Battle to control Parrie Haynes Ranch generates interest, creates questions

Debate over the intended use and future of the Parrie Haynes Ranch continues to concern a variety of Texas interest groups.  The 4,500 acre central Texas property provides outdoor learning and other recreational opportunities to assorted children from orphans and other “at risk” youth to school and military-sponsored organizations to groups like 4-H, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Its fate will likely be decided based on the passage or defeat of House Bill 244, a bill which transfers control of the property from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to the Department of Family and Protective Services.  The bill also provides for lease or sale of the ranch.

Fifteen months ago, per the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s recommendation, TPWD assumed formal responsibility of the Parrie Haynes Ranch and began working on a management plan as per the Commission’s directive.  Since the 1960s, Texas Youth Commission (or its predecessors) had operated the ranch but with mixed results.  In the early ’90s, official control remained with TYC, but a lease agreement with TPWD was brokered.

Under the lease the department not only took on management duties, but began hosting outdoor learning and recreational opportunities for all ages with an emphasis on youth programs.  The management change also allowed this central Texas wilderness with its unique outdoor learning and recreational environment to become accessible to more than 2 million people within the locale’s 75 mile radius.

In November 2008, the Sunset Advisory Commission noted judicial action as the state-mandated process for transferring control of the trust containing the 4,500 acre property from the Texas Youth Commission to the Parks and Wildlife Department.  As an estate bequest to the state, the Commission cited TPWD as “well positioned to operate the Ranch in accordance with Parrie Haynes’ wishes” and subsequently ordered TYC and TPWD to work jointly with the Attorney General’s office and appropriate courts in executing the transfer.  This process was underway yet stopped when Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, filed HB 244 which appears to contradict the Sunset Commission’s recommendation both by calling for the legislature, not the courts, to authorize the management change as well as by ordering a transfer of ranch control not to TPWD, but instead to the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Parrie Haynes’ estate was designated “for the use and benefit of orphan children.”  Haynes’ 1954 will directed her residuary estate to help orphans, however with her 1957 death, the Killeen Independent School District receiving an additional bequest of $100,000 for scholarships suggests Haynes’ interests extended to assorted youth benevolence efforts.  Ranch lore tells of Haynes’ unsuccessful attempt in giving land to the Girl Scouts – an additional indicator, some say, of an openness for her land to benefit a variety of children.

The care of orphans is much different today than during Parrie Haynes’ life.  Orphans are far more integrated into mainstream society.  Parrie Haynes likely never imagined how a breakdown of traditional family structures would create additional categories of children in need classified using new terms like “at risk.”  Her actions, however, did seem to indicate a non-exclusionary interest in both children and the use of her land and other resources.

Such considerations provide a reasonable position that an updated approach in using the Parrie Haynes Ranch is neither an affront nor comes at the expense of today’s orphans – it merely provides available opportunities to a wider youth population.  The Sunset Advisory Commission took a similar position directing TPWD to “expand its operations of the Ranch to provide services to Texas orphans in addition to the youth programs already in existence at the Ranch, to ensure that Ranch operations are aligned as closely as possible to the Haynes will in the future.”

The mere filing of House Bill 244 presents another point of dispute in this matter.  The Sunset Commission clearly stated:

Since the Ranch is held in trust, the Legislature cannot transfer the property outright; the State would need to get judicial approval of the transfer and a modification authorizing TPWD to use the Trust for purposes approved by the Court.

Such a transfer would include all properties, investments, and rights associated with the Haynes Trust, as determined by the court. In doing so, it would be incumbent upon TPWD to show the Court that its use of the property is more closely aligned with the intended use of the property as outlined in the Haynes will than other potential uses of the property by the State. Although a court may modify the terms of the trust in the future, while still coming as close as possible to fulfilling the wishes of the Haynes will, this recommendation is based on the findings that TPWD’s current activities on the Ranch are already more closely aligned with the intent of the will than other uses.

It is curious that the Department of Family and Protective Services, an agency seemingly far less prepared to manage a 4,500 acre facility compared to TPWD, would not be subject to the same process and criteria.  And with this deviation, would a transfer based on the passage of House Bill 244 be a valid act?

