, and it’s equally difficult to do proper planning when the client just wants a quick fix before he or she gets on a plane.

For these reasons, it may be helpful for you to bring up certain key issues with clients who are on the fence about estate planning, so that they can visualize the consequences of not having an up-to-date plan. One way to do so would be to hand them this column before you begin working with them.

  1. Health care proxies. All members of your family who have attained the age of majority should have signed and updated health care proxies or health care durable powers of attorney. It is also a good idea to list the cellphone numbers of all relevant people on these documents and to give copies of them to your health care agent (the person designated by the health care proxy to make health care decisions) as well as one or two and backup people so that they can be easily accessed.Having a health care proxy is especially important if you have children going off to college. Under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules, once a child attains the age of majority, his or her parents cannot access the grown child’s medical information without permission.

    Without a signed health care proxy, you will not able to make medical decisions for your child in the event he or she is unable to make them.
  2. Guardians or conservators. As you age, you need to decide who will be in charge should you lose the ability to handle financial affairs. A durable power of attorney can be used to handle financial affairs should you become disabled or incapacitated.However, even if you have a valid durable power of attorney in place, there are certain situations where protective proceedings must commence for someone to be appointed your guardian or conservator. The durable power of attorney can include a provision that nominates this person.

    Note that the nomination is just that: a nomination, not an appointment. But, should protective proceedings commence in court, the court is obligated to notify the person or persons you named as guardian or conservator that the proceeding is underway and that they have been nominated. In my experience that gives you a fighting chance that the person you nominated will be the person who serves in that capacity. (This is especially important if you’re worried that your family members may dispute your guardianship or if you’re in a nontraditional relationship or a second marriage.)
  3. Durable powers of attorney. Retirement planning assets (such as IRAs, Keogh, etc.) are owned by the plan holder. Without a durable power of attorney, no one automatically has the power to make investment decisions, take a hardship withdrawal, or roll the asset over for you should you become disabled or incapacitated. This is true even if you’re married. However, if you’ve established a durable power of attorney and given the attorney-in-fact (the agent) the authority to deal with the retirement planning asset, then the attorney-in-fact will be able to take those actions.Likewise, while you’re alive, you are the only person who can transact any real estate you own (including any jointly owned real estate). No one else automatically has the right to handle your assets. This is true even if you’re married and own real estate jointly with your spouse. If you and your spouse jointly own a piece of real estate and you become disabled, that asset is frozen unless you have given someone the legal authority through the durable power of attorney to deal with it.
  4. Updating the entire estate plan along with a will or a trust. If changes are made to a will or a trust— such as a change in beneficiary—it is important to make sure you coordinate your entire financial picture alongside those documents so that the plan remains integrated.
  5. Periodic revisions of the estate plan. In general, you should revise your estate plan at least every five years. Other times to do so include death, disability, divorce, marriage, the birth or adoption of children, the serious illness of a beneficiary or named fiduciary, a substantial increase or decrease in the size of your estate, the purchase or sale of a business, significant gifting or lending of money to a child, change of residence, or the purchase of real estate in another jurisdiction. Changes in the tax laws may also necessitate that you revisit your estate plan.It is a challenge for all of us to think about estate planning when there is no immediate reason to do so. It is very easy to put it off planning for one more day—then one more day. But life can be unpredictable. You don’t want to have to deal with a death, serious illness, or other unforeseen event without a proper estate plan in place. The time to secure that plan is now.





Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Can I Contest My Uncle’s Will?

By Lucy Warwick-Ching

invitation to tea, wills

My elderly uncle died recently, leaving his substantial estate to his two sons. He was for many years providing financial support to my mother, his sister, who suffers from a debilitating illness.

When I tried to raise the possibility of ongoing support with the sons, they said in as many words that I should support her myself. Unfortunately my salary means I am in no position to do so. Would my mother, who is sound of mind if not of body, be able to make a legal claim against them?

