Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Friday, September 19, 2014

EU Finds Spain's Taxes Discriminatory

EU Court

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that Spanish authorities cannot charge different rates of inheritance tax for residents and non-residents.  In Spain, there are a complex range of tax relief options that can reduce the tax to zero for residents, however, these have previously been unavailable to non-residents.

 Non-residents who have been discriminated against by paying more tax than Spaniards for inheritances or gifts of property will likely be owed a refund of the difference.  The verdict earlier this month could open the floodgate to thousands of people reclaiming their tax.  Thus far, the Spanish authorities have not responded to the ruling.  Spain has six months to change its laws, which should come by January 2016.   

The reason for the decision rested on the notion that charging other members of the EU different rates to Spanish residents went against the spirit of the European union.  The court said the Spanish legislation was discriminatory and there was no reason why inheritance tax should be charged at a higher rate for non-Spaniards than for Spaniards. 

See Liz Phillips, EU Court Rules Against Spain Over Discriminatory Tax Rules, The Telegraph, Sept. 18, 2014.

September 19, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, New Cases, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Questions Remain in Joan Rivers' Death

Joan rivers

Although Joan Rivers passed away on September 4th, details surrounding her death are still unfolding.  According to the Guardian Liberty Voice of Las Vegas, Rivers was undergoing endoscopic surgery at a clinic in New York when her respiratory system became compromised.  She was then rushed into the emergency room where she fell into a coma and placed on life support.  Shortly thereafter, her daughter Melissa authorized medical staff to discontinue life support.  New York health officials are continuing to investigate the clinic where Rivers’ final surgical procedure occurred. 

“It is very likely that Melissa Rivers was following the wish of her mother when she took her off life support . . . In New York, relatives cannot make end of life decisions automatically.  An advance directive must be in place and proper procedure must be followed prior to execution.  In this case, we can assume that Rivers had planned ahead.”

Rivers was outspoken about aging, death and estate taxation.  She once said that show business had hardened her to the point that she was not afraid of dying.  Thus, it is fair to say that Joan Rivers was not shy when it came to estate planning.  While her death may have come as a shock to fans, it was something that Rivers was ready to face, and planned in advance.  

See UltraTrust.com Exposes Postmortem Why Joan Rivers Joked About Her Estate Plan and Paying Taxes—Now Estimated at $45M, Insurance News Net, Sept. 18, 2014. 

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

September 19, 2014 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Deceased Celebrities Provide Important Estate Planning Reminders

Shooting StarThe estate planning decisions and mistakes of the rich and famous can provide helpful illustrations and reminders for estate planning. Here are some estate planning lessons illustrated by recent celebrity deaths:

  • Robin Williams: The recent death of Robin Williams in August was an example of how the use of a trust can maintain privacy for a family during the grieving period. However, the terms of a reportedly outdated trust were made public after a co-trustee entered the document into court records to have a new trustee appointed. If a method for appointing a new trustee was established through the trust, then a court order would have been unnecessary and the trust terms would not have become public
  • Casey Kasem: The high-profile family drama that occurred at the end of Casey Kasem’s life highlights the importance of in-depth conversations with family members about end-of-life wishes and nurturing healthy family relationships, especially when multiple marriages complicate the family relationship.
  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman: The choice to use a will rather than trusts by Phillip Seymour Hoffman stirred discussion of the fear of wealthy individuals that their children will be spoiled if they have trusts to rely on for income. However, Hoffman’s decision resulted in significant tax consequences, which brings to light the importance that tax regulations play in estate planning.
  • Michael Crichton: The questions over whether Michael Crichton intentionally disinherited his youngest son provides a remainder of the importance of keeping wills and other estate planning documents updated when new life events occur.

See Thomas Fross & Robert Fross, Lessons Celebrities Can Teach Retirees About Estate Planning, Forbes, Sept. 16, 2014.

