Another Case of Elder Abuse?
The fabulously wealthy heiress who lives in a Manhattan hospital room gave her longtime nurse cash to buy homes worth nearly $2 million, the woman's lawyer said Wednesday.
Huguette Clark, 104, gave Filipino-born nurse Hadassah Peri money to buy four properties, including a $700,000 house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn and a $500,000 home on a golf course on the Jersey Shore.
The generous centenarian, who's worth an estimated $500 million and owns a palatial Fifth Ave. spread, also gave Peri money to buy upper East Side pads for her children to use, MSNBC said.
Authorities are looking into allegations that Clark may be a victim of elder abuse or fraud.
Besides giving cash to Peri, Clark also reportedly showered relatives of her longtime lawyer, Wallace Bock, 78, with pricey gifts.
She gave a dollhouse worth more than $10,000 to his granddaughter, his spokesman confirmed. She also funded a $1.5 million security system for the Jewish settlement where his daughters live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The gifts to Peri, 60, were tokens of Clark's appreciation for Peri's spending long hours at the hospital as Clark's private nurse, lawyer John Reiner said.
A paralegal who worked for Bock has accused him of fleecing his elderly client.
Bock's spokesman ridiculed the claim by Cynthia Garcia, saying she was only after "15 minutes of fame."
Ms Clark Passed Away May 24, 2011
Updates of Story To Right
Liliane Bettencourt and François-Marie Banier had a defiant lunch alone this week in a mansion just west of Paris. Their friendship, unlikely to some, deeply suspicious to others, goes back more than two decades. Liliane Bettencourt, 87, is France’s richest woman and the principal shareholder of the world’s largest cosmetics company, L’Oréal. François-Marie Banier, 62, is a gay writer and photographer, who has befriended famous names from Salvador Dali to François Mitterrand and Johnny Depp.
Liliane says that without François-Marie’s friendship, charm and intelligence she would have been imprisoned in the stiff, boring life of an elderly billionairess. François-Marie says that Liliane has, over the years, bestowed on him a “treasure of optimism, hope and elegance”.
Ms Bettencourt refuses to accept that she is a victim and has refused to undergo a medical examination. She says she gave Mr Banier the money and property as a way of thanking him for their long friendship, including the exchange of more than 5,000 letters in the past 14 years.
In other words, to use the celebrated tag-line of the L’Oréal commercials, she decided to make her friend super-rich “because he is worth it”. Mr Banier, in his first public comments on the two-year-old scandal, gave an interview to Le Monde newspaper this week. He was asked if he had any sense of guilt at accepting such fabulous sums. “Don’t even think about it,” he said.
“These are gifts, which I refused for a long time. They are gifts from a woman whose mind is completely lucid.”
He admitted that he was using some of the money to play the art market, including the purchase of one of the earliest daguerreotype photographs for $233,000 at Christie’s in New York in October this year. The rest, he said, would be used for good causes, including a centre for traumatised children in Paris and subsidies to launch the careers of talented children from disadvantaged minorities.
“I don’t have any children of my own,” he said. “This money is only important because of what I can do with it. I would like to be able to change society, just a little.” Mr Banier suggested that he was the victim of a French bourgeois establishment, which valued only money and detested him because he represented a more free-spirited, artistic view of the world. “The establishment means lies. It means the control of the world by money and by conspiracy. It means a society of polished bourgeois values, conservative, conventional values, without depth or emotion…” Mr Banier said he intended to help “queers, Arabs, blacks, whites, whatever… anyone who has been fenced out by the world of suits”.
Ms Bettencourt is known to be generous to people she likes. It is the extraordinary scope of her generosity to Mr Banier that has angered the “world of suits” – her family and friends in the wealthy ghetto of Neuilly-sur-Seine, including the town’s former mayor, Nicolas Sarkozy. “If she had given him €10m or €100m, perhaps people would have understood and shrugged,” one family friend said this week. “But a billion euros? A billion! That’s indecent.”
To clarify, or maybe to confuse, the issue, Mr Banier’s camp leaked information this week that the L’Oréal heiress has made generous gifts to other friends. The British former chief executive of L’Oréal, Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, is said to have received €160m. Since Sir Lindsay was largely responsible for the growth of L’Oréal to world domination in the 1990s – and therefore largely responsible for Ms Bettencourt’s riches – such a gift does not seem so extraordinary. The total of €1bn, said by French investigators to have been given to Mr Banier over 14 years, is estimated to amount to about one-third of her fortune.