Nicholas Yapp, partner at Gordon Dadds, says your mother may have the right to make a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 on the basis that his will failed to make reasonable financial provision for her. This is because immediately before his death your mother was being wholly or partly supported financially by him.

Whether or not your mother’s case passes this “threshold test” of maintenance depends on the facts. The Court operates a commonsense approach to the question of “immediately before the date of death” and normally it will be enough to demonstrate that there was a recognisable pattern of payments made by your uncle to your mother by way of financial support.

These must have continued until his death and must not have been ended by a cessation of payments or an expression by your uncle of an intention to cease making such payments at a time before his death. In general, the longer the period for which such payments were made, the better the prospects of a successful claim.

You will need to be able to show evidence of the payments made, the basis on which they were made and the period over which they were made. Balanced against any claim which your mother may make will be the needs of any other beneficiaries of your uncle’s will, including those of his sons, to the extent that they may claim that reasonable provision has not been made for them in the will, as well as the needs of any other claimant.

If your mother intends to bring a claim she should do so not later than six months after the date on which the grant of probate was taken out. The Court enforces this time limit strictly. As a result of changes to the law, which came into effect on October 1 2014, your mother no longer has to wait for the grant to be taken out before making her claim.

Source: Financial Times


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Supreme Court rules Canadians have right to doctor-assisted suicide

Sean Fine – Justice Writer

6-16-15_Supreme_Court_Rules_Candians_Have_Right, assisted deathCanadian adults in grievous, unending pain have a right to end their life with a doctor’s help, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

The unanimous ruling, by establishing that the “sanctity of life” also includes the “passage into death,” extends constitutional rights into a new realm. The courts have used the 1982 Charter of Rights to establish gay marriage and to strike down a federal abortion law. The new ruling will change the

In a brief, powerful opening paragraph, the court explained why it was creating a new constitutional right to autonomy over one’s death in some circumstances: Those who are severely and irremediably suffering, whether physically or psychologically, “may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering” by the government’s absolute ban on assisted dying. “A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.”

The decision was signed by The Court, which happens occasionally when the justices wish to lend their decisions extra weight. The nine judges, who range in age from mid-50s to 74, dismissed the notion that competent adults cannot consent to their death. “We do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that individuals cannot ‘waive’ their right to life. This would create a ‘duty to live,’” the ruling says.

The court decision puts Canada in the company of a small group of countries such as Belgium – and U.S. states Washington and Oregon – that permit doctor-assisted death. And it gives the Conservative government difficult choices as it heads toward an election expected in the fall. The court suspended its ruling for 12 months to allow for new rules and laws to be drafted, but Ottawa could choose to do nothing, and allow provinces and medical regulatory bodies to create the ground rules for assisted death. Or it could do what it did when the Supreme Court struck down prostitution laws 14 months ago: study international models and then create a uniquely Canadian version that may or may not respect the principles established by the court.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay did not directly express concern about the court’s decision, as he did immediately after the prostitution ruling. But he left the government’s options open, and did not promise to respect the court’s ruling. “This is a sensitive issue for many Canadians, with deeply held beliefs on both sides. We will study the decision and ensure all perspectives on this difficult issue are heard,” he said in a prepared statement.

Some advocates of disabled people condemned the ruling. Because it is not restricted to the terminally ill, but to a broader group who have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” it means “all persons with a serious disability in Canada can access assisted suicide,” the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living said in a joint statement.

“This degree of permissiveness does not exist anywhere else in the world.”

Gerald Chipeur, an Alberta lawyer who represented the Christian Legal Fellowship in opposing assisted death, said governments should create a system in which patients who fit the court’s criteria and wish to die would apply to a judge for a warrant, that they would then take to a doctor, thus exempting the doctor from criminal responsibility.

Jocelyn Downie, a Dalhousie University professor of law and medicine, said she would like to see an oversight body created – perhaps a Canadian commission on assisted dying – so a new system can earn the public’s trust.

