May 24, 2024
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The ‘Juice’ and an Executor’s Duties

(Courtesy of Haas & Zaltz) The recent death of Orenthal James (“O.J.”) Simpson brought back some interesting memories. I recalled the media’s fascination with the “Trial of the Century” starring O.J. himself, the “Dream Team” of lawyers representing him, and the victims, his beautiful ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson (“Nicole”), and her friend, Ronald Goldman (“Ron.”) The media seemed to give the trial around-the-clock coverage. Looking back now, it’s easy to see why. Prior to the trial, O.J. had an impressive career as a football player turned actor; his relationship with Nicole was volatile, even after their divorce. When Nicole and Ron were found dead outside her condo, he was the prime suspect. It would have been difficult to script a better “made for television” scenario. Ultimately, O.J. was acquitted of the criminal charge but he continued to face legal obstacles for the remainder of his life.

Perhaps the most detrimental legal obstacle came in the form of a civil judgment against him in favor of the families of Nicole and Ron in the amount of $33.5 million. O.J. was forced to surrender many of his valuable possessions, including his Heisman Trophy, to raise funds to pay the judgment. He was in and out of the limelight in the years since that trial, but that didn’t dampen the public’s fascination with the “Juice.”

Days after O.J.’s death, his will was filed in Clark County Court in Nevada. The will appointed Simpson’s longtime attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, as executor of his estate. LaVergne acknowledged that O.J. failed to pay most of the judgment he owed the families of Nicole and Ron, and sources indicate that amount has ballooned to $114 million with interest. As the executor of O.J.’s estate, he will need to address that judgment. Earlier this month, he raised eyebrows when he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal during a telephone interview that “[it’s] my hope that the Goldmans get zero, nothing” and that he would “do everything in [his] capacity as the executor or personal representative to try and ensure that they get nothing.” Turns out that’s not the job of the executor.

An executor serves as a fiduciary which imposes a duty to do what’s in the best interest of the estate. An executor should start by reading and understanding the will. The will serves as a set of instructions to the executor regarding what to do with the assets of the decedent. It may include instructions regarding how assets should be distributed or how debts, expenses and taxes should be paid. In most states, whoever holds the will needs to deposit it with the court within a certain time after the death of the decedent. This marks the beginning of the probate process during which a judge oversees the many steps involved in this public proceeding. The judge issues Letters of Administration or similar documents that give the executor power to marshal the assets of the estate. The executor may use the Letters of Administration, a death certificate or completed forms to collect the assets. That’s one of the most important functions of the executor. In fulfilling their duties, the executor may need to hire one or more appraisers to value those assets, either for the court proceeding, for dividing the estate appropriately or for purposes of completing the decedent’s tax returns.

In addition to collecting assets and filing tax returns, the executor needs to determine which bills remain unpaid at death and to decide which expenses incurred during administration should be paid. As part of the process, the executor follows statutory preference in paying the creditors, but the executor cannot exercise discretion to give preference to one creditor over another. That would be a breach of the executor’s fiduciary duties. It seems that someone advised LaVergne regarding this, because days after his original statement he told ABC News that “[now] that I understand my role as the executor and personal representative, it’s time to tone down the rhetoric and really get down to what my role is as personal representative.” A wise decision, indeed.

As this article demonstrates, who you choose as executor matters because of the vital role the executor plays in estate administration. Any fiduciary you appoint will be responsible for ensuring the smooth transition of your estate at your death to your intended beneficiaries. Let’s hope that Mr. LaVergne continues to heed the advice he’s been given and administers O.J.’s estate appropriately. If you have questions or concerns about your own estate plan, reach out to one of our qualified estate planning attorneys now.

To learn how to protect you and your family visit www.haaszaltz.com or call 845-425-3900. You can also email them at [email protected].

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