Polo club founder adopts his 42-year-old girlfriend

A rather unique attempt at protecting assets in a lawsuit. Thought you might find it interesting. What do you think of Mr. Goodman’s solution?  Leave your comments below.

By Michael Inbar

A wealthy Florida man has set off a firestorm by legally adopting his 42-year-old girlfriend as he prepares for a potentially costly wrongful death suit.

John Goodman, 49, founder of the Tony International Polo Club in Wellington, Fla., was involved in a crash on Feb. 12, 2010 that killed 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson. Local police say Goodman ran a stop sign while driving with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit in Florida.

While Goodman faces criminal charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident that carry a possible 30-year prison term in a trial set for March 6, he also faces a civil suit from William and Lili Wilson over the death of their son. That trial is set to begin March 27.

In recently released court documents, the Wilsons learned that Goodman had legally adopted his girlfriend Heather Hutchins in October. Attorneys for the Wilsons say it was a blatant move to protect his assets.

“It cannot go unrecognized that [Goodman] chose to adopt his 42-year-old girlfriend as opposed to a needy child,” The Palm Beach Post newspaper quoted family attorney Scott Smith as saying.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley had previously ruled a trust fund Goodman had established for his two minor children could not be considered an asset in any court-rewarded damages to the Wilson family. Now, with Hutchins also considered Goodman’s daughter, she is entitled to one-third of the trust fund, and as an adult over 35 she can begin drawing money from the fund immediately.

Judge Kelley was critical of Goodman’s move in his order granting the Wilson family the right to information regarding the adoption. Kelley said the adoption “border(s) on the surreal,” The Palm Beach Post reported.

“The Court cannot ignore reality or the practical impact of what Mr. Goodman has now done,” Judge Kelley wrote. “The Defendant has effectively diverted a significant portion of the assets of the children’s trust to a person with whom he is intimately involved at a time when his personal assets are largely at risk in this case.”

While Goodman’s move has tongues wagging on the society scene in south Florida, a state adoption expert told WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach that Goodman adopting his girlfriend may not be strictly legal.

“Adoption means the act of creating the legal relationship between parent and child where it did not exist,” adoption attorney Charlotte Danciu told the station.

“Unless you intend to create the parent-child relationship, you are violating the letter of the law.”

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, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

New Risks to Family Cohesiveness: Damage to the Family Reputation or Family Brand

In the area of family cohesiveness, reputation or the family brand is at risk. Traditionally this risk was triggered by a scandal that leaked out to the press. The new way this risk is triggered is through social media.

To date, Facebook has approximately 500 million users and on any given day 50% of those users are online. Many of our children and grandchildren are spending an increasing amount of time living, working and playing online- sometimes with the wrong people.

One click of the button, one Facebook page or one YouTube vignette can go viral instantly and affect the family’s reputation and brand. It can be used in divorce actions, custody matters and employment decisions. Once viral, it is hard to eradicate. Social media is discoverable in litigation. Social networking sites are an investigative tool that gives the lawyers information that will lead to the evidence they need to present in a trial. Information gathered from social network can be used to attack credibility, discover relevant character evidence, dispute damages, determine or rebut state of mind and identify witnesses.

Facebook has been used to show the teenage driver who killed her best friend in a car accident was a party girl who drank heavily. Posts and pictures of her in many party situations abounded.

In divorce and child custody cases investigators look to confessions-things that people have done, places they have been and people they have had their children around.  People post revealing pictures and video on the Internet they would never share in the day to day world.

As an example there is a Facebook group entitled, “I hate my Ex???”. The group was created for “everyone who hates their ex-boyfriends or girlfriends or ex-husband or ex-wife.” Actual posts on that Facebook page include the following:

“I hate my ex husband wish he wasn’t the father of my kid so he could be out of my life for good!!!”

“My daughter hates my ex, her father, and the courts say she has to visit him. He gets her all this week for vacation.”

“My ex should die a slow painful death for what he put us through.”