The court overturned its own 5-4 ruling from 22 years ago in which it rejected a right to assisted suicide claimed by Sue Rodriguez, 42, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In that case, Justice John Sopinka, writing for the majority, said Parliament needed flexibility to protect the vulnerable and respect Canadians’ views on the sanctity of life. Picking up on those arguments, the Canadian government contended in this case that a blanket prohibition on assisted death was necessary because of the difficulty in knowing beforehand who was vulnerable to being mistreated or undervalued by the health system or family members, and thus pushed toward an unwanted death.

But over and over,the court fell back on the factual findings of the trial judge, Justice Lynn Smith of the B.C. Supreme Court, who conducted extensive hearings on legal developments in other jurisdictions since the Rodriguez case. Justice Smith, a former law dean at the University of British Columbia, found that the systems worked to protect vulnerable people from unwanted death.

The court did not strike down the Criminal Code’s prohibitions on assisted suicide, but said they no longer apply “to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

Madeleine Meilleur, the Attorney-General of Ontario, said she would “love” to see Ottawa take the lead in crafting new legislation governing assisted dying. “I think it would show leadership,” she said. If Ottawa declines to pass a law or set national guidelines for what is essentially a new medical service, the provinces, which oversee health care, could enact their own laws on doctor-assisted dying. Ms. Meilleur said it was “too early” to say what Ontario will do next.

The case involved two women, both now dead. Kathleen Carter, 89, suffered from a degenerative disease, spinal stenosis, that left her lying “flat as an ironing board,” in her own words, and unable even to read a newspaper; her daughter, Lee Carter, took her to Switzerland for an assisted death in 2010. Gloria Taylor, like Ms. Rodriguez in 1993, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and died of an infection in late 2012.

Lee Carter, holding a pink bouquet of daisies in honour of her mother’s favourite colour, said in an interview after the ruling that Canadians now “have a choice to die with dignity in our own country, surrounded by friends and family.”

With a report from Kelly Grant

Source: The Globe and Mail


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Help Your Clients Choose the Right Beneficiaries

beneficiaries, willFor many clients, estate plans control the two most significant assets they own: their retirement planning assets and their primary residence. But even well-drafted estate plans can fail if a client names the wrong person the beneficiary of a retirement plan, annuity, or life insurance policy.

CPAs, as the quarterbacks of the financial or estate planning team, have an important role to play in ensuring clients choose the right beneficiaries. Here is what CPAs should keep in mind when helping their clients make this crucial decision.

Ask your clients the right questions.

To ensure that your clients designate their beneficiaries in the best possible manner, be sure to ask them the right questions when performing an annual review. Who are the current beneficiaries of their assets? Why (and when) were the beneficiaries designated the way they were? Does the entire financial/estate planning team know who the beneficiaries are? Asking these questions in an annual review may make clients aware of new options. For example, a client may remember that he designated his ex-wife as the beneficiary of his life insurance in case he died before his child support obligations were fulfilled, but realizes now that his children are grown child support is no longer a factor. Or a client whose son is struggling with debt and facing creditors may see that it’s better to establish a trust for the son rather than making him the primary beneficiary of her life insurance policy.

Make sure clients’ estate plans stay up-to-date, even when their circumstances change.

Significant life events such as marriage, divorce, and remarriage, for example, require clients to update their estate planning documents. But clients sometimes fail to complete the necessary paperwork. The legal process of a divorce, for example, can be emotionally and financially devastating, and clients may not feel like tying up all the loose ends—such as revising an estate plan—right away. Clients also may forget to update their beneficiary designations if they change advisers midway through making an estate plan.

Show clients how their choice of beneficiary affects their entire estate plan.

Many clients designate their beneficiaries in isolation, without thinking through the effect that decision will have on their entire estate plan. This decision can lead to serious federal or state estate tax consequences. Estate plans can founder if clients’ non-probate assets (those that pass by ownership or law or by contract designation beneficiary) aren’t properly coordinated with their probate assets (those that are in the decedent’s name alone and will pass through the probate estate, either by will or by the laws of intestacy if the client does not have a will). CPAs can help by showing clients how their beneficiary choices affect the whole plan, and encouraging them not to view the designation of beneficiary as a stand-alone decision.

