Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Keep Calm and Plan On: Estate & Gift Changes Ahead

TaxAs of now, the federal unified estate and gift tax exemption amount is $11.7 million per person. The exemption rate is set to automatically revert to approximately $6 million on January 1, 2026. 

However, President Joe Biden has brought forth a new proposal which could lower the exemption before 2026. When conversation began about this new proposal, many people felt more comfortable because the rebalancing of the House and Senate appeared to be a long shot. However, now that the rebalancing has occurred, the proposal will likely have more support than originally believed.

"Policy commentators speculate on possible exemption amounts as high as $6 million and as low as $3 million, and even surmise that there could be an end to the unified credit, resulting in a $3.5 million exemption from estate tax and a $1 million exemption from gift tax. . ." 

Another possible change will be elimination of the "step up" at death. There is also some speculation that the tax changes could be retroactive at the beginning of the year enacted. 

It is important to know that, as of now, these projections are merely conjecture. However, it is important, and perhaps necessary, to consider how these changes may effect you or your clients estate plans. 

See Keep Calm and Plan On: Estate & Gift Changes Ahead, Pierce Atwood L.L.P., January 20, 2021. 

January 26, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Estate Planning for Retirement Benefits after the SECURE Act

Richard L. Kaplan recently published an article entitled, Estate Planning for Retirement Benefits after the SECURE Act, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2020). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. Estate planning

This brief essay examines one of the most significant intersections of Elder Law and Trusts & Estates – namely, distributions from defined contribution retirement plans after the participant dies. Particular attention is paid to recently enacted statutory changes, including the end of so-called “stretch IRAs,” which allowed non-spouse beneficiaries to spread withdrawals from inherited retirement accounts over their lifetimes. This essay also addresses strategic considerations in designating beneficiaries for such accounts.

January 24, 2021 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

So Many Have Died: COVID-19 in America's Nursing Homes

COVIDAs of late September 2020, 77,000 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19 with adults 65 and older accounting for 79 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. This number is exceptionally troublesome given the fact that the age group only accounts for 15.2 percent of the population.  

Why so many deaths? 

Well, the residents in nursing homes are much older and more fragile, leaving their immune systems more susceptible. Further, "the top three underlying conditions for those hospitalized with COVID-19 (heart disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes) rise with age, posing a greater risk to those is nursing homes and similar facilities.

The high infection rate results from a combination of factors which are shown below:

  • Problems with high infection control in nursing homes, a long-time issue that the pandemic has exacerbated.  
  • Chronic lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) 
  • Failure to separate COVID-19 cases from non-covid residents 
  • Nursing home designs that make it easy for infections to spread
  • Staffing shortages made worse by the pandemic, and
  • Inadequate testing 

From a practical standpoint, in order to control the increasing death rate and lower the COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, these issues will need to be addressed.

See David English, So Many Have Died: COVID-19 in America's Nursing Homes , ABA: Probate & Property, Jan/Feb 2021. 

January 21, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

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)

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)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

David Bowie's estate launches a new TikTok account with his iconic hits and music videos to celebrate the late rocker's 74th birthday

BowieDavid Bowie's estate launched a TikTok account on what would have been his 74th birthday. TikTok announced that David Bowie, who died in 2016 at the age of 69, would be celebrated with a new account that will share his back catalog.

Also, Bowie's music will be available to the TikTok community as Bowie's dedicated page will include iconic videos from over five decades in the industry. On January 10th, TikTok launched the Starman challenge to mark the pass of five years since Bowie's death. 

"The hashtag challenges users to celebrate Bowie's life and work by recreating his iconic looks over the years to the track Starman, the lead single from his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders." 

Paul Hourican, Head of UK Music Operations at TikTok stated, "He remains one of the most influential and acclaimed artists of all time and his music has defined multiple generations and cultural moments. We know the excitement our community will find discovering his music and creating using the indisputable Bowie sound." 

See Roxy Simons, David Bowie's estate launches a new TikTok account with his iconic hits and music videos to celebrate the late rocker's 74th birthday, Daily Mail (U.K.), January 8, 2021. 

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

January 13, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Music, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Neil Young has sold a big stake in his 1,180 songs

NeilyoungFolk-rock superstar Neil Young has joined the trend and sold a stake to his music catalog. Young reportedly sold a 50% stake in his catalog to investment company Hipgnosis for an estimated $150 million. The deal covers 1,180 songs. 

Young is only the latest in a number in a number of artists that have decided to sell their rights or at least a portion of them to the highest bidder. 

Neil Young, an influential songwriter, rose to fame in the 1960s and has remained an icon ever since. Young has released to studio albums and is a two-time member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (one as a solo artist and one as a member of Buffalo Springfield). 

