May 22, 2017

Fiduciary Duty to Elect Portability

by Matthew Skotak

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling that has required the Personal Representative of an Estate to take the necessary steps to transfer the deceased spousal unused election (DSUE) to the surviving spouse. The case stems from the rights created by the federal gift and estate tax laws regarding portability.  More specifically, beginning in 2010 one spouse was allowed to transfer, at death, his or her unused gift and estate tax exemption to the surviving spouse. Prior to 2010, each spouse had his or her own gift and estate tax exemption, but any portion of that exemption which remained unused by the spouse at death could not be transferred to the surviving spouse.

In In re Estate of Vose, 390 P.3d 238 (Okla. 2017), the Personal Representative of the Estate, one of the children of the decedent by a prior marriage, had refused to make the required election for transfer even though the surviving spouse agreed to pay the cost required to prepare the necessary Federal Estate tax return to do so. Read more >>

May 8, 2017

Recent Appellate Opinion Regarding Probate Court Jurisdiction

by Rebecca Klock Schroer

The Colorado Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion reinforcing the breadth of the probate court’s jurisdiction.  In re Estate of Arlen E. Owens, 2017COA53.

In Owens, the decedent’s brother filed a petition to set aside nonprobate payable-on-death (“POD”) transfers, alleging that at the time the decedent executed certain beneficiary designations, he lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by his caretaker.  The caretaker filed an objection based on jurisdiction, which the court denied.  After an evidentiary hearing on the petition, the trial court set aside the beneficiary designations and imposed a constructive trust over the transferred assets held by the caretaker.  Read more >>

April 17, 2017

Identity Theft Isn’t Just for the Living

by Kimberly K. Rutherford

With income tax season upon us, we are inundated with warnings from the IRS to take extra caution when filing our individual income tax returns with identity theft on the rise.  But identity theft also happens to Decedents.

We recently had an estate that filed a final individual income tax return for a Decedent and the estate was expecting a sizeable refund.  When the refund check did not arrive, we attempted to track it down with the IRS.  All calls to the IRS hit dead-end after dead-end.  No agent at the Service would talk with us even though we had the Personal Representative on the phone line with us and all necessary information to validate our identity. Read more >>

April 10, 2017

Contracts to Make Wills or Trusts

by Carol Warnick

Does the fact that a husband and wife create “mirror-image” wills or trusts mean that they have entered into a contract with their spouse to maintain the dispositive provisions in the document?  The law in Colorado is very clear that no contract exists merely because the documents are “mirror-image” or reciprocal.

Pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-514, a contract to make a devise may be established only by:

(i) provisions of a will stating material provisions of the contract, (ii) an express reference in a will to a contract and extrinsic evidence proving the terms of the contract, or (iii) a writing signed by the decedent evidencing the contract. The execution of a joint will or mutual wills does not create a presumption of a contract not to revoke the will or wills. (emphasis added).

Read more >>

March 27, 2017

Proposed Estate Tax Legislation

by Margot S. Edwards

There are several proposals to repeal the estate tax currently percolating in Congress.  None of these proposals appears to have been fully fleshed out, and it is unclear how the differences will be reconciled.  Notably, none of the proposals reflects the Trump campaign position supporting a “mark to market” tax to be imposed at death. Below is a brief summary of the currently proposed legislation, and the key differences between them.

H.R. 451:  Known as the “Permanently Repeal the Estate Tax Act of 2017,” this bill is the shortest.  It states simply that for “decedents dying after December 31, 2016, Chapter 11 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is repealed.”  This operates to repeal the estate tax, but to leave the gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax in place. Read more >>

March 13, 2017

Now That You Have Accessed the Digital Assets, Don’t Forget to Value Them

by Jody H. Hall, Paralegal

It is well documented that all of our lives have become more data-driven and we are practically tethered to our electronic devices.  Therefore, it should not be surprising to realize that more and more of our assets, and those of our clients, have a digital component.  What may be surprising, however, is just how much value we place on our digital assets.  Surveys report that the average value of personal digital assets owned by individuals globally ranges from $35,000 – $55,000.

