Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Monday, April 27, 2015

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples in 4 Steps

Gay couplesWhen creating an estate plan for same-sex couples, there are 4 important steps that an Estate Planner should follow: 

  • First, make sure to have all of the basic estate planning documents completed. 
  • Second, remember to review all of the designated beneficiaries.  Make a list of accounts and beneficiary designations to put with other estate documents.
  • Third, put into joint ownership property like “cash, investment accounts and real estate assets.” 
  • Finally, think about creating a revocable trust (often called a “living trust”). This would allow assets to be kept in the trust while retaining control. 

See Katie Williams, 4 Key Steps to Creating a Formal Estate Plan for Same-Sex Couples, Nashville Business Journal, April 24, 2015.  

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

April 27, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Dispute Over Robin Williams’ Estate Shows The Need For Better Planning Techniques

Robin_williams1-267x300As I previously discussed, the ongoing legal dispute over the estate of late actor and comedian Robin Williams demonstrates that conflicts can emerge out of an “uncommonly sophisticated, tax-efficient estate plan.”  Darren Wallace, an attorney at Day Pitney’s Stamford office, often recommends creating a Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust (QTIP) as a way for blended families to avoid many of the types of problems that Robin Williams' estate experienced.    

See Kevin Hunt, Robin Williams’ Foolproof Estate Plan? How To Avoid Family Fallout, Hartford Courant, April 22, 2015.  

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

April 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Artist's Legacy Revived 50 Years After Death

ThreeMenWalkingIIThe Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti is working on expanding public knowledge of the works of Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor who died in 1966. The foundation is recreating his Paris studio and opening a public exhibition of his achievements next year. The lag time between his death and this public project is the result of the artist dying intestate and decades of feuding and legal battles between an association and foundation both created to honor Giacometti. With the association dissolved, the foundation is moving forward on bringing Giacometti's works to the public.

See Farah Nayeri, Reviving Giacometti’s Legacy, New York Times, Apr. 16, 2015.

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

April 25, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Article on Privacy Protection in Digital Assets

Digital assetsJeehyeon Jenny Lee (Columbia University Law School) recently published an article entitled, Death and Live Feeds: Privacy Protection in Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets, (Apr. 7, 2015) Columbia Business Law Review, Forthcoming.  Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

In 2014, the Uniform Law Commission approved the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) for enactment by states. After an online user dies, the act gives her fiduciary broad access to her digital assets, such as email and social networking accounts, in the name of "asset neutrality" -- the idea that digital assets should be treated like similar physical assets for the purposes of estate administration. The application of such a concept to our online lives and deaths has significant implications for user privacy and relationships between users and internet service providers. Over 20 states have already introduced bills based on the UFADAA. 

This Note argues that an asset neutral approach to digital assets is fundamentally flawed, particularly with respect to social networking and social media content. Crucially, digital assets are often linked to live, real-time feeds from other users’ accounts, and thus provide access to others’ digital assets. The Note proposes several changes to the UFADAA. Most importantly, in order to protect user privacy, fiduciary access should be limited to only the particular decedent’s digital assets and internet service providers should be required to implement this restriction.

April 24, 2015 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Family Files Suit Against Attorney Reaping Millions From Will

Gavel2When Robert Mardigian wanted to put his financial affairs in order, he turned to his longtime friend and attorney, Mark Papazian.  Mr. Papazian subsequently drafted a will and trust that left the bulk of Mardigian’s fortune to Papazian and his two children. 

Yet, because Mardigian was unrelated to Papazian, the will was improper under the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, making clear that attorneys “shall not” prepare a will for a non-related client that includes a substantial gift for the attorney.

Now, Mardigian’s survivors are seeking that the gifts to Papazian and his children be disallowed.  A county judge ruled in their favor, and the case is now before the Michigan Court of Appeals.  “For over 100 years, the Supreme Court has ‘bluntly warned’ lawyers not to receive gifts from clients under wills they themselves have drafted.  Mark Papazian did it anyway . . . in flagrant disregard of his ethical duties as a member of the bar,” Gerald Gleeson, an attorney for Mardigian’s brother stated in a court filing. 

