Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Jersey Amends Legislation to Discharge Loans for Deceased Students

Discharge student loanNew Jersey recently amended legislation for their college loan program, no longer obligating a parent or guardian cosigner to repay the loan of a student borrower who has passed away. Testimony from grieving parents prompted the New Jersey legislators to modify student loan requirements. New Jersey’s student loan program was one of the strictest in the nation, coming under a substantial amount of criticism. The federal government and approximately one-third of private lenders also discharge student loans after the student has passed.  

See Jerilyn Klein Bier, N.J. Is Discharging Loans for Families of Deceased Students, Financial Advisor, February 21, 2017. 


February 21, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Article on Domestic Partnerships for the Elderly After Obergefell

Domestic partnershipHeidi Brady & Robin Fretwell Wilson recently published an Article entitled, The Precarious Status of Domestic Partnerships for the Elderly in a Post-Obergefell World, 24 Elder L.J. (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges gave same-sex couples the right to marry in all fifty states, correcting the injustice that non-marital legal statuses like domestic partnerships were intended to remedy. Now that same-sex couples can marry nationwide, the federal government and states that created domestic partnerships are considering how to treat couples in those statuses — specifically, whether to treat domestic partners like spouses and whether to continue to offer non-marital legal statuses at all. Three states face a particularly thorny question post-Obergefell: what should be done with domestic partnerships made available to elderly same-sex and straight couples at a time when same-sex couples could not marry. This Article examines why California, New Jersey, and Washington opened domestic partnerships to elderly couples. Although domestic partnerships in these states primarily responded to the needs of gay couples who could not marry, legislators also saw the elderly as sympathetic: unfairly prevented from remarrying for fear of losing benefits from a previous marriage. This Article drills down on three specific obligations and benefits tied to marriage — receipt of alimony, Social Security spousal benefits, and duties to support a partner who needs long-term care under the Medicaid program — and shows that entering a domestic partnership rather than marrying does not benefit all elderly couples; rather, the value of avoiding marriage varies by wealth and benefit. The Article concludes that as pressure mounts to fold domestic partners into marriage after Obergefell, legislators should examine whether domestic partnerships have become a province of the wealthy, undercutting the impetus for maintaining a second, collateral status.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


February 20, 2017 in Articles, Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Health Insurance Providers Are Witnessing a "Death Spiral"

Health insuranceThe CEO of Aetna, one of the United States’ largest health insurance agencies, claims that statistics indicate that health law has entered into a “death spiral.” This is a result of healthier people dropping out, while premiums continue to increase. The Trump Administration is working on new efforts to make tax compliance with Obama’s health law less burdensome, hopefully changing the direction of the law and market. However, insurance companies are reducing their presence in the markets started by ObamaCare but looking forward to gaining more flexibility to design tailored coverage. 

See ObamaCare in ‘Death Spiral,’ Aetna CEO Says, Fox News, February 16, 2017. 


February 16, 2017 in Current Events, Disability Planning - Health Care, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Republican Congress Moves to Block D.C. Death with Dignity Law

Dc death with dignityNow that Donald Trump has been elected as President, Congressional Republicans are looking to assert their power over the District of Columbia’s local government. On Monday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to block a D.C. law, the Death with Dignity law, giving physicians the right to administer lethal medication to terminally ill patients. Opponents of the law are arguing that this law clashes with ethical prohibitions against suicide, worrying about a potential marketplace for death. Unless Republicans can get the committee-passed “resolution of disapproval” through both the House and Senate and signed by President Trump by the end of the week, the law will likely take effect as passed by D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser.    

See Mikaela Lefrak & Martin Austermuhle, Congress Moves to Overturn D.C. ‘Death with Dignity Law’, npr, February 14, 2017. 


February 15, 2017 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Elder Abuse Act Likely to Become Law This Year

Elder abuse acThe Elder Abuse and Prevention Act has a high chance of becoming law this year. The legislation has received substantial support among elderly advocacy groups because of its promise to make the world a safer place for seniors. Additionally, the Act will increase penalties for marketing fraud schemes targeting seniors and expand data collection of elder abuse to help create more reliable statistics highlighting the prevalence of this problem. The Act is also aiming to enlist the Justice Department to become a greater protector of seniors.   

See Ted Knutson, Elder Abuse Act Has Good Chance of Becoming Law This Year, Financial Advisor, February 9, 2017. 


February 9, 2017 in Current Events, Elder Law, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why Are Funeral Prices Still Unclear?

