In addition to the highly publicized case of Anna Nicole Smith, the former Playboy Playmate, who is battling for her late husband’s fortunes at the US Supreme Court, previously blogged about here, Texas probate courts are in the spotlight once again. This time, the case revolves around Lillian Glasser, a NJ socialite, and her fortune.
Ms. Glasser spent her entire life in New Jersey. She owned two homes in New Jersey, where she resided with her husband, Ben, until his death in 2002.
Her ties with Texas are a bit more tenuous. She ventured to Texas last year to visit her daughter, Suzanne Matthews, and subsequently found herself subject to Texas probate law after a guardianship hearing in which her daughter testified that Ms. Glasser resided in Texas. After being declared unable to manage her own affairs, she is currently not allowed to return to her home in New Jersey despite the fact that she has, on several occasions, expressed her desire to return home – even stating so on the witness stand during her hearing.
Bizarre, no? It’s all about interpretation of the law. In some states, you must actually have residency or domicile to be subject to jurisdiction of the courts. However, in Texas, you merely have to have physical presence – thus, visiting your daughter in Texas is enough to pull you into jurisdiction in Texas.
And that’s where Ms. Glasser has found herself – trapped in Texas as a result of a mix of personal jurisdiction and Ms. Glasser’s daughter’s desire to keep her – and her fortune – in Texas, over the objections of Ms. Glasser and her son.
Ms. Glasser’s daughter may claim that this isn’t about the fortune, but the facts imply something different. Ms. Glasser’s daughter had already transferred Ms. Glasser’s assets into joint partnerships before applying to become temporary guardian stating that her mother currently resided in Texas with a "a substantial portion" of her assets. These joint partnerships included Ms. Glasser, her daughter and her daughter’s husband – all arranged by Ms. Glasser’s daughter under a Power of Attorney, all without Ms. Glasser’s consent or even understanding. Since that time, Ms. Matthews has acknowledged that she has used these accounts to pay her own expenses.
Adding to the confusion, New Jersey is also asserting jurisdiction over Ms. Glasser. On a recent trip home, granted by the Texas courts, the Middlesex County Board of Social Services filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court in September seeking a public guardian for Mrs. Glasser. Her court appointed lawyer has stated that Ms. Glasser has been very clear about her desire to remain in New Jersey – and not return to Texas. Despite a court order preventing Ms. Matthews from removing Ms. Glasser from New Jersey pending a custody hearing two days later, Ms. Matthews chartered a jet and flew her mother back to Texas. Despite the fact that Ms. Matthews has counsel, she testified later that she had not been told of the court order.
In order to resolve the issues, Ms. Glasser’s son, who resides in Miami, filed a civil action against his sister in Federal District Court in San Antonio. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery has not minced words in his description of the case, in which he claims "the end result … is the creation of a Glasser chess game in which Mrs. Glasser has become a pawn."
His ruling sends parts of the case back to Texas where a trial will be held over who should become the guardian of Ms. Glasser and her estate.
However, he has retained the right to rule on Texas’s jurisdiction over Ms. Glasser’s son and Ms. Matthews activities, including her usage of the Power of Attorney.
As with Anna Nicole’s case, this case has far reaching ramifications with respect to jurisdiction over probate matters between states. Keep reading!
As a postscript, Ms. Matthews’ attorney, Susan Gardner, has been public about this case, and excerpts from her email posted on the Wills and Trusts Prof Blog. If you’re interested, check it out here.
- An End in Sight?
- Sister Knows Best?
- Ms. Smith Goes to Washington
- What happens in Texas…
- Oh Anna, what were you thinking?