Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Connecticut Probate Reform "Working"

Court FightThe recent probate reforms in Connecticut has been deemed to be working. Some in Connecticut disagree and argue that the probate reform that was implemented in 2009 is bit of an overstatement considering the number of controversies that the system recently faced. The most infamous of these cases involved the misbehavior of a conservator and a probate judge, who "conspired to circumvent the will of an elderly woman who wanted to bequeathed her farm to her longtime caretaker." The probate reform has brought a series of changes to the systems. First, the regional system has reduced the number of courts in the system from 117 to 54. Second, the legislation also stated that the courts will remain open for a normal work week, and third all new judges must be lawyers. In addition, reform includes, "centralized financial operations, improved information technology, a uniform compensation and benefits package for court employees, and judges' salaries based on population and workload instead of the wealth of the district."

See Probate Reforms Are Working, Fewer Courts: Restructuring of the Probate System is Improving the Product, Hartford Courant, Jan. 18, 2013.

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

January 29, 2013 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 28, 2013

U.S. Senator Wants To Expand Social Security Screening Program

Unknown-3In June, U.S. Senator Bob Casey started a pilot program designed to prevent criminals from becoming managers of a person's Social Security benefits.  The original program included Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. He reports that the program has successfully screened out dozens of people convicted of fraud and violence from becoming representative payees.  Through January 23, 100 people were rejected from becoming representative payees. 

Representative payees receive benefits on behalf of people who cannot manage the funds themselves. Senator Casey would like to expand the initiative and require more vigilant background checks to be performed on people who want to be representative payees.  In a letter to Social Security Commissioner, Casey asked the federal agency to provide him with more information on goals, methods and a timeline for a revamped background check system. 

SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle has previously identified as stumbling blocks the agency's lack of access to government databases with criminal background information and a lack of staff to perform the checks. In November, 2011, Casey introduced legislation that would give the agency more access. Congress did not act on the bill last session, but Casey plans to reintroduce it. 

See Kathy Matheson, US Sen. From Pa.: Expand Social Security Screening, Seattlepi, Jan. 27, 2013.

January 28, 2013 in Current Events | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Madonna and Marlon Brando's Estate Settle Lawsuit Over "Vogue"

6a00d8341bfae553ef017d3c6669b8970c-100wiI previously blogged about how Marlon Brando's estate was suing Madonna over her use of the late actor's image in her performances of "Vogue." The parties have informed the court that they reached a settlement in principle, but need time to execute the agreement. Terms have not yet been revealed, but notably, the Brando estate is known for its litigiousness in protecting rights. 

See Eriq Gardner, Madonna, Marlon Brando Estate Settle Lawsuit Over 'Vogue,' The Hollywood Reporter, Jan. 21, 2013. 

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

January 28, 2013 in Current Events | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Ataturk's $1 Million Inheritance

Unknown-1Ülkü Adatepe is the adopted daughter of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  Her sons sent notarized letters to the Republican People's party (CHP), and Turkey's largest bank, demanding that they deliver their grandfather's $1 million inheritance to them.  

Adatepe died in a car accident last year, and her sons are preparing to file a lawsuit against the CHP and the bank if they refuse to pay the inheritance to them.  Their letter claims that their mother's rights were violated and she never rightfully received her inheritance so they are just trying to collect the money that belongs to her. 

See Metin Colak, Ataturk's Grandchildren Send Letter to CHP, Asking for Inheritance, Today's Zaman, Jan. 28, 2013. 

January 28, 2013 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Pellegrini v. Breitenbach

ImagesAnn E. Breuer (Juris Doctor candidate, Quinnipiac School of Law, May 2013) recently published her note entitled Pellegrini v. Breitenbach and courts' reluctant power to reform innocent mistakes in wills. (Pelligrini v. Breitenbach, 926 N.E.2d 544, 2012), 26 Quinnipac Prob. L.J. 46 (2012).  The introduction to the article is available below.

