Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

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)

Princess Diana's Will Available Online

Princess dianaThe Will of Princess Diana is now available online as part of a vast archive of wills dating back to 1858.  “Qadir Ahmed runs the secure Iron Mountain facility in a leafy suburb of Birmingham where row upon row of the documents are kept in temperature-controlled storage, under tight security.”  The new system means that people no longer have to order wills by post or at their local registry office.  The wills of other famous individuals including Winston Churchill and George Orwell are also included in this expansive archive. 

See Will from Princess Diana That Explained How She Wanted Her £21.4m Estate Distributed Now Available Online With 41 Million Others, Daily Mail, April 19, 2015. 

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

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

CLE on Estate Planning in Depth

CLEThe American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education (ALI CLE) is presenting a CLE entitled, Estate Planning in Depth, on June 21-26, 2015, at the University of Wisconsin School of Law.  Here is why you should attend:

Hear the country’s most experienced practitioners share strategies, tips, and insights on some of the most complex challenges estate planners encounter, including:

    -    using trusts to manage inherited wealth
    -    what every domestic estate planner should know about international estate planning
    -    estate planning for digital assets
    -    portability
    -    selecting, educating, and protecting trustees
    -    estate planning with life insurance
    -    estate planning for business owners, including succession planning
    -    assisting elderly and disabled clients with their planning needs
    -    charitable planning from simple to sophisticated

April 21, 2015 in Conferences & CLE, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Family Offices Give Glimpse Into the Billionaire Life

BrinThe creation of family offices allow the world's ultra rich to protect their privacy when hiring those needed to assist with their financial and daily life. Google co-founder Sergey Brin's family office, Bayshore Global Management, provided the avenue for him to hire a former Navy Seal and SWAT team veteran to provide security, as well as a yacht captain and a fitness coordinator.  The number of family offices is increasing as the number of billionaires worldwide increases. The number of families with $100 million or more in assets has increased 42 percent in the last seven years.

See Bloomberg News, Inside A Billionaire's Family Office: Navy Seals, Yacht Captains, Private Wealth, Apr. 16, 2015.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 21, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Nevada Dynasty Trust Debate

DebateDebate over the constitutionality of dynasty trusts in Nevada has been sparked by differing opinions over a recent Nevada Supreme Court opinion. In a recent opinion the state court mentioned the statutory 365-year limit for non-charitable trusts as the law of the land, but did not address the constitutionality of the statute. Some have interpreted this as the court sending a message that the statute is constitutional. However, others have expressed that the issue is still wide open and the opinion does not give anything that a prediction on future constitutional rulings can be based on.

See Scott Martin, Grudge Match: Why the Blattmachr / Oshins 365-Year War of Words Won’t End, Trust Advisor, Apr. 20, 2015.

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

April 21, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 20, 2015

6 Expensive Estate Planning Mistakes

220px-JamesGandolfiniSept11TIFFThe issues surrounding late Soprano’s actor James Gandolfini's estate provide another example as to why proper estate planning is so important. Below are six mistakes that people often make that could cause headaches:

  1. You are not too young for a will. Not having a will can create a lot of hassle when it comes to naming a guardian for yourself or your children. Creating an estate plan is not that costly when contrasted with the consequences of not having one.
  2. Avoid placing property into joint ownership. Adding a person’s name to an asset like a bank account can create problems, thus, it is better to designate in a will.
  3. A will is not the final word. You might forget about other assets like a 401(k), insurance policies, or an IRA.
  4. Avoid letting the beneficiary squander the inheritance. Creating a trust can be a good way to manage the allocation of estate assets.
  5. Avoid creating sibling rivalry. Disputes between children over a decedent’s estate often cause rifts in families. It is good to plan ahead to avoid these types of problems.
  6. Do not make over-complicated plans. Using complex estate planning techniques, like creating a bypass trust, has its own set of problems. Speak with an attorney about the different viable options.

See 6 Costly Estate-Planning Minefields, and How to Avoid Them, Consumer Reports, Apr. 14, 2015.

