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Can the Goldmans, Browns collect money from O.J. Simpson’s estate?

O.J. Simpson was found civilly liable for the killing of Nicole Brown Simpson and her acquaintance Ronald Goldman. The Goldman family may have a less difficult time in collecting money from that judgment after Simpson's death, but it will still be complicated.

Attorney for Fred Goldman, victim's father, vows to press on for compensation

A man with a mustache wearing a suit and tie is embraced by a cleanshaven man on one side, and a woman on the other.

O.J. Simpson, who died Thursday, was acquitted in 1995 of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her acquaintance Ronald Goldman, but two years later was found liable for their deaths in a civil proceeding.

While the California jury in that civil case entered a $33.5 million US judgment, the Brown and Goldman families' quest to obtain significant monies from Simpson proved relatively fruitless.

"What people don't realize about a civil trial — a judgment is a piece of paper, and that is what you get," Goldman's father, Fred, said in the Oscar-winning 2016 documentary O.J.: Made in America.

Simpson told a journalist in 2003 that the plaintiffs "don't deserve one red cent."

"If it means that I have to sit on my butt, or sit on a golf course, for the rest of my life and not make one extra penny, I'll do that," he said.

WATCH l The unique life and times of O.J. Simpson:

O.J. remembered as one of the greatest rises and falls in U.S. history

1 day ago

Duration 4:56

NFL hall of famer turned Hollywood star O.J. Simpson is dead at 76. His arrest, trial and acquittal for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend captivated the world, changing him from icon to pariah, and is considered one of the greatest rises and falls in American history.

When Simpson decided to participate in a book viewed as highly offensive to many observers — 2007's If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer — it led to a rare split between the two grieving families.

The Browns opposed the project throughout. After initially being disgusted by the project, Ron Goldman's father, Fred, successfully pursued the publishing rights on behalf of his family. A federal judge also ruled a company started by Simpson's oldest daughter, Arnelle, was set up "to perpetuate fraud."

The public is now likely to get a closer look at Simpson's finances. Another split between the Browns and Goldmans is possible. After all, two of Simpson's four surviving children were with Nicole Brown, and it's not clear what type of relationship Brown's family have with them.

David Cook, a California attorney who has represented the Goldmans, told Fox Business on Thursday that their fight will continue.

"I've been dealing with this problem since 2008," Cook said. "As to O.J. Simpson here, it's really simple: it's called dead without penance. He's gone, but it's without penance."

Here's how the process may play out.

What's the probate process?

Whether or not he left behind a will, Simpson's assets will now almost certainly have to go through what's known as the probate process in court before his intended heirs can collect on any of them.

Different states have different probate laws. Generally, the case is filed in the state where the person was living when they died — Nevada, in this case. But if significant assets are in California or Florida, where Simpson also lived at various times, separate cases could emerge there.

A woman in a blazer and turtleneck speaks into a microphone with a man and a woman standing behind her.

Nevada law says an estate must go through the courts if its assets exceed $20,000, or if any real estate is involved, and this must be done within 30 days of the death. If a family fails to file documents, creditors themselves can begin the process.

A stronger claim in death?

Once the case is in court, creditors who say they are owed money can then seek a piece of the assets. The Goldman and Brown families will be on at least equal footing with other creditors, and will probably have an even stronger claim.

Under California law, creditors holding a judgment lien like 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 they were before the defendant's death.

A woman and a man are shown in separate photos that have been combined.

Arash Sadat, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in property disputes, says it is "100 per cent" better for the claimant to have the debtor be deceased and their money in probate.

He said his firm had a jury trial where their clients got a $9 million US jury award that the debtor appealed and delayed endlessly.

"He did everything he could to avoid paying this debt," Sadat said. "Three or four years later, he died. And within weeks, the estate cuts a check for $12 million. That's the $9 million plus interest that had accrued over this time."

The executor or administrator of the estate has much more of an incentive to dispense with debts than the living person does, he said.

But that doesn't guarantee payment will be forthcoming.

"I do think it's going to be quite difficult for [the Browns and Goldman] to collect," attorney Christopher Melcher said. "We don't know what O.J. has been able to earn over the years."

Neither Sadat nor Melcher is involved with the Simpson estate or the court case.

What are Simpson's assets?

Simpson said he lived only on his NFL and private pensions. Hundreds of valuable possessions were seized as part of the jury award, and Simpson eventually auctioned his Heisman Trophy for $230,000.

While Simpson was alive, Goldman recounted in O.J.: Made in America that the pension was "untouchable" by law and that Florida had more difficult laws for the plaintiffs to navigate than California.

"He had a team of people to ensure that any money he could get was going to be protected. They would form some phony company and funnel the money through that," Goldman alleged.

What about trusts?

There are ways that a person can use trusts established during their life and other methods to make sure their chosen heirs get their assets in death. If such a trust is irrevocable, it can be especially strong.

But transfers of assets to others that are made to avoid creditors can be deemed fraudulent, and claimants like the Goldman and Brown families can file separate civil lawsuits that bring those assets into dispute.

With files from CBC News

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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