Inform clients of the financial implications of the beneficiaries they have chosen.

Clients sometimes don’t fully understand the implications of how they designate assets to beneficiaries. For example, a client may name his minor children as beneficiaries of an IRA or retirement planning asset without realizing that the children will be able to use the funds however they wish when they turn 18 or 21 (depending on what state they live in). In the case of a significant asset, the client may be better off establishing a trust that will control the asset until the children are older than that. Or a client may name a trust she established as the primary beneficiary of a retirement planning asset, without understanding that stretching out the benefits over the lifetime of a trust is generally not permitted except in the case of a special trust known as a “see-through trust.” Advisers must consider all these implications and be sure their clients understand them.

Pay special attention to tax apportionments.

CPAs should also review the tax apportionment language in a will to determine how any federal and/or estate taxes that are assessed will be allocated among the assets. If this is not done carefully (and the plan reviewed on a continuous basis) beneficiaries under the will can be inadvertently disinherited. Specifically, if a will provides that all taxes are to be paid from the residue of the estate and not apportioned among the beneficiaries who receive the assets under the will, then beneficiaries who receive significant specific bequests could receive those assets free of any federal or state estate tax, while beneficiaries who receive their inheritance out of the residual estate will have their bequests reduced by the payment of all the federal and state estate taxes, not just the taxes attributable to their share. Likewise, should a client change the designation of a beneficiary later in a way that is inconsistent with the will—for example, by naming one child the beneficiary of the IRA and all other children the beneficiaries of his will—the consequences to the other children who take under the will can be disastrous.

As part of your review of your clients’ financial picture, you, as CPA, are in a strong position to look out for complications that arise when the right beneficiaries aren’t selected, and to advise your clients appropriately to ensure they have a current, coordinated, and integrated estate plan.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Downbeat Legacy for James Brown, Godfather of Soul: A Will in Dispute


AIKEN, S.C. — James Brown’s will was meant to be everything his life was not.

The manic energy that fueled a career of funk classics, pyrotechnic dancing and relentless touring as the Godfather of Soul also contributed to a trail of broken marriages, estranged children, tax liens and brushes with the law over drugs, weapons and domestic violence.

By comparison, his will was as orderly as a book of prayer.

The bulk of his estate, worth millions of dollars — perhaps tens of millions — was to go to a trust to provide scholarships to needy children here in his native state and in Georgia, where he grew up. But nearly eight years after his death, at 73, on Dec. 25, 2006, the I Feel Good Trust has not distributed a penny to its intended recipients.

Some of his children, who hope to turn Mr. Brown’s former home into a Graceland-style attraction, have challenged the will, which largely ignored them. So has a woman he treated like a wife, though he later contested the legality of their marriage.

The disputes prompted the South Carolina government to seize control of Mr. Brown’s estate, jettison his instructions and redirect half of his assets. Last year the state’s Supreme Court overruled those actions, calling them an unprecedented overstepping of authority that threatened to undermine public confidence in the probate process.

Today nothing is settled. The estate remains mired in lawsuits, two sets of executors have been replaced, and a lower court has yet to follow some of the court’s instructions. Millions of dollars have been paid in recent years to creditors, law firms and various vendors, but not to schoolchildren or other beneficiaries. And Mr. Brown’s body remains in a temporary resting place, not the memorial that is planned for his home.

“This thing could go on for an eternity,” said Alan Leeds, a former tour manager for Mr. Brown. “I don’t know how you resolve it. There’s just chaos and confusion and mixed agendas.”

The battle over Mr. Brown’s will continues as a recent documentary and film focus attention on his life. The biopic, “Get On Up,” released in August, is considered an Oscar contender, while HBO in October began showing the documentary, “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown.”

