Interesting News from the World of Estate Planning

John O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC

Addict Sends Words of Warning From Her Grave

Elizabeth Sue Sleasman recently died in Bellingham, Washington at age 37. What makes her death notable, besides her young age, is the statement she left about her life, which was published in her online obituary.

Written a few years before she died of her drug addiction, Sleasman wanted to send a message to teens and parents about the dangers of addiction: “I ask that EVERY parent and grandparent show this to their teens, even if they are perfect children. I was a perfect daughter, and my parents never knew I was using and drinking for at least the first five years (age 12 to 17), then only suspected it until the last ten years of my life when I couldn’t hide it any more,” her warning begins. She goes on to detail her path through 25 years of addiction, losing custody of her daughter and living on the streets. She used her posthumous statement to share the cautionary tale of her shattered body and shortened life.

Few of us see the end of our lives coming, as Sleasman did. Have you memorialized your values for your loved ones?

Pocketknife Will Celebrated

Cecil George Harris is remembered for writing one of the most unusual wills in history. In 1948, Harris was trapped underneath a tractor for ten hours during a storm. With a pocketknife, he carved these words into the fender: “In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife.” Harris was rescued and taken to the hospital where he died that night. His extraordinary “pocketknife will” was accepted by the court. The University of Saskatchewan’s Law Library has it on display and recently celebrated the 65th anniversary of the historic will.

Harris decided to update his estate plan when he saw his imminent demise, Most accident victims do not have this window of time and consciousness. Are you waiting for a crisis or will you update your estate plan today?

Inherited IRAs Unprotected in Bankruptcy

“Retirement funds” are exempt property in bankruptcy under 11 USC §522(b)(3)(C) and (d)(12),. Some courts have held that the exemption applies to inherited IRAs. See Chilton v Moser (5th Cir 2012) 674 F3d 486; In re Nessa (BAP 8th Cir 2010) 426 BR 312. Most recently the federal bankruptcy exemption was held to not apply to inherited IRAs. In re Clark (7th Cir 2013) 714 F3d 559. The court reasoned that this was mother’s retirement money and not the daughter’s.

A similar exemption applies to private retirement benefits of judgment debtors under California Code of Civil Procedure §704.115. I expect the California courts to reach the same conclusion in a future case.

About the author:

ogradyJohn O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC,  is the immediate Past Chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section.