TV Star's Estate Raided by Local Law Firm
loss of money and estate assets took
place right after the death of famous former TV star Dr.
Frances Horwich. Dr. Horwich was more commonly known as the "Ding
Dong School" host on national television in the early
50's and 60's. But to the hundreds of thousands of young
boys and girls, she was simply known as "Miss Frances".
It was a shame
that her attorney prepared living trust did not protect
her estate assets from a long term and prolonged probate
by her trusted
attorney assisted estate administration.
No, this headline
never ran in The Arizona Republic but it should
have! After almost two years of weekly visits to her
home that billed out at full firm billing rates, the
estate ran out of cash to pay the lawyers. The
entering of non trust owned assets into probate in
Maricopa county was the reason for the delay. It
appears the law firm that prepared her living trust did
not do a very good job of assisting the "funding" aspect
necessary for a modern living trust to perform properly
Only when the check
book went dry, was the firm ready to release her real
and personal property to the rightful heirs. Then,
and only then. There was no cash left to keep
paying the firm's monthly
billings. That heir is my
In fact, the estate was drained out of
it's cash holdings (well over $100,000) and was in the hole
another $10,000 for attorney billings when the keys to
her home were turned over late in 2002. Those keys
cost the heir $10,000 out of their own pocket until such time
we could sell
some of the inherited assets. Yes, they raided all the cash in the estate
for "administration fees", then put it in the hole
before deciding it was time to let go and declared it
included 1000 year old American Indian woven baskets,
very old pottery from famous New Mexico pottery makers,
popular artist paintings and works, unusual collectibles
and antiques, as well as a tremendous amount of bells
and other TV show memorabilia. She had her own
authored books, records, sewing
patterns, and other marketing items created during the
popular years of the TV show.
The client had no
idea on what to do with these items or how to sell or
market them. So, I was hired as the estate agent
following the release of Dr. Horwich's estate by the law firm. I
agreed to take over all the responsibility of marketing
and items that the heir choose not to keep personally.
It was decided to do so in a public auction environment. A quick
email to founder and owner Arlan Ettinger at Guernsey's
brought back a big box mailing of fantastic auction
books done for past auctions for famous people.
Originally, he wanted the estate! He sent past catalog books
of past auctions for Princess Diana, Elvis, President
Kennedy, even an auction for Mickey Mouse!!! But, just when we
thought he would be sponsoring an auction for Miss
Frances, his childhood TV mom -- his interest level
waned and we had to look elsewhere.
I then offered the
memorabilia items to every major auction house in the
world and many had interest, including the biggest
and oldest auction firm in the world. But, interest
levels were only high on certain items. Heard museum gave great interest in some
of the items and gave valuations to us. The best
program was decided on and we used a local auction house
with local, national, and international exposure by
creating a custom website and online video promotion to
market Dr. Horwich's estate items for sale.
Our firm produced her entire collection and artifacts on
an online catalog with pictures and item descriptions.
It was a big hit, as people all over the country and
perhaps beyond called in bids on items for sale in a two
day auction. The first auction item up for bid, a "storyboard"
was unique with "Miss Francis" being written into the Peanuts cartoon.
There were multiple versions created and
signed by Charles Shultz, but the first one sold at
auction at $ 6,000! Many
other items got top dollar and of course, like any
auction, other bidders were rewarded with bargain pricing on
items. All of her remaining shows on 16 or 35 mm film
were for sale, but they
didn't meet the minimum opening bid. They were later donated to a
museum in her home town with other remaining memorabilia
that didn't sell. Overall, it was a big
success with local television stations covering the
event as well.
The whole point in
this article is to honor this wonderful woman who was
voted one of the most important and successful women in
the world during the 1950's. She also won the
Peabody and many other distinct honors, including being
the first woman producer and director for children's
shows on NBC! But, also to use what happened in
her estate as an "example" for you to be careful who you
trust or hire to administer an estate here in Arizona.
(or elsewhere as far as that is concerned)
When Dr. Horwich
became elderly and trusted a law firm to protect her
from probate in Arizona with a living trust instrument,
something went horribly wrong. Obviously, communication
must have broken down
and the estate fell into probate anyway. Having touched
and handled every major artifact in her home, I can
attest that it was apparent to me that what actually
happened was the exact opposite of what she would have
wanted. Her organization skills and neatness were
obvious to us as we worked with estate artifacts and
documents. She didn't miss a beat right up until
the very end! She pre-planned and trusted a firm
to keep the costs down so that the heir would receive more
value. A large percentage though was cut out for
lawyer fees that could have been avoided had they
performed properly in assisting and checking on the
funding of her living trust.
Buying a Living Trust
and still going through probate, sadly, is a common
occurrence in our state. It creates an estate
nightmare for heirs and loved ones but provides for a
huge money train for lawyers acting as Trustees or
Executors in estate administration tasks. They
charge up to full firm billing rates for simple things
such as checking on a home once a week to be sure it
hasn't been broken into.
To this day, I feel
like the last laugh was in the inside halls of that law
firm that administered her trust and allowed the estate
to be probated. Even the appraisals they obtained
during this long period of administration became either
inaccurate or out of date by the time the keys to the
kingdom changed hands...
Editorial by M.D.
Anderson, Acting Horwich Estate "Asset" Agent
few select items are still for sale by the family,
including the original bell used each day on her TV
To honor this
great lady who I never was privileged to meet
personally, I publish these one of a kind pictures of
the work our firm did with the heir to photograph nearly
4000 artifacts and post them online for the auction we
later held. It was a real joy and honor, one I
will have not forgotten. The awards are direct copies
out out of her scrapbook!
lesson to learn here is simple: Inspect
what you expect out of your financial advisor.
Date of Birth: 07/16/1907
Date of Death: 07/22/2001
Age at Death: 94
Cause of Death: Heart failure
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