The curious case of the homeless millionaire

Colorado’s probate courts have been mired in controversy for years. Two state audits in the last eleven years have found screening and monitoring of guardians and conservators as lacking. There have also been instances of neglect, theft, fraud and a general lack of accountability. Attempts to reform, the system has been moving at a glacial pace.

One person caught up in this mess is homeless millionaire Alan Fantin. That’s right, a homeless millionaire.  Fantin has a net worth in the millions but he has had trouble getting accessing it for years. He has been under a conservatorship that was created thirty years ago after a car accident left him with a severe head injury and partial paralysis.

He owns a house which is mostly paid off. But right now it’s ridden with black mold and there are squatters in the basement who don’t pay rent and won’t leave. And Fantin hasn’t been allowed near the house since he was arrested last month and charged with assaulting his live-in girlfriend. His pre-trial monitoring says he can’t come within one-mile of his alleged victim’s residence, which is also his home, or it it was.

On top of all that he is currently engaged in a legal tussle with the guy who controls his funds, a court-appointed conservator named Scott Christian. Christian was appointed in early 2015. Since then the two have battled constantly over financial matters, ranging from the amount of Fantin’s cable bills to his marijuana use. Christian has described Fantin’s weed smoking as a “substance abuse habit.”

Fantin has had a license to use marijuana for medical purposes since 2001.

In a report in Westword, Fantin says the weed helps him with the seizures he’s bee experiencing since his accident. “When I run out of pot, my seizures are more aggressive and they tend to last longer.”

Westword also reports

…Christian refused to provide any funds for his lodging after he was banned from his house; directed him to use a public defender in his domestic-violence case rather than hire his own attorney; threatened to cut off his phone if he continued to complain; and has been less and less responsive to Fantin’s pleas for help even as his firm’s fees for the conservatorship have steadily increased.

The case offers a rare glimpse behind the closed doors of probate court, where a professional cadre of attorneys, care managers, estate administrators and others are entrusted with guarding the interests and funds of some of society’s most vulnerable people. In many instances, they may be doing just that, protecting the elderly, the sick, the mentally or physically disabled from unscrupulous relatives or neighbors — and sometimes protecting them from themselves.

It’s a fascinating story which we suggest you read. Homeless Millionaire Alan Fantin Wants His Day in Probate Court

 

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Biological dad not entitled to money in son’s death

A Milwaukee County, Michigan judge has denied a biological father a share of the wrongful death proceeds awarded in a suit brought by the mother of a 25 year-old man who died in a mental health facility back in 2012.

 Alicia Johnson, 48, argued that the biological father, 53 year-old Marcus Crumble, her first cousin, didn’t deserve a cent because he raped her when she was 15 and never helped financially with the son who was born as a result of that rape.

Circuit Judge David Borowski agreed with her, writing,

“The Court has seen far too many absent fathers in this community. Out of wedlock births, where a ‘father’ both literally and figuratively abandons a child are a scourge.

“Under the tragic facts and circumstances of this case, including the fact that Mr. Crumble committed both statutory rape and incest, this Court will not allow a six-figure windfall to be awarded to Mr. Crumble.”

However, Crumble was awarded the amount he chipped in for the funeral. Crumble rekindled somewhat of a relationship with his son, Brandon Johnson, after he graduated  college.

 Borowski wrote, that anyone 18 years old could create a will and direct their estate not go to an abandoning parent. But noted that very few unmarried people without children under 30 actually create a will.

He wrote the equitable powers of the probate court allow him to find that allowing Crumble half of the settlement would amount to unjust enrichment.

Borowski ordered the estate’s special administrator to pay Crumble only the amount he spent for Brandon’s funeral, give half of the remaining $837,000 to Alicia Johnson, and keep the balance for 90 days, or longer if Crumble appeals.

 

 

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3 ways to avoid probate

At its best, probate can be a real pain in the butt and time consuming. Property can’t be distributed until probate is completed and probate is paid out of the estate, which means less inheritance for heirs.

With that in mind here ar three ways to avoid probate.

Establish a living trust.

A living trust is a great way to avoid probate. What you do is transfer ownership of the assets you intend to bequeath into the trust. While there are cots an time involved in setting up a trust, it’s much easier than dealing with probate.

Give assets away. 

If you have a bunch of assets just sitting around waiting for you to die, you might want to consider giving them away to friends, relatives or charities.

Name beneficiaries in bank and investment accounts

It may seem like a no-brainer, but many people don’t name beneficiaries on their bank or retirement accounts.

All you need to do to get started is to fill out the payable on death forms that your brokerage company or bank can provide. If you are married, some of these accounts may be partially owned by your spouse. By taking the time to fill out the forms, you can make sure the proceeds are immediately dispersed at death without having to pass through probate, saving your heirs a lot of time and hassle.

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Estate planning: When only a will doesn’t cut it.

For many people, the most important document isn’t their will, it’s their IRA or 401(k).  That’s because many financial products, including retirement accounts and life insurance policies are legal contracts and override anything in your will.

So, no matter what your will says, the payouts from these products will go to the beneficiaries you designated when you filled out the forms, even if that was decades ago. That’s why it is important that you review beneficiaries regularly and choose contingent beneficiaries as backups, just in case. For example, you probably don’t want any of your estate to go to a former spouse so you need to make sure you update any documents that name them as a beneficiary.

For most people this should be enough, but for for those substantial assets it might be be best to set up a trust(s). By doing this you can exercise more control, minimize taxes and avoid potential challenges by heirs.

The best part of a trust is they don’t go through probate and are not public record, making the settling of an estate less complicated and less prone to legal challenges. Of course you will need to contact an attorney to decide what type of trust is best or you.

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Fighting over Estate issues.

In our new world of multi-marriages, divorces and step-children, Will contests and objections to probate are becoming more and more common

There are ways to deal with these conflicts to resolve differences without going to court. The best advice is for parents to do estate planning, which includes preparing a Last Will and perhaps a Trust document. Preparing a personal letter(s) to heirs explaining one’s intention prior to death is an excellent idea but rarely followed.

A Will challenge can be based on three things:

  1. 1. The will is defective on its face; the will may be missing essential elements.
  2. 2. Incapacity, the deceased did not have testamentary capacity to make a will.
  3. 3. Undue influence.

A valid Will must be witnessed by two disinterested parties. A challenge of incapacity must be based on medical records and medical conditions at the time the Will was executed. Undue influence is difficult to prove unless a new will was created in favor of a non-family member when the decedent was ill or infirm. When a conflict arises between siblings, a cross petition and or an objection to Probate/Administration may be filed. Extensive discovery proceeding may uncover clues to the decedent’s testamentary intentions.

In many cases, a resolution may be reached in a court supervised settlement conference. Our law office has extensive experience reaching out of court settlements, resolutions of disputes between once “close” family members.

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