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The Importance of Keeping Your Emotions in Check When Administering an Estate

O.J. Simpson, a once celebrated American icon, morphed into a pariah after being accused of the 1994 double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown, and her friend Ron Goldman. While he was acquitted of the murder charges in 1995, a civil jury found him liable for their murders, and awarded the Brown and Goldman families $33.5 million in 1997.

Simpson, using pension protection and Florida homestead laws, spent the next quarter century skirting the judgments, preventing both families from recovering most of the money. With accrued interest, the original judgment ballooned to over $100 million. Simpson’s repeated mocking of the families created an even more contentious battle between the former NFL star and the understandably bitter families.

When Simpson died on April 10th, 2024, his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, who Simpson named as executor in his will, scoffed at Ron Goldman’s father Fred Goldman’s predictable aggressive and unempathetic response. LaVergne said that he’d fight to prevent a payout of the judgment, saying he specifically wanted Goldman, Simpson’s largest creditor, to receive “zero — nothing” from Simpson’s estate.

“Within an hour of knowing that O.J. died, he started talking shit. My advocate instinct was, ‘Oh, you’re gonna keep shitting on him even after he’s dead?’” he said. “’Fine, you know? You get nothing.’ And so, those were my remarks then. But I backtracked, and they were pretty harsh remarks. And now I’m going in the other direction.”

The role of executor comes with specific responsibilities, which must comply with both the legal document (will, trust, or otherwise) and equally as important, state laws. Deviation from those requirements is inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal. A deliberate act of non-compliance is even more egregious, and an executor (or trustee) can be held personally liable for damages.

After a day of reflection and counsel, LaVergne pivoted from and retracted his initial statements, and announced that he would comply with all creditors’ rights, including those of the Brown and Goldman families.

Over the years, a grieving Fred Goldman received overwhelming public sympathy, as he relentlessly advocated on behalf of his son’s memory, legacy, and estate. Simpson and his family, friends, and advisors clearly were put off by Goldman, and viewed him negatively.

It can be tempting to advance personal feelings, especially if they are legitimate and well founded, but the duty to beneficiaries and creditors in probate is sacrosanct and deviation can expose one to personal liability.

Whether one’s view is justified or not, using personal animus in decisions as an executor is fraught with danger. While innocent mistakes within the administrative process are troublesome and expose one to liability, even more problematic are decisions made out of spite, when they contradict state laws or violate the terms of estate documents.

Should you find yourself as a successor trustee, or administering a probate, seek legal counsel to understand your obligations and protect yourself from mistakes, errors, or even worse your own frustrations. Avoid the temptation to exact payback or vengeance for prior behavior you find abhorrent. The short-term satisfaction will quickly fade into an expensive and drawn-out legal battle with potential significant financial liability. The laws can be complex, and beneficiaries and creditors are often ready to pounce on irregularities.

For more information on administering a trust, or handling a probate, contact the Lawyers at Chauvel & Glatt.

This material in this article, provided by Chauvel & Glatt, is designed to provide informative and current information as of the date of the post. It should not be considered, nor is it intended to constitute legal advice.  For information on your particular circumstances, please contact Chauvel & Glatt at 650-573-9500 for legal assistance.


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