Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

First Baby Born Free of Inherited Disease

MeaguCarmen and Gabriel Meagu knew that if they were to have a child, he or she would be at high risk for inheriting a rare form of muscular dystrophy that would make day-to-day living very difficult. 

Fortunately, a groundbreaking technique pioneered by fertility doctors in London enabled the Meagu's to birth a child healthy and free of disease.  The latest technique, known as karyomapping, takes only a short amount of time and can pick up a range of diseases.  To isolate the genes responsible for the disease, doctors took DNA swabs from Mrs. Meagu, her mother, and Mr. Meagu.  They subsequently compared the gene sequences to see which section of the genetic code was defective and responsible for the abnormality.  The couple then underwent a normal IVF cycle, but the embryos created from the procedure were biopsied to find out which ones were free of the genetic disease.

This new procedure gives hope to parents who are concerned about passing on genetic diseases to their children.  “I would recommend it to any other mother who is worried about passing on an illness,” said Mrs. Meagu, “Lucas is absolutely perfect.  He is really big for his age, and healthy.  I have peace of mind now that he is going to be ok.”

See Sarah Knapton, First Baby Born From IVF Technique Which Eliminates Inherited Disease, The Telegaph, March 28, 2015.   

March 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Robin Williams Restricts Use Of Image

Robin WilliamsRobin Williams will remain a missed presence in Hollywood, but his image or name will not appear in advertising or even referenced in future works.  According to the Robin Williams Trust, Williams bequeathed rights to his name, signature, photograph and likeness to the Windfall Foundation, a charitable organization created by Williams’ legal reps. 

The Trust restricts exploitation of Robin Williams’ right of publicity for 25 years after his death--meaning there will not be any authorized advertisements featuring Williams until August 11, 2039.  Moreover, if the Windfall Foundation becomes ineligible for a charitable deduction by the Internal Revenue Code, the Trust mandates that Robin Williams’ publicity rights be distributed other charitable organizations to qualify for such deductions. 

By assigning publicity rights to a tax-advantaged charitable organization, Williams’ may have limited his family’s tax liability.  Not only did Williams assert a measure of control over "posthumous exploitation," but he recognized the increased value of a celebrity's afterlife and made a step to mitigate the IRS's interest in this. 

See Eriq Gardener, Robin Williams Restricted Exploitation of His Image for 25 Years After Death, The Hollywood Reporter, March 30, 2015.

Special thanks to Madeleine M. V. Young (a Hawaii Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention. 

March 31, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Popularity Rises Among Reverse Morris Trusts

MergerWhen the Internal Revenue Service sent a bill for $413.44 to the Mary Archer W. Morris Trust in 1964, a legal battle ensued.  The IRS claimed the trust owed unpaid taxes on shares it held in American Trust Co., a small North Carolina bank that had recently merged with a rival.  What resulted was the "Reverse Morris Trust."

Now, fifty years later, big U.S. companies looking to release unwanted divisions without paying large taxes are increasingly using RMTs.  This is used when a parent company has a subsidiary that it wants to sell in a tax-efficient manner.  The parent company will complete a spin-off of a subsidiary to the parent company's shareholders.  

RMTs have grown more popular in recent years as companies (often spurred by activist hedge funds) focus on what they do best and looking to shed pieces that may not fit.  The trusts combine the best of both worlds, “It gets the unwanted asset out of the [parent company] tax-free, and shareholders get all the benefit and upside of a prearranged M&A combination.” 

See Liz Hoffman, What’s a ‘Reverse Morris Trust’ and Why Is Everybody Doing One?, The Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2015.

March 31, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Robin WIlliams' Widow Takes Stepchildren to Court

Robin and Susan

Robin Williams’ widow Susan Schneider and his children are entangled in a legal battle over the comedian’s personal items he kept in the house where he committed suicide last August. 

Susan seeks to prevent Zachary, Zelda and Cody from taking anything that was in their father’s Tiburon, California home, claiming that it belongs to her.  She also argues that some of Williams’ personal items were taken from his home without her permission. 

The children say that Susan is “adding insult to a terrible injury” in attempting to alter the trust and rob them of their father’s possessions. 

