A media wildfire spread this week after word got out about a particularly exotic estate planning strategy crafted on behalf of a Florida man. According to a report yesterday in The Huffington Post, the new estate planning strategy involved the man adopting his 42-year old girlfriend. Apparently this was done in an effort to strengthen their relationship legally without marriage while ensuring she has access to resources down the road.
The situation might make a bit more sense in context. The client in this case, John Goodman, is a wealthy man, having created a trust years earlier that is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The trust was created for the benefit of Mr. Goodman’s descendants–his children. Two years ago Mr. Goodman was involved in a particularly deadly auto accident. According to criminal charges filed against him, he was apparently driving drunk, ran a stop sign, and hit another car–killing the other driver. A civil lawsuit has been filed by the surviving family members of the car accident victim. However, because the trust was set up years before the accident, the plaintiffs in the civil case will not be able to access those trust funds regardless of the outcome of the legal matter.
Having already had one marriage end in divorce, Mr. Goodman did not want to walk down the aisle a second time. However, he was in a very serious relationship with a 42-year old woman named Heather Laruso Hutchins. He wanted to strengthen that relationship without resorting to marriage. That’s when he was advised to adopt her. By adopting Ms. Hutchins, she now becomes a legal descendant of Mr. Goodman’s and is therefore entitled to distributions from the trust that was created earlier for the benefit of his heirs. In addition, Mr. Goodman himself may now be able to access the trust funds indirectly via his girlfriend/adopted daughter.
However, many are questioning the legality of this particular strategy. For one thing, there was apparently a side-agreement with Ms. Hutchins whereby she agreed to give his natural born children 95% of the funds remaining in the trust when it ends. It is unclear how this side agreement could contravene the terms of an irrevocable trust.
It is not uncommon for those with considerable wealth to engage in particularly unique techniques to plan for their financial future. However, our New York estate plan lawyers appreciate that these sorts of efforts, like adopting one’s adult girlfriend, are quite rare and usually not of much use for local community members. Yet, there is nothing wrong with exploring all the legal options available when deciding on the best course of conduct in these matters. The very reason that most visit an estate planning attorney is to hear about the range of legal choices that are in front of them to save on taxes, pass on inheritances, and plan for their own future well-being.
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