A few key words typed into any search engine, including a review of articles written on this blog, will provide a wealth of information on accessing digital assets, including digital assets in your clients’ estate planning documents, and safeguarding your digital assets inventory.  However, after the client’s death, once we have a list of their digital assets, and have gained access those assets, it is prudent for the probate and trust practitioner to remember to value those assets.  Read more >>

March 1, 2017

Digital Evidence and Privacy: Can you ask Alexa if mom’s incapacitated?

by Morgan Wiener

Much has been written on this blog about digital assets, and you have likely given some thought to the impact that this relatively new category of assets has on estate planning and administration.  But have you considered the other ways in which new digital devices and technologies might impact your practice and your clients’ lives?  If not, a murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart, will give you something to think about.

James Bates is accused of murdering his coworker Victor Collins (yes, they both worked at Walmart) in a hot tub in November 2015.  On the night of the alleged murder, Bates’s Amazon Echo was streaming music through its speaker, and Bentonville police have issued a search warrant for the Echo’s recording from that night hoping it will shed light on what happened.

The Amazon Echo is a speaker and virtual assistant that works by constantly listening to background noise and conversation.  The virtual assistant, Alexa, is activated when the Echo hears someone say “Alexa.”  The background conversations are not recorded by the Echo, but anything said after Alexa is activated is recorded.  Because Bates’s Echo was streaming music on the night of the alleged murder, the police believe that it may have been activated and recording conversations. Read more >>

February 13, 2017

Trump Foundation Admits to Self-Dealing

by Kelly Dickson Cooper

The rules and regulations surrounding the operation of family foundations contain traps for the unwary and prohibit self-dealing transactions.  We regularly help families navigate the complex rules regarding self-dealing transactions for private foundations.

These self-dealing rules tripped up the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has admitted that it has engaged in self-dealing.  How do we know?  A private foundation is required to file a Form 990-PF each year and that return requires a foundation to answer questions regarding its activities and transactions.  The following question caused issues for the Trump Foundation: “During the year did the foundation (either directly or indirectly): Transfer any income or assets to a disqualified person (or make any of either available for the benefit or use of a disqualified person)?  By answering “Yes,” the Trump Foundation has admitted that a self-dealing transaction occurred.  The Trump Foundation’s Form 990-PF (and many other foundations’ returns) are available through www.guidestar.com.

January 30, 2017

Charitable Trusts and the Cy Pres Doctrine: An Overview

by Jessica J. Smith

Charitable trusts are both valuable estate planning tools and excellent philanthropic devices. For instance, certain charitable trusts provide appealing tax benefits for donors creating charitable inter vivos trusts. While in most respects, charitable trusts are governed by the same state law concepts often discussed here on this blog (like fiduciary duty obligations for trustees), there are a few notable exceptions worth highlighting for anyone looking to take advantage of charitable trusts for estate or tax planning purposes.*

In general terms, a charitable trust is simply a trust that has a charitable purpose. See, e.g., Denver Found. v. Wells Fargo Bank, 163 P.3d 1116, 1125 (Colo. 2007) (“Instead of identifying a person or corporation as beneficiary, the settlor of a charitable trust must describe a purpose which is of substantial public benefit.”). Under Uniform Trust Code § 405, charitable purposes include “the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, the promotion of heath, governmental or municipal purposes, or other purposes the achievement of which is beneficial to the community.” The Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 28 largely matches the UTC, although it is a tad more expansive. For instance, the Restatement includes the advancement of knowledge, rather than just education, in its definition of charitable purpose. The differences between the UTC and the Restatement, though, are slight.
Read more >>

January 17, 2017

New Fiduciary Act Brings Both Progress and Uncertainty

by Matthew S. Skotak

You may have previously read on this blog about digital assets, the impact they have on the administration of trusts and estates, the need for fiduciaries to access digital assets, and the privacy concerns that come along with such access. In order to address these issues, Colorado recently enacted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (“RUFADAA”). This new act became effective on August 10, 2016 and can be found at C.R.S. § 15-1-1501 et seq.

RUFADAA is a significant leap by the State of Colorado to catch up to the digital age.  Prior to the passage of the law, the pervasive use of electronic banking and investing has posed a problem for many fiduciaries. Without the receipt of paper statements, personal representatives, financial agents, trustees and conservators have had a difficult time locating an individual’s assets, sometimes leading to an exhaustive search of several banking and financial institutions before asserts are uncovered. Read more >>