According to the late actor’s will, his three grown children will receive the bulk of his jewelry, memorabilia and other belongings.  However, Susan is asking a judge to exclude the belongings within their “marital home” from the list of things the children are allowed to take.  She says that because Williams wanted her to continue to reside at the Tiburon home, it follows his children should only have the specific personal items in another home he owned in Napa. 

See Michael Zennie, Robin Williams’ Widow Goes to Court to Stop His Children From Taking Their Father’s Things From the Home Where He Committed Suicide, Daily Mail, March 30, 2015. 

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

March 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Dead are Living Through Social Security Numbers

SocialSecurityAdminThere are roughly 300 to 450 living individuals over the age of 110 in the world, but many more American supercentenarians are on record as still living. According to Social Security records, 6.5 million. This gap in death reporting opens up deceased individuals to identity theft. Executors and family members can avoid this by reporting the death of an individual to Social Security or arrange for the funeral home to do so.

See Chuck Saletta, 6.5 Million New Reasons to Worry About Your Social Security, The Motley Fool, March 29, 2015.

March 31, 2015 in Estate Administration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UK Charitable Giving Statistics

BagUK charities receive 15 percent of their contributions from will bequests, but only 7 percent of individuals in the UK leave any bequest to charities. Leaving a gift to a charity through a will can bring the benefit of lowered UK inheritance tax by either bringing the estate below the £325,000 threshold for the estate, or by reducing the tax from 40 to 36 percent if 10 percent or more of the overall estate's value is gifted to charity.

See Chris Gibson, Charitable Donations, Solicitors Journal, March 27, 2015.

March 31, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Surviving Spouse HUD Policy Receives Criticism

HouseAfter HUD was directed by court order in 2013 to address the problem of surviving spouses' facing eviction when their late spouse was the only one listed on their reverse mortgage loan, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2015-03. The letter sets out a policy where lenders can choose to assign the loan to HUD instead of moving forward with eviction. In comments on the policy, consumer advocacy groups express that the policy is ineffective in protecting surviving spouse's from foreclosure and eviction because it is unlikely that many lenders will choose this optional route and the required qualifications will be difficult for surviving spouses to meet.

See, Groups Charge That New HUD Policy Gives Little Relief to Surviving Spouses of Reverse Mortgage Holders, Elder Law Answers, March 13, 2015.

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

March 31, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Considerations for 529 Plan Withdrawals

UniversityWithdrawing funds from a 529 education savings plan can come with complications when the requirements and consequences are not fully considered. Here are considerations when planning to withdraw 529 plan funds:

  • The tax exempt benefits of the plan only apply to qualifying higher education expenses.
  • State penalties may apply if deposits to the plan received tax breaks from state income tax.
  • Timing for withdraws are key, and careful consideration should be given to how much of the education expenses should be paid with 529 plan funds as spreading out the fund may bring more benefit than paying all education expenses early until the fund is exhausted.

See Kevin McKinley, The Pitfalls and Perils of 529 Withdrawals, Wealth Management, March 25, 2015.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse for bringing this article to my attention.

March 31, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Alfred Nobel's Last Will and Testament Goes On Display

Alfred Nobel will

Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, which was integral in creating the renowned Nobel prizes, has gone on display for the first time in Stockholm. 

Until now, only a few people have seen the original 1895 document that has been safeguarded at the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.  The Nobel Museum has decided to change that, putting the will on public display as part of its new exhibition “Legacy.”  “The exhibition draws attention to how important it is to pass things on.  The will is the centerpiece.  It is a simple document, but it still today provides the basis of our work with the [Nobel] prizes.”  

See Camille Bas-Wohlert, Alfred Nobel’s Last Will and Testament Goes On Display for First Time in Stockholm, Art Daily, March 17, 2015.

March 30, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

California Senate to Consider Death With Dignity

Brittany maynard 3

Many may recall 29-year-old Brittany Maynard’s decision to move from California to Oregon in order to end her own life, rather than suffer from brain cancer. 

Now, the California Senate is considering the “End of Life Option Act,” which would allow for terminally ill residents of California to voluntarily end their own lives by requesting “aid in dying” medicine prescribed by a physician and then self-administered by the patient.  At the core of the legislation is informed consent by the patient, verification of informed consent, and an opportunity for the patient to withdraw.  According to a poll last month, 70 percent of Californians support the legislation. 

See Dennis Fordham, Estate Planning: Death With Dignity, Lake County News, March 27, 2015.

March 30, 2015 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)