Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another episode of Legal Tea! Today’s topic is a current trend … something going on in the current time or that I’ve stumbled across on the news or social media, that is pertinent to my little estate and elder law world. This week’s episode is about Aaron Hernandez, who was a professional football player for the New England Patriots, and while he may be known for his football-playing days, he’s also well-known for many things in his personal life, that wellllll, I’m not even going to go into much, unless it’s directly pertinent to this episode. I’m here to talk about what has transpired following Aaron’s passing estate-wise, not to lead a public bashing of him So, for starters, one of those “personal life” problems involved Aaron being found guilty of murdering a man by the name of Odin Lloyd – after being found guilty, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
According to his Wikipedia page, due to Aaron’s common interactions with the law, including being involved in even additional murder investigations beyond “just” Odin, Aaron’s financial livelihood sure took a massive hat. Many would say, “well, rightfully so.” Because of what he got himself involved in, he had to wave bye-bye to his 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 salaries from the Patriots, which totaled a whopping $19.3 Million Dollars. The Patriots also withheld a signing bonus in the amount of $3.25 Million Dollars that was due to be paid to Aaron in 2014 (but he had gotten himself into some legal trouble already). There were a few “guaranteed” money owed to Aaron and the Patriots “accelerated” those benefits to get Aaron paid off so the Patriots could move on/away from Aaron. He walked away with $2.55 Million Dollars (for the 2013 guarantee) and $7.5 Million Dollars (for the 2014 guarantee).
Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, Aaron had been receiving money from his “name and likeness” too from endorsement deals with CytoSport and Puma. Both companies nearly immediately cancelled their endorsement contracts with Aaron. Aaron was even featured on video games and had a deal with EA Sports – they, too, cancelled their contract with Aaron. So, his legal troubles sure cost him – quite literally financially, but mentally and emotionally too. Once Aaron was charged and sentenced, Aaron spent nearly four years in prison (primarily from 2013-2017). On April 19, 2017, correction officers discovered Aaron had committed suicide in his cell at the Lancaster, Massachusetts prison.
A little bit about Aaron personally-speaking, according to his Wikipedia page, Aaron dated a lady by the name of Shayanna Jenkins since 2007. The two of them knew each other since elementary school. In 2012, not only did they get engaged, they also welcomed their first and only child, Avielle. Prior to his death, Aaron and Shayanna never ended up getting officially married.
After Aaron passed away, legal “stuff” sure didn’t slow down for Aaron. For example, a mere six days after Aaron passed away, his legal team filed a pleading with he Massachusetts Superior Court to vacate Aaron’s murder conviction. Surprising to many, the request was actually granted on May 9, 2017. As Wikipedia describes it, “therefore, Hernandez technically died an innocent man.” In Massachusetts, there are laws that say that “when a criminal defendant dies but has not exhausted all legal appeals, the case reverts to its status at the beginning – the conviction is vacated and the defendant is rendered innocent.” Therefore, because Aaron was filing an appeal to the murder conviction, he had not “exhausted all legal appeals.” Likely due to public outcry, that decision (of vacating the murder conviction) was appealed and ultimately, nearly two years later in March 2019, Aaron’s conviction was reinstated.
Additionally, in the middle of all of that, estate “stuff” was happening too. An estate case was opened up in Bristol Probate and Family Court for Aaron and ultimately, an attorney by the name of John G. Dugan was appointed as the Special Representative of Aaron’s Estate. According to a Boston Herald article by Laurel Sweet, one of John’s initial filings, he made the claim that Aaron’s Estate would be “insolvent” meaning there would be more debts than assets. Specifically he claimed that Aaron’s Estate consisted of $1.2 Million in assets with $2.82 Million in debts. In later filings, however, John referenced the “AJH Irrevocable Trust” and thought caught the eyes of a lot of people, especially those in legal circles because, as the Boston Herald article explains, “a key purpose of irrevocable trusts is to protect beneficiaries from claims because the creator [so here, Aaron] relinquishes ownership and control of the assets set side [in the Trust].”
As time passed, more and more came out about this supposed Trust. Like, it was a Boston-based law firm named Rubin and Rudman who helped Aaron set up the Trust in the first place. An attorney at Rubin and Rudman, Matthew Berlin, declined to comment much on Aaron’s Trust – but did choose to confirm that the Trust assets are protected and are not part of the probate estate (which I agree with, in my professional opinion), which it was Aaron’s PROBATE estate that was getting attacked by creditors, tax liens, AND wrongful death lawsuits (like Odin Lloyd’s). Like I said, I agree with that statement – trust-held assets are NOT considered to be assets in the probate estate. Period, end of story. That’s how it’d work in Indiana, too.
