Articles Posted in Probate

Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings recently came out with it’s rating of me. The Ratings are an objective indicator of a lawyer’s high ethical standards and professional ability. Attorneys receive a Peer Review Ratings based on evaluations by other members of the bar and the judiciary in the United States. I have been honored with an “AV Preeminent” rating which is a significant rating accomplishment- a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence. My piers gave me a rating of 5 out of 5 in all possible areas analyzed: Legal Knowledge, Analytical Capabilities, Judgment, Communication Ability, Legal Experience. I’m pleased and honored.

On November 9, 2012 the Joint Committee on Taxation released a report which, among other issues, examines the potential impact to the Treasury from potential changes to the estate tax, including the Obama administration’s proposals. Importantly, if the 2012 estate tax regime is extended into 2013, the Joint Committee estimates that there will be 3,600 taxable estates. Under the Obama administration’s proposed 45-percent estate tax and $3.5-million exemption, the number of taxable estates in 2013 is estimated to be 7,200. If the estate tax regime in 2013 reverts back to the 2002 regime (as it is currently scheduled to do), the number of taxable estates is estimated to be 55,200.

Last month I blogged about “Intentional Interference With Expected Inheritance“.

A new article written by two Harvard Law School professors is about to come out entitled “Torts and Estates: Remedying Wrongful Interference with Inheritance” which takes the opposite view.

Here is the abstract of their paper which is forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review:

A study conducted by Consumer Reports magazine concluded that consulting a lawyer is important, especially in more complex situations, when it comes to choosing between wills prepared by on-line services or documents drafted by lay persons. “Unless your needs are simple–say you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse–none of the will-writing products is likely to entirely meet your needs.”

Consumer Reports evaluated three services commonly used to prepare legal documents including estate plans consisting of living trusts, wills, durable powers of attorney and advance health care directives. Those three services were LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer.

The outcome of the study found that in some cases, documents programmed by the software of these three companies aren’t specific enough or contain language that could lead to an unintended result.

A new tort in California law.

Forbes online reports California joins majority of states in recognizing tort — Intentional Interference With Expected Inheritance. Here’s what the article says:

In Beckwith v. Dahl (May 3, 2012), the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, joined the majority of states in recognizing the tort of intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI).

Reasons for removal of a personal representative include statutory grounds of wrongdoing, neglect, or incapacity, as well as removal in favor of a person with higher priority. California Probate Code Section 8500-8505 cover this topic.

What happens if the personal representative fails to perform his or her duty?

The court may lower or deny compensation and can replace the personal representative with someone else. The personal representative may even have to pay for any damages he or she caused.

Currently, on account of the enactment of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (the “2010 Tax Act”), the Federal estate tax exemption is $5.12 million, or twice that for a married couple.

It was and is common practice for a married person to provide if his or her surviving spouse survives to have his or her estate to be divided into two broad portions. One part is made equal to the estate tax exemption. That part is exempted from estate tax when that spouse dies on account of the so-called unified or applicable estate tax credit (which may be translated into a dollar exemption of $5.12 million). That part may be placed into a trust of which the surviving spouse is a beneficiary but need not be included in the gross estate of the survivor. Typically, that trust is called the “credit shelter trust” (because it is protected from type by reason of the unified credit), “estate tax exemption trust” or a “bypass trust” (because it “passes by” the estate of the surviving spouse for estate tax purposes).

The second part of the estate of the surviving spouse usually passes to or in a marital deduction trust for the surviving spouse and avoids estate tax when the first spouse dies by reason of the estate tax marital deduction. The property that passes to or in trust for the surviving spouse under the protection of the estate tax marital deduction is included in the gross estate of the survivor (unless consumed, given away or dissipated before the survivor dies). (In some cases, this second part of the estate is also divided by directing an amount equal to the otherwise unused generation skipping transfer tax (GST) exemption of the first spouse to die to pass into a separate qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust described in Section 2056(b)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). A QTIP trust qualifies for the estate tax marital deduction only by affirmative election.

Tax specialists are paying attention to how half a dozen of Facebook’s top names, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, appear to be using a perfectly legal maneuver called a grantor-retained annuity trust, or GRAT, to avoid at least $200 million of estate and gift taxes on their own Facebook shares.

A grantor retained annuity trust may be an effective means for a wealthy client who wants or needs to retain all or most of the income from a high-yielding and rapidly-appreciating property to transfer the property to a child or other person with minimal gift or estate tax. GRATs are particularly indicated where the client has one or more significant income-producing assets that he or she is willing to part with at some specified date in the future to save federal and state death taxes and probate costs, to obtain privacy on the transfer, and to protect the asset against the claims of creditors.

A GRAT is created by transferring one or more high-yield assets into an irrevocable trust and retaining the right to an annuity interest for a fixed term of years or for the shorter of fixed term or life. When the retention period ends, assets in the trust (including all appreciation) go to the named “remainder” beneficiary (ies). In some cases other interests, such as the right to have assets revert back to the transferor’s estate in the event of the transferor’s premature death, may be included.

Of the many steps required when beginning to probate a California estate, publishing the notice of death remains a top priority. The California Probate Code provides the statutory basis for publication in section 8121 which says:

(a) The first publication date of the notice shall be at least 15 days before the hearing. Three publications in a newspaper published once a week or more often, with at least five days intervening between the first and last publication dates, not counting the publication dates, are sufficient.

(b) Notice shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city where the decedent resided at the time of death, or where the decedent’s property is located if the court has jurisdiction under Section 7052. If there is no such newspaper, or if the decedent did not reside in a city, or if the property is not located in a city, then notice shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county which is circulated within the area of the county in which the decedent resided or the property is located. If there is no such newspaper, notice shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation published in this state nearest to the county seat of the county in which the decedent resided or the property is located, and which is circulated within the area of the county in which the decedent resided or the property is located.