A court at Nanterre must consider today whether Mr Banier should be the subject of a criminal investigation for “abuse of weakness”. Previously, the court decided that there were no grounds for an investigation without a complaint from the alleged victim and without an independent assessment of Ms Bettencourt’s mental condition. An appeal ruling has suggested that the case should be re-considered.
Ms Bettencourt’s only daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Myers, began the legal action two years ago. The state prosecution service has been reluctant to get involved. In an attempt to oblige her mother to undergo independent tests on her health, Ms Bettencourt Myers applied this week to have her made a ward of court. The application was refused.
Who is François-Marie Banier? To his friends, he is a brilliant companion and raconteur, a talented writer and photographer. Since the 1970s, when he was an angelically handsome, blond, overtly gay young man about town, he has put together an extraordinary list of friends and acquaintances. He was a friend and companion of Dali. He amused President Mitterrand. He knew Samuel Beckett. He remains a friend of Princess Caroline of Monaco, French actress and singer Isabelle Adjani and Johnny Depp, who often stays at Mr Banier’s flat in Paris.
To his enemies, Mr Banier is a disturbed victim of childhood abuse by his father; he is a former gigolo, who has always found ways of ingratiating himself with the rich and famous. He has a history, they say, of friendships with rich old ladies. In the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a companion of Madeleine Castaing, a wealthy antiques dealer and interior decorator, who also gave him generous gifts. When she was 85, she was injured when she fell down a flight of stairs in her mansion, also in Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Her grandson, Frederic Castaing, told the magazine Marianne this week that the family was convinced that Mr Banier had “pushed her downstairs when she refused to give him something”. Mr Banier says that the old lady fell while they were playing “cat” – a French playground game, similar to tag.
In the court hearing today, it will be alleged that Mr Banier has acquired, in the past 14 years, an increasing influence over Ms Bettencourt. Her daughter’s lawyer, Olivier Metzner, will submit evidence suggesting that the L’Oréal heiress suffers from “memory loss and passages of time when she is not in touch with reality”.
Between 2002 and 2007, he will say, Mr Banier received paintings by Matisse, Mondrian, Léger, Man Ray and Chirico. He also received a series of money transfers, including €250m in 2003 and again in 2006. In a written statement earlier this year, Ms Bettencourt said that “knowing how difficult my daughter can be” she had “decided to split up my fortune while I am still alive”.
Her lawyer, Georges Kiejman, says that Ms Bettencourt has submitted her own report by a psychiatrist which described her as being in “perfect mental health”. Acquaintances, including it is said Mr Sarkozy, say there is no obvious sign that Ms Bettencourt is senile or confused. Is €1bn a suspiciously generous gift to an old friend? Is Ms Bettencourt in her right mind? Does she have a perfect right to decide what to do with her own fortune?
The question facing the 15th chamber of the criminal court in Nanterre today is a simpler one. Is there enough evidence to proceed with a full-scale criminal investigation?
Heiresses: Taken to the cleaners
* Anthony Marshall, the only son of American heiress Brooke Astor, was accused by his nephew of taking advantage of his mother’s mental frailty to plunder her estate, estimated at $198m, while allowing her to live in squalor. Marshall was found guilty but he claims he is too ill to go to jail. He will be sentenced later this month.
* Susanne Klatten, Germany’s wealthiest woman and the heiress of the BMW fortune, was expertly seduced by a Swiss gigolo, Helg Sgarbi, who induced her to give him €7m. When he upped the ante, demanding €49m to keep their affair secret, she went to the police. Sgarbi is serving a six-year jail sentence.
Update: (Bloomberg) — The daughter of Europe’s richest woman, L’Oreal SA heiress Liliane Bettencourt, is pursuing the man she said manipulated her mother for almost 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in gifts because she loves her, her lawyer said.
A criminal court near Paris today will consider allowing Francoise Bettencourt Meyers’s complaint against Francois-Marie Banier to go to trial. Meyers claims Banier took advantage of the 87-year-old Bettencourt’s mental “frailty.”
Meyers “is faced with a predator and her mother is vulnerable,” said Olivier Metzner, her lawyer, in an interview at his Paris office last week. “It seems to me moral and legitimate that when you have a mother in danger, a daughter should be able to intervene. It’s solely to protect her mother.” Meyers “isn’t asking for any money.”
