Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Rare Alfa Romeo Stuck in Basement for 35 Years Sold for $650,000 After Owner's Death

AlfaA rare beauty was found in a basement in Turin, Italy of a mechanic after the owner passed away in November. The mechanic appears to have lowered a rare 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ down to the basement with an elevator, and then when the elevated broke, never repaired it. Fewer than 200 of that model are believed to have been made.

The mechanic died with no will and no heirs, so the government was able to claim the rare car. Worked removed the car with a crane and promptly sold it at a nondescript auction house for an incredible $650,000. That’s one of the highest prices ever paid for the model, and above the Hagerty Price Guide estimate for a show-quality example - all of which goes straight to the Italian Treasury.

See Gary Gastelu, Rare Alfa Romeo Stuck in Basement for 35 Years Sold for $650,000 After Owner's Death, Fox News, February 7, 2019.

February 16, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Sports, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 15, 2019

What Happens to My Digital Assets on Death or Incapacity?

IcloudMany states have complex and confusing laws that deal with the administration and distribution of a decedent's digital assets. In Estate of Swezey out of New York, Apple was considered about the legality of handing over access to photos on the deceased user's iCloud to the executor. The Court concluded that Apple was required to disclose those photographs.

The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act of 2014 treated digital assets that same as traditional assets. The account owners could decide what would happen to them and the fiduciaries could have control of them when the owner died or became incapacitated. If the executor or other fiduciary did not have the password to an account, they were to ask the company for access and the company would have to comply. This faced strong opposition from technological companies and privacy advocacy groups claiming that this contradicted federal and state privacy laws.

In 2015, the Uniform Law Commission revised that act to correlate with the issues raised by the companies and advocacy groups, including not allowing access to all of the different aspects of certain accounts. Now, executors will not have authority over the content of electronic communications, unless expressly disclosed, but they can get access to other types of digital assets, such as photographs or an eBay or PayPal account. Many companies now have "online tools" that allow the user to designate who the company is to release the account to when the user dies. 

Fiduciaries may request court orders if necessary. In general, access is only granted to assets that are “reasonably necessary” for wrapping up the estate.

See Stacie J. Rottenstreich and Karin Barkhorn, What Happens to My Digital Assets on Death or Incapacity?, Lexology, Februaru 6, 2019.

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

February 15, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

CLE on Decanting Trusts: Possibilities, Pitfalls, Tax Consequences, and Fiduciary Duties

CLEThe American Law Institute is holding a webcast entitled, Decanting Trusts: Possibilities, Pitfalls, Tax Consequences, and Fiduciary Duties, on Wednesday, ‎March ‎13, 2019. Details of this presentation are not yet available; please check back two weeks before the program date for more details. 


February 15, 2019 in Conferences & CLE, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Article on Old Days are Dead and Gone: Estate Planning Must Keep its Head Above Water with the Changing Tide of Technology

TexasAlexandra M. Jones recently published a Comment entitled, Old Days are Dead and Gone: Estate Planning Must Keep its Head Above Water with the Changing Tide of Technology, 11 Tex. Tech Est. Plan. Com. Prop. L.J. 161 (2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Comment.

Fresh out of law school, many young lawyers are eager to start their legal careers and just right into the courtroom. While they still need some practical training first, many young lawyers accept jobs that deal solely with discovery or intake until they can slowly make their way up the legal food chain. With the advancement of technology, programs like expert systems and artificial technology are taking over some of these first-year associate jobs because they are less expensive and more efficient. As a result, law firms are not hiring as many recent graduates. Eventually, technical jobs could replace the classical notion of attorneys. However, the growing concern that technology is taking over jobs in the legal field is not the only problem caused by artificial intelligence. Issues arise with how much impact technology has in transactional fields, such as estate planning, and the future role that artificial intelligence will play. An even greater issue arises with who is liable for artificial intelligence mistakes when there is very little in terms of legislation.

Tech industry experts are in stark disagreement about the means of regulating artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned the world of dangers of advancing artificial intelligence and that governments need to start creating laws and regulations. Experts such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg believe that creating new regulation is not realistic because the technology has not fully developed. Some critics argue that researchers are already regulated enough, and adding more regulation will stifle innovation. This comment focuses the issue on a much smaller scale by suggesting that lawyers, law firms, and other entities that utilize artificial intelligence, or its branch of expert systems, in their estate planning practice are consistent with ethical rules of conduct for the system. Additionally, this comment will expand upon the meaning of the unauthorized practice of law as it relates to artificial intelligence.

This comment proceeds in five parts. Part I introduces the concept of artificial intelligence through practical and theoretical examples and definitions. Part II discusses the impact that artificial intelligence has on expansion. Part III considers the effect artificial intelligence have on estate planning laws. Part IV discusses the parties liable for artificial intelligence. Part V suggests methods of ensuring compliance with ethical standards to estate planning practitioners as technology becomes more absorbed in transactional fields.

February 14, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Malpractice, Professional Responsibility, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

NJ Clears 1st Hurdle to Make Assisted Suicide Legal

RighttodieThe Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee in New Jersey voted 6-3 last Thursday in favor of the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. The Act would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medications to adult patients who have six months or less to live. It still must pass both house of the Legislature and be signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy.

An opponent of the bill claims that there were a limited number of people against the bill actually allowed to speak. Dr. T. Brian Callister says that the hearing was "irregular" and that apart from him, only one other physician was allowed to make comments. Dr. Callister said that he attended the hearing “in hopes of educating legislators about the perverse incentives and negative unintended consequences that physician-assisted suicide carries with it.”

