Oh my son’s my son till he gets him a wife,
But my daughter’s my daughter all her life.
— Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, Young and Old
I have received a number of inquiries from people who are interested in exotic estate planning techniques. Their inquiries were prompted by a relatively new estate planning technique explained and perhaps used by Daniel M. Bachi, an attorney in Florida who represents John Goodman. Mr. Goodman is the founder of the Polo Club Palm Beach in Florida and is a man of considerable wealth. The judge, who was involved in implementing the new strategy that Mr. Bachi invented, said the strategy bordered “on the surreal.” Such a description does not come as a surprise to lawyers who do estate planning since there are many techniques used by the more sophisticated among us that the less sophisticated would describe as surreal. Before describing the technique, however, a word about Mr. Goodman.
Mr. Goodman is presently a defendant in a civil wrongful death lawsuit in Florida that arose out of a car wreck that occurred in 2010. In addition to being a defendant in the civil action he is, according to ThePalm Beach Post, facing criminal charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident. Both these matters arose because in February 2011 Mr. Goodman ran a stop sign, struck another car and killed the driver, Scott Wilson. When arrested Mr. Goodman had a blood alcohol level more than twice as high as the legal limit for driving while intoxicated in Florida.
Mr. Goodman is a very wealthy man. According to a statement released by Mr. Bachi on February 2, 2012, in 1991 Mr. Goodman created the JBG Children’s Trust and made a cash gift of just over $1.5 million to that trust. That trust is for the benefit of Mr. Goodman’s descendants. Thanks to shrewd investments made by the trustee the trust grew in value to more than $100 million during its first 7 years and today is worth several hundred million. According to Mr. Bachi, none of the trust assets is available to the plaintiffs in the civil action since the trust was set up years before the drunk driving incident and Mr. Goodman is not a beneficiary of the trust. So much for Mr. Goodman’s financial affairs. Now to his personal affair.
In 2009 Mr. Goodman began an affair with Heather Laruso Hutchins. That relationship gave Mr. Goodman so much pleasure that he wanted to strengthen it. One way he could have done that would have been to marry Ms. Hutchins, a step often taken by people who, during an affair, decide to make a more permanent commitment to each other. Mr. Goodman, however had already been in a marriage that ended in divorce and did not want to risk that a second time. And this is where the clever estate planning technique comes in. He adopted Ms. Hutchins, who was then 42 years of age, as his daughter.
The JBG Trust is said to be for the benefit of Mr. Goodman’s descendants. When created he had two minor children and they were the only trust beneficiaries. By adopting his mistress, she became his child and is now entitled to distributions from the trust just as Mr. Goodman’s other children are. Ms. Hutchins will presumably continue to live with Mr. Goodman, and he will now probably have the benefit of her share of any distributions made to beneficiaries of the trust since a dutiful daughter would certainly share with him if her father needed help. Mr. Bachi offers a different explanation for the adoption. He says she was made a beneficiary so she could influence actions of the corporate trustee in which Mr. Goodman no longer has confidence.
Ms. Hitchens signed an agreement with Mr. Goodman that is not customary in an adoption. In it she agrees that when the trust ends his natural children will get 95% of the trust assets. How he was able to change the terms of an irrevocable trust by a side agreement with his daughter is not explained.
Mr. Goodman probably assumes that no one is going to invoke Florida Statute 826.04. That statute says that anyone engaging in sexual intercourse with someone related by “lineal consanguinity” is guilty of a felony of the third degree. It is impossible to know whether Mr. Goodman and Ms. Huthins are now engaged in a meretricious relationship or whether they have assumed a more typical father-daughter relationship. If the former, Mr. Goodman may soon find a charge of incest added to the other criminal charges now facing him. That is probably the least of his worries.
(Hugh Heffner may wish that Mr. Bachi had been his lawyer. On June 16, 2011 his 25-year-old fiancée, Crystal Harris, called off their wedding 5 days before the eagerly awaited event. Had Mr. Bachi been his lawyer he might have suggested that Hugh adopt Crystal. That would have enabled them to maintain the close relationship they had theretofore enjoyed without limiting her ability to enjoy other male companionship of the non-father daughter variety.)