Meyers’s personal prosecution of Banier, a celebrity photographer, novelist, playwright and painter, has revealed a rift in one of France’s most powerful and private families. Bettencourt’s father founded L’Oreal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company, and she remains its biggest shareholder. Her late husband served as a senator and cabinet minister. Forbes Magazine put her wealth at $13.4 billion, making her France’s second-most affluent person after Bernard Arnault, chief executive officer of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA.
“She’s rich, but even so, it’s almost a billion” in gifts, said Helene Poivey-Leclercq, a Paris-based attorney who practices family law. “It’s really abusive.”
The first exchange between the mother and daughter in years, according to both women’s lawyers, came last week when Meyers wrote to Bettencourt to explain why she also asked for a judge to determine her mother’s mental state to see if she needs a court-appointed guardian.
“In the letter, she spoke of her great love and respect for her mother,” Metzner said. He declined to give further details of the letter, saying it was private.
“There has been nothing other than this letter,” said Georges Kiejman, a lawyer for Bettencourt, in a telephone interview.
Bettencourt “has not seen her in two years, except when they cross paths during meetings” at L’Oreal, where Meyers is also a director.
None of the three — Bettencourt, Meyers or Banier — attended a procedural hearing on the matter in September. Banier could face as much as three years in prison and a fine of 375,000 euros if found guilty.
L’Oreal had no comment on the dispute, said a spokeswoman for the company who declined to be named.
Meyers initially asked French prosecutors in Nanterre to investigate the case. After the inquiry remained in the preliminary stages for 18 months, Meyers brought her own case. The prosecutors eventually dropped their probe. In France, a private citizen can initiate a criminal prosecution directly.
Most children don’t pursue private prosecutions “unless it’s absolutely vital,” said Poivey-Leclercq, the family lawyer. “The daughter, before making a move, she waited. She let things unfold, up to the point where it became excessive. She acted then.”
Bettencourt refused to be examined by the doctor whom the Nanterre prosecutor asked to gauge her mental fitness. The doctor instead prepared a report based on his review of her medical records. That report is what led Meyers to seek a court- appointed guardian, Metzner said, not a desire to wrest control of the estate from her.
The judge refused to open a guardianship procedure on Dec. 9 due to the absence of medical expertise on Bettencourt’s faculties and her refusal to submit to an exam, Metzner said yesterday. Meyers will continue to pursue a review to see if her mother needs a court-appointed guardian to oversee her finances, Metzner said.
Banier has taken pictures of actor Johnny Depp for Vanity Fair and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and Queen Elizabeth II for The New Yorker, as well as Bettencourt for French society magazine Egoiste in 1987. He met Bettencourt in 1969, according to a Dec. 9 interview with Banier in Le Monde. Her gifts began in 1995, he told the newspaper. They include artworks, real estate and life insurance contracts for Bettencourt naming him beneficiary, Metzner said.
Meyers has never met Banier, Metzner said, and isn’t asking for the items to be returned.
“The accusations against Mr. Banier have no foundation,” said Banier’s lawyer, Herve Temime, in a telephone interview in September. Bettencourt told prosecutors “everything she had done, she did because she wanted to do it and that she was in a position to do it.”
Temime didn’t return calls requesting comment ahead of this week’s hearing.
None of the parties were available for interviews, their lawyers said.
“These gifts come from a completely lucid woman,” Le Monde quoted Banier as saying. “What’s bothering people is that a woman of this rank is breaking with conventions. What really happened will be exposed before a court. Should there be a trial, I’m very at peace.”
Banier called the family feud “a very sad affair,” according to Le Monde.
“This scandal has done a lot of harm to a brilliant and independent woman,” he told the newspaper. “To do this in the evening of her life, it’s inhuman.”
Meyers’s ability to bring a private prosecution may be bolstered by a decision last month by France’s highest appeals court.
The Cour de Cassation ruled that the daughter of an elderly, wealthy woman had grounds to pursue a male friend of her mother for taking advantage of her.
The decision “complicates things a bit, but it doesn’t change what’s key, in my view, which is that there is no direct prejudice against the daughter,” Kiejman, Bettencourt’s lawyer, said.
There's an old photograph of her, taken in 1946 in a vast field at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, dressed in good tweeds and a girlish hat, her hand at her throat, looking questioningly at a man at the left.
