Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

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

Computer 2

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)

Monday, December 1, 2014

UK Bank Using Technology to Offer 24-Hour Face-to-Face Customer Service

CellphoneBarclays is making history as the first bank in the UK to offer 24-hour face-to-face banking service to customers through their smartphones. The service will allow Barclays customers to use their smartphones to speak face-to-face with a bank employee beginning December 8 for those with Barclay Premier accounts. The service will become available to other bank customers next year.

See Simon Watkins, Barclays to Launch UK's First Ever Video Banking Service Allowing Customers to Speak Face-to-Face With Staff on Smartphone, This is Money, Nov. 29, 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 1, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Article on Probate Law in the Digital Age

Naomi Cahn

Naomi Cahn (George Washington University Law School) recently published an article entitled, Probate Law Meets the Digital Age, Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 67, 1697-1727; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2014-55, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-55. Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

This Article explores the impact of federal law on a state fiduciary’s management of digital assets. It focuses on the lessons from the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), initially enacted in 1986 as one part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Although Congress designed the SCA to respond to concerns that Internet privacy posed new dilemmas with respect to application of the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections, the drafters did not explicitly consider how the SCA might affect property management and distribution. The resulting uncertainty affects anyone with an email account.

While existing trusts and estates laws could legitimately be interpreted to encompass the new technologies, and while the laws applicable to these new technologies could be interpreted to account for wealth transfer, we are currently in a transition period. To fulfill their obligations, however, fiduciaries need certainty and uniformity. The article suggests reform to existing state and federal laws to ensure that nonprobate-focused federal laws ultimately effectuate the decedent’s intent. The lessons learned from examining the intersection of federal law focused on digital assets and of state fiduciary law extend more broadly to show the unintended consequences of other nonprobate-focused federal laws.

November 29, 2014 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Use of Technology Creates New Ethical Will Trend

LaptopThe old tradition of ethical wills has been transformed into a new trend with the use of technology. An ethical will is not a legal document, but is used as an estate planning tool that passes down wisdom. An ethical will can be used to give surviving family members and friends closure and hope, and helps to alleviate some of the stress of the process, which can aid with estate administration and the family dynamic during the mourning period. Some individuals are using videos, PowerPoint slide shows, and apps, such as StoryCatcher, to create ethical wills. Ethical wills created with the aid of technology can include music, pictures and video clips, and can be kept online on websites such as Dropbox.

See Constance Gustke, The Ethical Will, an Ancient Concept, Is Revamped for the Tech Age, The New York Times, Oct . 31, 2014.

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

November 4, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Leaving Behind Digital Assets

Computer 2

Until recently, estate planning meant doling out items such as cash and securities, tangible personal property, jewelry and collectibles, and intangible assets like patents or shares.  Now there is a new category that must be addressed known as “digital assets.”

Digital assets refer to the footprints we leave behind as we increasingly live our lives online.  Many of us have digital assets in the form of e-mails, family photos, social media, and online bank accounts. 

While managing all the passwords and leaving records of them for your loved ones is confounding, there are two other issues.  The first issue is whether these assets are even transferrable.  For example, when you download iTunes, e-books and audiobooks, you are only receiving a life estate, which is the right to use something while you are alive, but not to pass it on to your heirs. 

The other problem centers around whether you can lawfully give other people access to your accounts.  A large portion of estate planning is appointing an individual to act on your behalf if you become disabled or die.  These people, known as fiduciaries, should have access to these accounts.  However, user agreements generally prohibit this since companies fear violating federal privacy laws.

Users should put precautionary measures in estate planning documents to give their fiduciaries access to the accounts.  This wording should go into a person’s will, living trust, and durable power of attorney. 

See Deborah L. Jacobs, The Digital Footprints That We Leave Behind, Forbes, Oct. 31, 2014. 

October 31, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

CLE on Using Technology to Meet the Challenges of Today's Trust & Estate Practice

CLEThe American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education (ALI CLE) is presenting a CLE entitled, Using Technology to Meet the Challenges of Today's Trust & Estate Practice, Wednesday November 12, 2014, 12:30 – 2:00pm Eastern, online and by phone. Here is why you should attend:

The complexity of an estate planning practice places great demands on your time and your intellect. What are some of the best technological tools that estate planners can use today?

Technology offers time saving benefits of not repeating mindlessly similar computations, and prevents math errors. Join Fellows of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel for a scintillating discussion of the latest developments in technology for estate planning.

Faculty will discuss:

  • the great and not so great of Document Assembly Engine (DAE) solutions
  • suggested sites for commercial spreadsheets and information on preparing your own
  • tips for producing client diagrams and flowcharts
  • iPad and iPhone apps for trust and estate practitioners
  • free web site resources from The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) and the ABA Real Property, Probate and Trust Law (RPTE) Section
  • research and other resources on the Internet for trust and estate practitioners

October 23, 2014 in Conferences & CLE, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Trusts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

New Estate Planning Tool: Estate Assist

Digital lock

A new online estate planning tool aims to help users store all of thier online passwords, social media accounts, digital health records, banking information, and other paperwork. 

Estate Assist works as an online safe deposit box that stores your online and offline information in one place.  In addition to helping users choose which accounts to add, Estate Assist uses an API from Intuit to automatically pull linked accounts and prompt users to change updated information in Estate Assist.  Once all of your assets have been uploaded, users can choose to share the accounts with designated trustees such as friends, family, or their lawyer.   

October 22, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)