Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Musts for Your Estate Plan

Estate plan without willThroughout the years, you spend time accumulating bank and brokerage accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, annuities, and other assets, so it is not uncommon to forget to update important information, like who are the beneficiaries and how your assets are titled. Securing your estate in these ways can help to quickly transfer your assets to loved ones, perhaps avoid probate, and even reduce estate taxes.

Specifically, there are two key features that can help you avoid probate and potentially limit taxes for your heirs: joint ownership and naming a “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary. There are several ways to structure joint ownership, all of which can create varying consequences. The three ways to title a joint account are joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, tenancy by entirety, and tenancy in common. Further, another simple step to help avoid probate is to name someone as a transfer on death beneficiary or payable on death beneficiary. However, there are a couple major drawbacks to designating assets in this way, including that these titled assets override whatever is stated in a will and can incur estate taxes. Ultimately, you should speak with an estate-planning attorney to help meet all of your estate planning goals.

See Estate Planning Must Dos, Fidelity, March 27, 2017.

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

March 29, 2017 in Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Probate Fees to Increase in England by May 2017

Probate feesIn England, the government has ignored strong opposition and, by May 2017, will implement a sliding scale system for probate fees based on the value of an estate, which will ultimately see dramatic increases. On the high end, estates worth over $2 million will be forced to pay close to $25,000 just to execute a loved one’s will. This is a sharp contrast to the current price of just $250. This fee will also be charged on top of the already-maintained inheritance tax, which is levied at 40pc on an individual’s assets above $400,000. Of course, these changes will add further complexity to estate planning, but certain planning techniques, such as trusts, may help reduce the value of an estate.

See Sam Brodbeck, New Death Tax Confirmed: Probate Fees of Up to £20,000 Will Apply from May, Telegraph, March 1, 2017. 

Special thanks to Jim Manel (Texas Tech University School of Law J.D. Candidate) for bringing this article to my attention.


March 5, 2017 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Article on Texas Transfer on Death Deeds

Transfer on death deedLucy Wood recently published an Article entitled, Transfer on Death Deeds in Texas: High Time for the TODD, 9 Est. Plan. & Community Prop. L.J. 59 (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

Last session, the 84th Texas Legislature passed the Texas Real Property Transfer on Death Act. This “Transfer on Death Deed” (TODD) statute, based largely on the Uniform Real Property Transfer On Death Act, allows an owner of real property to designate, via deed, a beneficiary to receive the property upon the owner’s death without going through probate. 

The TODD is the latest swell in the nonprobate tsunami, but the nonprobate “revolution” has been in full swing since the 1980s. Every few years lawmakers come up with yet another way to avoid probate. But is adding another tool to the already-disorganized toolkit just going to create more confusion? Is the TODD really necessary?

This article will explain why those in favor of increased access to justice will support the TODD. First, it will offer a bit of background about the problems in Texas that led to its becoming the latest state to jump on the TODD train, before summarizing the basics of the new law. Next, this article will discuss how Texans—particularly those with little to no money—stand to benefit. Lastly, it will address some challenges associated with the TODD and begin a conversation about how to TODD responsibly. 


March 3, 2017 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Main Reasons Why Families Fight over Estates

Fighting over estateRecently, the public has been privy to some bitter estate battles, but what are the main reasons families fight over estates? The dynamic between a local sibling who helps support an aging parent and a distant sibling can naturally make the local sibling feel entitled to more from that parent, which can lead to claims of undue influence and continuous litigation. Further, a late-in-life spouse or caregiver can also spur tension between the decedent’s family, resulting in disputes for those that stood to inherit and claims of undue influence. Other estate battles can stem from blended families, those who have more than one marriage with children from previous marriages. If a decedent leaves all assets to their spouse, then the spouse could, at some point, become separated from the stepchildren after the decedent’s death, which could prevent them from benefiting in the estate. Accordingly, estate planners should help their client’s prepare for potential fights and consider all non-probate assets in addition to the will.     

See F. Skip Sugarman, Five Reasons Families Fight over Estates, Wealth Management, January 30, 2017. 


