Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Britain Could Legalize Three-Parent Babies


Britain is on path to become the first country in the world to allow the creation of “three-parent” babies if MPs vote in favor of changing the law tomorrow. 

The procedure replaces a small amount of faulty DNA in a mother’s egg with healthy DNA from a second woman, so that the baby would inherit genes from two mothers and one father.  The idea behind this is to prevent certain genetic diseases from being passed onto children.  While most experts are in favor, handfuls have raised concerns including the Church of England. 

Under current UK law, the procedure is banned because genetically altered embryos cannot be implanted into a woman.  If MPs in the House of Commons approve the change in law, the decision will pass to the House of Lords for a vote at the end of the month; if the Lords agree the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority could license clinics to perform the procedure as soon as this fall.  The first of these babies could be born in 2016.

See Ian Sample, ‘Three-Parent’ Babies Explained: What Are the Concerns and Are They Justified?, The Guardian, Feb. 2, 2015.

February 2, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

No Bad Blood Here: Turning the Clock Back With Parabiosis


Parabiosis is a 150-year-old surgical technique that unites the vasculature of two living animals; it mimics natural instances of shared blood supply, such as conjoined twins or animals that share a placenta in the womb.  Experiments with parabiotic rodent pairs have led to breakthroughs in endocrinology, tumor biology and immunology. 

More recently, parabiosis has been used in the field of ageing research.  By joining the circulatory system of an old mouse to that of a young mouse, scientists have produced remarkable results.  The blood of the young mice seems to be making the old mice stronger, smarter and healthier.  Last September, a clinical trial in California became the first to start testing the benefits of young blood in older people with Alzheimer’s disease.  “I think it is rejuvenation,” says Tony Wyss-Coray, a neurologist at Stanford University in California who founded a company that is running the trial.  “We are restarting the ageing clock.” 

Yet, given the history of dashed hopes in the anti-ageing field, any caution over young blood is justified.  Further testing is expected to initiate as researchers learn more about parabiosis.

See Megan Scudellari, Ageing Research Blood to Blood, Nature, Jan. 21, 2015.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret for bringing this article to my attention.  

January 24, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Family Seeks to Access Son's Digital Data

Computer 2

When Bill and Kristi Anderson lost their son Jake in December 2013 from hypothermia, they were surprised to discover that without a search warrant, the law does not permit them access to Jake’s final text messages, phone calls or pictures.  “Was he abducted? Did he get lost? We don’t know,” Kristi Anderson testified before lawmakers Tuesday morning, “but we think his cell phone could possibly contain some of those answers.” 

Jake’s parents want answers surrounding his death.  Fortunately, Representative Debra Hilstrom wants to help them.  “Imagine if your bank chose to treat your assets in the same way and said, ‘oh, no, you died, so no one can get access to your assets.  We’d all be outraged.”  Hilstrom authored a bill that would allow account holders or a personal representative of the deceased get access to digital assets, as long as the deceased does not prohibit access in their will. The Minnesota Legislature will hold additional hearings to vote on the bill.

See Tom Hauser, Family Fights to Access Late Son’s Digital Data, ABC Eyewitness News, Jan. 21, 2015.

January 24, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 16, 2015

E-Mail Etiquette Rules To Live By

EmailTechnology and e-mail plays a vital role in any business, especially estate planning.  It helps make communication between clients and other professionals more efficient.  However, as with most things, there are specific rules estate planning professionals should follow when it comes to using technology and e-mail.  Below are important e-mail etiquette rules to live and work by:

  • Be conscientious about private information.  Estate planners handle a plethora of personal information, thus, it is important when you send information by e-mail that you are aware about any private information you are sharing.
  • Watch out for the “Reply All” button.  When you “reply all” a lot of eyes may be reading something whom you had not intended.  Use this button sparingly.
  • Use BCC and CC features when appropriate.  Not everyone needs to be CC’ed or BCC’ed on the e-mails you send.  People are inundated with e-mails every day, so unless it is absolutely necessary, use these options only when needed.
  • ALWAYS use a signature.  Many professionals neglect this simple and easy step.  Not only is it helpful in identifying you, it is also nice for others to have your contact information handy. 
  • Reply to e-mails in a timely fashion.  A good practice would be to return all e-mails received during the same business day.  Even if you do not have a complete answer, it is nice to let people know you have received their e-mail.

See Kristina Schneider, Top 10 E-mail Etiquette Rules for Estate Planning Professionals (and Their Assistants and Staff), Ultimate Estate Planner, Jan. 1, 2015. 

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

January 16, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Article on Posthumously Conceived Children and Social Security Benefits

Social security 1

Catherine Kim (J.D. 2014, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles) recently published an article entitled, Posthumously Conceived Children and Their Social Security Benefits Based on State Intestacy Law: How Astrue v. Capato Changes Future Social Security Benefits As Technology Advances, 46 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1141-1158 (2013).  Provided below is a portion of the article’s introduction.

A widowed spouse may have a variety of reasons why she wants to conceive after her spouse’s death. A widow can turn to in vitro fertilization to make “a tribute to one’s deceased partner . . . [, to follow] religious reasons . . . [,] to know the genetic origin of one’s child . . . [, to] produce a full sibling rather than a half sibling . . . [, or] to create a grandchild.” However, a recent U.S. Supreme Court case may impact their decision to do so. Before Astrue v. Capato, courts inconsistently addressed the issue of Social Security benefits for posthumously conceived children under the United States Social Security Act (the “Act”). The Act states that families of deceased workers are entitled to Social Security benefits. Some courts ruled in favor of allowing benefits for posthumously conceived children, while others denied such benefits. In addition, the emergence and increasing use of in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproduction methods have exacerbated the problem of determining a child’s legal parentage, especially when wills omit posthumously conceived children. Courts have, at times, struggled with deciding whether these children qualified under their deceased parent’s benefits when there was no consent to or mentioning of posthumously conceived children under the decedent’s written will or addendum.