April 20, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estate Planners Should Prepare for Dementia


As the baby boomer generation continues to age, issues with dementia and Alzheimer’s will become more prevalent.  “Diminishing capacity is a big problem for financial advisers, and can cause the elderly to make unwise financial decisions.”  Clients should plan ahead by including a “dementia protocol” in their estate plan.   Having a dementia protocol in place is a good way to be prepared for any situation where an elderly client might lose capacity.

See Barbara A. Friedberg, Advisors Should Consider a ‘Dementia Protocol,’ Investopedia, 2015.     


April 20, 2015 in Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

SEC Raises Eyebrows Over Sam Wyly's Ranch

Sam wylyRegulators accused former billionaire, now bankrupt, Sam Wyly, of hiding his ownership in a Colorado luxury ranch in order to avoid paying creditors $50 million in sale proceeds. 

According to a filing rendered by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Wyly’s plan to sell the 244-acre property involves moving cash offshore before debts are paid.  Wyly helped create companies such as retailer Michaels Stores Inc., and owns about one percent of the ranch near Aspen and Snowmass, with the rest owned by a trust on the Isle of Man.  The property is not listed as part of Wyly’s estate, and he denied ownership of the trust that purchased the ranch for $11 million in 1999. 

“The debtor’s actions with regard to the ranch underscore his ownership and control over the property,” said the SEC.  “By using offshore funds, Sam Wyly and his family obtained the $11million property, constructed several multimillion-dollar homes that they enjoy rent-free, and use the properties with minimal personal expense.”  The IRS has also joined the SEC’s objection to the sale process, saying they were troubled by Wyly’s “silence” regarding whether the sales proceeds would move offshore. 

See Erik Larson, Ex-Billionaire Wyly Targeted by SEC Over Colorado Ranch Sale, The Dallas Morning News, Apr. 17, 2015.

April 20, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Testamentary Formalism in Louisiana

Last will and testament (old)George Holmes (Louisiana State University) recently published a comment entitled, Testamentary Formalism in Louisiana: Curing Notarial Will Defects Through a Likelihood-of-Fraud Analysis, 75 La. L. Rev. 511-541 (2014).  Provided below is a portion of the article’s introduction:

Before James Holbrook died, he thought that his last will and testament was valid.  The document that he prepared for probate appeared to have all of the requisite formalities for a notarial will required by Louisiana Civil Code article 1577. Unfortunately for Mr. Holbrook’s potential legatees, the date recorded on the attestation clause of the will included the year and the month, but not the day—contrary to the strict requirements of Louisiana law. Although the will was properly dated on every other page, the omission of the date on the attestation clause was due to the fault of the notary who executed the document. Mr. Holbrook’s daughter challenged the validity of the will on the basis of its lack of form; she did not claim the existence of another will. Although the document complied with the statutory formalities of a notarial will in every other respect, a Louisiana circuit court declared his will null for lack of form because of a seemingly minor flaw.

Many people die leaving behind instruments that, although intended to be wills, contain errors that deviate from the statutory requirements. Much like the circuit court that decided Mr. Holbrook’s case, courts across the United States have historically regarded any deviation from the formal requirements of wills as fatal to a will’s validity. One basis for these decisions is that will formalities exist to provide unequivocal evidence of testamentary intent. A conflict arises, however, when the testator’s intent is evident despite the testator’s non-compliance with the formalities. In such cases, wills are often invalidated notwithstanding the clear intent of the testator to leave a will.

April 20, 2015 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Still Available Asset Protection Methods

SafeThe enforcement of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act has brought attention to the diminishing ability for individuals to shield assets, but some legitimate methods of maintaining privacy of financial and business accounts still exist. Here are some of those remaining methods:

  • Overseas bank accounts can still be used to increase convenience for Americans living overseas and may offer additional creditor protection.
  • The use of shell companies for investing can offer individuals some privacy and protection from being solicited personally to make other investments.
  • Using trusts offer privacy by keeping asset details out of the public eye.

See Ben Steverman, Four Ways Rich People Can Still Hide Their Money, Bloomberg Business, Apr. 15, 2015.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 20, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)