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O.J. Simpson’s death may improve chances of victims’ families collecting huge judgment, experts say

Los Angeles — OJ Simpson died Thursday without having paid the lion’s share the $33.5 million judgment a California civil jury awarded to the families of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Acquitted in a criminal trial, Simpson was found liable by jurors in a 1997 wrongful death trial.

The public will now likely take a closer look at Simpson’s finances, and the families will likely have a better chance of collecting — if there is anything to collect at all.

David Cook, a lawyer who has sought the Goldman family’s civil judgment since 2008, said Simpson “died without penitence. We don’t know what he has, where he is or who is in control. We’ll pick up there.” where we are and keep it up.”

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in undated photos.

CBS News


How could the next few months unfold?

Whether or not he left a will, and whatever that document says, Simpson’s assets will now almost certainly have to go through what’s known as the probate process in court before his four children or other intended heirs can recover one of them.

Different states have different inheritance laws. Typically, the case is filed in the state where the person lived at the time of their death. In Simpson’s case, it’s Nevada. But if significant assets are in California or Florida, where he also lived at different times, separate cases could arise there.

Nevada law states that an estate must be taken to court if its assets exceed $20,000 or if real estate is involved, and this must be done within 30 days of death. If a family does not file documents, the creditors themselves can begin the process.

Once the case goes to court, creditors who claim they are owed money can then claim a portion of the assets. The Goldman and Brown families will at least be on equal footing with other creditors and will likely have an even stronger claim.

Under California law, creditors holding a judgment lien, such as the plaintiffs in the wrongful death case, are deemed to have secured debt and have priority over creditors with unsecured debt. And they are in a better position to get paid than before the defendant died.

Experts weigh in

Arash Sadat, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in real estate disputes, says it is “100 percent” better for the plaintiff if the debtor is dead and his money is probated.

He said his firm held a jury trial in which his clients won a $9 million jury award, which the debtor appealed and delayed endlessly.

“He did everything he could to avoid paying this debt,” Sadat said. “Three or four years later, he passed away. And a few weeks later, the estate wrote a check for $12 million. That’s the $9 million plus interest that accrued over that period of time.”

The executor or administrator of the estate has a much greater incentive to get rid of debt than the living person. “That’s why you see things like this happening,” Sadat said.

But of course, that doesn’t mean payment will be imminent.

“I think it’s going to be pretty difficult for them to recover,” said attorney Christopher Melcher. “We don’t know how much OJ may have earned over the years.”

Neither Sadat nor Melcher are involved in the Simpson estate or the lawsuit.

Contents of Simpson’s estate

Simpson said he lived solely on his NFL and private pensions. Hundreds of valuable possessions were seized as part of the jury’s reward, and Simpson was forced to auction off his Heisman Trophy, for $230,000.

Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, the lead plaintiff, always said the issue was never the money, it was all about holding Simpson accountable. And he said in a statement Thursday that with Simpson’s death, “hope for true accountability has ended.”

There are ways a person can use trusts established during their lifetime and other methods to ensure that their chosen heirs will receive their assets upon death. If such trust is irrevocable, it can be particularly strong.

But transfers of assets to others that are made to avoid creditors can be considered fraudulent, and plaintiffs like the Goldman and Brown families can file separate civil suits that put those assets into litigation.

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News Source : www.cbsnews.com

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