Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Laptop Debate Continues

The debate over laptop usage in the classroom continues in No logoff in fight over laptops in class (June 30, 2006), by Eric Finkelstein, in the National Law Journal.
Professors are continuously plagued by students surfing the internet, playing games, shopping, and other non-class related activities during lectures.  Also, there are problems with students that second-year Brooklyn School of Law student Daniel Schudroff calls the "angry typist." Those are the students whose typing is both loud and fast, which is very distracting to professors and students alike.
Schools such as the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Virginia School of Law have used technology to prohibit internet usage when the student is in class.
Despite the controversy, including rumors at Harvard Law that faculty were voting this fall to ban laptops all together, some professors remain in favor of laptop usage in the classroom. See Paul Caron and Rafael Gely, Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning, 54 J. Legal Educ. 311 (2004).
For more on this topic, see this post on Prof. Caron's blog.

July 31, 2006 in Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Anthony Marshall denies neglecting his mother

Earlier on this blog, I reported on allegations that Anthony Marshall has been mistreating his mother, Brooke Aster.

In response these allegations, Anthony Marshall says that he loves his mother and gives her the best treatment possible, spending over $2.5 million a year on her.  Read the full article, Socialite's son denies abuse claims (July 28, 2006), CNN.com.
Here are some excerpts:
"I love my mother, and no one cares more about her than I do," Anthony Marshall, 82, said in a statement Thursday.
Marshall, a former diplomat and Broadway producer who is now his mother's legal guardian, claimed the family spends more than $2.5 million a year to care for Astor at her Park Avenue duplex. She "has a staff of eight with instructions to provide her with whatever she needs and whatever they think she should have," he said.
Anthony Marshall and his wife visited [Brooke] Astor [at Lenox Hill Hospital] Thursday evening. Speaking to reporters afterward, Marshall said he was "very touched and encouraged by the fact that my mother's present state of age has brought attention to the need for care of elderly people."

July 31, 2006 in Current Events, Disability Planning - Property Management, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006

Earlier on this blog, I reported on the proposed Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006.

For a complete description of this legislation which "provides permanent estate and gift tax relief, extension of certain tax relief provisions through 2007, other tax relief provisions and an increase in the Federal minimum wage," see the Detailed Summary prepared by the Committee on Ways and Means (June 28, 2006).

Special thanks to Prof. Joel C. Dobris of the University of California-- Davis for bringing this report to my attention.

July 31, 2006 in Current Events, Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

House Republicans Move to Tie Wage Increase to Estate-Tax Cut

The Wall Street Journal’s David Rogers, in House Republicans Move to Tie Wage Increase to Estate-Tax Cut (July 29, 2006), reports the latest twist in the Estate Tax saga.
Here are some excerpts:
In an election-year roll of the dice, Republicans proposed to package new spending and a $2.10-an-hour minimum-wage increase with a bill to permanently cut estate taxes. * * *
Within the House, melding the minimum-wage and estate-tax issues also helps the leadership placate warring camps of moderate and conservative Republicans. After a party meeting Friday evening, individual Republicans expressed reservations, but more appeared to be attracted by the idea of simultaneously advancing tax cuts and trying to take the minimum-wage issue off the table for Democrats.  * * *
The most serious political risk is the adverse impact on legislation to shore up defined-benefit retirement plans and map out rules for the newer world of 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts. House-Senate negotiators were nearing agreement on a pension bill just days ago, but that framework included the same set of tax extenders that the leadership has now wrapped into the estate-tax initiative.
Stripping out the tax breaks infuriated senior senators in the pension talks, and after a stormy set of meetings running past midnight Thursday, Speaker Hastert abandoned any hope of agreement coming out of this conference.

July 30, 2006 in Current Events, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Law Review Submission Policies

For an interesting set of articles discussing law review submission policies, follow this link to a post on the Tax Professor Blog.

July 29, 2006 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New York Times Editorial accuses I.R.S. of politically motivated lay-offs

An editorial in the New York Times, More Hope for the Truly Rich (July 27, 2006), says the plan to eliminate 157 estate tax attorney positions, previously blogged here, appears politically motivated.
The I.R.S. says the layoffs are warranted because the Bush tax cuts mean fewer people are obliged to pay estate taxes.
That’s not very reassuring. Fewer smaller estates — currently, those worth up to $2 million are exempt — are subject to the tax today than when Mr. Bush first took office. But large estates are still taxed, and with inequalities in income and wealth producing ever more billionaires and millionaires, there’s ever more gold in those hills for auditors to mine.
Still, the I.R.S. says it is confident it is catching most tax cheaters since auditing of 10% of estate tax returns accounts for 80% of additional taxes. However, until 2004, the I.R.S. released information to Syracuse University research organization Trac containing
comprehensive I.R.S. audit figures — by size of the estate, the number of hours spent and the amount of extra recommended tax. Researchers analyzed the data and posted it on the organization’s Web site, so the public had a continuing sense of the I.R.S’s fairness, efficiency and effectiveness.
However, upon receiving the request in the following years, the I.R.S did not release the information. Though ordered by a Federal court in 2006 to release the information, the data released was not nearly as comprehensive. “If the I.R.S. wants to avoid suspicion that its actions are politically motivated, it should release all the data that researchers need to evaluate its actions.”  (NYTimes.com)

July 29, 2006 in Current Events, Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Million dollar matriarch living in squalor