Nonetheless, the parties on both sides are lining up.  Hartnett says the Center for Public Policy Priorities, came to him seeking the agency change.  Per the organization’s web site:

The center was born from faith and a vision of social justice in 1985 when the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters in Boerne, Texas founded the center to improve health care access for the poor.

Over the years, the center slowly grew in size and in scope. By the time it became an independent research organization in 1999, its focus had expanded to ensure not just health care, but good nutrition, jobs, and education and protection for Texas children.

Today’s priorities include six major areas:

•Creating economic opportunity to strengthen families and grow the middle class;
•Increasing access to quality, affordable health insurance;
•Helping families meet basic needs;
•Enhancing child well-being and child protection;
•Ensuring effective public administration; and
•Security fair and adequate taxation to pay for critical public investments in Texas.

On the other side, the Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch helped initially broker the lease between TYC and TPWD and their mission statement confirms the group’s continuing TPWD support:

Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch,Inc. is a Citizen Volunteer Support Organization whose purpose is to provide support that enables Parrie Haynes Ranch to contribute to the mission of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by providing outdoor learning and recreational opportunities to Texans, especially the youth of Texas, while preserving and protecting the natural and cultural resources of the Ranch.

Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, whose district includes the ranch, has expressed opposition to HB 244.  Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has spoken of being “acutely aware” of community concerns.  Fears of DFPS-control bringing a selloff of the land – a clear provision of HB 244 – are a special concern also routinely voiced on the Save Parrie Haynes Ranch Facebook page.

The Bell County Commissioners as well as the Coryell County Commissioners have issued resolutions supporting TPWD management of the ranch.  Further support by the Greater Houston Horse Council, users of the 30+ miles of ranch trails, illustrates how TPWD also brings leadership adept at creating and managing income-generating opportunities to help offset other facility-related costs.

House Bill 244 has been assigned to the Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence although no public hearing has yet been scheduled.  Whenever it happens, the intent of Parrie Haynes’ final wishes, the fulfillment of those wishes, the protection of Texas orphans’ interests plus the process and motivation for transferring property control are all topics likely to be addressed.

In talking with The Texas Tribune, Hartnett recently characterized potential loser-pays legislation as an “uphill battle this session, given all the other pressing items that the Legislature has to deal with.”  Ironically, one might expect the Parrie Haynes Ranch to also fall into this category.  That it doesn’t is why the timing and motivation of HB 244 continues generating interest and creating questions.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation and a Director of Women on the Wall.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Poaching personal liberty, property creates demands for probate system reform

An aging population, longevity, economic uncertainty and liberal definitions of “incapacitation” are factors creating an environment in which people of all ages find their individual liberties and assets being threatened.  Probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney) are becoming choice tools in these efforts.  Mounting pressure has states like Texas and Arizona addressing probate abuse with resulting policy battles positioning lawmakers between a public demanding meaningful probate reform and a legal industry seeking to maintain its lucrative status quo viewed by many as predatory in nature.

Probate reform is about protecting people from a legal venue that has become a growth industry for unscrupulous Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) perpetrators adept at using probate courts and instruments to hijack personal liberties as well as to loot private assets.  These actions often negatively impact taxpayers as IRA actions can lead to people never before eligible or inclined to also end up on public welfare rolls.

Senate Bill 286, recently left pending before the Texas’ Senate Jurisprudence Committee, illustrates a growing tension between legislators and those adamantly seeking reform.  If passed, this bill allows judges in guardianship proceedings to assess costs, including attorney’s fees, “among the parties as the court finds is fair and just.”

At a recent hearing, Sen. Chris Harris (R-Arlington), the bill’s author, said he’s trying to preserve wards’ estates – currently the main source from which guardianship-related legal costs are deducted – by providing a vehicle to hold initiators of non-meritorious cases financially responsible.

Guy Herman, Presiding Judge of the Statutory Probate Courts of Texas, spoke in favor of the bill attributing certain probate disputes to sibling rivalry or long-standing family grudges.  While this bill and SB 220, another bill featuring a similar provision, are theoretically sound, advocates with probate court experience rightfully fear a different use of such legislation.

