Co-authors Andrew Mayoras and Danielle Mayoras, who publish the Probate Lawyer Blog, have published a new book, "Trial & Heirs." The book uses real stories of the rich and famous to illustrate estate planning errors to help readers steer clear of these same erros as they plan for their own "heirs." The stories cover well known legal fights over famous fortunes: including the recent battles over Michael Jackson's estate, along with other celebrities like Ted Kennedy; Anna Nicole Smith; Brooke Astor; Heath Ledger, Ray Charles; Princess Di; Jimi Hendrix; Frank Sinatra; Martin Luther King Jr.; and Rosa Parks... as well as many others that most people aren't even aware of. The book gives readers a front row seat in the courtroom while the authors replay the "tabloid drama", point out what went wrong in these riveting cases, and teach readers how to avoid similar errors. I have enjoyed their blog for many months - I suppose it is the equivalent of the National Enquirer for estate planners - and look forward to reading the book.
The Shelby County Health Care Corp., known locally as The MED, has dramatically increased its lien filings in Tennessee Circuit Court, relying on a state law giving hospitals the right to perfect their lien within 120 days of a hospital discharge. Lien filings increased from a number so small it was unreported in 3rd Quarter of 2008, to 531 in 3rd Quarter 2009. No doubt, this more aggressive stance is indicative of the budget constraints that hospitals everywhere are under, and the need to find money anywhere they can. Hospitals have always been among the most diligent of creditors of an estate to probate a claim so this trend is merely expanding the hospital's practice of lien enforcement. While I have not seen any statistics for Mississippi, I suspect that similar increases are being seen in Mississippi courts in search of additional sources of revenue. One trend that has been seen in Mississippi is the pursuit of liens by third party intermediaries such as MedPay Assurance. These liens are asserted in both personal injury cases and estates, and seek reimbursement for the entire "retail" value of whatever procedure was performed, rather than the price that the hospital agreed to accept from the insurer such as BC/BS. This can be as high as 300% of the price that the hospital had originally agreed to accept for the procedure, and illustrates the aggressive stance that many hospitals are taking with regard to money owed to them.
Curiously, despite the high levels of uninsured's, reaching in excess of 19% in Mississippi, hospitals have not been enthusiastic supporters of healthcare reform and a public option which would dramatically decrease the number of uninsured in the state and insure payment to these hospitals for their services. I suspect that this is because hospitals have calculated that they will make more money under the existing system that only pays them for some of their patients at a high rate, than a system that will pay them for all of their patients at a government negotiated or set rate.
There is a potential new heir to the Steve McNair estate. In papers filed Friday, Clover Lee claims that McNair is the father of her 17 year old daughter. If that is proven to be correct by DNA testing, the 60% of the football millionaire's estate set aside for his children will be divided 5 ways instead of 4. Also, the judge has ruled that McNair's restaurant can be sold by the estate, despite the objection of its co-owner.
McNair's estate is a lesson in the benefit of planning. Had he created a will or trust that named his heirs and defined the portion each was to receive, the appearance of unknown heirs would not be an issue. Likewise, had he and his business partner planned for the treatment of his restaurant or other business interests, the disposition of those assets would not be left up to the discretion of a probate judge, but would be determined by the agreement of the parties themselves. If you think that your planning is incomplete, feel free to call my office and set up a complementary phone or office appointment.