Wednesday, October 14, 2015

With drafting assistance from our Washington University School of Law extern, Alexander Fersa.

It seems the California Supreme Court agrees with Cole Porter that “times have changed.”

Abrogating 50 years of binding case law, in In re estate of Duke, the California Supreme Court elected to treat wills the same as trusts are treated under the Uniform Trust Code by allowing courts to look to extrinsic evidence when determining the intent of the testator. The Court concluded that an unambiguous will may be reformed if clear and convincing evidence establishes (1) that the will contains a mistake in the expression of the testator’s intent at the time the will was drafted and (2) the testator’s actual specific intent at the time the will was drafted.

The Court determined that there is no justification for a categorical bar on reformation of unambiguous wills so long as the reformation is supported by clear and convincing evidence, which would provide adequate protection against evidentiary concerns that originally led to the bar on reformations of unambiguous wills.

In this case, Duke wrote a holographic (i.e. hand-written, unwitnessed) will in 1984, providing that all of his property was to be given to his wife, but if he and his wife died in a common disaster, his property was to go to named charities. Duke’s wife died in 1997, but Duke never revised his will after her death. (more…)

Monday, October 5, 2015


Uniform Transfers to Minors Act

Florida’s Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (“UTMA”), found under Florida Statutes Chapter 710, provides a mechanism for the creation of custodial accounts for gifts, bequests or other transfers to minors, without requiring the presence of an appointed guardian for the minor. Previously, under Florida’s UTMA, minors were defined as persons under the age of 21.
The new UTMA statute, effective July 1, 2015, permits custodianships to last until the age of 25. A custodianship under Florida law can be created if the transferor, the custodian or the minor resides in Florida or if the custodial property is situated in Florida.

Health Care Surrogates

A designation of a Health Care Surrogate is a written document appointing someone to make health care decisions for an individual (the “Principal”) or receive health information on such person’s behalf in the event he or she is unable to do so. Florida’s new health care surrogacy act, found under Florida Statutes Section 765.201 through Section 765.205, allows for more flexibility in appointments of surrogates and more flexibility in drafting of such documents.

The new act, effective October 1, 2015, allows the continuation of presently-exercisable designations of health care surrogates, also known as “durable” health care surrogates. A durable health care surrogate is one who can make health care decisions even if the Principal is not determined to be incapacitated. However, if the Principal has capacity, the statute indicates that the Principal’s decisions are controlling. Nonetheless, a Principal still may create an old-fashioned health care surrogate document that only takes effective upon a finding of incapacity.

The new act also allows parents and guardians to name health care surrogates for their minor children. This is extremely effective for parents who travel often or are unable to provide informed consent themselves. These changes do not invalidate existing Florida designations of health care surrogate documents.

Monday, August 3, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-466616312The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance recently issued a Technical Memorandum explaining the 2015 legislative amendments to the major New York State estate tax reform provisions enacted in 2014 and reported on this blog last year. The amendments are all effective retroactive to April 1, 2015.

The amendments made clear that the following tax tables are permanent.

Basic Estate Tax Exclusion Amount increases are to be phased in as follows for New York residents or non-residents owning real property located in New York State during the period listed:



April 1, 2014 – March 31. 2015: $2,062,500;

April 1, 2015 – March 31, 2016: $3,125,000;

April 1. 2016 – March 31, 2017: $4,187,500;

April 1, 2017 – December 31, 2018: $5,250,000;

January 1, 2019 and beyond: the basic exclusion amount corresponds with the Federal exemption ($5,000,000 indexed for inflation beginning in 2010). (more…)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

digitalassetsLast year, we told you about the Uniform Law Commission’s approval of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (“UFADAA”), the primary purpose of which is to empower fiduciaries, guardians, and agents with the power to “access, manage, distribute, copy, or delete digital assets and accounts”.

According to the Uniform Law Commission’s website, the UFADAA “is an important update for the Internet age. A generation ago, files were stored in cabinets, photos were stored in albums, and mail was delivered by a human being. Today, we are more likely to use the Internet to communicate and store our information. This act ensures account-holders retain control of their digital property and can plan for its ultimate disposition after their death. Unless the account-holder instructs otherwise, legally appointed fiduciaries will have the same access to digital assets as they have always had to tangible assets, and the same duty to comply with the account-holder’s instructions.” (more…)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-88063929On Wednesday, the Cook County Clerk issued a statement reminding couples that the last day for same-sex couples in Illinois to backdate marriages to the date of their civil unions will sunset tomorrow, May 29.

