Category Archives: Case Study

Will Your Death Cause Your Family Distress?

By Jill Besl

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 9.15.04 AMHeiress Huguetta Clark's death in 2011 at the age of 104 spawned numerous lawsuits that have dragged on for years. At her death, Clark's estate totaled more than $307 million and included an original Renoir, a Stradivarius violin and an original edition of Paradise Lost. She had no husband, children or siblings; only distant relatives with whom she had little contact.

At her passing, two wills were found. The first will, signed March 7, 2005, left everything to her distant relatives but this will had the word “revoked” handwritten and a line drawn through the first page. The second will, signed just a few weeks later on April 5, 2005, cut out the relatives, stating: I intentionally make no provision in this my last will and testament for any members of my family, whether on my maternal or paternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years.” Instead, the new will left $1 million to the hospital where she spent the last 20 years of her life after a serious bout of skin cancer, $100,000 to her personal physician, gifts to the caretakers of her various properties as well as gifts to her lawyers and accountants. Her California property went to a foundation that was to be established to promote the arts and her long-time daytime nurse received Clark's $1.7 million doll collection and 60% of the estate.

It's certainly not difficult to figure out what came next. The relatives contested the April 2005 will, claiming that Clark had been coerced into excluding them from her estate. After years of legal back-and-forth, a tentative settlement was reached in September 2013. Under the terms, the relatives would divide $34.5 million among themselves and many of the other bequests from the second will would not be honored. Then, to complicate matters further, in January 2014, Geraldine Coffey, Clarks night-duty nurse for 20 years would not agree to the settlement. The attorneys for the estate argue that Coffey caused Clark distress by pressuring her for money.

The drama that has persisted for the past three years since Huguetta Clark's death and has signs of continuing. It could have easily been avoided with the proper estate planning documents. As Florida Certified Elder Law Attorney Joseph S. Karp so aptly summed it up: “Multi-millionaires or not, all of us should take steps to ensure that in death, our wishes are carried out and those we care about most are protected.” Seek counsel from an experienced elder law attorney to make sure your family – or those who you wish to receive your assets – understand what you want at your death.

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Dangers of a GPS


By Attorney Mitch Adel


A few summers ago I was speaking a workshop for retired teachers, prior to my presentation on retirement and long term care planning, a woman spoke about the dangers of a GPS.  I had never really given this much thought until recently.  This past week I was scheduled to give a seminar for a group of seniors at a community center/fitness facility.  As I was walking from my car to the facility, I remembered that I had left my GPS on my dashboard.  Not wanting to invite a potential break-in, I went back and removed it.  On my way back to the car, I must have passed a dozen cars where people had also left their GPS devices on their dashboards.  Clearly, one danger in leaving your GPS in plain view is that you welcome people to break-in and steal your device.  But as the speaker a few years ago taught me, that is not the biggest worry.  


The woman at the seminar told the story of how homes were being broken into and the connection between the burglaries was that the thief would break into a car, steal the GPS and rob the house.  If you are having trouble seeing the connection, think about this:


When most people purchase a GPS, the directions ask that the first thing you do is program in your home address and label it “HOME”.  So if someone has your GPS, they know where you live, couple that with how convenient it is that the device will show them the FASTEST way there.  Now, lets say that you are parked at a seminar, movie, church, fitness facility, airport, ball game, visitor parking at a nursing home or assisted living, etc.  There is a reasonable expectation that you will be there for a few hours.  Now the thief, breaks into your car, takes the GPS, turns it on, pushes the HOME button and knows a place where you will likely not be for a few hours, add to it the time it will take for the police to show and investigate the break in of the car, all the while your home could be under attack.  


I am certainly not telling people not to purchase a GPS, as I said above, I have one and love the convenience.  Instead, I would ask that not only do you take measures to properly hide the device when you reach your destination, but you also remove the your personal information from the HOME button.  My advice would be to enter an address in the HOME button that is not your home but that you know how to get home from, like a fast food restaurant or a grocery store.  


Americans Are Litigious: They will sue you in a heartbeat, and your kids, too!


By Kathy Cooper

Recently, I came across an article about outrageous lawsuits that made me think about why we all might want to have Legacy Trusts for our kids.  I should mention that Thom and I have them for our two girls and here’s the reason: People sue -  and sometimes win – ridiculous lawsuits.  Just to name a couple from the article:

  • The kids who sued their mom for “bad mothering” because they received empty birthday cards
  • The photographer who was sued by an man, already divorced, who never received the last 15 minutes of video from his wedding

The list goes on.  Of course we all remember the lady who sued McDonald’s when she spilled hot coffee on her lap.