“I hope my ex gets herpes.”

In Georgia, the Court of Appeals reviewed posts such as those (High v. High, 389 S.E.2d 690 (2010)) and admitted into evidence posts on the issue of the father’s suitability to have custody of the minor children.  The court commented that it was disturbed by the statements contained in the father’s MySpace page where he wrote “I’m actually a little sorry for [mother] just because losing her job affects my children. Well, maybe not. Now I’m financially more than able to support [the kids] if [mother] gets out of the way or is pushed out.” Relying on these posts the Court observed the father’s hostility, animosity and anger towards the mother and awarded the mother sole custody.

In Ohio, The Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision to consider text and picture posts on a mother’s MySpace page (Williams v. Gonzales, 2010 WL 3365741). The maternal grandmother filed a third party motion to modify custody of the mother’s children. The grandmother put forth evidence that the mother maintained a MySpace page under the name “Sexy Nurse Williams”. The mother posted pictures of her children which one expert called an “oral aura” in a slideshow with two sexually explicit graphics. The grandmother’s expert on social media and expert on risks to children regarding sexual matters, testified the pictures were displayed in a “sexualized manner” and created a “pedophile’s dream.” When these facts were taken into consideration the trial court found that a change of circumstances had occurred and modified the custody order.

In Indiana the Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to consider the MySpace posts of one mother who mocked her children and their allegations that the mother’s boyfriend has been physically abusive to them. (In the matter of the Paternity of P.R. and A.R. 2010 WL 538476). The father petitioned the court to modify custody and support. The court, after reviewing the mother’s MySpace page and the allegations she made that mocked her own children for statements they made about her boyfriend who had one felony conviction for battery on a minor under the age of fourteen, awarded sole custody to the father.

With sites such as Facebook and MySpace the user can instantly download pictures and videos. People now have the ability to do that with themselves and even scarier, others have the ability to post that information about you and put them on their profiles without your knowledge.

As an example, the Ohio Court of Appeals in In re N.F. (2009 WL 1798146) the mother’s boyfriend (an exotic dancer) posted pornographic pictures on the mother’s MySpace page. These pictures were easily accessible. The court took custody away from the mother, ruling that even though she had demonstrated the ability to care for her children, work two jobs, provide financial support and strive for her GED degree, her home and personal life was chaotic and problematic.

In Michigan, Copeland v. Mitchell (August 5, 2010 Docket No. 290381) the Court of Appeals awarded the father full custody after considering pictures of the children posted to the mother’s MySpace page showing the girls without blouses.  The Court also ordered the mother to immediately remove the pictures.

The younger generation, if not educated, is not mature enough to understand the afterlife omnipresent power of the digital era. A strong family risk management policy should include education about the dangers of social media and a morally binding decision among family members to understand the consequence of social media on the reputation of the entire family.

How are you protecting yourself and your family wealth when considering these new risks?  Share your thoughts and comments below.

 

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 announced the release of 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.  Annino’s book is an exhortation, resource and trusted companion for women in all facets of life.  To purchase the book visit:  http://amzn.to/hOHuEV or for more about Annino, visit: www.patriciaannino.com.

Four Estate Planning Myths: Forget About Estate Taxes

Why Estate Planning is Important for All Clients

Many of our clients rely on the common myth that “estate planning is only for people who are richer than we are” to prevent them from taking that first step towards planning. That is not true. Putting an estate plan in place is important no matter what your client’s net worth is.

Why is that so many of us and our clients work our entire lives to make sure that we are secure and that our families are well provided for, and yet put so little thought into what would happen if we become disabled or die? Even Houdini could not escape death. It is normal to want to avoid dealing with the prospect of disability or death, but at the same time it is vital that we push forward and take the necessary steps to safeguard what we have accomplished during our lives.

Four Reasons Why Your Clients Should Act Now

Here are four reasons to encourage your clients (no matter how rich or how poor) to put their affairs in order now:

Reason 1: Estate Planning Is Not Just to Protect Your Client’s Family When They Die; It Is to Protect Your Clients While They Are Alive.

