by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
I know just enough about trust law to be dangerous. I think I took a course in trusts in law school, but I can’t say that I remember it, which means that if I did take such a course, it was not one of my favorites. I do know, though, that trusts can be useful devices. I didn’t know how useful until now.
One of my all-time favorite movies is Chinatown. If you are still reading, you are probably saying, “Did I blink? Was there a transition I missed? Did you just go from trusts to Chinatown without any segue whatsoever?” The answer is you did not blink, and there is a transition but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Indeed, you may get to it before I do.
Circling back to my beginning sentence, there is a fellow in Palm Beach, Florida, named John Goodman, who founded something called the International Polo Club, Palm Beach, which I gather is related to the game rather than the clothing, and who has been described as a “Florida polo mogul.” I am not sure what a polo mogul does, but whatever it is, cash does not seem to be a problem.
He is, as befits a polo mogul, handsome and dashing. He is 48 and has a 42-year-old girlfriend named Heather Hutchins. She is, as befitting someone on the arm of polo mogul, blonde and gorgeous. They are a couple who could easily populate People magazine. (I have not been to my doctor’s office in a while and so have not seen People magazine, and for all I know, they have already been in there, but I digress.)
In 1991, Mr. Goodman set up an irrevocable trust for his two minor children. Drawing upon my extensive background in trust law, “irrevocable” means that he cannot get his hands on whatever is in there. According to at least one report, whatever is in there amounts to around a hundred million dollars, a sum which the late Senator Dirksen would have characterized as serious money. At least it is enough to ensure that the little Goodmans will be able to enjoy the Palm Beach polo, tuxedo, and evening gown firmament.
Now, however, Mr. Goodman is in serious trouble. (It is the kind of trouble that would move him from People to the National Enquirer at the checkout racks, but again I digress.) Mr. Goodman allegedly drove his Bentley through a stop sign a couple of years ago and was involved in a collision which killed the other driver. Criminal charges of manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of the crash are still pending, and Mr. Goodman faces up to a potential thirty years in prison. In addition, the parents of the deceased other driver are suing for wrongful death, seeking, as you might expect, substantial damages.
Faced with these financial and freedom depletion onslaughts, Mr. Goodman did what any red-blooded American polo mogul would do to protect his girlfriend.
He adopted her.
That’s right. The word “adopted” is not scrivener’s error for “married.” This, of course, has certain consequences. The Goodman youngsters have a new sister who is old enough to be, say, their mother. And, because the distributional cut-off date in the trust is apparently age 35, the 42-year-old Ms. Hutchins would be entitled to immediately dip into it.
I think it is fair to guess that this may have raised the eyebrows of the Palm Beach County Club set and has at least temporarily swelled the sales of the local Palm Beach Post. It has also not escaped the ken of the victim’s parents and the Goodman children’s guardian.
The victims, claiming foul, have recently obtained a court order giving them some right to pierce the confidential adoption files and the out-of-state guardian for Mr. Goodman’s minor children has retained a local lawyer to fight the third sibling addition.
Where this will all end up is anybody’s guess, but through the device of literary renvoi, I return to that wonderful scene between Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and Gittes (Jack Nicholson).
Mulwray: She’s my daughter.
Gittes: I said I want the truth.
Mulwray: She’s my sister.
Mulwray: She’s my daughter.
Mulwray: My sister, my daughter.
Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Mulwray: She’s my sister AND my daughter!
Richard W. Millar, Jr. is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at email@example.com.