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The O.J. Simpson Estate: What if he Died in Michigan?

May 23 | 2024  by

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the passing of Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson, former NFL star whose fame was tarnished in 1995 when he was accused, and later acquitted, of the gruesome murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.

California Civil Judgment – 2009

However, in a lesser-known case from 2009, a California jury found in a subsequent civil judgment that Simpson was liable for Brown & Goldman’s deaths, ordering him to pay their families $33.5 million in damages. Despite the entry of the judgment, Simpson never completed payment of the debt. According to the Goldman family, the judgment owed has risen to $114 million with interest. How is that possible? Simpson avoided payment of the debt by shielding his assets from collection. However, now that he passed, both families can pursue their claims against the O.J. Simpson Estate.

Following his death, Simpson’s longtime attorney, Malcolm Lavergne, has been appointed as personal representative of Simpson’s estate. While mainstream media has scandalized Lavergne’s statements regarding the civil judgment; he is, fortunately or unfortunately, probably correct that the judgment will go unpaid.

Probate Debts in Michigan: Who Gets Paid First?

In Michigan, we follow MCL 700.3805 when prioritizing claims against the estate. At the top of the list are the administration costs and expenses of the estate – attorney fees, court costs, estate asset maintenance, estate taxes, etc. Thereafter, a personal representative must pay claims in the following order:

  1. Funeral expenses
  2. Homestead allowance, family allowance, exempt property
    1. Cash payable to a surviving spouse or minor/dependent children of Simpson
  3. Debts and taxes with priority under federal law
  4. Medical and hospital expenses
  5. Debts and taxes with priority under state law
  6. All other claims

What if O.J. Simpson Died in Michigan?

I’ll start this analysis by stating that Simpson’s net worth was approximately valued at $3 million before his death. Meaning, while the civil judgment cannot be paid off in full, the Goldman and Brown families are still entitled to a portion of the Estate funds. However, this will not be an easy task.

According to Lavergne, Simpson had a substantial amount of IRS debt. This type of debt would fall into Category 3 (Debts and taxes with priority under federal law). The second claim, and subject of this post, is the civil judgment. As mentioned, this was entered by a California jury in a state court. Therefore, this debt arguably falls under Category 5 (Debt and taxes with priority under state law); if not, it counts as Category 6 (All other claims).

We know Simpson’s attorney will work a substantial number of hours on this matter, so he pays himself first. Second, he will have to pay or reimburse funeral fees. Because Simpson had no surviving spouse – and arguably no other dependents as his children are all adults – we may not have to concern ourselves with allowances or exemptions, but this is to be decided).

Then, the IRS must be paid. Then comes any final medical expenses incurred before Simpson’s death. And only after that, does the civil judgment come into play. It remains to be seen how much money will be left after claims with higher priority are paid out, but whatever the case, the Brown and Goldman families are entitled to their day in court¹.

If you have questions about this article or believe you have a claim against an estate, contact Denise Medina at Fausone & Grysko, PLC at (248) 380-0000.

¹ This analysis is hypothetical as the O.J. Simpson Estate will be governed by Nevada - and possibly California - law.