Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

State Death Tax Hikes Loom: Where Not To Die In 2021

TaxDue to the economic hardships many states are facing in the wake of the pandemic, many are looking to find revenue from death taxes. 

The District of Columbia has already put an estate tax levy in place that went into effect on January 1, 2021. The "Estate Tax Adjustment Act" reduced the exemption from $5.67 million in 2020 to $4 million for individuals who died on or after January 1, 2021. For reference, "a resident dying in 2021 with a taxable estate of $10 million would owe nearly $1 million in estate tax to D.C." 

Seventeen other states have imposed their own estate or inheritance taxes that are separate from the federal estate tax. As of now, the estate tax exemption is $11.58 million per person, but is set to drop back down to $5 million per person (adjusted for inflation). 

Conversation has developed over President-elect Joseph Biden's tax plan proposal which calls for the federal estate tax to go back down to $3.5 million per person, which was the level in 2009. 

The revenue from these taxes could possibly be used to help rebuild the country and repair the damage done by the pandemic. 

See Ashlea Ebeling, State Death Tax Hikes Loom: Where Not To Die In 2021, Forbes, January 15, 2021. 

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

January 19, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Who will get killer producer Phil Spector’s $50m fortune? Reclusive adopted children from his abusive marriage to Ronnie Spector and his writer daughter are in line for share of ‘the world’s most valuable song catalogue’

SpectorMurderer Phil Spector died in prison from coronavirus last week and his four children are in line to receive a portion of Spector's fortune. Spector's net worth is estimated to be in the ballpark of $50 million which is largely made up of royalties from hits. 

Spector was the father to three adopted sons, Donte and twins Gray and Lewis, which were sons of his second wife, Ronnie Spector. According to Ronnie, Phil adopted Gary and Lewis without her knowledge and "surprised her with them as a 'Christmas present.'" 

The twins are now in their fifties, and have recently accused Spector of abuse and Donte stated that Spector used to lock them in their rooms. 

Spector later had his own set of twins with Janis Zavala. Spector's son Phillip Spector Jr. died in 1991 after losing a battle to leukemia and his daughter, Nicole, is a 34-year-old writer and journalist. 

Ronnie recently described Spector has a "brilliant producer, but a lousy husband." Apparently, Spector essentially locked Ronnie in the home and even went as far as hiding her shoes so she couldn't run away. 

Those close to him say he had a hard time functioning outside of the recording studio. 

Experts say that Spector's net worth may be higher "depending on how much he owns of 'one of the most valuable song royalty catalogues in the world.'" 

See Sam Baker, Who will get killer producer Phil Spector’s $50m fortune? Reclusive adopted children from his abusive marriage to Ronnie Spector and his writer daughter are in line for share of ‘the world’s most valuable song catalogue’, Daily Mail (U.K.), January 18, 2021. 

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

January 19, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2021

Mickey Mantle baseball card shatters record, sells for $5.2 million

MickeyA Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $5.2 million, crushing a 5-month-old record for highest-selling sports card of all time. 

The card, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 9—PSA is a grading system used for sports cards with a range from 1-10. The prior record was held by a one-of-one Mike Trout rookie card that sold for $3.94 million in August. Legend has it that there are only 6 PSA 9s of the Mantle card. 

Who purchased the card? Rob Gough, an actor who acquired the streetwear brand Dope in 2017. Gough stated, "The 1952 Topps Mantle is the holy grail of sports cards. As a kid ripping packs in the '90s, I always dreamt of owning one. . . I felt this Mantle was highly underpriced." 

Apparently, thousands of 1952 cards were dumped into the Hudson River in 1960 after overproduction. 

"Since August, Gough has amassed a 1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie, a 1917 Collins-McCarthy Joe Jackson and several PSA 10 Michael Jordan rookie cards among others." 

The sale of the card is just one of many in the recent surge in big-money sports memorabilia—particularly rookie cards. 

See Dan Hajducky, Mickey Mantle baseball card shatters record, sells for $5.2 million, ESPN, January 14, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 18, 2021 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

'I'm alive,' says Frenchwoman fighting official ruling that she died

Estate planningJeanne Pouchain, a Frenchwoman was sitting in her kitchen when she found out she was dead when she read an official letter from the court of appeal in a nearby city stating she died. The official letter was sent as an inquiry to her relatives seeking payment for money she allegedly owed. How the error came about is unknown. 

Pouchain stated, "My problem is that I've been declared dead. I'm alive for my husband, for my son, for my loved ones, for the people around me, but for the justice system, I'm dead." 

Pouchain was ruled dead in 2017, and has been trying to have it overturned but has not been successful. Due to the error, Pouchain does not have a social security number, cannot drive, and refrains from going to the grocery store because she fears that she may be asked to produce documents.