Probate judges, often in conjunction with probate lawyers, are routinely cited as sources of estate abuse.  Growing media scrutiny supports this trend though criminal or professional consequences rarely occur.  And if they can afford participation in the pay-to-play civil court system, targeted parties still often suffer unresolved, sometimes irreparable, harm.

The legal industry comprises lawyers, judges and other court-associated personnel and its talking points promote a “blame the disgruntled families” position.  Limited legitimacy to this point exists.  Interested parties responding to unnecessarily aggressive guardianships or other estate looting actions also legitimately occurs – a point these insiders rarely acknowledge.  And with this, tension over prospective legislation endures.

Targets of abusive probate actions know how theoretical public safeguards built into the probate system can in fact be executed in a manner harmful to the public and beneficial to IRA perpetrators.  Opponents of SB 286 see the bill as giving judges a new retaliatory power against families fighting questionable probate actions.  This power could additionally serve as a deterrent for those seeking to further address probate corruption.

Taxpayer-funded entities using taxpayer funds to lobby for government-friendly legislation that doesn’t necessarily serve taxpayer interests is a troubling trend in and of itself.  This recently published Dallas County legislative priority shows how taxpayer-funded lobbying can work as well as gives new perspective to potential uses of SB 286:

Exempt the county from paying the fees of a poor ward in probate court if the ward’s family is affluent. The probate judge would charge the fee to the family in these cases.

SB 286 says the court may allocate costs “among the parties as the court finds is fair and just.”  While the bill may righteously intend to protect against frivolous probate actions, might a Dallas County probate judge use its non-specific language for the “fair and just” assessment of probate court costs because families appear “affluent”?  This could be especially dangerous at a time when overextended counties are urgently looking for cost-shifting opportunities.

Stranger things happen in probate courts on a daily basis.

While Sen. Harris appeared quite earnest in speaking about SB 286, experience fosters extreme caution and skepticism in those having lived through probate system abuse so the tension continues.  Opportunity exists, however, if this measure were part of a reform package.

The Arizona legislature is currently looking at HB 2424 which provides an important starting point for key probate reform measures.  The bill:

  • requires probate law training for judges.
  • establishes an accountability panel with private citizens.
  • eliminates hearsay from evidence.
  • enforces the rights of personal directives.
  • keeps families involved in their loved one’s care.
  • demands a written accounting of expenses from the ward’s estate.
  • allows for a change of fiduciary.

HB 2424 was created in response to experiences documented by a growing state-level grassroots reform movement that includes probate abuse victims.  As in Texas, Arizona lawmakers find themselves between citizens demanding reform of a corrupt system and the system’s caretakers who advocate measures viewed by many as self-serving and “feel good” rather than substantive.

Legal and financial interests that strongly oppose HB 2424 are instead supporting SB 1499 which provides few public protection remedies and was written largely by those who control – and often profit from – Arizona’s probate system.

Despite opposition efforts from four different lobbying houses, HB 2424 continues to make its way through the Arizona legislature due to lawmakers so far connecting more with public reform demands than with legal and financial interests controlling the state’s probate system.

With all the 82nd Texas Legislature is facing, probate reform was never expected to be a hot-button issue.  At the same time, however, vigilance is required.  Stopping unintended but potentially harmful legislation can be as important as passing good.  An Arizona-style probate reform package incorporating SB 286 or similar language is needed in Texas.  And if strongly opposed by the legal industry, that’s a good signal the bill is likely to provide the public true protections from the otherwise predatory culture surrounding the probate system.

For more information:

Disney grandson at forefront of Arizona reform (March 4, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation and a Director of Women on the Wall.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.


Parrie Haynes Ranch bill seeks control of property left for orphans’ use

The Parrie Haynes Ranch is a 4,500 acre property located in Bell County just south of Fort Hood and not far from the new Texas A&M University-Central Texas campus.  It was left in a will to the state of Texas for “the use and benefit of orphan children” and in recent years has fulfilled this directive plus more.  Though 45 minutes north of the Texas State Capitol, few legislators have probably visited the facility whose future is now in question and fate may be decided through House Bill 244.