Founder of Hipgnosis, Merck Mercuriadis stated, "This is a deal that changes Hipgnosis forever." Mercuriadis is understandably excited for the deal and what is to come of it.

Mercuriadis has been a longtime fan of Neil Young stating, "I bought my first Neil Young album aged 7. 'Harvest' was my companion and I know every note, every word, every pause and silence intimately. Neil Young, or at least his music, has been my friend and constant ever since."

Sounds like the deal was mutually beneficial for all parties!

See Jack Guy, Neil Young has sold a big stake in his 1,180 songs, CNN Business, January 6, 2021. 

Special thanks to Mark J. Bade (CPA, GCMA, St. Louis, Missouri) for bringing this article to my attention. 

January 13, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Trump blasts niece's 'conspiracy theories' as he seeks fraud lawsuit's dismissal

TrumpPresident Donald Trump is attempting to get his niece's lawsuit against him dismissed. Donald Trump's niece brought suit against him claiming that he defrauded her out of an inheritance that is worth tens of millions of dollars. Donald Trump has accused her of "embracing conspiracy theories." 

Donald Trump's lawyers claim that Mary Trump gave up her claims in an earlier 2001 settlement with family members. They also claim that Mary has waited too long to accuse Donald Trump and other family members of trying to "squeeze" her out of her inheritance. 

According to the lawyers, “Plaintiff makes outlandish and incredulous accusations in her complaint, which is laden with conspiracy theories more befitting a Hollywood screenplay than a pleading in a legal action.” 

Apparently, the lawsuit was just a ploy to "weaken the President's political influence during his post-presidency by preoccupying him with the defense of innumerable lawsuits." 

See Jonathan Stempel, Trump blasts niece's 'conspiracy theories' as he seeks fraud lawsuit's dismissal, Reuters, January 5, 2021. 

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

January 12, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Article on Tax Benefits, Higher Education and Race: A Gift Tax Proposal for Direct Tuition Payments

Bridget J. Crawford and Wendy C. Gerzog recently published an article entitled, Tax Benefits, Higher Education and Race: A Gift Tax Proposal for Direct Tuition Payments, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2020). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. Tax

A tax system should be fair. According to conventional wisdom, this fairness mandate means that similarly situated taxpayers should pay similar taxes. Notably absent from most discussions about tax fairness or equity is any consideration of race. This makes sense, if one focuses on the tax laws’ facial neutrality, as well as the Internal Revenue Service’s failure to collect official data about the race of taxpayers. But if one is interested in equity among taxpayers, we must also examine to what extent different groups of taxpayers benefit from a Code section that reduces their tax liability. In the context of distributional equity, race and other identity characteristics must inform any analysis. This Article intervenes in this discussion with three principal claims: one descriptive, one normative, and one utilitarian.


First, the Article uses data from the higher education sector to demonstrate that primarily wealthy, white taxpayers capture the most generous educational tax benefits. Black taxpayers appear to benefit the least from these tax provisions. Black college graduates have greater education-related debt (both in incidence and quantum) than any other group of their peers. Furthermore Black college graduates have lower average wages and higher rates of unemployment compared to their Asian, Hispanic/Latinx counterparts. Black families are the least likely to be able to contribute to a 529 college tuition savings program or to make tax-free, direct tuition payments. While Black college graduates and families can take advantage of some tax benefits for higher education, the greatest tax expenditures are for those that benefit whites.
The Article next argues that achieving a more racially just society requires attention to the ways that tax laws exacerbate existing race-based economic inequality. This Article uses the example of the gift tax exemption for direct tuition payments to illustrate the ways that tax rules can exacerbate the racial wealth gap. In the context of any tax benefit statute, there are abundant opportunities for future research at the intersection of race and taxation. That work is made more difficult by the absence of readily available tax data on the basis of race, but other data sources can help fill the gaps.
Finally, the Article proposes a test for evaluating the distributional equity of any tax exclusion or deduction that results in an understatement of the donor’s or decedent’s transfer of wealth. Unlike a wealth transfer that is considered an item of consumption, a wealth transfer that has concomitant lifelong benefits, such as direct tuition payments for education, should not be allowed to reduce the donor’s transfer tax base. In the case of wealth transfer taxes, a particular tax benefit is inequitable if (1) it has disparate impacts on the basis of race and (2) the benefit is inconsistent with the overall policy objective of imposing a gift tax on inter vivos transfers that create substantial capital-like advantages to the donee while simultaneously reducing the value of the transferor’s estate. The gift tax exemption for direct tuition payments fails both parts of this test and should be repealed.

January 8, 2021 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)