You can't see her face -- just the curve of her jaw and a strong nose -- but it's perhaps fitting that in one of the few photographs placing Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon anywhere near Pittsburgh, she is turning away from the camera.
Intensely private, immensely rich and, Monday, celebrating her 100th birthday, Mrs. Mellon, widow of the late philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon (the man at the left in the 1946 picture) has led a remarkable life, if one determinedly lived out of the public eye.
There was a brief flurry of publicity earlier this year when, in a tell-all book, a former staffer to former Sen. John Edwards said the campaign used money provided by Mrs. Mellon -- a staunch Democrat and admirer of Mr. Edwards -- to resettle his mistress, Rielle Hunter, in California, prompting the media to dub her Edwards' "Sugar Mama."
Mrs. Mellon's lawyers have said she had no idea that the money was to be used for that purpose.
Then, earlier this year, it was revealed that she was among a group -- including Uma Thurman and Sylvester Stallone -- who were bilked by a Wall Street investor named Kenneth Ira Starr (not to be confused with the Clinton prosecutor) in a $59 million Ponzi scheme.
Whether she was horrified or amused by this media attention is not known.
What is known is that Mrs. Mellon, who lives on a vast, beautifully landscaped estate spanning 4,000 acres -- Oak Spring Farms, in Upperville, Va., complete with mile-long landing strip for the family's private jet -- dwells far from the madding crowd, yet remains engaged and active, overseeing her gardens and having friends over for drinks in the evening.
"I find her to be fascinating," said Sally Bedell Smith, a Washington, D.C-based writer. "She is one of those few famous people like [Greta] Garbo, who magnified her allure in a way, by being so elusive and so private. There are so few like that anymore, but she has been that way for as long as I can think of."
Author of a well-reviewed 2007 social history about the Kennedys in the White House, "Grace and Power," Ms. Bedell Smith described Mrs. Mellon's close friendship with the first lady and her active role in helping to restore the White House, indoors and out.
When Mrs. Kennedy asked her good friend "Bunny" (the nickname dates from childhood, its origins apparently long forgotten by its owner) to redesign the White House Rose Garden, Mrs. Mellon created an outdoor ceremonial space which remains fresh and enduring today.
Lined with crab apple trees and flower beds laid out in the French style, with low thyme bordering hedges, "It has this formal feel which is softened by the beauty of the plants," said Holly Shimizu, director of the U.S. Botanical Garden. "Her design talent to me is the power of simplicity."
After President Kennedy's assassination, Lady Bird Johnson asked Mrs. Mellon to finish her work on the Rose Garden and to design a smaller garden to be named for Mrs. Kennedy. In a diary entry dating to 1964 Mrs. Johnson described Mrs. Mellon as "an easy, unassuming person. I liked her very much."Despite her private nature, Mrs. Mellon shared her own gardens with many people over the years -- from groups of veterinarians to Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, otherwise sensible gardeners start to sound like giddy teenagers when describing their visits to Oak Spring Farms -- at one 1969 lunch for 200 members of the Herb Society of America, there was a big white tent, recalled the society's then chairperson, Betty Rea, "and an omelet man brought down from New York, and round tables and garden chairs and each table had a myrtle topiary, a tiny little-leafed plant, and there was lemon thyme in little pots. It was very simple and very elegant, and she was so gracious."
Who in America in 1969, besides dedicated herbalists like Mrs. Rea, even knew what lemon thyme or basil was, anyway? Or sustainable gardening? Back before anyone could pronounce the word "artisanal cheese" Mrs. Mellon's farm was producing its own well-crafted Colby, Gouda, cottage cheese, butter and milk at its own creamery.
Daughter of Listerine king Gerard Lambert and an heir to the Warner-Lambert fortune (a company now part of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant) Rachel Lambert was raised in Princeton, N.J., finishing her studies at Foxcroft School in Virginia. There, young women were taught to ride horses, sleep on outdoor porches -- even in winter -- to build their constitutions, and, most important, make good marriages.
She succeeded. While her first marriage ended in divorce, her second lasted for more than half a century.
Indeed, the Mellons, Ms. Bedell Smith would write in her book, "were the 20th century equivalent of Edith Wharton's van der Luydens, who stood 'above all of them' and 'faded into a kind of super-terrestrial twilight': shy and gentle, the ultimate in discernment, seldom seen on the party circuit," because they didn't need to be -- the world came to them, not the other way around.