Legacy Trusts are not for everyone, and you need some good elder law advice to determine if they are right for your kids.  One of the powerful features about these trusts is that they can protect the inheritance you leave for your children from this type of pernicious lawsuit.  

Read the article here: The 5 Most Outrageous Lawsuits of 2011.  Call us at Cooper, Adel and Associates if you want to discuss how to protect your family from the crazies!


(FYI – Here’s the article …)

The 5 Most Outrageous Lawsuits of 2011

By Cynthia Hsu on January 5, 2012 6:02 AM 

Americans are litigious. We certainly like to enforce our legal rights. We also like to make sure somebody pays up when they wrong us. Some of the most outrageous lawsuits of 2011 include sex, crime, and flying body parts.

Below is our compilation list of FindLaw's top 5 weirdest — and wonkiest — lawsuits to hit the news:

5. Tourist Sues Hooker for Leaving ½ Hour Early

College student Hubert Blackman was in Las Vegas. He decided to party it up by ordering a "stripper" from Las Vegas Exclusive Personals. The stripper came, gave him a lap dance, and performed a sex act on Blackman. She also left a half an hour early. Blackman then sued the company for a $275 refund and $1.8 million for the "tragic events" that took place.

4. 'Bad Mothering' Lawsuit: Kids Sued Mom over Empty B-Day Card

Attorney Steven A. Miner helped his kids file a lawsuit against his ex-wife for being a "bad mother." The kids said that they were subjected to empty birthday cards, clothing budgets, seat belts, and their mother's "forgetfulness."

3. Man Sues to Recreate Wedding Photos of Failed Marriage

New Yorker Todd Remis sued his wedding photographer for missing out on the last fifteen minutes of his nuptials. He sought damages to recreate his wedding. The kicker: he was already divorced. He also didn't know where his ex lived.

2. Man Killed by Train is Sued: Flying Body Parts Injured Woman

Illinois woman Gayane Zokhrabov filed suit against the estate of a deceased man. The deceased 18-year-old had died after getting hit by a train. After he was hit, parts of his body went flying — injuring Zokhrabov. She sued over her injuries.

1. Kidnapper Sues Hostages for Breaching 'Contract' to Hide Him

The most outrageous and strangest lawsuit to come out of 2011 might be this one. A convicted kidnapper in Colorado sued his former hostages for breaching an oral contract to hide him when he was a fugitive. He sought damages to compensate him for injuries incurred during his arrest.

The Cost Of Retirement


Saving for retirement is extremely important, even during an economic downturn. While some economists predict that brighter times are right around the corner, that doesn't change the fact that an increasing number of people are delaying their retirement plans. Just a few years ago, when the stock marked was still soaring to dizzying heights, many people become obsessed with "the number" – their individual nest-egg that would assure a comfortable retirement. Now the focus is shifting to a different, more important number: how much retirement income your savings will provide. has a great infographic on the topic. 

Friends with Benefits

By Attorney Thom L. Cooper

ohio elder lawBelow is an article by a colleague of mine, Elder Law Attorney Michael Ettinger, in which he describes a new trend among seniors to live together without being married.  While Mike is from New York with an upscale practice,  I am also beginning to see an increase of “Friends with Benefits” in my practice in Ohio.  I think we could all bemoan the positive and negative incentives of government policies, regulations and laws which I believe are responsible for the trend,  but now we are forced with having to deal with the  “legal unintended consequences” of  more and more our seniors living in this arrangement in order to attempt to preserve and protect their assets and those of their families.

Let me give just one example of these “legal unintended consequences:”

One of the main reasons that seniors do not get married is that they are worried about losing their homes should their partner go into a nursing home.  So what typically happens is that one of the senior partners keeps their home in their name and the other partner moves in and often sells their home.  All is OK if the senior without the home goes into a nursing home… but what if the partner who owns the home goes in?  At that point the home would have to be sold and the remaining at-home partner would be  “on the street”… a situation which neither partner might want after a long relationship.  Can this situation be avoided?  Of course it can with proper planning.  But this just underscores the point that it is even more important for Friends with Benefits to plan than a married couple.  If you are in this situation please see an elder law attorney to help you develop your plan.

