mickey rooney 2000-300x267A mere five days after the Hollywood acting legend passed away in his sleep at the age of 93, the family of Mickey Rooney was set to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom to fight over where he should be buried. Just hours before the court hearing, the estate reached a settlement — hopefully putting an end to the troubling feud that surrounded Rooney’s family the last few years.

On one hand, Rooney’s family fight should not be viewed as surprising. What else would be expected when a Hollywood icon dies with a new will disinheriting all nine of his children (from eight different marriages), his wife, and all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren? But a closer look shows how this family feud was far from the typical inheritance squabble we often see when famous people die.



Mickey Rooney‘s estate is reported to be worth a mere $18,000 at this point. While his successful acting career spanned more than 80 years, most of Rooney’s starring roles occurred during the movie industry’s “old studio system.” So Rooney’s estate is not in line to receive much in the way of royalties, despite the fact he was the highest-paid actor of the late 1930′s to early 40′s.

See also Mickey Rooney Elder Abuse: Says His Stepson Is ...

Mickey Rooney at one time in the recent past had assets reportedly worth millions.  Sadly, he was the victim of elder abuse, allegedly at the hands of his step-son, Christopher Aber.  In 2011 Rooney asked for a court-appointed conservator to protect him from financial abuse by the son of his wife, Jan Chamberlin.  He even appeared before Congress and made an impassioned plea for better legal protection for seniors.

Rooney and his conservator sued Aber for financial exploitation, claiming he and his wife stole money from Rooney to fund their own lavish lifestyle, imprisoning Rooney in his own home, and convincing him he had to make paid appearances to save his house from foreclosure.  Aber denied wrongdoing, but agreed to a $2.86 million settlement in October, 2013.  Aber has not paid the large debt because he has no money.

It is no surprise that Mickey Rooney is estranged from Aber and Aber’s mother — Rooney’s wife, Jan, who supported her son in the dispute.  While still technically married, Rooney and his wife were separated for the last few years.  Rooney reportedly hadn’t spoken to her in at least two years.

Despite the split, Jan and her son went to court this week, demanding that Rooney be buried in a family plot, so she could be buried next to him.  Jan’s other son, Mark Aber, opposed the request, as did Rooney’s executor and former conservator.  Rooney was living with Mark since the legal proceedings started against Christopher Aber, and Mark is the named beneficiary under Rooney’s recent will.

With no money to fight over, the squabbling instead focused on where Mickey Rooney should be laid to rest.  Luckily, the family reached a settlement, allowing his executor to bury him in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  Rooney expressed his wishes in recent years to be buried with other Hollywood stars.

This feud is a good lesson; estate battles don’t just happen when there are millions of dollars.  Sadly, tales of exploiting seniors and fighting over estates (even when there isn’t enough money to justify it) are all too common in probate courts across the country.  No one ever thinks it will happen to their family — but it does.  Good prevention, through proper estate planning and keeping a watchful eyes on elderly loved ones is critical.

Many families do not resolve their differences as quickly as what happened this week with the Mickey Rooney estate.  Hopefully this will be the end of trouble, so Mickey Rooney can rest in peace.  But, with all the trouble his family has seen so far — and the number of different estranged family members there are — it is far from certain that this will be the end.


PaulWalkerPaul William Walker IV was the star of the Fast & Furious movies, until his unfortunate — and ironic — death in a high-speed car accident on November 30, 2013.  The car, in which Walker was a passenger, was found to have been doing at least 100 mph.  Walker was 40 years old when he died, survived by his parents and his 15-year old daughter, Meadow Rain Walker.

Recently, Paul Walker‘s father filed to open the estate, including Walker’s Last Will and Testament, which you can read here: paul-walker345b0001.  It sheds some interesting information about the Paul Walker Estate and highlights some valuable estate planning lessons.

First, the probate filing and will reveal that Walker had assets of about 25 million dollars, including 8 million in personal property (which would include cash and investments), $8.5 in expected income, and another $8.5 million in real estate (after subtracting mortgages).

Second, the filing shows that Walker had a trust, benefiting his daughter as the sole beneficiary.  But instead of naming Meadow’s mother as the guardian and caretaker of the money, Walker’s will nominated his mother.