If Mrs. Kennedy was a 20th-century style icon, surely Mrs. Mellon was her teacher: educating her about discreet, exquisite, impeccable taste, and like so many women of her class and generation, including Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Mellon was schooled in the art of pleasing men. Once, she surprised her husband after a formal dinner at the National Gallery of Art -- founded by Mr. Mellon's father Andrew W. Mellon, and which Paul Mellon chaired for years -- by bringing in a jazz ensemble.
When one elegant, elderly gentleman started assembling his clarinet, the normally imperturbable Paul Mellon gasped: "I don't believe it! It's Benny Goodman! I just don't believe it!"
This private gesture, documented in the Washington Post, was by a woman who, as a gardener, didn't mind digging in the dirt -- but her gardening smocks were made by Givenchy, who dressed her after the great couturier Cristobal Balenciaga retired.
"Nothing should be noticed. Nothing should be noticed," Mrs. Mellon said -- saying it twice for emphasis -- in one of her rare interviews, to Sarah Booth Conroy of The New York Times in 1969. She may have been referring to the soft sand color of her stone house, but it was obviously a dictum carefully followed in every aspect of her life.
Which is why her recent mentions in the tabloids were so jarring -- especially the Edwards debacle, since Mrs. Mellon reportedly hasn't been actively involved in a presidential campaign since the Kennedy administration.
The Edwards controversy may explain why she agreed to an interview in the August issue of Vanity Fair -- to talk about her gardens, which are displayed in lavish photographs, down to the spiderwort growing underneath the antique stone garden chairs.
Mrs. Mellon has mostly remained focused on her own gardening interests and, when he was alive, her husband's -- art collecting, philanthropy and raising thoroughbred race horses.
Not, however, anywhere near Pittsburgh.
While her husband grew up here, he moved to Upperville in the mid-1930s, and the Pittsburgh Mellons -- many of whom live in Ligonier -- were not known to maintain close relations with Mr. Mellon or his descendants in Virginia.
"She had other interests besides the Pittsburgh Mellons," noted Sandy Mellon, wife of Seward Prosser Mellon. She recalls meeting Mrs. Mellon only once, at a Washington, D.C., reception.
For a reporter, doing due diligence on Mrs. Mellon's connections in Pittsburgh or elsewhere is like being helicoptered into Dante's dark wood and getting hopelessly lost while being assailed by the three beasts of "No comment," "I don't remember" and "I'll call you back."
Arthur Scully Jr., who managed Rolling Rock Club and knew the Mellons, recalled meeting Mrs. Mellon in Antigua, where the Mellons had a house (in addition to other residences in Paris, New York, Washington, D.C., and Cape Cod).
What was she like?
"I just don't remember," he said politely.
After Mr. Mellon died in 1999, Mrs. Mellon continued to surround herself with people who shared her interests in the decorative arts and gardening, said David Patrick Columbia, who chronicles Manhattan society online at Newyorksocialdiary.com.
If she were to show up at a glitzy New York party, "most people wouldn't know who the hell she is," he said, but "In what passes for society in New York today, Bunny Mellon stands apart and alone. Actually, when you look at her life, you see that it's the life of an artist, very rich in that respect, with an aesthetic at a very high level."
In recent years her closest companion was Robert Isabell, a New York party planner whom she met when he was advising Mrs. Onassis on her daughter Caroline's wedding in 1986. When Mr. Isabell died of a heart attack at age 57 last year, Mrs. Mellon buried him near her Oak Spring Farms estate.
Besides the White House, she designed the gardens at Mrs. Onassis' summer home on Martha's Vineyard, the Kennedy Library in Boston and Hubert de Givenchy's French country estate, which, the fashion designer told the Washington Post, reminded him of "a delicate piece of embroidery."
"The thing I envy about Bunny," Mr. Mellon told Washington Post writer Paul Richard in 1985, "is that from the age of 5 or 6, her whole life has been occupied by horticulture, by one consuming thing. She had a garden when she was 5. That led her into all kinds of other things -- to trees, to landscape gardening. Everything she does in life -- her reading, her architecture, her love of pictures -- is related in one way or another to this one main interest."
In his own memoir, "Reflections in a Silver Spoon," Mr. Mellon writes affectionately about his wife, whom he credits with "providing my life with a stability and security it had not known before" and notes they met during the war when her first husband, Stacy Lloyd, served with him in the Office of Strategic Services.