More Elderly Couples Choose Cohabitation without Marriage


Attorney Michael Ettinger

It’s a quiet fact of senior residences across the country: Grandpa is living with someone else’s Grandma. In their 70s, 80s, and beyond, older couples meet in seniors-only housing and live together unencumbered by marriage vows. Their relationships are committed and bonded, meant to last the rest of their lives, sometimes even informally blessed by clergy.

According to U.S. census figures, co-habitation numbers for people 65 and older have tripled in the past decade, jumping from 193,000 in 2000 to 575,000 in 2010. A generation or two ago, the idea of older adults living together might have been shameful, even scandalous. That’s changed, in part because societal attitudes toward marriage have changed. Only 52 percent of all American adults identified themselves as married in the 2010 census – and almost 60 percent of people age 50 and younger have lived with a partner without being married, the Pew Research Center says. As a result, as the baby boom generation edges into old age, researchers expect co-habitation among seniors to continue to soar.


Can your will be overturned? The case against multi-millionaire John E. Du Pont

By Kathy Cooper

As you grow older, you may decide to change the beneficiaries of your will or trust.  You may decide that a particular child is helping you more than others.  You may feel that your caregiver is more sensitive than your family and therefore deserves a part or all of your fortune.  You may find that your second wife is the real love of your life and you want her to have everything.  These are not necessarily bad or unusual reasons to change your will or trust, but you may run into some problems with your family if you do.

Think about the case of Mr. Du Pont who changed his will three months before his death. According to, his niece and nephew are challenging his will because they say he did not have the capacity to make that change.  According to this article, Mr. Du Pont, on various occasions, believed that he was the Dalai Lama, Jesus Christ and a Russian czar.  If these allegations are true, it’s not hard to believe that there was about whether he had the mental capacity to make that change – but what is the truth?  The courts are left to decide because Mr. Du Pont’s capacity to make the will at the time he made that change was not established.

Think about your situation, you’re not having problems like Mr. Du Pont – you’re still with it, you know who you are and where you are, so why worry if you decide to change your beneficiaries to recognize the kindness of a friend or the love of a new partner?  The worry is that your biological heirs and/or their spouses may have a different plan for your assets and they could challenge your wishes after your gone.  They might say that you did not have the “capacity” to change your will or trust.  It may be appropriate to ask an attorney to conduct a capacity evaluation to establish, to the greatest extent possible, that you are “of sound mind” to make the change. Interestingly, having the capacity to make a will or trust is not a medical issue, but rather it is a legal issue.

Consider having a capacity evaluation if you are changing beneficiaries from your biological heirs to others who are not related.  An elder law attorney can tell you if a capacity evaluation is appropriate in your situation.  An elder law attorney can provide this evaluation also help you understand the impact of your decision on your estate and nursing home planning.  Call our office for a free consultation about your specific situation.


Mama Cass’s Estate: California Dreamin’ Turned Nightmare

By Attorney Renee Fox

While the myth that Ellen Naomi Cohen, a.k.a. Mama Cass, of the 1960′s rock group The Mamas & The Papas, choked to death on a piece of ham was disproved years ago; the less popular rumor that she died bankrupt and intestate has only recently been disputed.

Approximately 35 years after her death, it has been discovered she made out a Last Will & Testament.  The law firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp prepared a Will for Ms. Cohen in 1967, but the advised the Singer’s family in 1974, when she died, that no Will could be located. Her assets were then distributed entirely to her daughter, in accordance with California laws of intestacy.

The beneficiaries are suing Mama Cass’s estate-planning attorneys for concealing the Wills existence, under theories of malpractice, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. They also allege that the law firm had a conflict of interest because it represented both Mama Cass and her creditors at the same time. Further, they also represented the proposed guardian for the seven year old daughter that Ms. Cohen left behind. The Will that was later discovered left one-third of the estate to Ms. Cohen’s Mother and the rest to her daughter. Ms. Cohen’s Mother has since died and her children would have stood to inherit under the will. Mama Cass’s brother and sister are the plaintiff’s bringing the law suit in this action.

Ironically, the estate was insolvent when Mama Cass died. However, after her death the royalties paid to her estate have been substantial.

To learn how these and other estate planning errors can be avoided contact the professionals at the Thom L. Cooper Company today!

Cooper and Adel in the News: Court of Appeals Ruling

By Attorney Elizabeth Durnell

Our Law Firm recently won an important Ohio appeals case on behalf of one of its clients.  The outcome of this case has the potential to help our clients in a situation where a spouse is going into a nursing home.