Funeral pricesThe Funeral Rule was designed to protect consumers seeking burial arrangements for lost loved ones. Among other things, it requires funeral homes to provide clear price information to potential customers. However, the rule’s transparency often goes unfulfilled. For decades now, the death care industry has maintained a strategic ambiguity about prices as part of its business model, and an estimated one in four funeral homes break this rule. With today’s technology, many are now requesting that this rule be implemented into searchable data and social media—prices should be online.  

See Robert Benincasa, Despite Decades-Old Law, Funeral Prices Are Still Unclear, NPR, February 8, 2017. 


February 8, 2017 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Article on Mississippi's Slayer Statute Amendment

Slayer statuteZachary Roberson recently published an Article entitled, Oh the Insanity: After 124 Years, It Is Time to Amend Mississippi’s Slayer Statute to Account for the Insane Slayer, U. Miss. Sch. L. (2017). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

While almost every jurisdiction in the United States addresses slayer inheritance, many states have failed to account for the possibility of a slayer with a mental disability or disorder. Courts in states that do not have a modern slayer statute are left with the potentially unsettling task of applying an outdated slayer statute to a modern insanity fact pattern that was not contemplated by the state legislature when the slayer statute was enacted. For example, Mississippi’s slayer statute has not substantively changed in the 124 years since its original enactment. In a 2015 case, Estate of Armstrong v. Armstrong, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the state’s slayer statute was inapplicable to killers who were found to be insane at the time of the killing. The court reasoned that an insane person lacks the ability to willfully kill as required by the state’s slayer statute. 

Considering the Mississippi Supreme Court’s recent decision in Armstrong and its public policy ramifications, this article, the first to analyze the Armstrong case, focuses on Mississippi law and the reasons why the Mississippi legislature must update the state’s slayer statute. This article contends that so called insane slayers should not be allowed to inherit from their victim. First, under Mississippi law, any monetary inheritance received by the insane slayer will be taken by the state to pay for the reasonable cost of care provided during the insane slayer’s involuntary commitment. Second, the insane slayer should not inherit from his or her victim because of the inferred change in the victim’s intent created by the insane slayer’s murderous act. Finally, the precedent set by the Armstrong decision disregards the traditional public policy justifications for slayer statutes. This article concludes with a recommended amendment to the Mississippi slayer statute which would create a mandatory disclaimer on the part of an insane slayer.


February 7, 2017 in Articles, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Florida's Electronic Wills Act Reported Favorably by the Judiciary Committee

Electronic willsThe potential Florida Electronic Wills Act specifies requirements that must be satisfied in the execution of electronic wills. Additionally, it allows a will that is properly executed in any state to be admitted to probate in Florida. The Florida Judiciary Committee recently reported favorably on the Act and passed the review on to the Banking and Insurance Committee. 

See CS/SB 206: Electronic Wills, Florida Senate, January 31, 2017. 

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


January 31, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Alaska Is Treating Pets Like Children in Divorces

Pets in divorceAll divorces usually involve splitting property, but is your dog considered property? Courts often do not see pets as family members like most of their owners do—they are just property. However, an amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes took effect last week, which requires courts to consider the well-being of the animal and empowers judges to assign joint custody. For the first time, pets have visibility in divorce proceedings beyond just being property. The Alaska bill also allows courts to consider pets in domestic violence protective orders and further requires the owners of seized, neglected pets to cover the cost of their shelter.  

See Karin Brulliard, In a First, Alaska Divorce Courts Will Now Treat Pets More Like Children, Wash. Post, January 24, 2017. 

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  


January 26, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Final Battle of the War on Estate Tax

Democrat estate taxPresident-elect Donald Trump will soon assume his position, and as it stands, the Democrats have control over the Executive and Legislative branches, but their party was severely wounded after the election. Consequently, many assume that they will raise the white flag in regards to the estate tax. With the greatest wealth transfer in human history occurring, however, it would be foolish to assume the Democrats would not put up a fight. This final battle over the estate tax should not come as a surprise due to the long 100-year history on the United States’ war over taxation. Throughout this time span, liberal economists and academics have argued over the estate tax’s economic importance and its service to inequality. Those Republicans seeking to repeal the estate tax believe it will be one of the final components to stir economic growth, while the Democrats seek to maintain its existence.   

See Darren T. Case, Trump vs. the Democrats: Is This the End of the 100-Year War over the Estate Tax?, Hill, January 12, 2017. 


January 19, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)