Illinois’ gay marriage law took effect on June 1, 2014 and provided for the ability to backdate marriages for a period of one year.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

statuteoflibertyThe New York State legislature is considering becoming a directed trust state. In a directed trust, the trustee is allowed to act under the advice or direction of someone else, an advisor or protector, who could make decisions regarding investments, distributions or other trust matters. Earlier this year, the New York State Senate referred a bill to its Judiciary Committee which would expressly allow grantors to establish directed trusts in New York State and sets out general parameters for such trusts. (more…)

Monday, January 26, 2015

177572431As reported on this blog last year, New York State modified its estate tax system by gradually increasing the estate tax exemption along with some other changes. The hope and intent were to keep New York State’s estate tax more competitive and in line with other states within the country to prevent a migration of New Yorkers from the state to avoid state estate tax. However, the language in the New York State stature which made these modifications created some significant problems for New Yorkers. The New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, through its Estate Planning Committee, has proposed some additional reforms to the New York tax law (the “Proposal”) which attempt to eliminate some of the perceived unfairness in current New York law.

As it currently stands, for a New Yorker with a taxable estate valued between 100% and 105% of the basic exclusion amount, the applicable credit amount is phased out. However, a New Yorker with a taxable estate that exceeds 105% of the basic exclusion amount will be taxed on his or her entire estate, not just the excess over the exclusion amount. So, for example, if you are a New Yorker and you die in January 2015 when the New York State estate tax exclusion amount is $2,062,500 with an estate of over $2,165,625, your estate will be taxed on its entirety not just the amount in excess of the $2,062,500 basic exclusion amount. The Proposal eliminates the cliff altogether by (more…)

Monday, December 1, 2014

177855670When a will contains a so-called no contest clause or in terrorem clause that would cause a beneficiary to lose his or her interest in the deceased’s estate in the event the beneficiary contests the validity of the will, the court is often called upon to determine whether to enforce the forfeiture against the beneficiary if he or she loses the will contest. Just such an issue faced the Mississippi Supreme Court in Parker v. Benoist.

In this case, Bronwyn Benoist Parker (“Parker”) filed a will contest, contesting the validity of her father’s 2010 will. The 2010 will changed the disposition of the father’s estate from an equal division between Parker and her brother, William Benoist (“Benoist”), to a disposition where Benoist received a significantly greater portion of their father’s estate and Parker received a significantly lesser portion of the estate. (more…)

Monday, November 24, 2014

451428613Advances in medical technology have made it possible for a child to be conceived after the death of one or both of his or her genetic parents with the use of stored sperm or ova. Recently, the New York State Legislature has sent a bill to Governor Coumo which clarifies when a child born after the death of his or her genetic parents, a so called posthumously conceived child, will be deemed a child of such parents for the purpose of inheritance and intestacy law. This issue may arise when a genetic parent who will ultimately have a posthumously conceived child dies without a Will or with a Will using the generic term child or issue. Does the posthumously conceived child take a share of his or her genetic parent’s estate? (more…)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

180197523There is much confusion about what a trust protector can and cannot do with respect to a trust for which the trust protector is serving. First and foremost, the trust protector’s powers provided by state statute are often limited to the powers authorized in the trust instrument, as reflected by the Court in Schwartz v. Wellin, 2014 WL 1572767 (D.S.C., April 17, 2014).

Keith Wellin created the Wellin Family 2009 Irrevocable Trust (“Trust”), a dynasty trust for the benefit of his three children and their respective lineal descendants, with his children and the South Dakota Trust Company as the Trustees. After creating this Trust, Milton sold his interest in the Friendship Partners LP (“FLP”) to the Trust, taking back a promissory note for $50 Million. Apparently in 2013, a dispute arose between Keith and his children, when his daughter, Cynthia, as manager of the LLC that was the general partner of the FLP, proposed to sell all of the assets of the FLP, liquidate the FLP, set aside $50 Million to pay the promissory note and distribute the remaining $95 Million to the three children.

In order to prevent such actions, Keith appointed Schwartz as the Trust Protector. The same day, Schwartz amended the Trust to give the trust protector “the power to represent the Trust with respect to any litigation brought by or against the Trust if any Trustee is a party to such litigation”, and “to prosecute or defend such litigation for the protection of trust assets” (“Litigation Provision”). Schwartz also immediately removed the corporate trustee, and the individual Trustees completed the sales and distributions as proposed. The individual Trustees believed their actions were justified to avoid a $40 Million tax liability that would be incurred when Keith turned off the Trust’s grantor trust status. (more…)