Mr. Brown’s music remains popular and each year it generates millions of dollars in royalties for the estate. His songs show up routinely in commercials or in the work of hip-hop performers who pay to use snippets in their own recordings. (The drum break from “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” has been used so often that it’s been described as “the national anthem of hip-hop.”) Even Mr. Brown’s trademark grunts and squeals are available as ringtones.

The Roots of Charity

By Mr. Brown’s own account, his interest in education stems from his childhood. Born in a one-room country shack, he grew up under segregation in dire poverty and never made it through the seventh grade.

In 2000, the year he signed his will, Mr. Brown explained on an audio tape how he hoped his scholarship fund would burnish his legacy and benefit both white and black children. The will also put aside $2 million in scholarships for his seven grandchildren and divided his personal property, like costumes and household effects, worth perhaps another $2 million, among the six children he recognized. Any heir who challenged the arrangement would be disinherited, the will said.

There was trouble from the start, though. Many of Mr. Brown’s children and grandchildren sued to overturn the will and to remove three longtime associates he had appointed as executors of the estate: his accountant, David Cannon; his personal lawyer, Albert H. Dallas; and a former judge, Alfred Bradley.

Several of the children argued that Mr. Brown, who had had drug problems, had been influenced by lawyers and managers who stood to profit from what the children claimed was his diminished mental capacity.

“Our position is that Mr. Brown did not make a valid will,” said Louis Levenson, the lawyer for four of Mr. Brown’s children. “He was highly influenced by the people who were closest to him, who had the most to gain by the creation of the charitable trust.”

By the end of 2007 all three executors had resigned — Mr. Cannon in the midst of allegations that he had misappropriated Mr. Brown’s money. (He was later sentenced in a separate case to three years of house confinement after being charged with breach of trust in his management of Mr. Brown’s affairs.)

The state district court replaced the original executors with two South Carolina estate lawyers, Adele Pope and Robert Buchanan.

The State Steps In

In 2008, Henry McMaster, then the South Carolina attorney general, intervened. He said that Mr. Brown’s charitable goals had been endangered by the court challenges filed by his family.

Under a proposed settlement with the family, he redirected a quarter of the estate’s assets to Mr. Brown’s children and grandchildren and a quarter to the singer Tommie Rae Hynie, whom Mr. Brown married in 2001 but had left out of the will. Mr. Brown filed for an annulment in 2004 after learning that Ms. Hynie was already married to another man, but let that action lapse after she signed a document promising never to claim she had been his common-law wife; earlier, she had also signed a prenuptial agreement in which she renounced any interest in the estate.

Ms. Hynie said in an interview that Mr. Brown had never meant to disinherit her. “I was very loyal to my husband,” she said. “I loved him very much and he loved me.”

As part of the settlement, the district court agreed to remove the executors, Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan, partly because they had balked at the settlement and were at odds with the family. In their place, the attorney general appointed his own administrator, Russell L. Bauknight, a public accountant, to oversee the estate.

But last year the South Carolina Supreme Court threw out the attorney general’s settlement. It described the state’s entry into administration of the estate as “an unprecedented misdirection” of the attorney general’s authority that had led to “the total dismemberment of Brown’s carefully crafted estate plan and its resurrection in a form that grossly distorts his intent.” Based on what it had reviewed, the court said that there was no evidence that Mr. Brown had been unduly influenced or that the will was anything but a true expression of his intent.

The court also voided Mr. Bauknight’s appointment, though it left open the door to his reappointment. It directed the lower court to appoint a new panel to oversee the estate in accord with Mr. Brown’s wishes.

During the past 18 months, the lower court judge to whom the case was returned, Doyet A. Early III, has continued to hold hearings into the matter. But he did not appoint the new panel, and he has reappointed Mr. Bauknight to administer the estate. The judge has not made clear whether he will enforce the terms of Mr. Brown’s will or try to arrange for another settlement among the parties. He has not responded to a request for comment.

