Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Online Trusts and Estates Practice Tools

LaptopLast year saw many developments in technology that effects trusts and estates areas, and a plethora of information about these developments were made available online. Many online practice tools and commentaries on trust and estate planning were made available last year, such as updated charts published by Steve Oshins on state rankings for dynasty trusts, trust decanting, and domestic asset protection trusts. Additionally, many resources on tips for more effective uses of email, Microsoft Office programs, and use of technology in trust and estate practice were made available. There were also many practitioner helpful mobile phone and Mac apps released last year, such as apps that allow computer files to be synched and stored with mobile devices. Links to informative resources on the online practice tools discussed and many more can be found here.

See Donald Kelley, Recent Developments in Tech Resources for the Trusts and Estates Practice, Part 1, Wealth Management, Jan. 13, 2015.

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

January 14, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Web/Tech, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Article on Virtual Worlds

LaptopEdina Harbinja (University of Strathclyde Law School, University of Hertfordshire) recently published an article entitled, Virtual Worlds - A Legal Post-Mortem Account, SCRIPT-ed, Vol. 11, No. 3, 2014. Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

This paper addresses the lack of legal literature in the area of death and virtual worlds. It sheds light on the legal status of different in-game assets, assessing whether these could fit within the notions of property or other relevant legal concepts such as intellectual property, usufruct, or easements. Having determined this, the paper goes on to explore the possibilities regarding the transmission of these assets on death.

The author does not share views of a great portion of the legal literature arguing for recognition of "virtual property" as a concept. Rather, this paper proposes an alternative solution in order to reconcile different interests arising in VWs; primarily, those of developers and players. Recognising a phenomenon of consitutionalisation of VWs, this article suggests a solution in the form of servitudes (usufruct). Virtual usufruct is herein conceived as player's entitlement to use the VW account and profit from it, if applicable. It is suggested that the entitlement to use the account expires on death, but that it allows a player's personal representative/executor to gain access to the account and extract any possible monetary value. This solution would enable players to take more control over their virtual assets and heirs to potentially benefit from valuable VW accounts.

January 8, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | 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)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Donating Bitcoin To Charity

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In recent years, Bitcoin has received much attention in the realm of virtual currencies.  This is partly because of its incredible growth in value, going from less than $1 in 2011 to nearly $1,000 at the end of 2013. 

Along with the growing popularity of Bitcoin, the number of charitable organizations that accept virtual currencies has been growing.  Simultaneously, virtual currencies have been under scrutiny by the government.  In March, the Internal Revenue Service issued an opinion on the taxation of virtual currencies, ruling they should be treated as property rather than currency.  That creates administrative problems for Bitcoin users, while also allowing donors to obtain generous charitable income tax deductions for donating Bitcoin that is worth more than they paid for it. 

If you plan on making a charitable donation with your virtual currencies, it is important to understand the process.  You first must determine whether the charity you want to donate accepts virtual currency; then donate the currency; finally, determine the value of the charitable deduction. 

When determining your tax deduction, the IRS allows different deductions depending on the period of time that you held the property.  If you held Bitcoins for more than a year, you can deduct the full fair market value of the donation, up to 30 percent of your adjusted gross income.  If you held the Bitcoins for less than a year, your deduction is only equal to the cost of Bitcoins to you, or their present value—whichever is less. 

See Janet Novack, How To Donate Bitcoin To Charity And Get A Big Tax Deduction, Forbes, Dec. 22, 2014.

December 23, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, Income Tax, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Accessing Online Accounts of Deceased Relatives

LaptopEstate Planning for digital assets and accounts has been a recent focus with states considering, and Delaware passing, laws that allow for relatives to access online accounts after the death of the account holder. One relatively simple option is for an account holder to either give passwords and account information to a trusted person or keep a list of the information in a secure place to be retrieved when needed. However, this method takes both trust and planning. Some common account providers have their own procedures for family members to retrieve digital data of a deceased loved one.

For Facebook accounts, the account can be either deleted or memorialized with proof of death and relation to the deceased. Other social media accounts, such as Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts can be closed through direct contact, proof of identification of the requester, and proof of death of the account holder. To access a relative's Google account, one may mail or fax their identification and the deceased's death certificate to request access, but approval is not guaranteed. However, Yahoo mail accounts only offer the ability to close the account, but will not release any emails.

See Mariella Moon, What You Need to Know About Your Digital Life After Death, Engadget, Dec. 10, 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 16, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | 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)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Software For Estate Management

LaptopAn updated version of the Gillett Estate Management Suite is now available. The suite prepares Federal and select states estate and gift tax returns, and reports for fiduciary accountings. The current version includes some new features, such as the addition of Form 8892 and Form 4868 for filing extensions for gift tax returns. The suite is available for purchase and download through the Gillett Publishing website.

See Donald Kelley, Gillett Estate Management Suite Update, Wealth Management, Dec. 9, 2014.

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

December 10, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | 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

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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)