Ken Thompson Estate Litigation Takes a Turn as Wife Relinquishes Assets

After nearly a year in litigation, former Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson's wife filed papers relinquishing all money and personal property left to her in her husband's estate. Just who is Ken Thompson, and what went wrong after his death last October?

Attorney Ken Thompson was Brooklyn's first African American District Attorney. Last October he passed away from cancer at the age of 50. He left behind a wife, two children, and a grieving mother. He was a renowned attorney just starting out in his political career when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that took less than 6 months to kill him. 

But the tragedy does not end there. 

Just prior to Mr. Thompson's passing, he drafted Estate Planning documents that were allegedly in direct conflict with previous estate planning documents, drafted in 2008. The new documents cut out his mother and siblings and left everything to his wife. 

--Lesson number one from your trust attorney: Do NOT encourage death bed estate planning that unduly benefits one person over another - especially when that estate planning directly contradicts a prior will or trust. This is an almost sure way to end up in court, paying out a hefty chunk of your inheritance to attorneys. --

Upon realizing what had happened, Thompson's mother immediately sued her son's wife, accusing her of "coercing" Thompson to sign a "deathbed will" that left the wife his entire estate. 

Thompson’s mother Clara, a former NYPD police officer, alleged that her daughter in law Lu-Shawn destroyed an earlier will that she believed left large bequests to multiple family members, including Thompson's mother.  Clara also accused Lu-Shawn of being a "spend-thrift" and leaving several million dollars of assets out of the probate filing. 

Mr. Thompson had apparently amassed large property holdings, not to mention valuable personal property and bank accounts during his career as a prestigious trial attorney. His wife's recent "relinquishment" of rights does not include any property rights. 

Ken Thompson's family has no doubt endured severe emotional stress and heartbreak over his death and the ensuing estate litigation. If there's anything we can take from this story it's this: avoid death bed estate planning, especially when it comes to changing a previous will or trust. 

For questions about Estate Planning or Contesting a Will or Trust, contact our East Bay Trust and Estate Law Firm at 925-322-1795. 

Why do you need a Trust in California?

Executing a Trust can be one of the most important estate planning decisions any person or family can make.  Funding a Trust changes ownership of assets in ways that allows for ease of management and transfer upon the passing of the people involved in the Trust.  

When most people open bank accounts or purchase homes, they title them in their own names.  For example, when Joe Smith buys a house, the title on the deed might state “Joe Smith, an unmarried man.”  If Joe Smith wants to sell or transfer the house, he needs to sign a new deed.

However, if Joe Smith has passed away or become legally incapacitated, then he can not sign this document or any other needed to manage or transfer assets.  In those situations, another person will need to petition the Court to be appointed as a Personal Representative for the Estate Of Joe Smith, either through Probate or Conservatorship.  Then, the Personal Representative can sign any documents needed to manage or transfer a house or other assets.  This process is lengthy and expensive.

However, if Joe Smith has executed the Joe Smith Trust, then this process can go much smoother.  First, Joe Smith signs documents transferring the house and any other assets into the trust.  Now, instead of having the titling on the assets be just “Joe Smith,” the owner is listed as “Joe Smith, Trustee of the Joe Smith Trust.”  This slight language change might seem minimal, but it makes all the difference in the world.

Now, the Trust owns the assets.  The Trustee is managing the assets on behalf of the Trust.  In most situations, people who create Trusts appoint themselves as initial Trustees.  As such, they are managing the assets for their Trust on their behalf.  It makes minimal real world difference.  However, if Joe Smith has passed away or become legally incapacitated, managing or transferring the assets is much easier.  

The Trust would list a new Trustee (named the Successor Trustee).  This person can assume control over Trust assets by re-titling the assets in their name per the Trust’s instructions.  If the Successor Trustee is Jill Smith, the assets would now be titled as “Jill Smith, Successor Trustee of the Joe Smith Trust.”  Jill Smith can then execute documents to transfer or manage assets.  This process is much more efficient and less costly than having to go to Court.  

Trust law can be complicated.  The Law Offices Of Matthew B. Talbot is here to help assist you during what can be a trying time.  Please call us at 925 322 1763 to set up a free 30 minute consultation.