“It’s pernicious,” said Virginia Meeks Shuman, who teaches estate law at the Charleston School of Law. “This idea that you can just completely disregard the testator’s wishes is fine if we are going to live in a country where people don’t have a right to say what happens with their assets when they die.”

Despite scolding by the Supreme Court, Mr. McMaster — who was elected lieutenant governor last month — defended his plan as “a terrific settlement” that resolved the “labyrinth created by the entangling lawsuits filed by everybody against everybody.”

A Question of Value

Just how big the estate is remains a matter of significant and unusual debate.

In 2009, when they transferred control of the estate to the attorney general’s administrator, the existing executors valued it at $86 million. They based that figure on offers that they said had been made to buy the copyrights to the more than 800 songs Mr. Brown wrote or controlled and to the dozens of albums he recorded in his 50-year career. In 2006, for example, a Royal Bank of Scotland appraisal found that just a portion of the assets was worth $42 million.

Mr. Bauknight has declined to embrace those figures, choosing instead to value the estate at the time of death at $6.5 million. He has said an investment firm helped establish the figure, but did not detail the analysis.

He has charged Ms. Pope with inflating the estate’s value to increase her fee as a fiduciary.

Ms. Pope, who has said she is entitled to $2.8 million in fees plus costs in a claim she filed with the estate, defended the valuation. She said she is only looking for the standard percentage awarded to fiduciaries.

Mr. Bauknight, meanwhile, has declined to discuss how he set his valuation, or to answer questions about the estate. “I am not an agent of the state, now or ever,” he wrote in an email to explain why he does not feel such matters are public.

Sue Summer, a reporter for The Newberry Observer, a small newspaper in South Carolina, has challenged that assertion and in July secured a court ruling directing the state to release documents about the estate’s finances. The state, which for years has declined to answer questions or provide documents, is appealing.

Mr. Bauknight, the executor, has said in court and interviews that he wants a quick resolution to the outstanding issues so that Mr. Brown’s charitable wishes can be fulfilled. His lawyers have cast him as something of a savior of the estate who hired an experienced music licensing agent, Peter Afterman, to generate more royalties by placing Mr. Brown’s songs in major commercials, thus, making it possible to retire a $14 million loan early.

Mr. Afterman and his company, Inaudible Productions, have been paid $1.2 million in fees by the estate since 2011. They also represented the estate in the sale of music and other rights to the makers of the two new films, both co-produced by Mick Jagger, another Afterman client. The biopic lists Mr. Afterman as an executive producer and the documentary credits him as one of four producers.

Mr. Afterman and Mr. Bauknight did not respond to questions about what the estate received for the rights and whether Mr. Afterman, as a producer, had also been paid by the filmmakers.

Mr. Brown’s body remains at a temporary resting place here, in a mausoleum at the home of his daughter Deanna, three miles from his mansion in Beech Island. The family had hoped to turn the mansion into a memorial and tourist attraction modeled on Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but the plans are on hold until the estate dispute is resolved.

Ms. Pope is still in court these days, pushing to have Judge Early follow the terms of Mr. Brown’s will. Ms. Hynie and five of the six children whom Mr. Brown recognized, on the other hand, are trying to secure a settlement similar to the scuttled state plan. One of Mr. Brown’s sons, Daryl, and a grandson, William, differ from the rest of the family on that issue, arguing that the officials had tried to replace a dead man’s priorities with their own.

“They didn’t do that to Strom Thurmond’s estate,” William Brown said. “They didn’t do it to Elvis Presley’s estate. What’s wrong with that picture?”

