Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thomas Edison's Light Bulbs Hit the Auction Block

EdisonIf you want to get your hands on some electric relics, Heritage Auction is auctioning off five 19th century light bulbs and a socket. Edison Electric used the memorabilia in lawsuits against companies that Thomas Edison claimed were copying his bright ideas. Heritage estimates it will sell the items for $10,000, but this number could easily be blown out of the socket. The auction house is also selling Edison’s keys to his Menlo Park lab where he invented the first commercial light bulb for $6,000.

See Thomas Edison: Here’s a Bright Idea . . . $10k for 5 Light Bulbs!, TMZ, December 3, 2016.

December 4, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stephen Hawking Predicts Human Race Survival

PlanetsStephen Hawking predicts that humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on planet Earth due to things like climate change, nuclear weapons, and robots. Hawking claims that the human race’s best chance for survival is establishing new colonies on other planets. This prediction comes at a time when space exploration has been ramping up. NASA is searching for “goldilocks” that might help sustain human life while Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars within the next century.

 See Doug Criss, Stephen Hawking Says We’ve Got About 1,000 Years to Find a New Place to Live, CNN, November 18, 2016.

November 26, 2016 in Current Events, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

IRS Is Hunting Down Bitcoin Tax Evaders

BitcoinThe IRS is hunting down those who are using Bitcoin to evade taxes. In fact, the IRS sent a request to the largest Bitcoin exchange asking for all customer records, showing who bought virtual currency between 2013 and 2015. This request comes shortly after the Treasury Department’s inspector general chastising the tax agency for not taking more aggressive steps to curb unlawful activities by those using virtual currencies. Further, this request is the most sweeping single effort to track down those using virtual currency. Bitcoin users are most likely not aware that they should be tracking their losses and gains as taxable events every time they make a purchase with their Bitcoins. The characteristics of virtual currencies are enabling users to evade taxes by using traditional abusive tax arrangements online.

See Nathaniel Popper, Bitcoin Users Who Evade Taxes Are Sought by the I.R.S., N.Y. Times, November 18, 2016.

Special thanks to Jerry Hesch (Attorney, Aventura, Florida) for bringing this article to my attention.  

November 22, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Article on Nationwide Adoption of the RUFADAA

RufadaaElizabeth Sy recently published an Article entitled, The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act: Has the Law Caught Up with Technology?, 32 Touro L. Rev. 647 (2016). Provided below is a summary of the Article:

In 2014, there were only a few, albeit inadequate, state laws that governed digital assets. In an attempt to keep pace with changing technology, on March 3, 2014, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) took a shot at creating a bridge between the will and the web by proposing the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the UFADAA). Its purpose was to “vest fiduciaries with the authority to access, manage, copy, or delete digital assets and accounts.” However, in response to privacy concerns, NetChoice played defense by proposing the Privacy Expectation After-life Choice Act (the PEACA). The PEACA “aims to let fiduciaries have access to digital service providers to view only select contents of accounts,” such as the “To” and “From” lines of an email, so they know what organization to contact to close an account. The PEACA is backed by the Internet Coalition, an organization comprised of some of the largest technology companies including Amazon, Google and Facebook. On September 28, 2015, shortly after the opposition to its proposal, the ULC substantially revised the UFADAA, by creating what is now known as the Revised UFADAA (the RUFADAA), which not only sets forth comprehensive default laws, but also recognizes and protects the deceased user's privacy.

Part II of this comment discusses the ever-evolving term “digital asset,” the emergence of the digital world, and their related legal implications. Part III provides two sample scenarios that trigger post mortem privacy concerns and introduces related societal opinions. Part IV addresses the effects of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), federal laws, state laws and the judiciary on the fate of digital assets. Part V briefly explains the ULC's influence in the trust and estates area, analyzes one of its latest proposed laws - the RUFADAA, and proposes several changes. Ultimately, this comment advocates for the nationwide adoption of the RUFADAA in a revised form because it is the most comprehensive law that tackles both digital assets and privacy concerns.

November 21, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

States Passing Digital Asset Legislation

Digital assetsNew York recently passed a law that allows executors, attorneys-in-fact, and other fiduciaries access to a person’s digital assets. In today’s world, people are increasingly transitioning many daily activities to online—paying bills, email, digital accounts, etc. The law defines digital assets and asserts that the term does not include the underlying asset or liability. It also distinguishes between an electronic catalogue and electronic content—a catalogue identifies the communicating people versus the content or actual substance of the communication. Most of the time, a catalogue will be enough to allow a fiduciary to determine the user’s assets and liabilities. To date, twenty states have similar digital asset legislation.

See Michael Kavoukjian et al., States Pass “Digital Assets” Legislation, White & Case, November 14, 2016.