In 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Court reaffirmed its adherence to the traditional “plain meaning” and “no-reformation of wills” rules in Pellegrini v. Breitenbach: the former rule bars the admission of extrinsic evidence that varies the obvious meaning of a will, while the latter rule prevents courts from correcting innocent mistakes in attested wills. This ruling resulted in burdensome tax consequences for the estate, which could have been largely avoided had the testator created a more sophisticated estate plan. In reaffirming its commitment to these rules, the court rejected more liberal standards for admission of extrinsic evidence and reformation--standards that have been applied by other jurisdictions, and supported by scholarship.
This Note will analyze a number of these alternative standards to the plain meaning and no-reformation rules, and reexamine Pellegrini in light of each. Part I discusses the court's opinion in Pellegrini, along with the factual circumstances that the court noted as significant. It will lay out the precedent on which the holding relied and the legal arguments offered by the court in explanation of its opinion. Part II discusses in detail the state of the law regarding reformation of innocent mistakes in wills and the admissibility of extrinsic evidence to demonstrate a testator's actual intent. It will review these traditional rules and the ambiguity analysis that frequently accompanies them, as well as a number of alternatives employed by modern courts. In Part III, this Note analyzes the court's holding in Pellegrini in light of each alternative rule. It ultimately concludes that, despite the more lenient standards for admissibility of extrinsic evidence, each alternate rule would not result in a different outcome for the petitioner in Pellegrini. Part IV argues that, despite the fact that the outcome in Pellegrini would be unchanged under each rule examined, the result is nevertheless unfair and unreasonable. This section proposes an alternate rule, which would allow courts to modify a mistake in an unambiguous will where the only party detrimentally affected by the reformation is a tax collecting authority. This rule provides a fairer outcome to the beneficiaries, and one that better serves the testator's demonstrable intent.

January 28, 2013 in Articles, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Charity Correlates With The Stock Market

CharityIt has become a common pre-conceived notion that the amount of charitable gifts that people make correlate with the tax treatment for charitable donations. However, a survey U.S. Trust, a Bank of America trust company, stated that "tax matters are subordinate to the performance of stocks and the health of the overall economy."  Ramsay Slugg, the managing director of U.S. Trust, said that the proof is in the number. He claimed that the number of people who pay taxes or itemize deductions is much lower than the number of Americans that give to charity each year. Furthermore, Slugg also stated that among those that do not pay taxes, many of them still give to charity. Slugg concluded that those who give simply want to give. That is not to say that there is nothing that does not coax donors into giving. The survey by U.S. Trust revealed that there are usually more gifts when investors feel that they are in a bullish economy. This survey only really applies to the wealthiest donors. The survey concluded that middle-income taxpayers are more likely to be affected by an increase in taxes on whether those donors will make gifts.

See Gil Weinrich, Charitable Giving Link To Stock Performance, LifeHealthPro, Jan. 25, 2013.

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

January 28, 2013 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Review of Charitable Rollover

Gift TaxAs I have previously discussed, taxpayers that are 70 1/2-years-old or older can take a charitable rollover by transferring funds directly from the taxpayer's IRA to a qualified charity. Furthermore, it appears that there is a small twist for taxpayers who took their distribution in December of 2012. If a taxpayer took their distribution in 2012 during December, the taxpayer can still use the rollover by contributing either the full amount or a part of the distribution to a qualified charity but only during January of 2013. Charities have worked hard to revive the rollover provision. Many of them argue that its existence has increased the number of donations to charities. 

See Tom Herman, A Twist to the 'Charitable Rollover, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 27, 2013.

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

January 28, 2013 in Income Tax, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on FLP and the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

Wendy GerzogWendy C. Gerzog (Professor, University of Baltimore School of Law) recently published an article entitled, Wimmer Wins FLP Annual Exclusion, Vol. 138 Tax Notes, No. 4 (2013). Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

In Wimmer, the Tax Court held that the income stream from a taxpayer’s gifts of family limited partnership interests was eligible for the annual exclusion. By comparing the income interest in the partnership’s dividend paying marketable securities to the income interest in a trust, the court made Wimmer a winner. But does the opinion logically lead to that conclusion?

January 28, 2013 in Articles, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Managing Your Digital Afterlife

TrustsSarah Kellogg (Washington Lawyer) has recently published an article entitled, Managing Your Digital Afterlife: Cyber Footprint, Ownership, and Access, Washington Lawyer (Jan. 2013). Provided below is the introduction from the DC Bar:

Everyone dies, but thanks to Web sites and social media networks, your digital life likely never will. Long after you’re gone, your digital presence will echo throughout the Web—on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and countless other social media platforms—for years, if not decades, to come.

All those videos, status updates, tweets, and e–mails have so expanded the average person’s digital footprint that he or she carries into death a mountain of electronic content. While much of it is personal communications or amusing fluff, individuals also have built up confidential financial information through online banking systems as well as sites such as Amazon and PayPal. In addition, there are valuable libraries—e–books, games, movies, subscriptions, etc.—that traditionally have been passed on to surviving family members.

January 28, 2013 in Articles, Estate Administration, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Text of Legislative Bill 37, An Act Relating To Decedent's Estates

WillsHere is a copy of Legislative Bill 37, which was recently introduced in the Nebraska Legislature. Introduction to the bill is provided below:

FOR AN ACT relating to decedents' estates; to amend section 30-2476, Revised Statutes Cumulative Supplement, 2012; to change provisions relating to powers of personal representatives with respect to a decedent's Internet sites; to provide an operative date; and to repeal the original section.

January 27, 2013 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, New Legislation, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)