Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

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

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)

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

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court: Personal Representative’s Power To Pay Claims Extinguished After Three Years

Estate planningIn In re Estate of Kendall, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided "whether the personal representative of the Estate of Jacqueline Kendall was required to pay a creditor claim for reimbursement from the Commonwealth's MassHealth Program when the estate proceeding was commenced more than three years after Kendall died. The short answer: no." 

Kendall received about $105,000 in Mass Health Benefits before her death (Kendall died intestate in 2014). 

When Kendall died, she had a fifty percent interest in a house in Massachusetts and a portion of it was recoverable by MassHealth under Massachusetts law. In 2018, one of Kendall's heirs filed a petition for late and limited formal testacy and notified MassHealth. MassHealth then informed petitioner's counsel that it would file a notice of claim in the estate. 

The personal representative of the estate informed MassHealth that she could not pay the claim since more than three years had passed since Kendall's death and MassHealth objected.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that although there are exceptions to ultimate time limitations on estates, no such exceptions apply to this particular claim. Massachusetts personal representative power to pay claims is extinguished after three years, with no exceptions. 

See Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court: Personal Representative’s Power To Pay Claims Extinguished After Three Years, Probate Stars, January 4, 2021. 

January 12, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, January 11, 2021

It’s Mother vs. Son in Britain’s Priciest Divorce War

DivorceTemur Akhmedov is not your average 27-year-old. Temur is being sued by his mother, Tatiana Akhmedova, for nearly $100 million in cash and assets. Temur's parents have divorced and Tatiana feels that her son has been shielding his father's—her ex-husband— assets. 

Ms. Akhmedova is attempting to gain a share of the $615 million divorce settlement, which is believed to be the largest in Britain's history. "Her ex-husband has refused to hand over a single ruble and has kept his money, and himself, far away from the United Kingdom and the reach of its courts."

Since Ms. Akhmedova has not been able to reach her husband or his assets, she got creative. Ms. Akhmedova sued her oldest son, Temur, a U.K. resident, putting his holdings within reach. 

As Temur's lawyers candidly put it, "[his father] showered Temur with unimaginable amounts of money." 

Included in the 27-year-old's assets are a three-bedroom apartment that is worth $40 million, a $460,000 Rolls-Royce S.U.V., Mercedes-Benzes and more. 

See David Segal, It’s Mother vs. Son in Britain’s Priciest Divorce War, N.Y. Times, January 5, 2021. 

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

January 11, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Court Held That The Term “Spouse” In A Trust Meant The Primary Beneficiary’s Wife At The Time Of The Trust’s Execution And Not A Subsequent Wife

TrustIn Ochse v. Ochse, "a mother created a trust that provided that the trustee was authorized to make distributions to her son and the son’s spouse." 

When the trust was executed, the sone was married to his first wife. However, after the trust's execution, the son divorced and remarried. The son's children sued the son for breaching fiduciary duties as trustee. Both the son and his first wife filed motions for summary judgment. 

The son and the first wife were particularly focused on whether the term "spouse" in the trust agreement referenced the first wife or second wife.

The trial court found that "spouse" referenced the second wife, but the first wife appealed. The son and second wife argued that the term "spouse" referenced a class of the son's current wife at the time and not the first spouse specifically. 

The Court of Appeals disagreed finding that the term "spouse" should be construed to mean the spouse at the time of execution and not a future spouse.

See David Fowler Johnson, Court Held That The Term “Spouse” In A Trust Meant The Primary Beneficiary’s Wife At The Time Of The Trust’s Execution And Not A Subsequent Wife, Texas Fiduciary Litigator, January 3, 2021. 

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

January 10, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Article on The Undesirability of the Rule in "Hardoon V Belilios"

Joseph Campbell recently published an article entitled, The Undesirability of the Rule in "Hardoon V Belilios", Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2020). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. Estate planning

Effective from 22 November 2019, the New South Wales Parliament has abolished the rule in Hardoon v Belilios . That rule takes its name from the decision in 1901 of the Privy Council, delivered by Lord Lindley on appeal from Hong Kong, in Hardoon v Belilios. The rule requires that a beneficiary of a trust who is sui juris and absolutely entitled to the trust property has a personal obligation to indemnify the trustee for liabilities incurred in the proper administration of the trust, unless he could show some good reason why the trustee should bear them personally. This personal liability of the beneficiary is additional to the right of indemnity from the trust assets that the trustee has, both under the general law and under statute. .

This paper presents reasons why jurisdictions other than New South Wales should abolish the rule. Part 1 outlines the decision in Hardoon v Belilios, and the rule formulated in it. Part 2 argues that Lord Lindley’s decision was not justified by the cases on which his Lordship based it. Part 3 presents arguments for the abolition of the rule. They are that there are problems of unfairness and arbitrariness in the application of the rule, that the justification of principle that Lord Lindley gave for it is not acceptable, and that there are unresolved problems concerning the application of the rule.

January 9, 2021 in Articles, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)