Estate planning today is far more than a Will. It addresses what happens if your clients become disabled or incapacitated. By showing your client how to put appropriate legal documents, such as a durable power of attorney and a living trust, in place with necessary safeguards, the estate planning process enables them to select who should be in charge of their assets if they are alive but lose the ability to handle their own financial affairs.

Most couples’ homes are their biggest asset, for example. Unfortunately, that asset will be frozen if one of them becomes disabled or incapacitated. If a husband and wife own their home jointly with a right of survivorship at the death of the first spouse the ownership of that home will pass to the surviving spouse. If instead, one of them becomes disabled or incapacitated and is unable to handle his or her financial affairs, then the house is frozen, since both signatures are required to transfer, sell, mortgage or deed the home. At death, a retirement planning asset is paid to the named beneficiary — normally the spouse. If instead, the plan-holder becomes disabled or incapacitated, that retirement plan is frozen, as only the plan-holder has the ability, during his or her lifetime, to make decisions concerning investments, hardship withdrawals and emergency loans.

The same thing is true for a single person. If your client becomes incapacitated and all of their assets are in their name alone, they will be frozen. If, however the couple had executed durable powers of attorney by which they gave each other the authority to handle those transactions then should one spouse become disabled or incapacitated the other spouse would have the legal authority to handle the transaction.

Reason 2: Estate Planning Should Begin When Your Clients Are Young.

Once your clients reach the age of majority, even if they do not have any assets, they should execute a healthcare proxy or healthcare durable power of attorney. In that document your clients may designate one person (and successors) to make their medical care decisions if they are unable to do so. They can change the document any time during their lifetime.

No doubt Terry Schiavo had no idea that at her young age she would experience serious medical issues. Because she had not expressed her intent in writing, Florida state law named her husband as her agent. Perhaps her parents would have had some comfort if they knew that she had selected him to make those decisions herself.

Designating a healthcare agent is equally critical in a second-marriage situation. Otherwise, if, for example the wife gets sick, both the adult child and the new spouse might end up vying for the right to make healthcare decisions for her. It is not fair to put them in that position, i.e., forced to negotiate in the middle of a crisis. The person who should make that decision is your client, and they should make it now.

If your clients are in a relationship with someone but they are not married, that person has no legal standing to make your client’s medical care decisions for you, or, in some states, even to visit you in the hospital. Executing a healthcare proxy or healthcare durable power of attorney can grant the person the legal authority to visit your client and to make those decisions.

It is important that your client write down the phone number of the healthcare agent in the document. After all, if they are in an accident, and it is a life-threatening situation, the healthcare professionals will want to call and discuss the situation immediately with the named agent.

It is also important to tell their healthcare agent that they have named him or her as their proxy. Make sure your client gives a copy of the document to their primary care physician and keeps a copy of it with their passport when traveling.

Reason 3: Nominating a Guardian to Protect Your Client’s Children.

If your clients have minor children, no matter what their net worth, they need an estate plan so they can choose the person who will make decisions concerning their children’s care, upbringing and education when they are not around to do so themselves. If your clients do not take the time to designate who should serve as their children’s guardian, they could be leaving that important decision to a stranger, probably a judge.

This is a decision your client not only wants to make themselves, but one they want to think through carefully. Raising someone else’s children is a tremendous responsibility and the choice of who should serve in that capacity takes time.  Your clients need a guardian who shares their value system, religious beliefs and attitude towards education. Ideally the guardian should also share your client’s money value system — what it is ok to spend money, and what it is not.

Making parental decisions is very subjective. We all have our own ideas on whether or not it is appropriate to send a child to private school, summer camp, vacations, purchase an automobile for him or her, put a down payment on a child’s home or pay for post-graduate education. Sitting down annually and writing a letter to the person your client’s has selected is a wise idea. The letter can be maintained with your client’s legal documents and replaced annually. That way, they can offer the guardian a guide to their child’s personality, such as what to watch out for and what to protect.