After the war, in 1946, Mr. Mellon's first wife Mary died after a severe asthma attack, and in 1948 he married Bunny Mellon after her divorce from Mr. Lloyd. Both had two children from their first marriages.
That marriage was two years after they were photographed standing in a field at Rolling Rock, in the fall of 1946.
She, in the demure cap, is looking past another unidentified woman at him, the man on the left, her face partially obscured.
What was she thinking?
We'll never know, which is exactly the way she wants it to be.
BILLIONAIRES Solomon and Rose Lew have moved to protect their family fortune amid increasingly bitter disputes involving their children's estranged spouses.
The prominent couple have gone to the Supreme Court to seek to rubber stamp a 12-year-old verbal agreement they said they had with their children in order to protect part of a $600 million trust.
Documents reveal Mr Lew gave his children Peter, Jacqueline - who was single at the time - and Steven $170 million each from a "Lew Custodian Trust" in 1999.
The Lews claim in the court action they entered in to verbal agreements with their children so that $145 million of that money was "to be gifted to Solomon and his wife Rose" and that they would have the "sole beneficial interests in and beneficial claim to the amount so distributed".
Under that verbal agreement, even the remaining $25 million, which was deposited in to each of the children's "loan accounts", remained in the control of Mr Lew, he and his wife assert.
That would mean that the children would have "no beneficial interest" in the trust money - putting it out of reach of their spouses.
The action comes as Mr Lew has been involved in a public row with Jacqueline's ex-husband Adam Priester, while son Steven is estranged from Sarah Nowoweiski.
Documents lodged last week show that in 1999 the family's Lew Custodian Trust had reserves of $621 million and the billionaire retail king "was advised by his financial advisers that the federal government may introduce a change to the taxation laws such as to impose a tax on the undistributed reserves of trusts".
Although all three of their children are named as defendants, the Lews have only applied for costs to be awarded against Mr Priester and Ms Nowoweiski.
The move comes as Mr Priester abandoned plans to take further an allegation he was attacked by his father-in-law at Crown Casino's VIP carpark. Mr Lew countered by saying Mr Priester verbally attacked him as he sat in his car with children heading home from a birthday party.
He said Mr Priester, a businessman, tried to strike him through the open car window.
The matter has been referred to detectives but no police investigation will be launched until an official complaint is lodged by Mr Priester. Footage of the incident is available but Mr Priester said it was inconclusive.
The heirs of Dan L. Duncan, a Texas billionaire, would seem to have benefited greatly from the fact that he died this year.
The New York Times reports that because Congress had allowed the inheritance tax to lapse just for 2010, Duncan’s estimated $9 billion fortune can be passed on to his children and grandchildren tax free.
Duncan died on March 28, at age 77, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He had made his fortune in the oil business, having started his pipeline company, Enterprise Products Partners LP, in 1968 with just $10,000 and two fuel trucks.
His wife, Jan, his four children and four grandchildren survive him.
Under current federal law, his wife, who reportedly received their home, ranch and millions in stock as her part of Duncan’s estate, would not be taxed on her inheritance.
However, had Duncan died in 2009, his children and grandchildren would have been taxed at a rate of at least 45 percent, the Times reported. Had he died next year, the rate would be 55 percent.
But the estate tax is 0 percent for 2010 as required by the 2001 tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush. Those cuts expire this year and the estate tax next year returns to the 2001 rate.
At the time of the 2001 cuts, Democrats vowed to restore the estate tax for 2010 should they retake Congress. They now have majority control of the Senate and the House but could not gain agreement on a law that would bring the tax back.
Though a lightening rod for debate, the estate tax has been applied to very few individuals, as it has been levied on the amount of money over $3.5 million left by an individual or $7 million left by couples.
While Duncan’s heirs would seem to be eligible to receive his legacy tax-free, they still might be subject to other taxes. Brian J. O’Connor wrote in the Detroit News that the heirs would have to pay some capital gains on any assets, such as stock, that they should sell.
Under the rules of the 2001 law, the capital gains beyond certain amounts would be computed not from the time an asset was inherited, but from when it was acquired by Duncan, O’Connor wrote.
“The people who have a lot of pre-death appreciation are going to be in for a real kicker,” an estate lawyer told the newspaper.
Duncan’s heirs might also be subject to a retroactive change in the estate tax law, both the Times and the News reported.
Given the controversy over the estate tax (or “death tax,” as it’s characterized by its opponents), it’s no surprise that the Times story prompted a high volume of comments.