Pouchain's lawyers have petitioned a court to grant a hearing so they can present evidence that Pouchain is not dead. Pouchain stated, "The most important thing is to prove that I'm alive. To prove I exist." And finally adding, "I want the state to return my identity."

Lets wish Pouchain some luck as she fights to prove her existence.

See Christian Lowe, "'I'm alive,' says Frenchwoman fighting official ruling that she died, Aol.com, January 14, 2020. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 18, 2021 in Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Programmer who could lose hundreds of millions in bitcoin shares 'painful memory'

DigitalassetsStefan Thomas, a programmer, could lose $260 million worth of bitcoin because he cannot remember his password. Thomas lost the password for his IronKey hard drive, "which contains the keys to a digital wallet with 7,002 bitcoin.

Thomas said that there's "no chance he'll ever recoup his lost fortune." Thomas also called it a "painful memory." Thomas stated, "It's not like I barely don't remember it. It's there's no chance of remembering something that complicated from 10 years ago." 

Users have 10 guesses to remember their password before they are locked out forever. Thomas, has used 8 of those 10 attempts, and is still unsuccessful. 

Thomas also stated, "I tried to pick a very secure one because I was very concerned about losing those coins," Thomas added in the interview. "I'd just like lay in bed and come up with a new way to recover it and it wouldn't work and I would try another way and it wouldn't work either."

While many of us would be devastated if we lost access to so much money, Thomas has been making fun of the situation and remains in high spirits. 

See Chris Ciaccia, Programmer who could lose hundreds of millions in bitcoin shares 'painful memory', Fox News, January 14, 2021. 

January 17, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

PA’s Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Takes Effect on January 19, 2021

DigitalassetsPennsylvania's Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act will become effective on January 19, 2021.  The Act "provides the authority for certain categories of fiduciaries to access a deceased individual's digital assets or electronic communications, and creates a framework for disclosure of an individual's digital assets and electronic communications." 

The Act will not apply to a digital asset of an employer used by an employee in the ordinary course of business. 

Digital asset is defined as "electronic records in which an individual user has a right or interest and does not include underlying assets or liabilities unless the asset or liability is itself an electric record." 

The law applies to fiduciaries, personal representatives, persons acting as guardians, and trustees of an estate if the user was a Pennsylvania resident at the time of death.

The law also recognizes there are online tools offered by digital service providers that allow users to direct a digital asset custodian to disclose (or not disclose) a user's digital assets. If the online service has not been used, the user may use a will, trust, power of attorney, or other record to allow the disclosure by a fiduciary of the user's digital assets. 

"In the absence of either the use of an online tool or express direction, the terms of service the user had with their digital asset custodian — defined as the entity that carries, maintains, processes, receives or stores a digital asset of a user — will be applicable." 

There are also other provisions and procedures for disclosing digital assets that allow other types and degrees of authority, access, and disposition of a user's account.

See PA’s Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Takes Effect on January 19, 2021, Weiner, Brodsky, Kider PC, January 7, 2021. 

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

January 16, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Will writing: a case of whodunnit or haven’t done it yet?

WillsApparently, there is a link between detective fiction and personal finance. According to Claer Barrett, "a scuffle over a will is one of the most useful plot devices for the writers of detective fiction—and the bigger the inheritance, the better." 

Although most of us love a good whodunnit, as Claer put it, "when it comes to making our own wills, it's often a case of 'haven't done it'." 

An estimated more than half of UK adults either have not made a will, or have not updated it in awhile. Both circumstances can pose a serious problem with dramatic consequences.

Apparently, January is the time when many people begin to make a will or update an existing one. Claer jokes that Christmas TV schedules may be secretly nudging people to do so. However, it is more likely that people spending time with their families during the holidays is the real trigger. 

This Christmas was a bit different considering the pandemic as last year brought a surge in will writing as the world was faced to accept the realities of life and death. Also, writing and executing wills became a bit easier as video witnessing of wills became available. 

If you haven't written a will or haven't updated a preexisting will in awhile, you should consider taking the steps to do so, as the consequences for failing to do so can be life altering. 

See Claer Barrett, Will writing: a case of whodunnit or haven’t done it yet?, January 6, 2021. 

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

January 15, 2021 in Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida lawyer disbarred more than a year after her death

DisbarThe Florida Supreme Court has disbarred a lawyer who died over a year ago. Sabrina Starr Spradley, a 41-year-old attorney in Florida was disbarred in December, even though an official death certificate confirmed that she died in October 2019. 