Paul Walker's Estate Estimated at $25 Million


What lessons can we draw from this?  Good question!

Here are Trial & Heirs’ Top 5 Estate Planning Lessons from Paul Walker’s Estate.

1.  Paul Walker Placed His Trust In A Trust … But Only Partially.

Having a will is only the start.  A Revocable Living Trust is the best estate planning tool for most people.  Walker’s will left all of his assets to a trust he created, which means the probate process will be much simpler and less onerous than it could have been.  Hopefully, the trust also means that his young daughter will receive Walker’s millions in a controlled fashion, over time — not all at once when she turns 18.  Trusts done by good estate planning attorneys typically stretch out distributions for young adults, but we don’t know for certain with Paul Walker’s trust because trusts are private documents.

2.  Walker Failed To Fully Fund His Trust.

The reason we do know that Walker had a will, trust, and 25 million in assets is because he didn’t fully fund his trust.  When trusts are fully funded — meaning that assets are transferred into the name of the trust during lifetime — then there is nothing left to pass through the will.  This means the probate court process can be completely avoided.

Instead of this, Paul Walker relied on his will, which is a pour-over will that passed everything along to his trust.  The end result is the same, but the public scrutiny, cost and hassle are much higher than if he completed the proper funding ahead of time.  That would have kept his family’s affairs private — wills and all probate filings are public record.

3.  Naming A Guardian For Minor Children Is Always A Good Idea.

Paul Walker gets a big point for naming a guardian of his daughter, Meadow, in his will.  Does that mean that Meadow’s mother will now lose custody of her?  Not necessarily.   The law still favors the custodial parents, meaning that Walker’s mother will not take over guardianship unless the mother agrees or is found to be unfit.  It was still smart for Walker to address guardianship though, in case Meadow’s mother isn’t able or suitable to keep custody for any reason.

That may prove to be the case here, if media reports about the mother’s alleged drinking problems are true.  Reportedly, Meadow was already living with Walker’s mother and she may in fact become the guardian.  This report may not be accurate, however, because the probate filing indicates that Meadow lives with her mother, not her grandmother.

4.  No One Should Wait Until They Are Old To Do Estate Planning.

Paul Walker’s will was signed in August, 2001, when he was only 28 years old.  This is the same year his first Fast & Furious movie was released.  Walker is to be commended for preparing a will and trust at a young age, before he was well-known movie star.  Far too many adults in this country wait until “someday” to prepare even a basic will.  No one should ever procrastinate with estate planning!  Walker certainly didn’t plan to die in a car accident.

5.  Wills, Trusts, And Other Estate Planning Documents Need To Be Updated.

While Walker gets kudos for planning ahead, he loses points for failing to update his estate planning documents before he died.  His death was more than twelve years after he signed his will.  There are too many changes in life over the course of twelve years — especially when Walker’s net worth grew so much during that time — to rely on the same old documents.

What if his mother or father wasn’t alive any longer?  What if he did not want his young daughter to inherit so much?  What if he had fallen in love with someone new?  These are all reasons to revisit and update estate planning documents.

Even if none of his wishes changed, his tax status certainly did.  25 million dollars is well over the federal estate tax threshold.  Likely, Paul Walker’s assets were not worth that much in 2001.  He could have taken advantage of any number of tax-avoidance strategies to reduce the estate tax bill.  Because he didn’t do so, the tax consequences will ultimately be paid by his daughter.

These are all good lessons to share with loved ones, clients and prospects — or even to think about yourself.  How does your will and trust measure up to Paul Walker’s?  Why not visit an experienced estate planning attorney and find out?

passwordImage credit: liako under Creative Commons licensePasswords:

While not directly related to estate planning, a more controversial issue arises about passwords. While any IT person will advise against making a comprehensive list of your accounts and associated passwords, those same individuals might not regularly work with a segment of the population that may become ill or lose their memory. There is no perfect solution in this electronic world. Perhaps you prefer to prepare the list of passwords and save it on paper, publish it to your attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney, or provide a copy to your legal counsel. Others recommend putting the passwords into a paper file and filing it at the back of your filing cabinet, backwards. The list should be comprehensive and cover whatever assets you access (such as a bank card (such as an ATM), or electronic account whether for bank, brokerage, credit card, loan, and even health related information. It also helps to print out the most recent security questions and the answers too.)