On Nov. 12, Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, pre-filed House Bill 244 which requests control of the trust containing the Parrie Haynes Ranch to be transferred from the Texas Youth Commission to the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, has also been advocating a transfer of the trust, but believes the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is the appropriate designee, a point with which the Sunset Advisory Commission agreed and the transfer would have been completed except for the filing of Hartnett’s bill.

In a November 2008 report, the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended that “TPWD and TYC jointly seek representation by the Attorney General to pursue a modification of the Trust terms and purpose of the Parrie Haynes Trust that would designate TPWD as the state agency responsible for the Ranch and Trust.”  The Commission also directed TPWD to increase its use of the Parrie Haynes Ranch to be as consistent as possible with the will’s intent.

Other Commission key findings included that not only was TPWD well positioned to operate the ranch in accordance with Parrie Haynes’ wishes, but that in keeping the ranch at TYC, “Texas misses an opportunity to provide improved outdoor access to the state’s youth.”

The Commission found that as the ranch is held in trust, the Legislature cannot simply transfer the property to TPWD.  The Commission, citing the Texas Property Code, said the court can modify a trust to ensure that it conforms as closely as possible to the original intent.  Intervention by the Attorney General is appropriate both as that office has the primary duty of representing state agencies in civil cases and because state law also authorizes the Attorney General to intervene in a proceeding involving a charitable trust, on the behalf of the interest of the general public of the State.

The Parrie Haynes Ranch was left to the State Orphan Home of Texas upon Haynes’ death in 1957.  Haynes’ will was probated in 1962 and probate documents specified the following with regard to her residuary estate (which included the ranch):

To Have and to Hold above described residuary estate unto the said State of Texas for the use and benefit of orphan children as provided in the Parrie Haynes will, and its assigns forever.

While first assigned to the Corsicana State Home (originally known as the State Orphans’ Home), the Parrie Haynes Ranch was then placed under control of the Texas Youth Development Council which later became the Texas Youth Commission.

TYC operated various programs at the ranch throughout the years with mixed results.  In the early ’90s, an agreement with TPWD was brokered and the department assumed management of the ranch as well as the responsibility to host outdoor learning and recreational opportunities for all ages, but with an emphasis on youth programs.

Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch, a citizens volunteer support organization, helped facilitate this arrangement.  The group continues to support TPWD’s management saying the department provides both good stewardship of the land and strong program development capabilities.

The combination of these two factors appears to not just fulfill Parrie Haynes’ wishes regarding the “use and benefit” of her ranch for orphaned children, but perhaps would even have exceeded her wishes due to the wide range of young people impacted under TPWD leadership.

TPWD works with the Texas Game Warden Association to provide year-round adventure activities and educational programs for Texas’ youth. The Parrie Haynes Ranch Equestrian Center is routinely used by the Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association for trail rides as well as youth outreach activities.

The Parrie Haynes Ranch hosts camps sponsored by the C5 Youth Foundation, formerly known as Camp Coca-Cola.  The C5 program provides selected youth five years of intensive leadership experiences in a summer camp setting, year-round leadership development programs and community service, and preparation for continuing education and career development.  With the Parrie Haynes Ranch as one of the summer camp settings, the Foundation invested $2.1 million in the property with the building of nine bunkhouses, two lodges along with a dining hall, office building and pool.

TPWD has also coordinated use of the ranch with Boy Scout troops as well as with the Killeen Independent School District.  A Temple Daily Telegram report indicated Gold Star families from Fort Hood as potential future users of the ranch.

Members of the Friends of the Parrie Haynes Ranch group are concerned that a transfer to the DFPS could lead to a sale of the property.  The land is believed to be worth perhaps $20 million and HB 244 clearly offers sale as an option.  The bill also lists transfers of functions, activities and property between DFPS and TYC while TPWD responsibilities cease.

The Temple Daily Telegram quoted Hartnett explaining the bill:

“it basically takes it away from Parks and Wildlife. We don’t need a state agency turning the trust into a state park.  Parks and Wildlife cares about parks, not orphans.”

