Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

3 Changes to IRS’ Streamlined Procedures

OffshoreAs I have previously discussed, the IRS’ new Streamlined Program offers better amnesty for US citizen non-residents that have unpaid tax bills on offshore accounts than prior programs. Here are three of the changes to the new program:

  1. No more requirement that the unpaid taxes be less than $1,500
  2. No more risk questionnaire to fill out
  3. Addition of certification that non-compliance was not willful

 See Robert W. Wood, IRS Announces Better Offshore Amnesty Program, Forbes,  June 18, 2014.

June 27, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Amelia Earhart Wrote Prenuptial Letter to Fiancé

Amelia EarhartAmelia Earhart was progressive, fearless, and not concerned with conforming to societal expectations. Now, a copy of her pre-nuptial letter written over 80 years ago to George Putman is shocking many. She did not hold back as she expressed her expectations for their marriage, including a request that he would let her go if they were not happy together after a year.

See David H. Lenok, Amelia Earhart’s Pre-nup, Wealth Management, June 23, 2014.

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

June 27, 2014 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Right-to-Die Proponents Lose Appeal

GavelAs I have previously discussed, a high-profile right-to-die case has garnered a lot of attention in Britain. Two paralyzed men sought to change Britain’s law on the right-to-die. They also wanted protection from prosecution for those who would help them end their lives. The proponents for changing the law lost their most recent appeal.  With advocates on both sides strongly campaigning for their views, an assisted dying bill will be debated soon.

See Kathleen Hawkins, Right-to-Die: For and Against Assisted Suicide, BBC, June 24, 2014.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 27, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, New Cases, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tennessee Probate Scandal Continues

GavelAs I have previously discussed, Tennessee attorney John E. Clemmons is serving a prison term after admitting to stealing $1.3 million from conservatorship clients. Now, Paul Gontarek, the victim’s court-appointed attorney, is suing the Metro government claiming that the probate master negligently failed to monitor the reports filed, and not filed, by Clemmons. The government is claiming immunity from the claims and asking for dismissal of the case. The family of one of the victim’s is calling for criminal charges to be brought, claiming that they believe the failures by the probate court was not negligent, but criminal in nature.

See Walter F. Roche Jr., Metro Sued in Probate Court Scandal, The Tennessean, June 19, 2014.

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

June 27, 2014 in Malpractice, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Article on Time-Barred Trust Claims Under the UTC


Alan Newman (The University of Akron School of Law, Professor of Law) recently published an article entitled, You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone: Time-Barred Claims Under the Uniform Trust Code, Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal Volume 48, No. 3, 461-496 (Winter 2014).  Provided below is the author’s synopsis:

Prior to the Uniform Trust Code, statutes of limitations and the laches doctrine operated to prevent a beneficiary’s claim against a trustee for breach from being time-barred before the beneficiary knew or had reason to know of the claim.  Because of its mandatory information and reporting rules for trustees, generally that also will be the case under the UTC.  Most jurisdictions that have enacted the UTC, however, either omitted its mandatory information and reporting rules or significantly weakened their effectiveness.  In such jurisdictions, there is a substantial risk that beneficiaries’ claims for breach against trustees will be time-barred without their having had an opportunity to protect their interests.  This Article addresses how that can occur, proposes legislation to prevent it, and analyzes arguments courts might employ to prevent it in the absence of such legislation. 

June 26, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Summer Vacation Checklist


Summer season is in full swing, which means travel and vacations are a high priority on everyone’s list.  One thing that may not make a traveler’s to-do list is estate planning; however, it is just as, if not more important than the vacation you plan to take. 

Because Americans spend more time planning their vacation than their estate, knowing what would happen to your family if something happened is critical to traveling with peace of mind.  Before embarking off on vacation, check off a few of these items:

  • Guardianship for minor children. If you have minor children, it is critical to choose guardians for your kids.  Give your children’s caretaker the legal short-term guardianship needed to ensure they could make decisions for your kids in an emergency, and lay out a plan for long term guardianship.  These documents should stand alone, and not be buried in your will.
  • Complete an estate plan. Now is the time to complete your estate plan to make sure your children do not have to navigate the waters of the probate system alone.
  • Update any existing plans. If something has changed since you last made your estate plan, now is the time to make an update.
  • Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets should be reviewed frequently to ensure the proper beneficiaries are named. 
  • Organize a legacy drawer. Make sure to have an organized file of account statements and your full estate plan before you leave.  Include a list of usernames and passwords to your online accounts and tell your family where they can locate this file.

See Bonnie Bowles, 7 Must-Do’s Before Your Summer Vacation, Examiner, June 25, 2014. 