Important papers:

Organize a filing system for important papers. If an alphabetical system is not your style, consider putting all important papers in one place. Documents to be retained include: social security card, copy of birth certificate, legal documents (will, trust, health care proxy, durable power of attorney, marriage license or divorce decree, and funeral-related paperwork. Include on this list your children or next of kin and their addresses. If you should die, and a non-family member is involved, it makes locating family much easier.


hershberger-sarah-300To most parents, the question of whether the government should intervene to dictate how a child should be raised is an easy one. Parents, not the court system, should decide what is best for their children — in the absence, of course, of abuse or neglect. But does that change when a child’s life is on the line?

That is the difficult question facing a court of appeals in Ohio regarding Sarah Hershberger.  What are the constitutional rights of parents to make life-or-death medical decisions for their child?  What if the decision the parents make flies in the face of conventional medicine and, according to traditional doctors, means the child will die in less than a year?

Sarah Hershberger Guardianship Case

Sarah Hershberger is the eleven-year-old daughter of Andy and Anna Hershberger, who are Amish.  The family lives in an Amish community near a small town outside of Cleveland.  At least, they did until recently.  Because the Ohio court system appointed a guardian over Sarah — for the sole purpose of making medical decisions for her — the Hershbergers fled this past October and went into hiding.  Their five other children remain behind, apart from Sarah and their parents.

During the summer of 2013, the Hershbergers opted for conventional treatment of Sarah’s 3 T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma:  chemotherapy.  The first round of treatment was considered successful, but Sarah begged her parents to stop it because the devastating side effects made her so ill.  Her father said that after “a great deal of prayer“, they elected to stop the chemo and opt for natural treatments based on vitamins and herbs.  They worried the chemo itself would kill Sarah.

Akron Children’s Hospital, which was treating Sarah, felt morally and legally obligated to file a guardianship court proceeding to force the chemo to continue.  The Hospital states it feels compelled to insist on “evidence-based treatment” because without it, Sarah will die.  Long-term survival rates are higher than 80% for Sarah’s condition when treated aggressively with chemotherapy, according to the Hospital.  Without this treatment, “the disease is almost always fatal.”

The Hershbergers feel otherwise.  According to Sarah’s grandfather, the parents took Sarah Hershberger to a natural cancer treatment center in Central America.  They say that blood and imaging tests shows that she is now cancer free, and is “a vibrant, healthy girl.”  But the Hershbergers remain in hiding, afraid to return until the guardianship case is over.

Recently, a lawyer on behalf of the family submitted new arguments to the Court of Appeals in Ohio.  The attorney contends that the guardianship violates the family’s constitutional right to choose the doctor, hospital, and medical treatment of their choice.  The court-appointed guardian — an attorney who is also a nurse — is opposing the appeal, arguing that the constitutional argument was waived because it was not brought up to the probate court.

The Hershberger’s lawyer disagrees, arguing that the constitutional right is so fundamental and important that it does not matter whether it was previously raised during the case.  He feels that this is a case that could affect the parental rights and health care freedom of parents across the state of Ohio.  Indeed, the case has the potential to be so important that its outcome could impact laws throughout the entire country, much like the Terri Schiavo case that began in 1998.

Why?  Because of the fundamental importance and difficulty of the questions posed by the case.  Conventional medicine says Sarah Hershberger will die if chemo is not resumed.  The Hospital argues that a parent’s refusal to provide proper or necessary medical care is, by itself, child neglect.  Accordingly, the Hospital believes that Sarah’s parents should have the right to make this decision taken away, even though they are not otherwise neglectful or abusive.

But who is to say with 100% certainty that conventional medicine is right?

Indeed, if Sarah’s grandfather is correct, and her cancer really has been cured by natural means, then the Hershbergers’ decision to reject conventional medicine may have been the right one.  Is that far-fetched?  Not according to a recent study in the medical journal, Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.  In January of 2013, the study was published based on the work of Northwestern University researchers.  The study proclaims “A New Way To Kill Lymphoma Without Chemotherapy.”  While the findings were preliminary, this study suggests that a natural way to defeat the disease without chemo may one day become accepted by conventional medicine.