Per the Telegram, filing of the bill was prompted upon the Center for Public Policy Priorities contacting Hartnett because of Hartnett’s background as “a successful trust attorney.”  “I’m the House member most knowledgeable about state trust law,” Hartnett said.

F. Scott McCown, Center for Public Policy Priorities executive director, is quoted saying “there is nothing in the legislation that says the property must be sold.”  He further says the property could be leased for significantly more than the $45,000 paid annually by Texas Parks and Wildlife.  And while also suggesting that anyone wanting the Parrie Haynes Ranch for a park should buy it for that purpose, McCown insists no buyers for the property have been identified.  Should the property be sold, however, McCown says its proceeds “could help orphans pay for things like summer camps, college, class rings, graduation announcements or proms.”

Hartnett says the Legislature is the proper venue for seeking the HB 244 transfer:

“What this bill is about is whether the state is going to honor its own laws and obligations or try to turn this property into a park,” Hartnett said.  “If the state does not handle this by the book, there will be no other charitable contributions like this to the state again.”

And regarding the Parrie Haynes Ranch issue:

“They need to look at this as if it was owned by the Salvation Army,” Hartnett said.  “It’s not the states’ money, and it’s not their money.  It’s the orphans’ money. If somebody wants to trample orphans’ rights, let’s do it in the public arena. I’ll take that debate any day.”

The Bell County Commissioners have weighed in with a resolution that supports keeping the ranch under management of TPWD.  Commissioner John Fisher termed the potential of selling off the property as “a travesty to the youth of Texas” while Commissioner Richard Cortese described TPWD’s oversight of the ranch as “a natural fit.”

The merits of House Bill 244 remain something of a mystery unlike the plan for TPWD control of the Parrie Haynes Ranch which was statutorily-based, fiscally responsible and practical in its assignment and utilization of resources.  It was a sensible approach to providing benefit for Texas youth while honoring Parrie Haynes’ final wishes.

Transfer of the Parrie Haynes Ranch away from TPWD and its successful operational model would be a blow to the many who enjoy and learn from the wilderness experience the ranch offers.  It would likely end up as an additional blow to rights Parrie Haynes believed she had in determining the final distribution of her assets.

Probate disputes are receiving increasing media attention and the battle over the Parrie Haynes Ranch is no exception.  Estate of Denial™ follows Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) cases in which probate venues and/or probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships, powers of attorney) are used to loot assets of the dead, disabled or incapacitated.  These cases often involve use – or abuse – of the legal system to divert assets from intended heirs or beneficiaries.  The Parrie Haynes Ranch provides important opportunity to highlight the unanticipated developments or challenges to one’s wishes that can occur with even the most properly prepared estate plans.

Rep. Hartnett talked of debating “any day” in a public arena those who would “trample orphans’ rights.”  House Bill 244 has been assigned to the Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence and and presumably, a public hearing is ahead.  Supporters of the Parrie Haynes Ranch likely join Rep. Hartnett in looking forward to that public discussion.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation and a Director of Women on the Wall.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Anna Nicole Smith inheritance case threatens American property rights, estate planning process

Texas’ ultimate estate dispute is back this week at the U.S. Supreme Court.  The almost 16-year-old case, now called Stern v. Marshall, is the continued effort of Howard K. Stern, the Anna Nicole Smith estate executor, to extract assets from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II, the Texas millionaire to whom Smith was married for 14 months.  While legal and casual observers often view Smith’s effort to use an unsubstantiated oral claim of entitlement as a money grab that violates Marshall’s carefully prepared and properly executed estate plan, years of litigation have made this case about much more.  In addition to being “about money,” this case will likely produce landmark decisions involving not only inheritance rights, but also determine potential handling for other civil and states’ rights matters.  Americans who believe this “celebrity” case has nothing to do with them are wrong.  The use of legal gamesmanship to assault a legitimate estate plan as orchestrated by Smith and her legal team violates American property rights and could impact Americans of all economic, social and political straits on a number of fronts.