Source: The New York Times – photo courtesy


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Using a Will to Focus on Family Values

Will Image, ethical willsWriting an Ethical Will in addition to the conventional, legal one that is the centerpiece of all estate planning can give you a chance to focus on your family’s values and its true north. These wills focus on spiritual legacies in addition to the material ones. Also known as “value” or “mission” statements, Ethical Wills can be very important in crystallizing family values:

  • They can describe religious or moral values you believe are important to share with subsequent generations.
  • They enable you to describe yourself, to personalize and pass on some of the important “life lessons” you have learned.
  • They can serve as a source for recording details of your family history that might otherwise be lost forever.
  • They give you a chance to explain to your heirs why the philanthropic donations you have made have been so important to you.
  • They enable you to share with your children and grandchildren cherished memories you have of them, and to let them know personally how important they have been to you

Ethical Wills give you the chance to be remembered the way you want to be remembered, and they give you the chance to articulate the values that you want to endure in your family as the generations pass

An alternative to a written ethical will is a video legacy. As Iris Wagner of Memoir Productions ( asks, “Do you wish to communicate with future generations about your heritage, your values and beliefs? Would you like to reflect on your life story and tell it ‘from your lips’?

As a lasting legacy, shouldn’t your story be told by you on camera?” The act of preparing an ethical will allows you to preserve your family’s non-financial legacy. As Iris points out, an ethical will benefits both the narrator and the recipient. It benefits the narrator because it is a celebration of life by which the narrator focuses on meaning, perspective and purpose. It is an open communication with important people. An ethical will clarifies family values, convictions, priorities and goals. For the narrator an ethical will can lasso, heal the past and resolve conflicts, leading the narrator to forgiveness and peace. An ethical will also benefits the recipients. It is a guidepost to living through the sharing of wisdom and enduring values. It improves relationships and clarifies relationships. An ethical will sends the family recipients messages of love which can be quite helpful when they are grieving and healing. It is a perpetual legacy of shared and strengthened values, memories and connections.

In addition to understanding your family’s values, it’s important to be aware of any ghosts that may be lurking in the family closet. Every time a new client comes to me with an extremely complicated situation, I sense a ghost. I am not sure whether it is “Caspar the Friendly Ghost” or a scary ghost, lurking in the attic.

I do know that the ghost impacts the way that the family is operating and how its members communicate. After 30 years practicing estate planning law I know that if I do not pay attention to that ghost, the solution I offer will not help solve the problem and may, in fact, make that problem much more significant.

So when that client is sitting in front of me with a tangled story, I listen and carefully observe what is not being said as much as what is being said. I understand that even though the family may be coming to me for a legal solution to its problem, the reality may be that the problem and the solution are not legal, and should be addressed by a different kind of professional. It is, of course, emotionally safer to visit a law office and speak about how to solve a problem legally than it is to deal with it on a more personal level. But that is not what law or lawyers are supposed to do. The legal structure can enable a plan and allow goals to be implemented, but it cannot address the fault lines of emotional family issues.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

Court Says Will Created on Tablet Computer Valid

wills, estate planning tipsTimes they are a changing! In the past, courts were extremely strict, and conservative when it came to important estate documents like wills and trusts.  Certain verbiage is required, and conditions vary by state.

It’s always wise to be sure you know your individual state laws and their probate requirements in order that you not open up any reason these documents could be contested after your passing.

A recent article in the Chronicle-Telegram indicates that courts are being more open to new technologies that may provide new ways to memorialize your wishes.  Here’s the story:

Last resort: Write that will on your tablet

An Ohio probate court has ruled that a will written by Javier Castro on a Samsung Galaxy tablet computer is valid because no paper was available.

The decedent’s brothers testified that the decedent told them how he wanted to divide up the estate. One of the brothers wrote down those instructions on the tablet using a stylus. Later that day the decedent signed the will on the tablet with both of his brothers witnessing the signature and after he died the brothers printed out a copy of the will and submitted it to probate.

So what do you think?  Is it okay to simplify estate planning documents using present day technologies and does that leave the doors open for someone to contest it?

Do we need to ask the individual states to design legislation that will protect both the decedent and heirs when presented with these options, or not

This makes it much more important to be sure you work with a qualified attorney to help you manage your estate documents to be sure their validity will not be challenged after you’re gone.


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,