Posts In "Family Law"

Family Law




A Lesson in Trust Law, or, What Happens When a Guy Makes His Girlfriend His Daughter to Avoid Paying the Parents of the Guy He Killed

Most days, this blog is all about analyzing entertainment news stories.  Today, it’s just about analyzing an entertaining news story.

Forty-eight year old Florida billionaire John Goodman (owner of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, not Roseanne’s TV husband) recently shocked courts and bloggers alike with the headline-grabbing adoption of his 42-year-old girlfriend, Heather Hutchins, making Heather his eldest (and creepiest) of three children.  But if the fact of a 48-year-old man adopting his adult girlfriend as his daughter doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, here’s betting the reason he did so will.

Goodman is currently facing both criminal DUI manslaughter charges and a wrongful death civil action for causing the death of 23-year-old Scott Wilson, who drowned when his car overturned and plunged into a canal after being struck by Goodman’s Bentley in February 2010.  (Of course he was driving a Bentley.)  Goodman could forfeit a significant portion of his net worth should the jury find against him and award punitive damages in the wrongful death case.  But even if Wilson’s family wins a massive judgment against Goodman, they can’t take from what he doesn’t own — and “what he doesn’t own,” says Florida Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley (who is presiding over the wrongful death suit against Goodman), includes a $100-million irrevocable trust, created all the way back in 1991, for the benefit of Goodman’s “children.”

Observers have speculated that Goodman — knowing that his money may soon become the Wilsons’ money once their lawsuit is finished — adopted Hutchins as a way to indirectly access a fortune which the Wilsons cannot.  In other words, Goodman’s maneuver seemingly isn’t so much about making Hutchins a wealthy woman as it is about keeping himself a wealthy man.  The head-spinning development caused even Judge Kelley to observe that the court was entering a “legal twilight zone.”  So what is really going on here? Continue reading the full story . . . »




Losing all Faith in Love (and Reality Television)

I tried, Law Law Land readers, I really, really tried. I struggled, but alas, I was not strong enough to stop myself from writing about the Kardashian divorce.

The 72-day marriage (if it can even be called that) of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (herein referred to as “KK,” or maybe “666” would be more appropriate), is chock full of legal issues. What about the prenuptial agreement? (“Ironclad,” I’m sure, but speculation is already swirling about whether Kim’s “shady behavior” has rendered it “worthless.”) What to do with the gifts? (Apparently Kim is donating $200,000 to charity in lieu of returning the gifts. I’m sure the people who bought her the $375 candy jar, or $6,500 vase, or $1,250 serving spoon, or $1,600 teapot, or $840 ashtray are thrilled about that decision and the tax write off she gets. And no, I did not make up those items or prices). Why isn’t gay marriage legal and this is? (Beats me, but it really makes you think about that whole “sanctity of marriage” argument.)

No, you aren’t having a stroke, it really is that big and shiny.

But the burning issue I want to write on? What happens to THE RING? (I think the 20.5-carat sparkler deserves all-caps treatment.) Continue reading the full story . . . »




The Law of Ideas 101: Court Rules Disposable Diaper Case Stinks and Needs to Be Tossed

Last Friday, a federal district court in Michigan dismissed the complaint of Richard Pollick, the alleged creator of “diaper jeans,” i.e., disposable baby diapers designed to look like jeans (truly, an invention on par with the piano key neck tie). Pollick registered a copyright for his “Diaper Jeans artwork” in February 1981 and sent the design to Kimberly-Clark Corp. later that year. Kimberly-Clark Corp. eventually started selling Huggies “Jeans Diapers,” and Pollick filed a lawsuit.

Amazingly, this is the second bathroom-related infringement lawsuit to cross our path at Law Law Land in the last few months, proof that you are never truly safe, even on the comfort of your own commode. Unfortunately for Pollick, however, the court took one whiff of his claim and tossed it, ruling that “a simple visual comparison shows that not only are the diapers not substantially similar, they are substantially different….”