There was an incredibly sad report on CNN.com, Grandson: Society matron is being neglected (July 26, 2006).  Brooke Astor, wife of John Jacob Astor IV, is a multimillionaire who gave away millions to “promoting culture and alleviating human misery.” (CNN.com).  Her 82 year old son, Anthony Marshall, is her current guardian.  He is being accused by his son of neglecting Brooke, who says Brooke is living in absolute squalor. “She wears torn nightgowns and sleeps on a couch that smells of urine. Her bland diet includes pureed peas and oatmeal. Her dogs, once a source of comfort, are kept locked in a pantry.” (CNN.com).
He alleges in a sworn statement that his 82-year-old father "has turned a blind eye to her, intentionally and repeatedly ignoring her health, safety, personal and household needs, while enriching himself with millions of dollars."
The court papers -- which were sealed on Wednesday -- seek to remove Anthony Marshall as legal guardian and replace him with Annette de la Renta, the wife of Oscar de la Renta, and J.P. Morgan Chase bank.  * * *
Astor has faded from sight in recent years amid declining health, including two broken hips. Once she was confined to her apartment, court papers allege, she was denied many of the staples of her high-society life.
Her son allegedly replaced her costly face creams with petroleum jelly. A French chef was fired, leaving her at the mercy of an "unmotivated cook" serving pureed peas, liver, carrots and oatmeal, court papers say.
Her dogs, Boysie and Girlsie, have been confined to a pantry for the last six months to keep them from damaging the apartment, the papers say. Philip Marshall also alleges that nurses had to use their own money to buy hair bonnets and no-skid socks for the elderly woman when requests for the items were denied.

July 28, 2006 in Current Events, Disability Planning - Property Management, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Washington Supreme Court upholds state law prohibiting same-sex marriage

In Washington Court Upholds Ban on Gay Marriage, NYTimes.com (July 27, 2006), Adam Liptak and Timothy Egan reported on the recent Washington Supreme Court decision that upholds the 1998 Washington Defense of Marriage Act which bans marriage between two individuals of the same gender.  In Anderson v. King County (Wash., 2006), where 19 gay and lesbian couples brought suit challenging the act, the state’s Supreme Court said there was a rational relationship between the law and a legitimate state end.
Here are some excerpts from the body of the court’s opinion:
The two cases before us require us to decide whether the legislature has the power to limit marriage in Washington State to opposite-sex couples. The state constitution and controlling case law compel us to answer “yes,” and we therefore reverse the trial courts.
In reaching this conclusion, we have engaged in an exhaustive constitutional inquiry and have deferred to the legislative branch as required by our tri-partite form of government. Our decision accords with the substantial weight of authority from courts considering similar constitutional claims. We see no reason, however, why the legislature or the people acting through the initiative process would be foreclosed from extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Washington.
The [Supreme] Court noted that “if a law neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class, we will uphold the legislative classification so long as it bears a rational relation to some legitimate end.” [Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631, (1996).]
In conclusion, the court stated:
The question we resolve today is whether the legislature may limit the definition of marriage to include only heterosexual unions. The case law that controls our inquiry compels our conclusions.
The issue of same-sex marriage has been the subject of intense debate throughout the nation. Although times are changing, the plaintiffs have not established that as of today sexual orientation is a suspect classification or that a person has a fundamental right to a same-sex marriage. Thus, the State is required to demonstrate only a rational basis to justify the legislation. Under this highly deferential standard, any conceivable state of facts providing a rational basis for the classification may be considered. The legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers the State’s legitimate interests in procreation and the well-being of children.

July 28, 2006 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Enron’s former CEO passes away, or did he?

After his death on July 5, 2006, Ken Lay became the object of frustration for the last time involving the infamous Enron controversy. As FT.com’s Sheila McNulty reports:
At Wednesday's memorial for Ken Lay, Enron's former chief executive, his conviction over the collapse of the energy giant will be brushed over if mentioned at all. This may be a matter of selective memory in the Houston chapel, but in any Houston courthouse the omission is codified into law: in Texas the dead cannot be punished.
See Death adds new twist to Enron saga, MSNBC.com (July 12, 2006).
A number of bloggers question how Lay died, if he died, and the possible motivations for suicide. See Some Bloggers Doubt Ken Lay Died, Bloggersblog.com (July 10, 2006).
In fact, within minutes of the new report, Wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia sometimes criticized because anyone may edit it, had a number of causes reported for Lay’s death. See Ken Lay's death prompts confusion on Wikipedia, Yahoo.com (July 5, 2006).

July 27, 2006 in Current Events, Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Warren Buffet gives $30.7 billion to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

On June 26, 2006, USA Today reported that Warren Buffet, the well-known international investor, gave a total of $30.7 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, approximately $1.5 billion a year. See Warren Buffett signs over $30.7B to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Some interesting points about the gift from the article: 
The money from Buffett, who is 75 but considered strong and healthy, comes with a significant catch. The letter says Buffett wants all his money to be distributed in the year it is donated, not added to the foundation's assets for future giving. The foundation gave away $1.36 billion in 2005, so the Buffett commitment would effectively double its spending.
The gifts would be worth nearly $37 billion, which represents the bulk of the $44 billion that Buffet's stock holdings are worth today. Five-sixths of the shares, roughly $30.7 billion, will be earmarked for the Gates Foundation.
The Buffett pledge also requires that Bill and Melinda Gates remain alive and active in the policy-setting and administration of the foundation. Buffett plans to give each foundation 5% of his total pledge each year in July.
USA Today reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest U.S. foundation, with The Ford Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust rounding out the top three.

July 27, 2006 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)