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Will Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman’s Families Benefit From OJ Simpson’s Estate?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

OJ Simpson, known for his NFL career, Heisman Trophy, and being acquitted in the “trial of the century,” died on April 10 from cancer. There are now questions about his estate and if the families of the victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, will be able to recover their civil judgment against him.

The Trial of the Century

In case you missed it, in 1994, OJ Simpson was a suspect in the double murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. After a dramatic car chase in a Ford Bronco, Simpson was placed under arrest. He assembled a “Dream Team” of famous defense lawyers Johnnie Cochran, Alan Dershowitz, Robert Kardashian, and F. Lee Bailey to fight the charges.

Most of the controversy focused on the evidence and charges of racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. Although the prosecution presented compelling forensic evidence implicating Simpson in the murders, a glove found at the scene was not Simpson’s size. This led to Cochran’s famous summation line, “If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.” This was enough for jurors to believe that Simpson was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for murder trials. The verdict in the criminal trial divided Americans over his innocence or guilt.

The Civil Trial

After Simpson’s acquittal, the families of the victims brought a civil suit against Simpson for wrongful death and emotional distress. The standard under a civil trial is "preponderance of the evidence" instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt." Put simply, the jury was asked whether it was more likely than not that Simpson killed Brown and Goldman. They found that it was. In 1997, the court ordered a judgment including punitive damages for $33.5 million, making Brown and Goldman’s families creditors to Simpson.

How He Covered His Assets

However, it wasn’t easy to collect from Simpson. Shortly after the murder trial, Simpson moved to Florida and claimed a homestead exemption. Florida has laws that prohibit equity in your primary residence from being used to satisfy judgments.

Under ERISA laws, Simpson’s defined benefit retirement plan from the NFL could not be used to pay his creditorsSimpson filed for bankruptcy in Florida, making it difficult for creditors to collect.

To complicate matters, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping involving an attempt to recover sports memorabilia in Las Vegas. After serving nine years in jail, he was paroled in 2017.

Since the initial 1997 judgment, the balance and accrued interest now totals over $114.2 million. Simpson paid very little to the families during his life.

What Happens to Simpson’s Estate?

Simpson died in Nevada, where he was a resident. His estate will file a probate in Nevada, possibly California, and Florida if he has property there. The probate process involves gathering assets, notifying creditors, and identifying beneficiaries.

Creditors have a time frame to submit their claims to a court, usually 3-6 months. Anyone owed from a judgment, like Brown and Goldman’s, becomes a secured creditor, which takes priority over an unsecured creditor. Generally, after the collection and accounting of all the assets, the first proceeds pay taxes, final medical and funeral expenses, and legal fees. Then, the personal representative or executor must negotiate and pay the creditors before any money goes to Simpson’s beneficiaries.                                     

If Simpson put assets in a trust, a court may rule that it was a fraudulent transaction to escape creditors, especially if he placed those assets in a trust after an entry of judgment.

We will see what OJ Simpson’s estate is ultimately worth. However, the families of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman may be in a better position to collect on their judgments upon OJ Simpson’s death than they ever did while he was alive.

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