Trusts In New York, Not Just Wills, Can Come Under Attack Without Strong Planning

Forbes is reporting on a lawsuit that alleges political figures in Panama, including three Supreme Court judges, have ripped off poor children who were entitled to millions of dollars. The money was in a trust that instead allegedly was turned over to a non-beneficiary after accepting bribes.

Although this is a case of an American whose trust is being questioned in Panama, this happens in the United States as well. While most people consider that only wills are contested, the same can go for the trusts that are established to shepherd assets.
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But there is a logical way to avoid postmortem legal challenges to your assets — by smart planning of a New York trust or estate. These situations usually go bad when drastic changes are made to a will in the person’s elder stages. Or when no will is present. Or when a trust is not updated for years or decades or old beneficiaries — such as former spouses — are not removed from accounts.

Employing an experienced New York City estate planning lawyer can provide you with peace of mind. Proper planning can help ensure that your wishes are followed after your death and that your estate doesn’t burden your heirs.

The situation in Panama is compelling. An American living in Panama died in June 2006 at age 88. A year before he died, the man signed a will that left the majority of his $50 million fortune to a trust fund that would benefit needy and poor children in that country. A large part of the trust includes ocean-front property that has tripled the value of the trust to more than $150 million.

But the man’s widow, a well-connected Panamanian, challenged the will despite receiving a $20,000 allowance, as well as the right to live in their home and having her children receive bequests.

She sued to challenge the will, claiming that her late husband’s Florida attorney coerced him into signing the will so that he could manage the charitable trust, which is the primary beneficiary of the estate.

A court removed the attorney as the executor, but found the will valid. A second court found the will valid. But the Supreme Court overturned the distribution of the fortune and naming the widow as “universal heir.”

The notary who signed the will and a prosecutor filed challenges to the decision by the three-judge panel, causing the entire Supreme Court of Panama to look at the case, and putting the funds in limbo.

The man’s attorney in Florida, in turn, filed a federal lawsuit, alleging the widow bribed the justices to the tune of $1.5 million each. He further alleges they violated racketeering charges and caused false criminal charges to be asserted against him, including murder, to strip him from acting as an estate executor.

In general, attempting to significantly disinherit a spouse or child can cause legal complications. Proper estate planning and engaging the services of an experienced law firm is your best bet when it comes to ensuring that your wishes are carried out after your death.


New York City estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. I have represented clients in many counties including Suffolk and Westchester Counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a Last Will or other aspects of Probate or Estate Administration, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

More Blog Entries:

Smart New York Estate Planning Leaves Millions to Michael Jackson’s Family: September 30, 2011
Five Biggest Ways to Bungle a Trust in New York and Tips to Prevent Them: June 22, 2011
Additional Resources:

$150 Million Trust Fund Stolen From Poor Children in Panama, Lawsuit Claims, by Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Forbes.com

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