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

November 17, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Article on Federal Copyright Law's Limitations on Inheritability of Content & Expanding the First Sale Doctrine

First sale doctrineAnthony C. Eichler recently published an Article entitled, “Owning” What You “Buy”: How iTunes Uses Federal Copyright Law to Limit Inheritability of Content, and the Need to Expand the First Sale Doctrine to Include Digital Assets, 16 Hous. Bus. & Tax L.J. 208 (2016). Provided below is a summary of the Article:

This article will first discuss the background and history of digital assets, the question of inheritability, and the inherent problems with the iTunes user agreement. Next, this article poses an argument that the iTunes user agreement is an adhesion contract leaving the consumer no choice but to accept, and further that the agreement leads to an unconscionable result that robs people of property rights that they likely (and reasonably) believed they had. Then it will discuss the First Sale Doctrine's applicability to assets generally and how federal copyright law needs to be amended and expanded so that the First Sale Doctrine also encompasses digital assets. Finally, this article includes a proposal for a federal solution to the problem of digital assets, and urges each state to adopt the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act as a progressive step towards modernizing our antiquated laws on this subject.

November 14, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Facebook Glitch Implies Some Users Died

FacebookOn Friday, some Facebook users were shocked when the social network had a glitch, implying that some users had died. The users’ profile pages had a message on them that referred to them by name with a link to a feature that “memorializes” pages of those who have passed. Even Mark Zuckerberg’s page had the death notice on it for a short time. Shortly after, Facebook released a statement apologizing for the malfunction.

See Facebook Glitch Made It Appear Some Users Had Died, Fox News Tech, November 11, 2016.

November 12, 2016 in Current Events, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Article on Current Technology in Probate & Estate Planning

Current technologyJason E. Havens & Peter T. Blumeyer recently published an Article entitled, Technology—Probate, November/December Probate & Property (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

Although desktops and laptops still play a prominent role in most law offices, lawyers’ use of mobile technology has increased exponentially during the past ten years—coincidentally the anniversary of Steve Job’s announcement of the iPhone. The vast majority of lawyers use mobile devices to check and send e-mail, connect to their calendars, and even send texts—and not just in Short Message Service (SMS) format with the advent of Apple’s iMessage and more advanced messaging technology. Are there other mobile applications, often referred to as “apps,” that might help you in your law practice?

This column surveys several mobile apps that lawyers can employ to assist them in their practices. With more than 2 million apps in each of the Google Play Store (formerly the Android Market) and Apple’s App Store, this column cannot scratch the surface of the scores of categories of available apps. This editor hopes, however, that you will learn about one or two apps that will help you in your practice.

November 11, 2016 in Articles, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Article on DIY Estate Planning

DiyGerard G. Brew recently published an Article entitled, Commentary of ABA RPTE Taskforce on Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning, November/December Probate & Property (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

In recent years, do-it-yourself (DIY) providers have emerged in many fields ranging from income tax preparation to estate planning. These services purport to provide, at low cost, the ability to generate computer-drafted documents that may bear some of the hallmarks of professionally prepared documents. Although these services provide tools to enable the DIY project, as with the home improvement world, they should be used with caution.

Those who seek to replace proper professional advice with a DIY online document in complex fields like estate planning should understand the effects of their actions. One should bear in mind that even those with fairly sophisticated skills think twice before venturing beyond their area of expertise. Consider eminent Judge Rifkind’s observation on the subject of tax law that “[a]fter 50 years of practice, I would no more have the audacity to formulate my own tax return than I would engage in open heart surgery.” Simon H. Rifkind, Are We Asking Too Much of Our Courts?, 15 Judges’ J. 43, 50 (1976).

These concerns prompted the ABA RPTE Section to designate a task force to evaluate the use of DIY methods in estate planning. The task force has considered a number of issues, including the reasons why DIY options may be inadequate or incomplete for many individuals. The task force reviewed much of the commentary on DIY estate planning and will publish a more detailed report in the future. This article contains the author’s report summarizing some of the many concerns identified by the task force. The task force comprised this author, Jo Ann Engelhardt, Rochelle Haller, Joseph Hodges, Susan Porter, and Bruce Tannahill. The opinions expressed herein are those of this author, who chaired the task force.

November 10, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Technology Start-Ups for End-of-Life Needs

Online funeral servicesMost people would rather not deal with death and dying until it is imminently near, but as our population gets older, many technology companies are setting out to specialize in funeral and cemetery needs. The millennial generation, those who have grown up online, is creating new tech start-ups to capture a little sector of the $18 billion death industry. Additionally, clients are seeing the hassle and expense of having to consult a lawyer, so they are turning to start-ups that provide state-specific estate planning documents online. There are other start-up technology companies that allow users to compare prices and services for funeral homes, taking 12%–15% of the funeral bill as a fee. As the technology industry continues to expand, we will begin seeing more companies helping out those in need of end-of-life services.

See Eilene Zimmerman, Start-Ups for the End of Life, N.Y. Times, November 2, 2016.

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

November 4, 2016 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)