Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Congress Considers Estate Tax


After a member of Congress introduced legislation to repeal the estate tax, a House subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the subject.

Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas), introduced the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015 last month.  The bill would amend the Tax Code to repeal both the estate tax and the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax.  Proponents of the bill argue that the estate tax hurts small businesses, family farmers and ranchers who hope to pass on their businesses to the next generation.  Yet, opponents point out that the estate tax only affects a few families, especially after the exemption amount was raised to $5 million. 

Ray Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, believes that Congress should not be hasty when it comes to repealing the estate tax.  He says that the estate tax promotes fairness in the tax system and provides an important source of revenue for the government.  According to the most recent estimates, the estate tax will generate about $294 billion over the next ten years.

See Michael Cohn, Congress Mulls Repeal of Estate Tax, Accounting Today, March 18, 2015.

March 19, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writer Questions Allegations Surrounding Tom Benson's Mental Capacity

Tom BensonThe dispute over future ownership of the Saints and Pelicans has dominated headlines when Tom Benson announced his wife would inherit the two teams. 

As I have previously discussed, Benson’s granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc, as well as other family members have alleged in a lawsuit that Benson’s mental capacity is inadequate to manage his own business assets.  Yet, New York Times writer Ken Belson recently spent several days with Benson, and told WWWL Radio that the 87-year-old owner appeared sharp and comfortable in his element during his visit.  “He was very sharp.  He was presiding over a couple of meetings that I was lucky enough to sit in on,” said Belson. 

While he noted that Benson is aging and cannot recall every detail, Belson said the allegations claiming the billionaire can no longer make decisions was baseless. 

See Dave Cohen, Writer: Tom Benson is ‘Sharp . . . On Top of Things’, WWL.com, March 18, 2015.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 18, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Court Finds for Taxpayer in IRS Dispute Over Virgin Island Tax Credits

Beyer Blog IRS LogoThe estate of a taxpayer that had transferred his residency to the U.S. Virgin Islands has won a victory concerning claimed benefits under an economic development tax incentive program.  The case arose when the IRS issued a deficiency notice in 2010 for the returns of the taxpayer from 2002-2004.

In Estate of Sanders v. Commissioner, the Tax Court held that the Service failed to issue notice, settle the matter administratively, or file for an extension within the three year statutory period and was barred from reexamining the old returns. This decision could bring relief to many Virgin Islands residents who took advantage of tax breaks in the early 2000’s and did not have their returns reexamined with the limitation period. However, this respire might be brief as the IRS will likely litigate potentially fraudulent claims to island residence rather than any specific transaction.

See Josh Ungerman, IRS Expected To Issue Hundreds of Deficiency Notices TO USVI Residents, Forbes, Feb. 16, 2015.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this case to my attention.

March 17, 2015 in Current Affairs, Income Tax, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Man Pleads Guilty to Killing Grandmother for Inheritance

Brendan Johnson

I have previously discussed Brendan Lee Johnson, who was accused of killing his grandparents to get a $20,000 inheritance.  After pleading guilty on Thursday, Johnson will serve life in prison.  His alleged accomplice is facing the death penalty. 

Twenty-year-old Johnson pleaded guilty on Thursday to first-degree murder in the death of his grandmother, Shirley Severance.  As part of the agreement, District Attorney Brittny Lewton dropped all other charges and will no longer seek the death penalty against him.  Johnson’s girlfriend, Cassandra Rieb, is also charged with the deaths of Shirley and Charles Severance.  Just hours after Johnson changed his plea, she pleaded not guilty. 

See The Denver Channel, Brendan Lee Johnson Admits Killing Grandmother for $20k Inheritance, Girlfriend Still Facing Charges, ABC 7, March 13, 2015.

March 15, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jury Finds Robin Thicke and Pharell Guilty of Blurring Lines

Robin Thicke

A lawyer for the estate of Marvin Gaye says that he is attempting to block all future sales of the single “Blurred Lines” until an agreement is reached. 

A Los Angeles jury determined that when writing the hit “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. noticeably ripped off Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up.”  Now, Williams, Thicke, and T.I. must pay Gaye’s family $7.3 million as part of the ruling.  The verdict puts to rest a year of legal battles between Thicke and Gaye’s estate, which originally sought $25 million in damages. 

“While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” Williams, Thicke and T.I. said in a joint statement.  “’Blurred Lines’ was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin and T.I. and not taken from anyone or anywhere else.  We are reviewing the decision, considering our options and you will hear more from us soon about this matter.”

See Kory Grow, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Lose Multi-Million Dollar ‘Blurred Lines’ Lawsuit, Rolling Stone, March 10, 2015.

