In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

In-house legal departments are getting fed up with paying outside counsel for soft costs like food and photocopying fees, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

In-house counsel are pushing back against law firms charging them for legal research, photocopying and word processing costs according to a study cited in the article.

Companies’ legal departments argue that these costs are included in law firm overhead and therefore should not be charged to them.

So, here’s our question for you:

Should companies be charged for soft costs like catered lunches and photocopying by outside counsel?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

Cat avoids death penalty

A few bank lawyers in Chicago helped achieve a stay of execution for a cat.

The cat was facing a death sentence, a penalty  Connecticut is set to soon abolish (for people), after its owner stipulated in her will that all her surviving feline friends be euthanized “in a painless, peaceful manner” upon her death.

The owner, Georgia Lee Dvorak, 76, died in December and her estate and 20-year-old will were left in the hands of Fifth Third Bank trust officers. The officers took pity on the kitty and went to court Monday asking that the cat, named Boots, be sent to a no-kill animal shelter.

Apparently Boots has had somewhat of a hard-knock life. Dvorak took her in as a stray about 18 months before she died; Boots’ previous owners “threw her down stairs and kept her in a locked closet for days at a time with no food, water or litter box.”

The bank lawyers argued that since most of Dvorak’s $1.4 million estate was going toward animal charities, she was committed to the love of animals and therefore would not want her cat to die.

A Cook County judge agreed to send Boots to happier hunting grounds here on Earth. The cat will go to a shelter which requested a $2,000 endowment to care for the cat — $1,000 will come from Dvorak’s estate and the other half will come from fees Fifth Third Bank agreed to forego.

The name of the shelter Boots will spend the rest of his mouse-chasing days? Cats are Purrsons Too. Apparently, the court could not agree more.

Where there’s a will, there’s a TV show

Who knew wills could be so exciting?

That was my thought after reading a press release Wednesday touting the second season of “The Will: Family Secrets Revealed” on Investigation Discovery. (How I missed the first season, I don’t know.)

The show “looks at the most contentious stories of inheritance and explores the family dynamics, legal wrangling and high emotions surrounding real-life stories in a world where grief and greed collide,” according to the press release.

The second season kicks off next month with a look at the disputed will of Howard Hughes, “who left a mysterious handwritten will and $156 million to a gas station attendant he allegedly met ten years before his death.”

Other episodes will feature musician Johnnie Taylor, whose will was supposed to be divided by his six children — until another three people who claimed to be his kids surfaced and philanthropist Lillian Garis Booth, who left $10 million to her convicted serial killer nephew but nothing to partner of 51 years.

And, for all of you “Family Guy” fans, another episodes puts the spotlight on… Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Conway Twitty!

YouTube Preview Image

No heir, apparently…

The white Maltese dog that Leona Helmsley loved so much ($12 million much) might become a stray.

The Associated Press reports today that Helmsley’s brother and the appointed caretaker, Alvin Rosenthal, 80 (who inherited $15 million of his own) is not interested in becoming a pet owner.

Now it’s up to Leona’s second choice—her grandson, David Panzirer. No word so far on whether he is a friend to the animals.

And the hits just keep coming.

You may remember from our original post that Helmsley requested the dog be interred with her at the family mausoleum once the pup goes to the great beyond.

Tough break: the cemetery says state law forbids animal remains to be buried in human graveyards (but don’t all dogs go to heaven?).

You’d think Leona’s estate lawyer would have checked that one out…

Attorneys, we beseech you: what advice would you give your clients to avoid these estate-planning disasters?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Heir of the Dog?

Two of Leona Helmsley’s grandchildren will inherit $5M each now that the Queen of Mean has passed into the other realm, but the true winner in her death is Trouble, a white Maltese toy dog.

The dog was bequeathed $12M (or between $1M and $2M per pound – you should pardon the expression). No word on whether this is multiplied by 7 when converted to canine currency.

The downside: the fluffy heir’s own remains must be interred alongside Leona in the Helmsley mausoleum once the 8-year-old Trouble kicks it (likely around age 14). Tough break, Fido.

Leona’s other two grandchildren from her son Jay will inherit nothing, “for reasons that are known to them,” she wrote in her will.

Putting aside the preposterous directives, here’s my serious question:

Leona famously snarled “only the little people pay taxes” when she was convicted of tax evasion two decades ago. Unfortunately for Leona, the federal government does impose an estate tax on U.S. citizens and residents.

You have to wonder: does an estate tax apply to a Maltese? And if so, who has to pony up for the pooch and file Trouble’s taxes?

And then, yes, there’s the heir-of-the-dog problem: once Trouble’s gone to that great boneyard in the sky, who gets the leftovers?

Any estate attorneys out there had to arrange for assets left to a pet? (Subscriber-only link.)

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor