When ABA Banking Journal called me about reviewing a new book dedicated to explaining wills and trusts, I was a bit skeptical. Executive Editor Steve Cocheo assured me, however, that it was right up my alley-a hysterically funny book about the world of fiduciary mayhem. (Is this guy crazy?)
Fortunately for Steve, a thousand miles separated him and my raised left eyebrow. Nevertheless, I agreed to read it. A few weeks later, I laughed out loud when I slid the book out of its packaging. The cover is plastered with colorful caricatures of rich and famous icons who serve as examples of "what-not-to-do" in the area of trust and estate planning. Once I turned to the first page entitled, "The ‘Official' Disclaimer," I knew I was in for a treat.
Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! by husband and wife team Andrew and Danielle Mayoras is by far the most educational and clever book I have read in a long time. While not in the genre of the typical book for "dummies," it is written in a manner that will keep trust novices, as well as seasoned professionals, interested until the very end. Broken into 26 easy-to-read chapters, the book takes us on a journey through a fiduciary world fraught with wild and crazy, sometimes dangerous, twists and turns.
Each chapter presents the basics of fiduciary principals. These include such points as: What is a will? What are the strengths of a will? Why is a trust better? What happens when a will or trust is disputed? What is an executor?
Along the way, various terms are simply defined on sidebar "scraps of paper," which resemble clippings from tabloid newspapers. In some cases, these scraps show up again as reminders of the term's meaning and how it now fits in the context of the current chapter. This helps the reader avoid having to flip back and forth through the book to find the word's original mention or to the back of the book for the glossary.
The end of every chapter includes at least one "TRUE STORY of..." some incredible figure. Take Howard Hughes, for instance. Here was the richest man in the world, who apparently died without a will. Unfortunately, this situation was exploited by a ne'er-do-well who claimed to have found Mr. Hughes' will. It just happened to leave Mr. "Do-Well" $156 million.
Other stories are remarkable not for the people who were involved but rather for the circumstances surrounding them...like the farmer who carved his last will and testament on the fender of his tractor, as he lay trapped beneath, breathing his last.
But the ultimate true stories are those that combine the famous and the bizarre into one. Believe it or not, Ted Williams, despite the fact that his will dictated a polar-opposite outcome, is at this moment somewhere cryogenically frozen in a lab in Arizona-without his head. Many of the cases are current and up-to-date and are in fact still in the courts and on the news today ("the TRUE STORY of" both Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy are included).
Finally, methods to avoid family fights are provided at the conclusion of each chapter. These range from how to deal with quarreling siblings to what to do if you suspect a trustee of stealing from the trust. All provide thought-provoking questions that every reader will find invaluable.
Besides being talented writers, the Mayorases are an impressive attorney duo with strong credentials. And they have vast experience in a variety of areas, including estate planning, probate litigation, and cases involving "exploitation of the elderly." In fact, many of the examples shared in the book are from their own case files. Additionally, they conduct educational forums through speaking engagements, radio, and the internet.
I can't finish this review without mentioning the illustrator-Jo Dhammasvetakoon. Okay...I can't pronounce her last name either, so I'll stick with Jo. Scattered throughout the book, Jo's cartoon illustrations of celebrity icons are dead-on (no pun intended-okay, maybe a little). The "big-headed" likenesses are truly an added treat.
Killer girlfriends and abusive nurses, nasty kids and incompetent trustees-even a feng shui master-run rampant through the pages of Trial and Heirs. This entertaining book will provide several outright laughs, as well as a few astonished gasps (my left eyebrow was working overtime). And in the end, all will discover that they have learned a little something whether they set out to or not.
Oh, and in case you are wondering? The fender was accepted as the farmer's true last will and testament and was physically filed with the courts.
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