March 11, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Benson's Lawyers Argue "Abuse of Discretion"

Tom Benson FamilyIn the brief filed with a Texas appeals court last week, Tom Benson’s lawyers argued the San Antonio judge’s decision to temporarily remove the Saints and Pelicans owner as manager of his family’s assets and appoint two receivers to take over was an “abuse of discretion.”  The filing further states, “The court’s announcement was made without notice that the trial court was considering such a drastic remedy; without argument, briefing, or the presentation of evidence on that issue; and without reference to the principles of law governing such an action.  The parties have been dealing with the fallout of that sudden announcement ever since.” 

County Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff’s decision to appoint former San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger and estate lawyer Art Bayern as receivers “constitutes an abuse of discretion for three reasons.”  First, the ruling failed to require evidence of an irreparable harm; second, Renee’s Benson’s claims indicated minor and easily remedied oversights; and finally, the judge’s expansive temporary restraining order prevented Benson from taking any actions related to the trust he has administered for almost 35 years. 

Renee Benson’s legal team will file their reply later this month.

See Katherine Sayre, Saints Owner Tom Benson’s Lawyers: Texas Judge’s Decisions are ‘Abuse of Discretion’, The Times Picayune, March 10, 2015.

March 10, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Professional Responsibility, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Proposed Legislation Protects Digital Privacy

DigitalAccording to legislation passed by the 2015 Virginia General Assembly, a person’s right to privacy in the digital realm extends beyond death. 

The Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act is the first of its kind in the country, and aims to assure that a person ‘s electronic footprint remains off-limits after death except under very strictly controlled circumstances. 

Delaware Republican Jay Leftwich proposed the original legislation, which would have granted the executor of an estate almost blanket access to the deceased’s email and other electronic accounts.  While estate attorneys supported the legislation, lobbyists for online service providers were critical, warning that it would run afoul of their privacy policies.

The online lobbyists cast their lot with a rival measure offered by Senator Mark Obenshain; his bill began with the premise that people rightly expect their electronic communications to remain private upon death. 

Leftwich and Obenshain subsequently huddled with lobbyists to obtain a compromise; a bill that passed the last day of the session.  “We went through probably 20 different drafts,” Obenshain said.  The final version gives an executor access to the “envelope” of information about the deceased’s online accounts for the 18 months before his or her death.  This allows the executor to determine whether the deceased person received regular emails form a credit card company, bank, or investment brokerage and then to contact those institutions to settle the accounts. 

See Bill Sizemore, Va. Legislation Seeks to Protect Digital Privacy After Death, The News Tribune, March 7, 2015.

March 9, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Funeral Home Begins Battle With Ernie Banks' Estate

Ernie Banks

The funeral home that handled the services for Ernie Banks has initiated a legal battle over the estate of the Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer, claiming it has not been paid more than $35,000. 

The claim by Donnellan Family Funeral Services was filed Wednesday and comes amid a legal challenge by Banks’ widow, Elizabeth Banks; as I have previously mentioned is regarding a will signed in October allegedly without her knowledge, which leaves his assets to his caregiver Regina Rice and nothing to his children. 

See Don Babwin, Funeral Home Jumps Into Legal Battle Over Ernie Banks Estate With Demand for $35,000, Star Tribune, March 6, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 7, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Benson Family Feud

Gavel BWAs I have previously discussed, Tom Benson, owner of two New Orleans sports teams, is battling challenges against his mental competence and ability to run his business. The challenges come from his daughter, Renee Benson, and two grandchildren. The dispute centers on deeply personal issues with each side stating a contrasting view of their motivations. Renee and her children expressed in their filings that their case was motivated by a desire to protect Benson from the manipulations of his current wife. While Benson has alluded that his daughter and grandchildren were unable to get along with his wife and were creating family strife. The legal battle does not only have deeply personal roots for the Benson family, but also for the teams' fans. The lawsuit is a frequent topic on sports radio and the talk-of-town.

See Ken Belson, A Messy Family Battle for New Orleans Teams, The New York Times, March 6, 2015.


March 7, 2015 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Disability Planning - Property Management, Elder Law, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

New Suit Alleging Nazis Forced Art Dealers to Sell Artifacts Under Duress

AntiquesA lawsuit seeking return of a collection of artifacts, some dating back over 1,000 years, was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The claims are brought by heirs of Jewish art dealers that claim that in 1935 their ancestors were forced to sell the "Welfenschatz" collection to Nazis under duress and under-valued. The collection's current estimated value is between $225 million and $275 million, and was recently designated as a national cultural asset by the German government.

See Leila Boulton, Germany Sued Over Medieval Artifacts Sold to Nazis, Private Wealth, March 3, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 6, 2015 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)