Robert Alt, a Senior Legal Fellow and Deputy Director at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, recently shared perspective on the case explaining “you don’t have to have the size estate that J. Howard Marshall had in order to be concerned about people abusing the process – gaming the system – in order to try and reach results that the settlor of the particular estate wouldn’t have wanted.”  While the public often focuses on case facts such as Smith’s star-quality and the salacious details of the then-young Playboy Playmate’s appearance of trying to game the system in order to get access her dead husband’s millions above and beyond what was spelled out in his estate plan, Alt says the Supreme Court will be looking at the technical question of what bankruptcy courts, both statutorily and Constitutionally, are permitted to do in these types of cases and that “huge implications” exist for this and other cases.

A 2000-2001 Texas probate court trial spanned seven months with a jury finding neither Smith nor her claim to Marshall’s estate credible. Prior to that trial’s conclusion, Smith’s legal team initiated a California bankruptcy proceeding inserting the pending probate court action as an element of the new case and a source of potential assets.  Per Alt, the dual proceedings became a “race to judgment,” at least by the bankruptcy court, to be the court having first issued a final and considered controlling judgment.  And of course, the bankruptcy court found in Smith’s favor.

Ultimately, whichever court – the probate or bankruptcy – is deemed as using proper authority in first issuing a ruling over the Marshall estate will be the controlling entity with its decision theoretically prevailing.  Alt explained though that if the Supreme Court were to find the bankruptcy court as having authority to enter such a ruling, the case goes back to a court of appeals for a determination on other ancillary issues that would potentially impact if the probate court decision is enforced.  Such a development would also open the door for forum shopping (a practice seeking legal cases to be heard in the court thought most likely to provide a favorable judgment) in other type cases.  Though bankruptcy courts do not have the same Constitutionally-mandated authority as other federal and state courts, including probate, Alt says a favorable Supreme Court ruling could position bankruptcy courts to more easily reach out and address issues that may be properly being decided by probate courts in other states.

The material elements of Smith’s bankruptcy counterclaim were argued in the probate court.  She raised the second (bankruptcy) claim upon foreseeing a lack of success in Texas.  In looking for “another bite of the apple” and finding a bankruptcy judge reportedly viewed by some as star-struck, a new litigation front was established.  “We don’t have federal courts and bankruptcy courts so that people can try to game the system and go to a more favorable jurisdiction,” Alt said.  “If the Supreme Court were to find Smith-type counterclaims were appropriate to bankruptcy courts, other forum shopping efforts won’t be issued just to probate.  It would only be limited by the imagination of the particular litigants.”

If the Smith estate were to prevail, it is unclear as to the financial stake that might awarded.  And whose interests is the Smith estate’s continued pursuit of this case ultimately, truly serving?  With 16 years of litigation, whatever money the estate could wrongfully get is being bled away by the lawyers.  Trips to the Supreme Court don’t come cheaply!  While it’s not known that this litigation could trickle down as a financial liability to Smith’s daughter Dannielynn, Alt says it certainly is not clear that this playing of the “litigation lottery” will work down to Dannielynn’s benefit in any substantial way.

What kind of legal gamesmanship are we going to permit when it comes to estate planning?  What kind of forum shopping is going to be allowed?  Permissiveness in these areas stands to undermine an individual’s ability to determine their final asset distribution and heirs or other designated beneficiaries’ rights of inheritance.

The ultimate importance of this case, Alt says, centers on the most important feature of estate planning:  certainty.  You’re making plans, committing wishes to writing to see that your wishes are carried out upon death.  J. Howard Marshall II taught estate law at Yale Law School.  Not only was he sophisticated about the issue, but he retained some of Texas’ finest lawyers to assemble his estate plan.  If Marshall can’t have counted on his estate plan being honored, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.

A ruling could be rendered as early as April, but certainly prior to June when the Supreme Court session ends.  Meanwhile, Stern v. Marshall stands as an example that estate planning only adds predictability if competent courts (and judges) uphold the rule of law and our court system takes a stand against the use of legal gamesmanship designed to subvert intended bequests.  Without these measures, “proper estate planning” is meaningless and the property of all Americans is at risk.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation and a Director of Women on the Wall.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Will 2011 bring the bursting of a “college bubble”?