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

September 19, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cemetery Utilizes Technology to Create Interactive Experience

CemeteryCemeteries can be more than simply a place to bury our dead and mourn, but also a place of educational value and cultural growth. The Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol filled the role of a community park and offered activities such as yoga lessons and walking paths. Then they added technology and created an interactive way for visitors to honor the dead, which resulted in Future Cemetery.  Future Cemetery utilizes multimedia to create an interactive environment, including projection, audio, guided tours through phone applications, and live reenactments. View a video of Future Cemetery’s use of technology here.

See Plus Aziz, How Will we Mourn the Dead in the Future?, PSFK, Sept. 16, 2014.

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

September 19, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Projections for 2015 Estate Tax Exemption

Tax CutThe Department of Labor released data on inflation on Wednesday. Wolters Kluwer has projected that as a result the federal estate tax exemption will increase from the current $5.34 million to $5.43 million in 2015. However, it is not projected that the annual gift tax exemption will increase, but rather remain the same at $14,000.

See Ashlea Ebeling, Limits on Tax-Free Lifetime Gifts Projected to Rise for 2015, Forbes, Sept. 17, 2014.

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

September 19, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Tracing One Family’s Path to Freedom, Through Love

Terry FranklinTerry Franklin recently published an article entitled, Tracing One Family’s Path to Freedom, Through Love, 28 Probate & Property No. 5 (Sept. & Oct. 2014).  Provided below is an excerpt from the article:

This story is about my search, as a trust and estate lawyer, to find answers to questions about my family’s heritage and to try to discover evidence of the role that rape or love may have played in how my family came to be.

I grew up in Chicago, where my mother’s family lived after migrating from Southern Illinois. We always knew that our ancestors had settled in Southern Illinois in the mid-1840s. Family lore and research performed by a long-deceased distant cousin informed us that there was a will made by my great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather, John Sutton, who died in 1846. We had an abstract of a portion of the will made by John, a white farmer in Duval County, Florida. (Jacksonville is the county seat.) Based on the abstract, we knew that the will provided first for the payment of John’s debts and, then, for his “mulatto slave Lucie” and her eight children, including her daughter, Easter, and Easter’s own six children to be set free on John’s death. The will included a specific direction that they all be moved “to the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, or a foreign country where they and their children could live free forever.”

September 19, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tom Clancy's Estate in Dispute

Tom clancy

Tom Clancy left behind an estate worth $83 million when he died in 2013.  Now, his widow’s lawyers are in court disputing that she should be exempt from the $6 million in taxes. 

The lawyers argue that rather than have Clancy’s widow, Alexandra, pay the taxes, the burden should shift to the four children from his first marriage.  Alexandra Clancy is the “sole or main” beneficiary of two-thirds of the estate.  Clancy’s executor previously declared that the $6 million in taxes would be paid by Alexandra’s trust.  However, her attorneys allege that Clancy modified his will a few months before his death to protect his wife from paying the taxes. 

A lawyer for the four adult children commented, “Obviously, we would hope that the original determination by the personal representative is the correct one, because it would be more detrimental to my clients if it were not.”

See Carolyn Kellogg, Tom Clancy’s $83-Million Estate Prompts Family Tax Dispute, LA Times, Sept. 18, 2014.

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

September 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Slew of State Laws Scrutinize Surrogacy


When Crystal Kelly signed a contract to bear a baby for a couple in Connecticut, a routine ultrasound five months later showed that the fetus had a cleft palate, a brain cyst and heart defects.  The couple subsequently asked Ms. Kelley to have an abortion, offering to pay her $10,000 to do so.  However, Ms. Kelley fled to Michigan, where surrogacy contracts are unenforceable and had the child.  She was listed on the birth certificate as the mother, and a family that had other special-needs children adopted the little girl. 

Although surrogacy is becoming more commonplace in the United States, it remains a polarizing issue.  Because there is no national consensus on how to handle it, states are free to do as they wish. 