Currently California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. have passed laws that allow for assisted suicide. Montana also provides physicians a legal defense or immunity from prosecution under a court ruling.

See Frank Miles, NJ Clears 1st Hurdle to Make Assisted Suicide Legal; Opposition Calls Hearing a 'Charade,' Fox News, February 7, 2019.

February 13, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Parents Believe That the Instagram Account of Their Daughter Holds the Key to her Suicide

InstagramThe parents of Molly Russell have been unsuccessful in their attempts to access her social media data, which they believe will help them to understand her suicide.
The 14-year-old's father has claimed that her use of Instagram was a factor in her taking her own life.
Instagram has told the BBC it is constantly reviewing its polices regarding images about depression and suicide, and that experts have advised the company that allowing those topics could help people feel supported.

See Why Can't I See My Daughter's Data?, BBC, February 6, 2019.

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

February 13, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Patriarch Leaves No Will and the Home he Meant for his Cambridge Family May be Lost

BarbfamilyMarcelle Harrison’s family has lived in a three-story home near Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts for close to 40 years, during which time four generations laid their heads. Now she may have to relocated because her stepfather died intestate in 2011 after the passing of her mother two years prior, meaning that legally her stepfather's blood relatives back in his native country of Barbados have a stronger claim to her childhood home.

Harrison, 64, received the news in a letter the day before Thanksgiving. The home was purchased by her parents in 1980 for $23,000 but was now worth more than $1 million. Her stepfather, Noel Aimes, never learned how to properly read or write but had every intention to leave the home to the family that lived in the house, according to Harrison. “Since you were not an heir-at-law, your appointment is in jeopardy of being set aside,” wrote Gayle Stone-Turesky, a Boston lawyer who was appointed by the state as a public administrator, who is brought in to handle estates where there is no will and no blood heir living in the state.

An attorney for the niece and nephew in Barbados said that they intend to sell the property once the case is settled.  They are the children of Noel's sister, the only family member he appeared to be close to once he had moved to Boston. According to Harrison, the aunt passed away in 2001 and the niece visited Noel once, presumably for money while passing through the Commonwealth.

Harrison's neighbors are outraged by her predicament and have started a GoFundMe page to assist in legal fees and to possibly attain a bargaining chip. She appears to have a strong case to be reimbursed at least for the taxes she paid on the property, any improvements she made to the house, and even her care of her stepfather in his final days. She may be able to work out a deal with the niece and nephew so that her and her family remain in the cherished family home.

See Maria Cramer, A Patriarch Leaves No Will and the Home he Meant for his Cambridge Family May be Lost, Boston Globe, February 7, 2019.

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

February 12, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Rockefeller's Estate Donates Record $200 Million to MoMA

DavidrThe estate of David Rockefeller, who passed away in 2017, is giving the Museum of Modern Art in New York City its largest gift in history - an astounding $200 million.

The Rockefeller dynasty has a long history with the museum. In fact, David's mother helped found the institution in 1929. He was longtime benefactor, donating pieces by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse. Rockefeller also served 69 years on the board of trustees until his death at the age of 101.

The Museum of Modern Art voted unanimously to named its directorship after David Rockefeller. “It’s an energizing and fitting tribute to celebrate David’s vision and passion for the museum’s mission and its collection,” Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s first David Rockefeller Director.

See Katya Kazakina, David Rockefeller's Estate Donates Record $200 Million to MoMA, Financial Advisor, February 5, 2019.

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

February 12, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

After Cremation, She Got the Smoking Hot Body She Always Wanted

FireA Canadian woman did not allow her passing to slip away without expressing her humor. Sybil Marie Hicks of Baysville, Ontario, wrote her own obituary, full of comments making fun of herself, her children, and her lovable life. She passed away on February 2 at the age of 82, and her obituary appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on February 5.

Hicks wrote that she left behind her loving husband, Ron, and also her children, "whom I tolerated over the years” including her oldest son Bob, who was her favorite. She wrote about her regret that she will miss seeing her grandchildren grow up - all 13 that she named in her last writing.

But what made the humorous grandmother a bit of an internet celebrity, was a light-hearted remark towards her vanity. “I finally have the smoking hot body I have always wanted… having been cremated,” she wrote.

See Kathleen Joyce, Canadian Woman Writes Own Obituary, Says She has ‘Smoking Hot body She Always Wanted’ After Being Cremated, Fox News, February 6, 2019.

February 11, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Study Offers Hint of Hope for Staving Off Dementia in Some People

AlzA new study presents evidence that people with hypertension who received intensive treatment to lower their blood pressure were less likely than those receiving standard blood pressure treatment to develop minor memory and thinking problems. Often these type of problems develop into dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life. This large study started in 2010 and involved over 9,000 racially and ethnically diverse patients, but all that had hypertension.

Though the study only showed these positive results in patients age 50 or older who had elevated blood pressure and who did not have diabetes or a history of stroke, this actually extends to a large number of people. 75% of people over 65 have hypertension. Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at University of California San Francisco, said “I think it actually is very exciting because it tells us that by improving vascular health in a comprehensive way, we could actually have an effect on brain health.” Dr. Yaffe did not participate in the study.

The main goal of the study was to determine how much lower blood pressure levels would decrease with intensive treatment rather than standard treatment. The cognitive arm of the study continued to follow the participants for three more years. Those in the intensively treated group had a 19% lower risk of mild cognitive impairment. Because dementia may develop over many years, Alzheimer’s Association said it would fund two more years of the study.

See Pam Belluck, Study Offers Hint of Hope for Staving Off Dementia in Some People, New York Times, January 28, 2019.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 5, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)