January 11, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Non-Probate Assets, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Technology Could Replace Lawyers By 2030

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According to a report by Jomati Consultants LLP, artificial intelligence and robotics will change the entire legal landscape in by 2030.  The founder of the British-based legal consulting firm, Tony Williams, says that law firms will see almost all of their process work handled by robots.  This will revolutionize the industry, “completely upending the traditional associate leverage model.”

Although the report heavily favors technology, not everyone is on board with the idea the legal structure can be automated.  Ken Chasse, a lawyer at Barrister & Solicitor for 48 years, wrote an independent report that says legal advice could not be mechanized, by nature. 

See Clay Gillespie, Legal Consulting Firm Believes Artificial Intelligence Could Replace Lawyers By 2030, Hacked, Jan. 2, 2015. 

Special thanks to Cale Cormier for bringing this article to my attention.

January 2, 2015 in Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Financial Trends To Watch For 2015

New year

With 2014 coming to a close, many of us look forward to the possibilities of 2015—and for the financial market, the New Year may bring many things.  With the legislative cycle, market regulators, industry disputes and geographical angst, 2015 will be a busy year.  Below are a few topics that are likely to surface:

  • The IRS remains a wild card.  While the tax situation in 2015 looks settled, the IRS has $346 million less to work with, meaning customer service and enforcement are going to be operating under resource constraints.
  • Technology fatigue sets in.  Until a particular iWatch, data band, or next-generation phone opens up new professional vistas, incremental productivity gains are what is at stake. 
  • Generation Y gets serious.  The oldest members of “Generation Y” turn 35 this year and the rest of the “echo boom” coming up behind them are ready to settle down and start their financial planning. 
  • Oil slick helps some, hurts others.  Although petroleum may not stay at $55 a barrel for long, cheap fuel is a relief for 90 percent of the U.S. economy that is not focused on energy extraction.  With low gas prices, odds are good that consumer inflation will be put off for a while. 
  • Data security becomes real.  Global enterprise has become easy to infiltrate.  Many banks have already failed to keep their customer accounts from not only being hacked but exposed to public scrutiny as well.  Apple’s payment system might be a slow fix to these data breaches. 

See Scott Martin, Predictions for 2015: 10 Wealth Management Trends to Watch, Trust Advisor, Dec. 28, 2014.

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

December 31, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Digitized Wills of Historic Names

Last will and testament (old)

History buffs now have the opportunity to explore the wills of some of the most influential figures of the past 150 years at the click of a mouse. 

The government of England and Wales has digitized its archive of 41 million wills, dating back to 1858.  People will also be able to search the database to find out more about their relatives. 

Among these archived wills are the last wishes of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, economist John Maynard Keynes, and war time code breaker Alan Turning.  Also in the archive is Charles Dickens’ will, who stipulated there should be no monuments erected to him, rather, “I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works.”

People will have the luxury of searching the database of wills from their home, instead of visiting the probate registry to search the archives in person.  However, it still takes ten days to receive an electronic copy after requesting a specific will.  The move to digitize the database of wills follows the department’s digitizing of the archive of soldiers’ wills last year. 

See Nick Clark, New Digital Archive Will Allow Public to View Wills of Historic Names, The Independent, Dec. 27, 2014. 

December 28, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Clarifying the Digital Asset Issue

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If you search for the late actor and comedian Robin Williams on Facebook you will likely come across an invitation to “connect” with him.  However, this could be difficult as the beloved Academy Award winner passed away four months ago.  His page is now set up to receive tributes from his large fan base.

While Williams’ page is dedicated to him for well-wishes, it would be almost impossible for your family or estate executors to access your social media, email and online entertainment or financial accounts.  Under current law, it is illegal to access another’s digital accounts without the person’s prior approval, and many online companies keep the deceased’s logins and passwords confidential, even from family members. 

State Senator Dorothy Hukill seeks to clarify this digital-age issue.  The Port Orange Republican has filed a bill that would allow designated individuals to access the digital accounts of people who have died or become incapacitated.  This year, Delaware became the first state to pass such a law.   

Under Hukill’s bill, an executor, personal representative, trustee or guardian would treat electronic property as part of an estate’s assets, and those representatives could inventory the digital accounts as with other physical assets and dispose of them properly.  In order to gain access to the accounts, a request would be sent to companies that act as custodians, such as Google or Facebook. 

See Access Bill: Clarify Online Life After Death, The Ledger, Dec. 13, 2014. 

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

December 14, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Freezing Eggs Can Affect Your Estate Plan

Freezing eggs

Recently, Apple and Facebook made news for paying the expenses for their female employees to freeze their eggs.  While you probably did not think this is something that could have any effect on your estate plan, if you have a daughter or granddaughter, you may be mistaken. 

If someone in your family decides to use assisted reproductive technology and freeze eggs, you will need to consider whether to include unborn decedents in your estate plan.  Now that Apple and Facebook are offering egg-freezing coverage, other employers are likely to follow. 

In terms of estate planning, children, descendants, and heirs refer to people who are genetically, biologically or legally related to you.  However, egg freezing increases the probability that you will have a descendant who is neither genetically nor biologically related to you.  Thus, you must decide whether to include him or her in your estate. 

Ignoring how assisted reproductive technology could play a role in your estate plan can be detrimental.  Someone you may want to include as an heir could be wrongly excluded.  By specifying whom you do and do not want to include, you maintain control over your estate. 

See Next Avenue, How Freezing Eggs Can Affect Your Estate Plan, Forbes, Dec. 10, 2014. 

December 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)