As the Texas legislature along with many other state governments prepare to grapple with budget shortfalls and spending cuts, public college and university funding are likely to come under great scrutiny.  With that, a recent National Inflation Association article warns that the bursting of a “college bubble,” akin to the real estate bubble, could happen this year and bring widespread consequences.

We agree with the article’s basic premise that too many of today’s high school students are being funneled into college for purposes that better serve the employment and power-coalescing machines associated with higher education rather than helping to prepare all of these young people to be productive members of society.  College is an appropriate and important path for some students, however, others may find technical or skills-based training facilities – especially with a clearly defined field of interest – a far more beneficial and cost effective course.

As higher education costs rise, many of these kids are being encouraged to take on debt disproportional to the earning power their degree or certification will ever generate making this a decision with long-lasting and financially detrimental consequences.  And unfortunately, it’s members of the higher education industry or their surrogates that encourage this action.  We wish more financially responsible parents were in the mix so as to better counsel their children, but that general absence contributes to this and many other troublesome societal trends.

Friends and associates with recent experience on college campuses tell stories of waste, even fraud, associated with Pell Grants.  We know respectable, productive people who say that without such funding, their college experience might have been unattainable or at least far more difficult.  Today’s climate, however, also encourages disinterested and unmotivated students seeking only to “scam” the system.  This disservice is perpetrated by the higher education industry and other politically correct allies promoting a false sense of education equality over sensible public policies.  And who is hurt in this equation?  Legitimate students genuinely seeking to maximize educational opportunities, American taxpayers who foot the bill and American businesses that can’t find appropriately qualified candidates to fill positions.

This column additionally attracted our interest at EstateofDenial.com because of this reference to higher education and the legal industry:

All across America, thousands of students are graduating law school each year with $250,000 in debt, but with no jobs at law firms available to them. 15,000 attorney and legal staff jobs have disappeared since 2008, yet 43,000 law degrees are being handed out each year. Law degrees are losing their value faster than the U.S. dollar is losing its purchasing power. Lawyers are non-producing workers that do nothing to create any real wealth for society. The artificially high incomes of lawyers are made possible entirely by inflation, which steals the wealth from hard working goods producing middle-class Americans and transfers it to those who add no real value to society.

With estate abuse and probate corruption as our focus, we address all aspects of the issue.  EoD reports on how many estate disputes (via wills, trusts guardianships or powers of attorney) are contrived so as to generate billable hours for the involved attorneys.  It’s a form of barratry, a criminal practice involving the generation of profit for legal services by an attorney who stirs up a dispute and encourages lawsuits in order to file a groundless claim.  With the aging Baby Boomers, extended lifespans and families not living in close proximity as once was the case, one can reasonably wonder that a supply of unemployed or under-employed lawyers might find probate an appealing growth area.  It’s a position that bodes badly for an unsuspecting public whose assets now become “up for grabs.”  These conditions also illustrate the college scam concept of self-serving universities aggressively recruiting students to potentially assume great debt for entry into a professional field with diminishing opportunities.

This National Inflation Association column isn’t an across-the-board discrediting of college educations.  It merely offers timely comparative data, substantive reasoning and good advice to the youth of America today to “think for yourselves.”  It’s perspective that adults in these young people’s lives would also do well to adopt.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation and a Director of Women on the Wall.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Death Tax is government-sanctioned estate looting

Current discourse over the Death (or estate) Tax depicts troubling attitudes toward American wealth and property rights.  While the generation of prosperity through hard work, creative thinking and discipline was once aspired to and celebrated, today’s world too often seems to begrudge success and foster a skeptical view that if someone is “rich,” perhaps they acquired it less than honestly or were undeservedly “lucky.”  As the trickle-down value of wealth – did a poor man ever give you a job? – seems sadly lost, also being challenged is the concept that one’s earnings are their own to keep spend, save or reinvest/redistribute per their own accord.

EstateofDenial.com addresses the increasing use of probate venues and probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney) to perpetrate Involuntary Redistribution of Assets actions against the dead, disabled and incapacitated along with their families or other heirs/beneficiaries.  We see property rights trampled as the legal system is used to loot estates by diverting lifelong accumulations of assets from a property owner’s intended recipients to never-intended or outside parties.  The Death Tax is government-sponsored estate looting and is equally harmful as actions perpetrated by non-governmental grave robbers, asset looters and property poachers.