Opponents of the tax argued that it’s an unfair tax on income that has already been taxed. “He earned it, he paid tons of taxes on it, he should dispose of it as he sees fit,” wrote one commentator.
Supporters of the estate tax asserted that most of the estate is made up of capital gains not yet taxed. “These people are passing on wealth without ever paying taxes on most of it,” wrote another commentator.
Some people also took exception to Duncan’s avocation. A big-game hunter, he reportedly went on hunting trips to six continents and had killed polar bears and elephants among other animals.
Duncan had also given millions of dollars to a variety of causes, including at least $100 million to what is now the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine.
According to Bloomberg News, at the time of Duncan’s death, Enterprise Products owned 48,000 miles of pipeline and had the storage capacity to “hold every barrel of oil imported in the U.S. over a three-week period.” Thanks To Muckety's Laurie Bennett
A New York woman who lives in a 34-room, 30,000-square-foot mansion is facing a federal criminal charge related to her employment of an illegal alien who allegedly served as a domestic servant in a “forced labor situation” that included her working 17-hour days, seven days a week, and sleeping in a walk-in closet.
Acting on a tip received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, federal immigration agents last year removed the servant from the 12-acre estate (pictured below) on the Mohawk River in Rexford, a hamlet 20 miles north of Albany.
A subsequent criminal investigation determined that the woman--who barely spoke English and came from the Kerala state in India--was paid about 85 cents an hour during the 67 months she worked for Annie George and her husband (who died in a plane crash in mid-2009).
The servant, identified only as “V.M.” in a court filing, cooked for the George family, cleaned the sprawling mansion, and cared for the couple’s five children.
The George estate has a helicopter pad, an indoor swimming pool, 15 fireplaces, Scandinavian marble flooring, a four-story solarium, 24-karat gold gilded ceilings, a glass elevator, and an array of other features. Before his death, George’s husband listed the residence for sale at $30 million.
According to a criminal complaint filed Monday against Annie George, 39, the servant entered the U.S. on a non immigrant visa in 1998 to work for the family of a United Nations employee. She began working for the Georges in late-2005 after being offered about $1000 per month, a substantial pay increase.
In reality, “V.M” received sporadic minimal payments from the Georges. A U.S. District Court complaint estimates that the servant received about $29,000 over the five-and-a-half years she worked for the family. A U.S. Department of Labor investigation determined that the woman was “lawfully entitled” to a minimum of “approximately $206,000 for the entire approximate six years of V.M.’s work.”
The servant told federal agents that she received no personal or sick time while employed by the Georges, nor was she afforded any dental or medical treatment. She had to sleep in a closet in a bedroom shared by the family’s three daughters, the complaint alleges, because “Annie George required that V.M. be near the children at night.”
Investigators charge that after “V.M.” was removed last year from the mansion (which can be seen in this aerial photo), George spoke three times with the woman’s son in India. During one telephone call, George suggested that the “son tell his mother to tell authorities that she was a relative of George’s family and was only staying at George’s house as a guest.”
During the conversation, which the son recorded, George warned, “if she says anything about working, it would become a big crime. They’ll start adding up all the taxes and everything, for all the time.”
Charged with encouraging and inducing an illegal alien to reside in the U.S., George appeared yesterday afternoon before a federal magistrate, who released her without bond. Thank You To The Smoking Gun
RUSSIA'S richest man has lost a multi-million dollar deposit he paid to buy a sprawling mansion on the French Riviera.
Magnate Mikhail Prokhorov, 44, had offered to buy Villa Leopolda in 2008 for a world record $587 Million but backed out of the sale after the global financial crisis hit.
On Monday, a French court ruled the Mr Prokhorov had lost his 10 per cent down payment - worth $60.25 million - and fined him an additional $1.5 million in interest, The Daily Mail reports.
The owner of the villa, Lily Safra, 71, said she would donate the money to ten charities. She told The Times of London, "By
transforming the deposit into an act of giving I would like to
encourage all who can do so to support medical research and other
It is not the first time the billionaire, famous for his playboy lifestyle, has appeared before French courts.
In 2007 he was arrested at a French ski resort for allegedly arranging up to 20 prostitutes for his guests.
He was released after four days and later cleared of all charges.Mrs. Safra inherited the villa from her billionaire banker husband, Edmund Safra, who was murdered by his male nurse in Monaco in 1999.
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