A holocaust survivor, aged 97, died without naming anyone to inherit his estate. His assets have been valued at approximately $40 million. It remains a mystery as to why this man never named anyone to benefit from his fortune, but at this time there is no documentation that shows he selected an heir. As strange as this sounds, it is not uncommon for people to pass away in New Jersey without naming heirs.
New Jersey readers may take interest in a dispute that has erupted over the proceeds of a trust established by a former CEO of Proctor and Gamble Co. Fifth Third Bank was designated as trustee of a trust established for the benefit of the former CEO's widow. The widow died in 2009, and her heirs are fighting over claimed mismanagement of the trust.
New Jersey readers may be interested in a dispute between a leading university and Ryan O'Neal that was headed to trial in late November. It involves a silkscreen portrait of O'Neal's long time love, Farrah Fawcett, which was created by Andy Warhol in 1980. One of two portraits that were made and worth a reported $30 million, the litigation centers around who are the rightful heirs and beneficiaries of Fawcett's estate. The university claims that the Warhol that is currently in O'Neal's possession is part of Fawcett's art collection that was donated to it on her death in 2009. O'Neal claims that Warhol actually made one silkscreen each for Fawcett and him, and as such, he asserts that the artwork is not part of Fawcett's estate.
Last June 4, we wrote about an interesting survivorship benefits case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court ("Supreme Court rules on dispute over would-be beneficiaries"). The issue addressed whether children conceived posthumously through in vitro fertilization were properly considered heirs and beneficiaries under the law. New Jersey is one of a few states that specifically provides for the right of children conceived posthumously to inherit, but many other states do not. In the earlier case decided by our country's Supreme Court, it was determined that the Social Security Administration was correct in denying survivorship benefits based upon the inheritance laws of the state where the deceased parent passed away. Nevertheless, the problem persists, and the Supreme Court of a Midwestern state is currently grappling with its own state laws concerning the issue.
Why did a mother move her children to New Jersey just to apply for Social Security survivor benefits? She did because she wanted to take advantage of our state's laws concerning heirs and beneficiaries. Her dilemma was that two of her children were conceived and born after her husband passed away from esophageal cancer. Some 18 months after her husband's death, the woman gave birth to twins who were conceived from the man's frozen sperm.
An issue of growing national interest involves the inheritance rights of children born after the death of a parent. This issue impacts a number of different areas of the law across the country, including the right of individuals to claim Social Security survivor benefits and the right to be declared heirs and beneficiaries in a variety of circumstances.
Estate planning can be a complicated process that often requires planners to stay abreast of changes to the law. For example, the current estate tax exemption for taxable estates and cumulative gifts is $5 million. At the beginning of next year, that amount is set to be reduced to $1 million. This will mean a significant change in the amount of tax a beneficiary is required to pay, and residents throughout New Jersey will want to revise their estate planning documents accordingly.