See Paul Egan, Family Fights Attorney Getting Millions From Client’s Will, Detroit Free Press, Apr. 11, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hartnett (Hartnett Law Firm) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 24, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Professional Responsibility, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Grandmother Steals $50K Inheritance

Betty ColemanWhen Betty Coleman’s ex-husband died, her 14-year-old granddaughter inherited $50,000.  In order to become her granddaughter’s guardian and access her money, Coleman lied about her criminal past.  Within five months, Coleman spent all the money on alcohol, cigarettes, wigs, back rent, among other frivolities.  Meanwhile, Coleman’s granddaughter was living with a relative and sleeping on an air mattress.

Coleman’s misdeeds were discovered in probate court in 2013 and her granddaughter won a default judgment for $150,000 on claims of theft, conversion, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty.  But just last month, prosecutors charged Coleman with embezzlement and contempt of court.  She is currently working on a plea deal. 

See Bruce Vielmetti, Grandmother Accused of Wiping Out Girl’s $50,000 Inheritance, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Apr. 22, 2015.

April 23, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Incapacity Planning

Healthcare proxySome of the lesser-known benefits of a well-crafted estate plan are the provisions providing for both management of assets and instructions for personal care in the event of incapacity.  Estate planning documents that anticipate incapacity enable named representatives to manage an individual’s assets, and direct how health care decisions will be made.  Without these documents, family members may have to petition a court to attain power to manage the assets or make health care decisions for one who is incapacitated. 

The first document necessary in planning for incapacity is the durable power of attorney.  This document survives incapacity and gives a designee the authority to act on one’s behalf with regard to financial affairs.  The durable power of attorney is valid once the testator signs it, so selection of designee is imperative.  The next set of documents concerns heath care; and includes a health care proxy, living will and HIPAA authorization.  A health care proxy will give a designee the power to make health care decisions on one’s behalf.  A living will or advance directive can provide directions to caregivers and loved ones with regard to care or end-of-life matters.  A HIPAA authorization allows doctors to disclose important health information to caregivers. 

See Planning for Incapacity re: Estate Planning, The National Law Review, Apr. 23, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

April 23, 2015 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Elvis Planes Leaving Graceland

ElvisThe two private jets owned by Elvis Presley will be removed from Graceland later this month. The planes, Hound Dog II and Lisa Marie, will be moved down the street to what will become the location of a new Elvis museum. The Memphis City Council approved the move on Monday.

See Helen Moss, Elvis's Beloved Planes Will be Moved From Graceland, Daily Mail, Apr. 21, 2015.

April 23, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Court Holds Trust May Be Reformed to Insert Beneficiaries

TrustAccording to the recent Florida case, Megiel-Rollo v. Megiel, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 5601 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Apr. 17, 2015), a trust can be reformed to add beneficiaries when the trust initially fails to include any beneficiaries. 

In the aforementioned case, the decedent prepared a will naming her three children as equal beneficiaries.  Years later, the decedent created a revocable trust, deeding her real property to the trust.  However, upon the death of the decedent, the trust failed to name any beneficiaries.  A dispute subsequently arose among the three children of the decedent regarding the intended beneficiary. 

The drafting attorney filed an affidavit, stating he had made a mistake and should have prepared the Schedule of Beneficial Interest naming only two of the decedent’s children as the beneficiaries of the trust.  Under Section 736.0415 of the Florida Trust Code, a trust may be reformed to correct a mistake.  The court allowed for the possibility of reformation in order to limit the trust to the two children. 

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Trust Can Be Reformed to Add Beneficiaries, Florida Probate Lawyers, Apr. 22, 2015.

April 22, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Taking Care of Your Digital Legacy

Computer 2Many Americans have yet to decide who will oversee their digital accounts after they die.  While some prefer their accounts be memorialized, more than half would like them deleted.

Several social networking capabilities now make it easier to manage someone’s online presence after death.  In February, Facebook released a “legacy contact” feature, allowing users to designate another user to post a final message, change profile pictures and accept new friend requests.  Google began offering a similar service in 2013. 

These options are steps that have given users more control over their digital life, a trend attorneys hope other companies to follow.  But instead of waiting for accounts to offer digital legacy handlers, people can name “digital executors” in their will.  Yet, in one poll taken, 70 percent of individuals had not chosen a digital executor.  Many people assume that they did not need one or that their family could access their accounts upon death.  It is important to name successors on any account to make the process easier when trying to communicate your authority to the right person. 

See Ellen Huet, Who Will Take Care of Your Digital Legacy After You Die? Poll Says Many People Haven’t Specified, Forbes, Apr. 21, 2015.

April 21, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)