In May 2008, our client, Paul was admitted to a nursing home, while his wife, Betty, remained in the community. In July 2008, Betty purchased an annuity for $14,562.55 to produce a monthly income for her benefit. In August 2008, Paul applied for Medicaid benefits and was found eligible. However, the County imposed a two and a half month penalty, claiming Betty’s annuity purchase constituted an improper transfer of resources made for the purpose of qualifying for Medicaid. Our law firm disagreed.

The Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas ruled in our client’s favor.  The Court held that it was a violation of Federal law for a properly-structured annuity purchase to be treated as an improper transfer. The State of Ohio then appealed the Court of Common Pleas decision to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reaffirmed the trial court’s finding.

Basically, the courts found that a spouse of a Medicaid recipient can turn a portion of their assets into income without creating a penalty. This is great news for our clients because they will be able to save a larger portion of their assets when their spouse enters a nursing home. However, this is not something you should try without qualified legal advice since the rules are complicated.  It is unlikely your insurance agent or financial planner will know about these rules.

For more information, contact our office at 800-798-5297

The Trouble with Timeshares

By Robin Crouch

A timeshare is essentially the purchase of a period of time for a vacation. Timeshare owners receive a legal deed to property, but don’t actually own a particular room or suite. You own the right to use the property for a certain time period, usually a week. The period of time varies widely as does the place and lodging. Timeshares have grown to include resorts, condos, houses, castles, RVs, yachts, and even trains. Almost all timeshares are resort or vacation properties.

One of the main money traps in timeshare ownership is the maintenance fee. During the first few years of ownership, maintenance fees may be fairly low. The average cost of maintenance fees in the US is $800 per year.

There are other costs to consider as well, such as travel to that far away spot, financing, cost of exchanges and points to upgrade your accommodations, taxes and surcharges, not to mention the loss of income you could have if your money wasn’t tied up in the timeshare. Adding the additional yearly costs into the equation could easily total $2,500.00 or more per year. One thing is certain; a timeshare owner will continue to pay for the use of a timeshare, year after year. Owning a timeshare is like being married; it’s a lifelong commitment, that money is spent. If you don’t like owning a timeshare, divorce is difficult and costly. Resale value is low and true timeshare dumps are almost impossible to find.

Now consider a Timeshare Inheritance. Your parents kicked up their heels in Branson, had a lovely time at Dollywood, and thoroughly enjoyed the snorkeling in Aruba. What can you do if you inherit a timeshare that you can’t afford or don’t want?

Few people realize that when you are bequeathed an inheritance, you have the choice of acceptance or not. You can choose to refuse or disclaim an inheritance. In the case of timeshare property, this is a viable alternative to inheriting something you don’t want or can’t use.

If you inherit a timeshare, it’s important to examine all of your options. Do some research into what owning a timeshare involves and make an educated decision whether it is something you want or can use. Don’t end up bearing the burden of an unwanted timeshare until you can bequeath it to someone else.

When you choose to refuse an inheritance there are several qualifications that have to be met. You must file your Disclaimer of Interest within a certain period of time and can’t have all ready accepted your bequest or used it an any way to benefit yourself. You have no say as to what happens to it, and you cannot change your mind.

A qualified elder law attorney can help through the process of considering your options and following-up on your decision. Give your office a call if we can help.

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

By Robin Crouch

Our Firm’s mission statement is: “The Thom L. Cooper Co. is dedicated to building a continuing relationship with each senior client: to protect their wealth from the devastating costs of a catastrophic healthcare situation; to conserve their wealth for their use during their lifetime; to shelter their wealth from unnecessary legal expense or taxes; and to assure that their wealth is transferred to their heirs with minimal cost or delay.”

I love it when a plan comes together!

Case Study: A Husband and Wife came to us in 1999 to develop an estate plan, both were healthy and living on the family farm. Over the years as their health deteriorated, both ended up in a nursing home. The good news is, with the help of their children, they continued to update their plan to protect the farm and other cash assets for their children. As a result of their ongoing planning, Mom’s nursing home bill was paid by the State of Ohio, Dad’s bill was covered by his long-term care insurance, and the children inherited a total estate of $802,000. Even better, after the death of the second spouse, the estate was approved for the Qualified Farm Use Election and the children saved $24,496 in Ohio Estate Tax while inheriting the farm at current market value.

Want to find out how to make your plan come together? Call us at Cooper Law Firm.

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