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Pampered Pups, and the Laws That Love Them

With this year’s Fashion’s Night Out just days away, I can’t help but think of Alexander McQueen, whose tragic suicide last year deprived the fashion world of one of its greatest talents. McQueen had no children, but made sure his dogs were well taken care of by leaving over $80,000 in his will for the care of Juice, Callum, and Minter. (Nope, I didn’t make up those names.) McQueen also left money to his housekeepers, siblings, nieces and nephews, and charities (including two animal welfare charities — McQueen was clearly an animal lover).

But Alexander McQueen is hardly the first high-profile figure to decide that nothing says “I love you, Fido” like a massive trust fund. And, in most of the United States, the law is specifically equipped to make sure that these pampered pups are taken care of long after their owners have gone to that great dog park in the sky. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Are Death and Taxes All That’s Left for Francis Ford Coppola After Winning the Lifetime Achievement Award?

[Ed. Note: Law Law Land's concludes its calendar-be-damned Oscar week with new contributor Stefanie Lipson, who takes on the plight of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award winner and his progeny.]

There is perhaps no greater culmination to a Hollywood film career than being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars (even if, these days, it doesn’t even come with a lousy on-air acceptance speech…maybe that Robert De Niro episode at the Golden Globes scared off the Academy once and for all). Just ask this year’s recipient, Francis Ford Coppola. But after all that hard work in Hollywood, all the false starts (One From the Heart, anyone?) as well as the successes (too many to name, but I’d have to go with Captain EO), the accolades and the press, and adaughter following in her father’s large footsteps, turns out Francis Ford Coppola might have been better off making his fortune another way — at least when it comes to paying estate taxes (good thing he has that winery).

As an estate planning lawyer, I can confirm that Benjamin Franklin was right about the only things certain in life being death and taxes. Inevitably, I must inform clients who start sentences with the phrase “if I die…” that it really ought to be “when I die.” (Apologies to those readers who are offended by my morbidity. You may replace the word “die” in the sentence above with the death-related euphemism of your choice. For celebrities, I suggest “go to that great Starwagon in the sky.”) And taxes are no less inevitable: as the law stands, even those lucky authors who come up with an immensely successful creative work (screenplay, television series, book, song, etc.) and have the good sense to transfer ownership of it during their lifetimes can still get hit with an estate tax bill on their copyrights when they die.

How does that make sense, and what can successful creative types do about it? Let’s discuss. Continue reading the full story . . . »




And the Oscar Goes to…the Highest Bidder!

[Ed. Note: Law Law Land's non-calendar-compliant Oscar week continues, as Brian Berman returns to explore the fates of all of those little Oscar statuettes that were handed out during last night's show.]

Los Angeles was lively over the weekend as Hollywood’s finest took the stage at the 83rd Academy Awards. Hollywood’s best, brightest, and most recognizable are always out in force for Oscar weekend. But perhaps no figure shines brighter than Oscar himself (although it’s not actually fair fight, as he is gold-plated).

Standing tall at 13 ½ inches and weighing in at 8 ½ pounds (that’s just over 0.6 stones for our British friends), Oscar’s gold-plated metal figure is recognized the world over. As with any Hollywood star, “Oscar” is just a stage name. Oscar’s real name is the “Academy Award of Merit.” Also, Oscar is technically a “statuette,” not a statue. And for last night’s winners, he might also be their new best friend.

But what if a winner wanted to get rid of his or her Oscar? Maybe he or she needs to raise a little extra money to pay those Ferrari lease payments and Dom Perignon bar tabs. Maybe he or she wants to give a friend or family member a token of his or her love. Or maybe he or she is just weirded out by a naked knight staring at him or her.

It is hard to imagine anyone getting rid of an Oscar, but, for argument’s sake, let’s say that someone wanted to. Could he or she do that? Continue reading the full story . . . »




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