Saturday September 30, 2023

Jose Fernandez’ Wrongful Death Lawsuit Underscores Importance of Estate Planning

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Having your estate planned out is crucial for anyone (Image via Pexels)

According to attorney Ralph Fernandez, former Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez was framed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the investigation into a boat crash which killed Fernandez and two friends— Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero.

What happened to Jose Fernandez, Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero is irrefutably tragic. 

Fernandez’ attorney claims that the investigation “prematurely reached the conclusion that Fernandez was responsible for the crash” without sufficient evidence. Fernandez’ attorney also claims that Fernandez could have been victim of “foul play”; under this theory, Fernandez’ attorney is alleging that someone drugged the former MLB All-Star in an effort to steal $15,000 in cash that was on his person—and that those drugs caused the aforementioned crash.

Fernandez’ counsel stated: “Like a house of cards, this whole case is compromised.” The cases that Fernandez is referring to are the two $2 million wrongful death actions filed on behalf of Macias and Rivero against Fernandez’ estate. In light of the +$4 million that Jose Fernandez’ estate stands to lose as a result of these cases, it is important to step back and examine the estate planning that took place with respect to Jose Fernandez.

Because what occurred was so unforeseen, the $4 million worth of damages that Jose Fernandez’ estate could have had a dramatic effect on his family; Fernandez was only 24 when he died and was about a year away from signing (what would have been) a contract that would have paid him over $20 million annually. When Fernandez passed away, he had made $4,576,000 in salary over the course of the four seasons that he played; if Macias and Rivero’s cases are successful, Fernandez’ family could have been left with next to nothing.

Luckily for Fernandez’ family, the law is likely protecting them from the potential fallout of the wrongful death litigation.

The Marlins created a trust fund to “ensure [Fernandez’ daughter] Penelope will be able to finish all schooling debt-free and will receive a distribution of remaining money into adulthood. In addition, Fernandez’s mother, Maritza, will receive an annual sum under the trust.”

A trust separates legal and equitable title from whatever property (tangible property, intellectual property or money) is held in the trust; and, depending on the type of trust that was formed, the trust can be immune from being attacked by creditors. Further, because the trust was established for the benefit of Penelope and Maritza Fernandez, it could also be potentially shielded from being the resource that pays for the damages in the Macias and Rivero litigation. According to the Miami Herald, the trust was funded by a $700,000 insurance policy that Major League Baseball paid out upon Fernandez’ death. The trustee, who oversees the correct distribution of the trust property, is former Marlins President David Samson.

With respect to the trust, Samson, a law school graduate, stated: I just think it’s enough to make sure that education will be paid for in addition to a yearly amount to his mom every single year. It’s a substantial amount for a 3-month old baby… Whatever she wants to do, she has an opportunity to go to school and graduate debt-free.”

Estate planning, even at a young age like Fernandez, is vitally important for all people– especially sports professionals who work for or represent athletes.

I spoke with G.A.M.E. Inc. founder and sports lawyer Jason Belzer about the importance of estate planning for athletes. “Estate planning is important for athletes because oftentimes their families financially depend on the success of that athlete’s career.”

With respect to Jose Fernandez’ estate planning, Belzer stated, “In the case of Jose Fernandez, credit has to go to the Marlins for making sure that a trust was formed to protect the financial stability of his family.”

The lesson to sports professionals: always try to anticipate worst case scenarios before they happen. While you might not be able to fix much when tragedy strikes, there are ways to ensure the completion of some of the most important responsibilities a person can have.

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