Seventeen states have laws permitting surrogacy, but vary greatly in range and restrictions.  In many states, surrogacy is a taboo issue, drawing opposition from anti-abortion groups, opponents of same-sex marriage, the Roman Catholic Church, some feminists, and those who view surrogacy as an experiment with unforeseen consequences. 

Many states are now considering certain limits and trying to find middle ground.  “My sense of the big picture is that we’re moving toward laws like the one in Illinois, which accepts that the demand for surrogacy isn’t going away but recognizes the hazards and adds regulations and protections,” says Joanna L. Grossman, a family law professor at the Hofstra University Law School.  The Illinois law requires medical and psychological screenings for all parties before a contract is signed and stipulates that surrogates be at least 21, have given birth at least once before and be represented by an independent lawyer, paid for by the intended parties, thus, “eliminate[ing] some of the concerns about designer babies.” 

Lawmakers in New York, Washington D.C., and elsewhere are considering measures to allow surrogacy.

See Tamar Lewin, Surrogates and Couples Face a Maze of Laws, State by State, The New York Times, Sept. 17, 2014.

Special thanks to Jerome Borison for bringing this article to my attention. 

September 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Prince Harry Inherits Remainder of Princess Diana's Estate

Princess diana

Prince Harry, the son of iconic Princess Diana, finally turned thirty.  While this is a significant milestone in itself, it is even more momentous because Harry is now entitled to receive the remaining half of his mother’s assets.

After Diana passed away in August 1997, her mother and sister were named the executors of her estate.  The probate filings revealed that Diana left behind assets valued around £21 million (about 31.5 million in USD at the time), netting £17 million after estate taxes. Although Diana’s will called for the assets to be held in trust for her sons, William and Harry, until they turned 25, Diana’s executors petitioned the probate court for a “variance” of the will.  They successfully obtained the variance, which included a delay of the distributions to William and Harry until they each turned 30. 

Diana also addressed the distribution of her personal property in her will, directing the executors “to give effect as soon as possible but not later than two years following my death to any written memorandum or notes of wishes of mine.”  Diana wrote a Letter of Wishes, requesting all of her jewelry and three-fourths of her chattels pass to her sons, with the rest to her godchildren.  The court allowed the executors to ignore the Letter of Wishes because it did not contain certain language required by British Law and Diana’s mother and sister had discretion whether or not to honor her wishes. 

 While we can only speculate on how Diana may have felt about this, the lesson to be learned is that no one should ever rely on a letter, not or other informal writing to pass along significant assets.

See Danielle and Andy Mayoras, As Remainder of Princess Diana’s Estate Passes To Harry, Troubling  Questions Remain, Forbes, Sept. 16, 2014.

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

September 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Aunt Jemima's Heirs Sue for Royalties

Aunt jemima

The great-grandchildren of Anna Short Harrington, the woman known for the “Aunt Jemima” logo, are seeking $2 billion in a class action lawsuit brought against a group of companies including PepsiCo and its subsidiary Quaker Oats. 

The suit accuses the companies of failing to pay Harrington and her heirs an “equitable fair share of royalties” from the pancake mix and syrup brand that uses her image and recipes.  The suit claims that Harrington had entered into a “written contractual agreement to play the actress role of aunt Jemima,” therefore, entitling her to royalties, including a percentage of the proceeds accumulated by the brand over the years.  Quaker oats is accused of lying to cover up employment of Harrington, and the heirs subsequently determined they were owed royalties when the discovered the company trademarked the image of their great-grandmother with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1937 and after they found a death certificate for Harrington that named the company as her employer.  The heirs accuse the companies of breach of contract, conspiracy, and fraud, also alleging Quaker Oats engaged in “industrial espionage” to procure Harrington’s trade secrets before failing to compensate her estate on an annual basis following her death. 

See Tom Huddleston, Jr., ‘Aunt Jemima’ Heirs Sue Pepsi, Quaker Oats for $2 Billion in Royalties, Fortune, Aug. 11, 2014.

Special thanks to Ryan Turner (a Texas lawyer) for bringing this article to my attention. 

September 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)