Estate and Trust Planning

First, what is a contract to make a will?

A contract to make a will is exactly as it sounds.  It is an agreement to provide for a person as part of a decedent’s will.  The terms of the agreement could be as simple as a promise to provide services in exchange for a specific cash gift as part of a decedent’s will.  For example, Elizabeth may promise to provide caregiving and household services to William in exchange for William’s promise to provide her with $250,000 upon his death.  When William dies, hopefully his will has a provision leaving a specific cash gift of $250,000 to Elizabeth.  If not, then there has been a breach of the agreement.  The agreement can become substantially more complex, particularly when real property is the subject of the agreement.  Instead of agreeing to pay Elizabeth $250,000 in exchange for her services, William may promise to leave his house to Elizabeth.  Again, when William dies there may be a breach of the agreement if William’s will contains no provision instructing that his house be given to Elizabeth.


Continue Reading Dead Men Tell No Tales and Other Issues with Contracts to Make a Will

Thanks to Law and Order, we’re all familiar with the beginning of a person’s Miranda Warning: “You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”  What many may not know, however, is that this is a right only afforded to those involved in criminal proceedings.  In civil cases, there is no constitutional right to refuse to testify.  Historically, this has been intended to ensure that our criminal justice system—which can deprive a person of their freedom, property, and even their life—remains accusatorial, not inquisitorial.  A civil matter, on the other hand, is meant to resolve disputes between individuals and does not threaten the same consequences, so public policy favors bringing forth the information that a person’s testimony offers , even if it is against his or her self-interest.

Continue Reading When Do You NOT have the Right to Remain Silent? Conservatorship Proceedings and Equal Protection Clause Claims

You may have heard by now that the Gift and Estate Tax exemption amount was increased by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which became effective on January 1, 2018. This article is to highlight some of the key estate planning issues under the new tax law.

In 2019, the Gift and Estate Tax exemption as adjusted for inflation is $11.4 million, and in 2020, the exemption amount will be increased to $11,580,000. Historically, this is the highest the exemption has ever been. The exemption will continue to increase incrementally due to a built-in inflation adjustment until January 1, 2026, when, absent an act of Congress, the exemption will be decreased to about $6 million. The value of a decedent’s estate in excess of the available exemption upon death will be subject to a 40% estate tax.

This dramatic increase (and future expected decrease) in exemption poses a range of estate planning issues which affect all clients, regardless of the amount of your wealth. There are also some opportunities for tax savings.
Continue Reading With New Tax Law, Your Estate Planning May Need Some Revisions

Typically, only those of us who are trusts and estates attorneys geek out over the fascinating problems that handwritten wills create. But when those wills were written by a music icon worth $80 million, suddenly this topic is intriguing to a much broader audience. Aretha Franklin died on August 31, 2018. Her family was confident that she died without a will, but on May 3, 2019, the personal representative of Franklin’s estate discovered three separate documents, each of which may constitute a valid handwritten (or in legal terms, “holographic”) will. Now, the previously uncontested estate has divided Franklin’s family and is likely headed to litigation. Below are a few common pitfalls of holographic wills that are issues in Franklin’s estate.
Continue Reading What Aretha Franklin’s Estate Teaches Us About the Pitfalls of Handwritten Wills