In the Boston Herald article, they interviewed an estate attorney named Mark Curley, who was not involved in Aaron’s estate cases at all, discussed something that is pertinent to bring up. He shared that Aaron’s irrevocable trust was likely “virtually set it stone” and likely cannot be altered; though, he argued (and I agree with too) that a Court COULD undo Aaron’s Trust if it was proven that Aaron transferred funds into the trust against the state’s fraudulent conveyance act meaning (and in Mark’s own words) that “if you squirrel assets away and put someone else in as a trustee and at the time you did it were having credit problems” … the Court could undo it. Well, it seems that wasn’t pushed for and/or that didn’t happen because really the next “big thing” you hear is what caused me to talk about this case under this “current events” episode.
So, it sounds like the Trust stayed intact and the beneficiary of the Trust is Aaron’s daughter, Avielle, because really the most recent update on Aaron’s estate “stuff” was in regards to this Trust … and specifically, how much and how frequently Shayanna was making monetary requests from the Trustee. In September 2022, according to a Boston Glone article by Andrea Estes, news stations started running stories about Shayanna requesting a distribution from the Trustee, who is an attorney by the name of David Schwartz, in the amount of $10,697 Shayanna claimed she couldn’t afford Avielle’s dance lesson bill in the amount of $10,697, so asked David, as Trustee, to have the Trust pay it.
Well, David, as Trustee, said “nope.” He said “no” because his argument was, essentially, she was doing “fine” financially because by his sources/account, Shaynna received $150,000 a year (or more) from sources outside the Trust – specifically from Aaron’s pension and Social Security that was required to pay for Aaron’s child’s daily expenses. So, as the article states, David “couldn’t imagine why she needed more.” Even beyond the $150,000 a year Shayanna gets from income, the Trust actually completely paid for Shayanna’s home, which is located in Rhode Island, so she doesn’t have many of the house-related expenses that perhaps a “normal” person/family would have. The Trust, too, also paid for Avielle’s schooling tuition. So, it sounds like what David is saying is that the $150,000 Shayanna annually gets … that should cover things financially for her, and the Trust should just be there as a back-up.
And on further review, as the Boston Globe article states, David explains that Shayanna had spent quite a bit of the Trust funds – like, $36,858 in clothing; $39,347 on home goods; $25,577 doing online shopping; and $11,792 on “self care” (which was supposedly gym fees, nail salons, and hair salons). So, when David declined to pay the $10,697 for the dance lesson bill, Shayanna very quickly turned around and got the Court involved – she requested that the Judge remove David as Trustee saying that he was, according to the Boston Globe article, “potentially forcing the child to give up her favorite extracurricular activity.” She further argued and maintained that she has NOT improperly spent money – and argued that the Trust funds should be available whenever she needs it.
This back-and-forth is going on even as current as January 2023 – David, so far, appears to remain as Trustee, as of end of January when I’m writing this episode. It’ll be my luck that between writing and recording this episode, and it being released to the public – that some big update will occur. But, at least right now where we sit, David is still Trustee and controls the Trust funds that are supposed to be for Avielle’s benefit. David actually ended up lawyering up since Shayanna, and her legal team, are trying to get him off as Trustee – and David’s lawyers are sure throwing some things up that don’t look the greatest for Shayanna. Like, how Shayanna has spent $39,655 on education (and remember, Avielle’s tuition was paid for) and that amount included $3,720 to Bay Path University, which is a private university in Massachusetts. As David’s lawyer says, “Avielle is NOT in college.”
The latest update I could find was that all these Motions/requests to the Court (like, Shayanna’s request to remove David; or like, David has actually requested the Court remove Shayanna as Avielle’s guardian of money) are all still pending and we don’t have a conclusion yet. However, I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t look/feel like these issues are going to go away any time soon. So, even after this episode airs, do keep an eye on this case – there will certainly be updates coming our way as time passes and these things go in front of a Judge.
Alrighty, let’s wrap this episode up -- next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – on that episode, we’re going to dive into what’s happened estate-wise following the passing of Elvis Pressley – and we’re even going to get into how Elvis Pressley’s “Graceland” has made the news lately given the passing of Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Pressley. So, tune on in next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners, to join as I dive into Elvis AND Lisa Marie Pressley’s estates – Talk to you then and stay well!