Over thirty-five years after Bing Crosby’s death, the California Court of Appeal put an end to the continuing battle over the Crooner’s right of publicity.

I Can’t Begin to Tell You

In 1930, Harry Lillis Crosby—nicknamed Bing for his love of a newspaper parody, “The Bingville Bugle”—married first wife, Wilma Wyatt (known professionally as Dixie Lee). The mother of his first four sons, Wilma died in 1952. In her Will, Wilma gave her community property to her two sons, which was held for their benefit in a trust known as the Wilma Wyatt Crosby Trust (the “Wilma Trust”).

Over the next several years, Bing was regularly the topic of gossip as he romanced several of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. In 1957, Bing married Kathryn Grant, a young actress and singer that Bing met on the Paramount lot. Together they had three children and remained married until Bing’s death on October 14, 1977 on a golf course in Madrid.

Bing left the residue of his estate to a trust for the benefit of his wife, Kathryn. Subsequent to Bing’s death, HLC Properties, Limited (“HLC”) was formed for the purpose of managing Bing’s interests, including his right of publicity.

Pennies from Heaven

Under the common law of California, there exists a “right of publicity” in a person’s name, likeness and identity. In 1971, the California Legislature established a statutory right of publicity in a person’s “name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness.” After a controversial California Supreme Court decision in 2007, the California Legislature clarified that the right of publicity is freely transferable “by means of trust or testamentary documents.”

Continue Reading Celebrity Trusts & Estates: Another Battle in the Saga of Bing Crosby’s Right of Publicity Comes to an End

BrendanBIn most California civil cases, a party generally must wait until a trial court issues a final judgment before he or she can get through the doors of the Court of Appeal.  While there are a few exceptions, this rule (sometimes called the one-final-judgment rule) prevents litigants from complaining to the appellate court about every ruling in a given case in piecemeal fashion.  Even when they receive an appealable judgment, parties to an appeal often find that getting a decision from the reviewing court takes endurance and patience; e.g., the time from the notice of appeal to the decision frequently takes over a year.

Things work a bit differently in probate court.  In that forum, parties can appeal from a multitude of rulings that a trial court may issue well before any final judgment.  And litigants who feel like they are growing old dealing with other types of appeals may find less waiting when it comes to probate appeals.  That is because probate appeals are subject to statutory preference (i.e., hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with rules) under section 44 of the California Code of Civil Procedure.  Still, it is a good idea to file an application for calendar preference (to remind the appellate court that yours is one of those cases) in order to speed things along.

Continue Reading Don’t Make the Grave Mistake of Killing Your Appeal from an Order of the Probate Court

HilaryLRetirement plans and life insurance and annuities often constitute a large portion of a client’s estate.   At death, these plans are distributed by beneficiary designation, not by the client’s Will or trust.

Many clients are aware that under California law (unless a Will specifically provides otherwise) bequests made to the former spouse in a Will that was made prior to the divorce are revoked at the time the dissolution becomes final.  In addition, some beneficiary designations naming the former spouse are automatically revoked upon divorce; but that is not always the case.  For example, there is no such automatic revocation of beneficiary designations for retirement plans that are covered by ERISA.  For an extended discussion of the effect of California law on the inheritance rights of a former spouse see the following Death and Divorce Blog.


Last week, I blogged that a common refrain that we hear from people when we encourage them to consider estate planning is “But I don’t need an estate plan.”  This post addresses the second of three of the most common refrains that we hear.

I don’t need an estate plan because I want everything to go to my spouse.

Many married (or registered domestic partner) couples believe that they don’t need an estate plan because each spouse or partner wants everything to go to the other.  This is true for community property.  However, if either spouse owns any separate property, the separate property will be divided between the surviving spouse and other relatives.  Separate property generally includes anything owned prior to marriage and anything acquired during marriage by gift or inheritance, and titling a separate property asset jointly or commingling it with community property will not convert it to community property.  Many married couples will have at least some separate property, and if the surviving spouse and his or her in-laws do not get along, it could lead to disputes.  Additionally, if you have children, half to two-thirds of the separate property will go to your children, depending on the number of children.  If the children are minors, a court proceeding may be needed to distribute the assets to a guardian of the estate for the child or into a blocked account until the child turns 18 (even if the child has a surviving parent).   Even if a large sum of money is involved, there is no way to prevent the child from accessing the entire account at age 18.

Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part Two)

A common refrain that we hear from people when we encourage them to consider estate planning, especially people in their twenties and thirties, is “But I don’t need an estate plan.”  The reasons vary, and this post will address the first of three of the most common ones.

Reason # One:  I Don’t Need an Estate Plan Because I Don’t Have Very Much.

For young people just starting out, this is a common belief.  But, estate planning isn’t just a way to distribute your property after your death – it’s also planning for your incapacity and making arrangements for your minor children.  A “foundational” estate plan generally consists of three or four documents:  (1)   a durable power of attorney for finances (DPAF), (2) a durable power of attorney for health care/advance health care directive (DPAHC), (3) a will, and occasionally, (4) a trust.  Of those four, the first two of those documents are exclusively for use during your lifetime.  The DPAF names someone to handle your financial and personal affairs if you are ever unable to do so, and the DPAHC names someone to make medical decisions for you and sets forth your wishes for medical treatment.  Additionally, if you have a trust, the trust names a person to manage the assets in the trust both during your life (if you are ever unable to do so) and upon your death.

Continue Reading You Need an Estate Plan (Even in Your 20s and 30s) (Part One)