When choosing a guardian, if your client names a couple, such as their sister and brother-in-law, for example, then they must weigh the pros and cons. The “pro” side is since both will have the legal responsibility as guardians to make decisions, they will both feel involved actively in your child’s upbringing. If there is a medical emergency on the school playground, either one of them can act. Either one of them can attend school conferences. The “con” side is that if they divorce, your client’s child or children could be involved in a custody battle, or if one of them dies, the other, as legal guardian, has standing in custody matters.

Reason 4: If Your Clients Don’t Have an Estate Plan, Massachusetts, As the State in Which They Are Domiciled Will Write One for Them.

The laws of the state in which your clients live will dictate who receives any asset that is in their name alone. Many spouses are surprised to learn that in Massachusetts (and every other state) they do not automatically receive all of their deceased spouse’s assets. Any asset that is in your client’s spouse’s name will be split between them and their children.

Conclusion

It is an absolute must for you as the trusted advisor to raise the issue of estate planning now with your clients so that your clients can control the direction of their estate and ensure that their children, their own health and assets are taken care of in the way they would like it to be and not rest on others’ judgments.

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 announced the release of 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.  Annino’s book is an exhortation, resource and trusted companion for women in all facets of life.  To purchase the book visit:  http://amzn.to/hOHuEV or for more about Annino, visit: www.patriciaannino.com

 

 

Women & Money: Picking a Guardian for Your Young Children

Who should take over parenting responsibilities for your children if you happen to die sud­denly? If you don’t plan ahead, the government will make the selection for you. This is probably the most emotional decision you will have to make in the estate planning process. The exercises below are designed to help you find the answer.

Examining Your Priorities

The act of parenting involves many different types of activities, responsibilities, value systems, and rituals… so many that we tend to do them instinctively, with little analysis or introspection.

When considering how you want your children to be raised if you are not going to be the one raising them, however, you should take a long hard look at the qualities you want your substitute to bring to the role as parent, and evaluate the relative importance of each of those qualities.

Examine the guardian characteristics listed below

  •   Family – Are blood ties paramount? Do you come from a close-knit family that prides itself on bonding together in times of trouble and “being there” for its own? Do you feel that naming a relative as guardian of your children will keep them in the nest and come closest to duplicating your parenting style? In making this decision, how important is “keeping it in the family”?
  • Finances – You will, as part of your estate planning, take steps to provide your children with enough money, in case you die early, to provide the lifestyle you desire for them. The question is: Does this lifestyle match that of the guardian? Will your children be living as “poor relatives” in a wealthier guardian’s home? Or will they be able to enjoy greater material benefits than the guardian’s own children, thereby creating tensions? Is the guardian you are choosing financially stable enough to assume this new responsibility?
  • Lifestyle – City life versus country life, staying in the same community versus mov­ing, emphasizing outdoor sports versus emphasizing academics, relaxed supervision versus strict discipline: What are the lifestyle choices you have made in raising your children, and how important is it to you to choose a guardian who will replicate them?
  • Love – They say no one can love you as passionately as your own parents, but some guardians will come closer than others. How important do you feel heartfelt affection is in child rearing, and how important is it to you to choose a guardian you believe will offer your child unconditional love?
  • Religion – If religion has been a backbone of your parenting, can you be sure the guardian you choose will perpetuate the traditions and teachings you have inculcated? Would it bother you if the guardian you choose brings up your children in a different religious faith? How important to you is a religious match in choosing a guardian?
  • Stability – How emotionally stable is the person you are choosing to care for your children? How strong is that person’s marriage? Employment record? Position in the community? How good is that person’s health? Is age a factor to be considered?

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 announced the release of 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.  Annino’s book is an exhortation, resource and trusted companion for women in all facets of life.  To purchase the book visit:  http://amzn.to/hOHuEV or for more about Annino, visit: www.patriciaannino.com

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