February 3, 2017 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Article on the Corporate Form & Common Law Trust

Common law trustJohn Morley recently published an Article entitled, The Common Law Corporation: The Power of the Trust in Anglo-American Business History, 116 Columbia L. Rev. (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

This Essay challenges a central narrative in the history of Anglo-American business by questioning the importance of the corporate form. The corporate form was not, as we have long believed, the exclusive historical source of powers such as limited liability, entity shielding, tradable shares, and legal personhood in litigation. These powers were also available throughout modern history through a little-studied, but enormously important, device known as the common law trust. The trust was widely and very effectively used to hold the property of unincorporated partnerships and associations in England and the United States both long before and long after the passage of general incorporation statutes in the mid-nineteenth century. The trust’s success in wielding corporation-like powers suggests that the corporation’s role in legal history was smaller than — or at least different from — the one we have long assigned to it. This Essay thus lays the groundwork for a new account of the corporate form and its place in the development of modern business.


January 26, 2017 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tax Efficiency While Alive and at Death

IRSWhen working to minimize your family’s tax burden, it is best to start while your parents are still alive. There are several strategies to help save your parents money in their later years and limit the taxes owed after their death. One way to reduce taxes while your parents are alive is to have them sell their stocks that have losses, which may allow them to take a tax deduction. If the stock is not sold, then upon your parent’s death there will be no tax deduction for the loss. On the other hand, they should keep stocks that have gains because their heirs will benefit from the stepped-up basis rule. For retirement accounts, like an IRA, it will be beneficial to allow the funds to grow tax-deferred, further allowing the money you would have paid in taxes to earn interest for many years. It may also be wise for those families with large estates to gift assets to beneficiaries while the parents are still alive, reducing their tax liability at death. Another efficient estate planning tool is the trust, which will provide less hassle to beneficiaries. Tax efficiency is a major asset in itself both while alive and at death, so it is important to plan accordingly. 

See Patrick O’Brien, How to Keep Your Parents’ Assets from the Taxman, Market Watch, January 6, 2017. 


January 6, 2017 in Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Changing the Property Ownership of Assets Inside a Revocable Trust

Trust coownerA living trust serves to to transfer ownership of property at the time of the owner’s death. When leaving a piece of property in this type of trust for a beneficiary, the item will not need to go through probate, passing straight to the beneficiary. As far as income and estate taxes on the property within the trust, if the property is to be sold at the time of death or up to one year after, there is no federal income taxes. Additionally, if the estate is under $5 million, there will be no estate taxes to pay. As the trustee (oftentimes the creator of the trust) gets older, they can have a successor trustee in place to serve the trust if the creator becomes incapatictated. 

See Lacey Kessler, Think Twiece About Changing a Revocable Trust to List Your Child as Co-Owner of a Home, Trust Advisor, October 28, 2016. 

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


October 29, 2016 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Income Tax, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Ugly Realization About Teacher's Retirement Plans

Teaching retirement planOftentimes, companies provide 401(k) retirement plans for their employees, including a mix of prudent investment options. Millions of Americans—like public school teachers and clergy members—however, are not offered these plans, forcing them to rely of 403(b) plans. Ironically, the people who do the most good get the worst retirement plans. 403(b) plans carry excessive investment fees that can cost the owner tens of thousands of dollars or more. Further, these accounts are not subject to the more stringent rules and consumer protections that the average 401(k) plan is. This Article details several stories of public schools teacher’s fight to retire efficiently.  

See Tara Siegel Bernard, Think Your Retirement Plan Is Bad? Talk to a Teacher, NY Times, October 21, 2016. 

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


October 24, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Putting Your Assets in a Living Trust

Living trustPutting your home and other assets in a living trust can make things financially and emotionally easier on your loved ones. A living trust is a legal document that holds your assets in trust while alive and transfers those assets to your beneficiaries at death. This type of trust can either be revocable or irrevocable, depending on the amount of control the creator of the trust desires. On the other hand, a will goes into probate, requiring court supervision of your property over a longer period of time. Diligently exploring your estate planning options can help make the process more manageable. 

See Why Should I Put My Home in a Living Trust?, Fox News, October 5, 2016. 


October 19, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What to Do After Losing a Spouse

Losing a spouseLosing a spouse can leave you vulnerable and bereft. Unfortunately, while dealing with this grief and loss, you will be forced to make critical legal and financial decisions. Some immediate priorities after the loss of a spouse include gathering documents; notifications; and update accounts, registrations, and beneficiaries. It is important to gather all relevant documents—such as death certificate, insurance policies, and list of assets—and send out notifications that notify people and business institutions of the death. Additionally, all joint accounts will need to be retitled, and any other accounts will need to go through probate. You should meet with your planners to update financial plans, take into account liquidity needs, assess risk tolerance, and discuss future goals. 

See Aviva Pinto, On Your Own: Financial Advice After Losing a Spouse, Wealth Management, October 11, 2016. 

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


October 12, 2016 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0)