"The Florida Bar requests a dismissal of formal charges against an attorney if it is notified of their death, but the rules do not require another attorney or family member to share that news." Jennifer Krell Davis, deputy director of communications for the bar association, said, "We do have 108,000 lawyers in Florida. There are a lot of individuals we regulate. We rely on people to inform us." 

Spradley had already been suspended in 2018 for failing to respond to a complaint filed against her. Spradley was suspended again in 2019 after she made statements that she knew were "made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity." 

The third complaint came after Spradley failed to notify her clients, judges, and attorneys that the bar had suspended her license two times before, which resulted in a three-year suspension. After that, she was disbarred. 

See Amanda Robert, Florida lawyer disbarred more than a year after her death, ABA Journal, January 5, 2021. 

January 15, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

University of Oklahoma College of Law Seeks T&E Professor

The following is reposted from the Faculty Lounge after being brought to my attention by Adam J. Hirsch (Professor of Law, University of San Diego School of Law).

The University of Oklahoma College of Law seeks outstanding applicants, either entry level or pre-tenure lateral, to fill a full-time tenure-track position to begin fall semester 2021. Successful applicants must have a J.D. or equivalent academic degree, strong academic credentials, a commitment to excellence in teaching, and demonstrably outstanding potential for scholarship. We welcome candidates in all subject matter areas, with particular interest in filling curricular needs that include criminal law, family law, constitutional law, wills and trusts, bankruptcy, and real estate transactions. 

The University of Oklahoma is committed to achieving a diverse, equitable, and inclusive university community by embracing each person’s unique contributions, background, and perspectives. The University recognizes that fostering an inclusive environment for all, with particular attention to the needs of historically marginalized populations, is vital to the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of our institutional mission. This enhances the OU experience for all students, faculty and staff, and for the communities that we engage. In keeping with OU’s commitment in this regard, a successful applicant should demonstrate a commitment to cultural competence. The University of Oklahoma is an Equal Opportunity institution http://www.ou.edu/eoo/. Individuals with disabilities and protected veterans are encouraged to apply.

As part of the state’s flagship university, OU Law stands out as a high-quality, affordable, and forward-looking institution committed to developing a socially involved and inclusive modern legal profession. OU Law boasts world-class facilities and an increasingly diverse student body, with over a third of the 2020 entering students identifying as racial minorities. OU Law’s strong and growing national reputation is buttressed by a commitment to attracting, retaining, and supporting excellent faculty with publication placement bonuses, course reductions based on scholarly productivity, and recent increases to an already impressive number of endowed positions.

Our law school sits on the main OU campus in Norman, a vibrant university town alive with entertainment, arts, food, and sports. A perennial on “best place to live” rankings, Norman has excellent public schools and a low cost of living. Situated within the greater Oklahoma City Metro area, Norman is an easy commute to Oklahoma City which features a dynamic economy, outstanding cultural venues, and ready air travel access, adding to the region’s growing national appeal. Visit http://www.ou.edu/flipbook and http://soonerway.ou.edu for more information. 

Application Procedure: To apply, please submit a curriculum vitae and your job talk paper to Melanie Tijerina, Faculty Support, ATTN: Faculty Appointments Committee EO Search #128, University of Oklahoma College of Law, 300 Timberdell Rd., Norman, OK 73019 or mtijerina@ou.edu. A cover letter is optional. If selected for an interview, teaching evaluations will be requested. Application review will begin immediately, but the position will remain open until filled.

January 15, 2021 in Faculty Positions -- Permanent | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Suspension imposed after appeals judge is accused of making himself a beneficiary of ex-client's will

Estate planningThe Georgia Supreme Court has suspended a state appeals judge and is engaging in an ethics investigation. 

The judge, Christian Coomer, allegedly made himself a beneficiary and his wife the executor when drafting wills for a former client. Coomer has also been accused of drafting an irrevocable trust for the client that designated Coomer as the trustee and beneficiary with the power to transfer funds to himself while the client was still alive. 

"A company owned by Coomer is also accused of borrowing $369,000 in a series of three loans from the client, the first of which was paid off on the day that the second loan took effect. Two of the loans listed the client’s own home as security, which Coomer later attributed to a scrivener’s error. The third loan was unsecured. Coomer has since repaid all of the loans." 

Coomer began representing James Filhart, the former client who is now 79-years-old, when Filhart sought guardianship of his girlfriend in a nursing home. 

According to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, Coomer transferred funds from his campaign account to his law firm account to cover minimal or overdrawn balances.

Coomer agreed to the suspension (with pay), but has denied any wrongdoing. 

See Debra Cassens Weiss, Suspension imposed after appeals judge is accused of making himself a beneficiary of ex-client's will, ABA Journal, January 6, 2021. 

January 14, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)