June 26, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Perelman Legal Dispute Ends In Disappointment


The legal battle involving Samantha Perelman, the daughter of billionaire investor Ronald Perelman, ended Wednesday, when a judge ruled that Ms. Perelman’s uncle did not cut her out of the inheritance by manipulating her dying grandfather. 

The ruling shocked Ms. Perelman’s side, who brought more than twenty witnesses to New Jersey Superior Court during a six-month trial to prove that her uncle, James S. Cohen, had persuaded his father to change his will and transfer assets even as his health deteriorated.

Ms. Perelman is the daughter of Mr. Perelman and Claudia Cohen, a former columnist for the New York Post who died in 2007.  Ms. Perelman claimed her mother’s share of Robert Cohen’s estate would have been worth about $700 million, had the younger Mr. Cohen not exerted “undue influence” over her grandfather.  Because of this, Ms. Perelman said she was wrongfully deprived of her inheritance when her mother passed away. 

Despite Ms. Perelman’s allegations, Mr. Cohen says he was entrusted with his father’s business, and the two men enjoyed a close and caring relationship.  “James Cohen was always respectful and deferential to his father, never tried to dominate him and would not have been able to had he tried.” 

As a result of the judge’s ruling, Ms. Perelman will not be allowed to recoup lawyers’ fees.  However, she is evaluating her options.  The judge also determined that Ms. Perelman’s suit was not without merit, a distinction that bars Mr. Cohen from suing his niece for filing a frivolous case.  

See Rachel Abrams, In Inheritance Battle, Judge Sides Against the Perelmans, The New York Times, June 25, 2014. 

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

June 26, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Indiana and Utah's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Struck Down


On Wednesday, a federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage in a mixed ruling involving lawsuits from several couples.  U.S. District Judge Richard Young said the state’s ban is unconstitutional and violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause.  Judge Young did not immediately issue a stay on the ruling, allowing couples to marry immediately.  The Indiana attorney general’s office plans to appeal the decision.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling on Wednesday, saying that Utah cannot ban same-sex marriages. 

See Indiana’s Ban On Gay Marriage Ruled Unconstitutional, Huffington Post, June 25, 2014. 

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 26, 2014 in Current Events, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Article on Your Digital Footprint Left Behind at Death

Sandi VarnadoSandi Varnado (Loyola University New Orleans College of Law) recently published an article entitled, Your Digital Footprint Left Behind at Death: An Illustration of Technology Leaving the Law Behind, 74 Louisiana Law Review. 719 (2014). Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

Death has become more complicated than it used to be, in large part due to the digital age. Americans, particularly younger ones, spend a substantial portion of their waking hours on some sort of electronic device, with a large portion of that time spent online, and many predict the continuation of this trend. Yet, the law, still set in the pen and ink era, has failed to keep pace with technology in many contexts, including one’s digital footprint at death.

One’s digital footprint consists of the sum of his digital assets, and the average American’s digital footprint is valued at nearly $55,000. However, the majority of Americans have not planned for their digital footprint upon their death, due to neglect, concern over sharing information, underestimation of the value of the digital footprint, and/or anxiety over the magnitude of the digital footprint. As such, any estate plan is rendered incomplete, potentially leaving digital assets “adrift in cyberspace.”

The interests of various groups of people lead to competing policies on whether access to a decedent’s digital footprint should be allowed or denied. The law does not help. Louisiana, like most states, has no specific legislation in place to govern a decedent’s digital footprint, leaving traditional legal principles to govern technological advancements that did not exist and were probably not even anticipated at the time the laws in question were written. Thus far, the problems have not reached epic proportions, but that day is coming, and eventually, the digital footprint issue will become a serious problem.

This Article assesses the various interests triggered by the digital footprint issue, including efficient estate administration, the privacy interests of the decedent and those with whom he communicated, the interests of those left behind, the interests of online service providers that contracted with a decedent when he created his digital assets, and society. It also addresses the Gordian knot of overlapping and complicated legal analyses that the digital footprint issue triggers. The Article additionally details the Louisiana approach to the digital footprint issue, which is, as of now, only estate planning, and analyzes the various potential resolutions to the issue, highlighting the deficiencies of each. Finally, the Article proposes that both federal and state action is required to effectively handle the multitude of legal issues triggered by the digital footprint and provides a detailed scheme for both levels to do so.

June 26, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

European Court of Human Rights Keeps Man on Life Support

GavelThe highest court in France recently ruled that Vincent Lambert should be taken off of life support. Lambert was injured in a motorcycle accident, and left a tetraplegic and in a coma for the past six years. His family is in disagreement over whether life support should be continued. Lambert will remain on life support for now. The French court’s ruling has been suspended by the European Court of Human Rights, pending a full review.

See, European Rights Court: Keep Teraplegic on Life Support, BBC News, June 25, 2014.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 26, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Disability Planning - Health Care, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)