This study does not necessarily mean that the Hershbergers made the right decision.  Again, it is preliminary and it involved a different type of cancer cells than what Sarah has.  But, it certainly shows that what is considered “proper and necessary medical treatment” for lymphoma may change in the not-so-distant future.  Conventional medicine norms always change … otherwise, doctors would still keep a supply of leaches on hand for regular use.  And different countries have different views on what is accepted treatment for many diseases, including cancer.

No one knows with certainty what the best medical treatment should be for Sarah.  In fact, the last Court of Appeals opinion noted that the chemo treatment itself could kill her.  The Hershbergers are very worried that chemo will do exactly that, and they believe that there is a better course of treatment available for their daughter.  Shouldn’t they be allowed to make that decision without the interference of the court system?

Interestingly, the probate judge who presided over the case agreed that the Hershbergers should make the decision.  He ruled against appointing a guardian — twice — but each time, his ruling was appealed.  And after each appeal, the Ohio Court of Appeals overruled the probate judge.  In October, the Court of Appeals ordered the probate judge to appoint the guardian for Sarah.  The family is now asking the same Court of Appeals to change its decision based on constitutional principles, which were not previously raised.

While the legal dispute continues in the Court of Appeals, Sarah and her parents will remain in hiding.  The court-appointed guardian at one point asked to be released from her position, saying her hands were tied because she had no way to even find the girl, much less force the chemotherapy treatment.  Yet, the same guardian still opposes the family’s constitutional arguments in the Court of Appeals.

So Andy and Anna Hershberger believe it is not safe to return to their home and their other children.  They feel they are forced to remain hiding because it is the only way they will be allowed to make this important decision for their daughter.  Clearly, it’s not a decision they’ve made lightly.

Sadly, there does not appear to be a quick end in sight.  Undoubtedly, the case will not be resolved with the Ohio Court of Appeals.  Any decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, and even the United States Supreme Court. Likely, the only thing that may end the lawsuit without years of additional appeals, is if Sarah does indeed pass away, as predicted by the Hospital.

Hopefully, the natural treatment Sarah Hershberger received in Central America will succeed as the Hershberger family says it has.  If it does, it may call into question the very laws that permitted this guardianship case to proceed to probate court in the first place.

While this case is very unusual, it still highlights important legal lessons.  Most families, of course, will never have to face a dilemma like the Hershbergers.  But, all families should plan ahead in case tragedy strikes.  Any time parents of minor children pass away, guardianship proceedings will be necessary.  Parents should plan ahead and appoint guardians through their wills, or through other legal documents to the extent permitted by the particular state, and ensure that important decisions for their children will be made by the person or people they want to make those decisions.

And the planning does not end when a child reaches the age of 18.  If your adult child ever gets into an accident, or suffers a serious injury, you may have to again make medical decisions for your child.  If that child has reached the age of majority, then you will not be able to make those decisions without a guardianship, unless your child previously signed durable power of attorney documents giving you that authority.  All parents should help their children, upon reaching the age of 18, sign durable power of attorney documents to be prepared.  As the Hershbergers could attest to, no family wants to spend time in a guardianship proceeding in probate court.

fdicMost people are confused about the insurance coverage provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Initially, when you go to your local bank, you should check to see if the emblem stating that they have FDIC coverage is posted either on the door or near the tellers. If not, then you should ask to determine whether the coverage is in existence. If so, there is no need to apply for it or to request it, as it is automatic.

The amount of coverage you can have is based on the depositor named on the account, and whether it is a checking, savings, certificate of deposit, or money market account. Please note that all other types of products that banks may be selling are probably not covered by FDIC Insurance. This coverage excludes annuities, insurance policies, stocks, mutual funds, etc.

The standard amount for insurance is $250,000.00 per depositor. However there are separate categories of deposits that are covered, and you may have more coverage by having funds in different types of accounts.

The following chart will attempt to clarify your coverage. This information is taken from the FDIC website, which you may access at www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits.


There are other types of specific accounts for which coverage is provided that are not necessary to discuss at this time. Please note that the above chart is the standard insurance amount for most categories. If more coverage is necessary, there are other ways accounts may be titled to access it. Also, you may open accounts at additional banks if necessary.