Thursday, November 15, 2018

Aretha, Prince and the Simple Need for Estate Planning

I was not especially surprised to learn that Aretha Franklin died without a will. It's becoming a common occurrence and  I sort of expected the Queen of Soul to live forever .I bet she did too.  I knew that Aretha was divorced and had four sons, all adults – so the division of her assets seemed straightforward to me.  But then I read that one of her sons might have special needs and that Ms. Franklin had a long-term companion whom she apparently made no provision for.  
I hate to say it  but this is irresponsible.  An artist like Aretha Franklin, with a sizable estate and a royalty income stream that will carry on for years should have had an estate plan – at the very least a simple will and a special needs trust if one was warranted.  As the New York Timesnoted , she could have set up a revocable trust, avoided the probate process and accomplished an ideal distribution of her property.  I have been reading a great deal about the Prince estate – he also died without a will – and it seems like his income is going to  lawyers and the IRS instead of his heirs (perhaps not having a surviving spouse or a living child he didn't care – who knows?). 

I am constantly preaching the need for estate planning and this is especially true for artists, songwriters, princes and queens.  Don’t put this stuff off. 

Monday, November 5, 2018


To My Clients:

I wanted to thank you for your continued support as I enter my 35th year of practicing law. I still remember driving down to the Board of Law Examiners on Church Street with my friend Ken Levitan  when they used to post the names of those who passed the Bar Exam  on a certain October day.  I think we were both a little surprised and very relieved. This is a very different business than the one I entered back in 1983 but I continue to be intrigued by the practice and the opportunity to be of service to my clients.

As a way of trying to show gratitude for the past thirty five  years of practice, I am offering  a complimentary document review for any of my clients who might want to review older contracts such as old record deals or  publishing agreements, licenses, trademarks – you name it.   If you were wondering what an agreement meant but didn’t  want to spend the money to find out—this is your opportunity. If this is of interest to you, just let me know.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Bitcoin, blockchain and Is Code Law?

I probably  know  less than my dog about bitcoin and block chain technology.  Like Nick Paumgarten says in his recent New Yorkerarticle, "The Stuff Dreams are Made Of," "I'd ideally hoped I might be just old enough to make it to my deathbed without having to get up to speed."  But I really did want to try and understand blockchain technology and what the hell  everybody else in the world seemed to comprehend except me. For a primer, I read Paumgarten's article.  He does a good job of explaining the concepts and the players involved. 

However, the most interesting part of the article to me was his description of something called the Decentralized Autonomous Organization, defined as "A crowd sourced venture fund, a way of using smart contracts to cut out traditional venture capitalists, reduce fees, and give access to regular civilians who contribute 'ether' (i.e. cryptocurrency) and vote on which projects to invest in."  The author tells us that within weeks of launching,  the site was hacked and that investors lost their money - it simply vanished (literally into the ether). 

This set up an ethical debate: could or should the people behind the fund reverse the transactions to restore the investors to their funds - or would this be "a violation of the principle that blocks must remain immutable?" In the terrestrial  world this would be an obvious crime. 

Then the article gets really interesting:

            We were all wondering is code law?  What is code?  What is law? What is the covenant?    It was almost epistemological.  We were a bunch of computer geeks way out of our       depth.  

I thought about this for hours.  We really are witnessing the creation of a whole new society and a new set of laws to govern that society.  This is a world that exists without traditional concepts of jurisdiction.  It is easy to lump this into a discussion of the internet, social media , Russian hackers and all of the other inventions that have morphed into something we could not have comprehended.  But I really believe that this might be the beginning of something entirely unique and it does give us an opportunity to watch laws develop.

However, I still don’t get the allure of bitcoin.