An estate tax discourages productivity and prosperity.  It can thwart motivation and economic innovation – foundational principles on which this country was built.

Some wealthy Americans are joining a campaign started by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in which participants pledge to give away at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity.  Hooray for that.  Every American should be free to determine the final distribution of their property.

It’s great if these folks want to give much of their money to charity, but it’s equally great if people want their children or other designated heirs to inherit their assets.  In the vein of freedom, we support the right of Leona Helmsley and Gail Posner (though that case has some suspicious elements) to leave their estates to the care of dogs – the operative term being their money, assets or estates.

And if with death people want to turn their assets over to the government, that’s another option.  Folks who claim they should pay more taxes are, in all reality, free at any point (in their life or upon death) to do exactly that.  They just don’t have the freedom to force it on the rest of us.

So what’s the problem?  Simply put, the Death Tax is government’s desire to confiscate assets for the further control and redistribution of wealth in this country.  It’s a threat to basic American property rights as it sets a basis that government can arbitrarily establish conditions through which property must be relinquished upon demand.

If Death Tax proponents describe Americans wanting to keep what they’ve earned as “greedy,” what then do you call the U.S. government that does nothing to create or otherwise earn wealth, sometimes even hampers its generation yet boldly claims an entitlement to property upon its citizens’ deaths?  Greedier seems a good start.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com and a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas Foundation.  Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Texas House Speaker’s race to impact many issues including probate reform

By Lou Ann Anderson/EstateofDenial.com

EstateofDenial.com was pleased to join many of our grassroots activist friends and colleagues in signing a letter calling on the Texas House of Representatives to ensure the upcoming session provides conservative leadership responsive to voter sentiments expressed with the recent election.

As a Texas-based web site, EoD follows the estate abuse/probate corruption issue and works to educate the public regarding the threats such actions pose to both their personal freedom and property rights.  We believe government leaders possessing truly conservative values will be essential for a meaningful review of this issue to occur.

At EstateofDenial.com, we write about Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) actions in which probate venues and probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney) are used to loot assets of the dead, disabled or incapacitated.  With guardianships, these instruments can be used to hijack an individual’s personal freedom as well as their property.

While disgruntled family members, wannabe heirs and/or unscrupulous attorneys may lead the charge for such efforts, the legal industry as an entity comprising lawyers, judges and other court-associated personnel is also often seen as a key player.

The probate issue is about property rights – both a person’s right to designate the final distribution of their assets and a civilized society’s obligation to see that those wishes are honored.  The transfer of property from one generation to another is a time-honored American tradition that is currently threatened and will only be preserved if “the people” demand government representation that respects and will take action to defend our property rights.

The rule of law is central to fighting probate corruption as the legal system is openly used to perpetrate IRA actions while apparent complicity on the part of court officials usually goes unchallenged.  Again, conservative government leadership that believes and will take strong action to uphold the rule of law – even when it sometimes means coming after their own – is critical for probate reform.

And while individual liberty has long been a focal point in American life, with administrative ease and a relatively casual process, guardianships are becoming a more common status for Texans of all ages – some under highly questionable circumstances.  Understand that a guardianship causes the “incapacitated” person to typically lose basic rights such as the ability to sign contracts, vote, marry or divorce, buy or sell real estate, or make decisions about medical procedures.  They can also lose complete control over any property.  While minors have long had guardians, this legal suspension of  rights is now more commonly being extended to the elderly as well as those deemed disabled or incapacitated.  Guardianships are sometimes warranted, but the public and our officials must stay vigilant that neither government nor other unscrupulous individuals use this mechanism to create a new class of right-free citizens subject to exploitation on a host of fronts.

Property rights, the rule of law, individual liberty.  These all are traditional and core conservative values important to Texans throughout our state.  Voters have spoken loudly and strongly by retaining existing conservative voices and electing new ones.

The November election won conservatives a seat at the head of the table.  Let’s make sure we take it.