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TRUSTS & ESTATES, WILLS, AND TAX LAW UPDATE

WILLS: Execution Evidence—Testator Incapacity Due to Permanent Mental Impairment

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 @ 15:07 PM

Matthew McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     While the issue is apparently one of first impression in many jurisdictions, a handful of courts nationally have addressed the relevancy and admissibility of evidence of pre- or post-will-execution mental capacity—normally deemed irrelevant to will-execution mental capacity—where it has been shown that the testator suffered from a permanent mental deficiency. Importantly, as observed by the U.S. Supreme Court, where evidence is developed of permanent or continuing mental incapacity, the burden properly shifts to the will proponent to prove a lucid interval, rather than the normal burden upon the contestant to prove incapacity, as continued mental incapacity is legally presumed:

In addition to the proof . . . of his undoubted insanity prior [to] and for some time subsequent []to [the will execution], there was slight evidence of insane acts during the month of February, though there was no opinion expressed by anyone that he was incapable of making a valid deed or contract. The whole testimony regarding his insanity was duly submitted to the jury, who were instructed that if they found his insanity to be permanent in its nature and character, the presumptions were that it would continue, and the burden was upon the defendant to satisfy the jury by a preponderance of testimony that he was, at the time of executing the will, of sound mind. There was no error in this instruction.

Keely v. Moore, 196 U.S. 38, 46-47 (1904) (emphasis added).

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Topics: wills, Matthew McDavitt, DNA testing, evidence, permanent mental impairment, testator incapacity

ATTORNEY-CLIENT: Colorado Retains the "Strict Privity Rule" for Malpractice in Estate Planning

Posted by Lee P. Dunham on Tue, May 3, 2016 @ 13:05 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 4

Lee Dunham, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In general, an attorney's duty of care extends only to his or her clients, not to third parties. This rule makes intuitive sense in most areas of the law, where the client is typically the party who is injured directly by attorney malpractice. However, in the estate planning context, where the client is often long dead by the time the malpractice is discovered, the true victims of malpractice may be the beneficiaries, or would-be beneficiaries, of the client's estate.

     Recognizing this problem, courts of several states have relaxed the "strict privity rule" in malpractice suits against estate planning attorneys. Most notably, in Biakanja v. Irving, 320 P.2d 16 (Cal. 1958), and Lucas v. Hamm, 364 P.2d 685 (Cal. 1961), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 987 (1962), California adopted what has come to be known as the "California Test," a multifactor balancing test designed to determine whether a beneficiary can maintain a malpractice claim against an estate planning attorney despite a lack of privity. The factors include "the extent to which the transaction was intended to affect the plaintiff, the foreseeability of harm to him, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury, and the policy of preventing future harm." Lucas, 364 P.2d at 687 (citing Biakanja, 320 P.2d at 19).

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Topics: strict privity rule, duty of care to third parties, attorney-client, Lee Dunham, estate planning

TAX: Inversions—Apple's Complex Web of Subsidiaries

Posted by James P. Witt on Tue, May 3, 2016 @ 13:05 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 4

Jim Witt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The most straightforward tactic taken by large American corporations since the 1980s to avoid the full brunt of U.S. federal corporate income tax is known as "tax inversion" (or "corporate inversion"). This strategy has drawn considerable attention lately, with President Obama last summer calling on Congress to pass tax legislation to end the practice. In November 2015, the U.S. drug giant Pfizer announced its merger with Irish-headquartered Allergan, which, in the largest tax inversion to date, would give the merged company a situs in Ireland.

     Inversion transactions usually involve the transfer of stock of a corporation by one or more shareholders to a wholly owned or controlled foreign subsidiary of that corporation in exchange for newly issued shares of the subsidiary's stock. Internal Revenue Code § 7874 (rules relating to expatriated entities and their foreign parents) contains the tax rules related to inversions.

     Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, has gone well beyond the standard tax inversion maneuver. According to a study by Citizens for Tax Justice and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, Apple holds $181 billion in profit offshore that has escaped U.S. income tax. A May 20, 2013 report issued by the Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded that Apple's tax arrangements have nothing to do with the U.S. location of all the intellectual property that supports Apple's products. Non-U.S. sales account for 60% of Apple's profits, and these profits are routed through Irish subsidiaries that Apple established four years after its founding and are not taxed by any jurisdiction. The following discussion broadly outlines the rules that Apple, through its web of subsidiaries, takes advantage of to minimize its corporate income tax liability, eliminating U.S. corporate tax liability as long as foreign earnings are not repatriated.

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Topics: tax, James P. Witt, inversion, Apple Inc., transfer of stock to foreign subsidiary

TRUSTS: Hostility Between Beneficiary and Trustee as Ground for Removal of Trustee

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 13:03 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41, No 3

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Restatement of Trusts provides generally that "[a] trustee may be removed . . . for cause by a proper court." Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 37(b) (2003 & Westlaw database updated Oct. 2015) (emphasis added). The Comment to section 37 of the Restatement says that "[f]riction between the trustee and some of the beneficiaries [of a trust] is not a sufficient ground for removing the trustee unless it interferes with the proper administration of the trust." Id. § 37 cmt. e(1). Thus, although the "[b]eneficiaries may be resentful when property they expected to inherit is placed in trust, or of reasonable exercise of a trustee's discretion with regard to matters of administration or the alleged underperformance of the trustee's investment program[, s]uch resentment ordinarily does not warrant removal of the trustee." Id. "[B]ut a serious breakdown in communications between beneficiaries and a trustee may justify removal, particularly if the trustee is responsible for the breakdown or it appears to be incurable." Id.

     A leading treatise on trust law notes that "[d]isagreeable personal relations between the beneficiary [of a trust] and the trustee are frequently relied upon as grounds for removal [and] the mere fact that the beneficiary wants the trustee removed is not enough" to sustain a petition for removal of a trustee. George Gleason Bogert et al., The Law of Trusts and Trustees § 527 (Westlaw database updated Sept. 2015) (footnotes omitted). Thus, "[d]ifferences of opinion or unfriendliness" between a trust beneficiary and the trustee are "insufficient" grounds to support the removal of a trustee from office. Id. (footnotes omitted).

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Topics: trusts, Brad Pettit, removal of trustee, hostility between trustee and beneficiary

CORPORATIONS: Nonresident Trust Company Fiduciary Power Reciprocity Statutes

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 12:03 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41, No 3

Matthew McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Most states now allow nonresident corporations, such as trust companies, to serve in fiduciary roles such as the personal representative of a decedent estate, trustee, or trust or as the conservator of a guardianship estate. However, various state statutes place varying requirements on such fiduciary roles, such as whether state certification is required by such out-of-state corporate fiduciaries, which fiduciary roles are available to trust companies, and whether an in-state agent must be designated for service.

     One frequent requirement placed upon nonresident companies seeking to serve in a fiduciary role is that of reciprocity: The out-of-state corporation is allowed only the powers and authority granted to nonresident fiduciaries in its state of incorporation. Thus, where a trust company seeks to serve in a fiduciary role in another state, it is imperative to know whether both the state of incorporation and the foreign jurisdiction are "reciprocity" states. The following is a chart compiling the citations of the statutory nonresident corporate fiduciary reciprocity provisions currently in force in the 25 states that possess them: 

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Topics: corporations, Matthew T. McDavitt, nonresident trust company, reciprocity statutes, fiduciary power

TAX: Qualified Tuition Plans (QTPs)

Posted by James P. Witt on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 @ 12:01 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 12

Jim Witt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Given the steep rise in college tuition costs over recent years, the Qualified Tuition Plans ("QTPs") authorized by § 529 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 have become increasingly popular. The following summary describes the basic rules governing QTPs, but, as becomes obvious, the restrictions on these plans are formidable, and the rules can vary from state to state.

     There are two basic types of QTPs, a "prepaid qualified tuition program" and a "qualified tuition program savings plan" (informally known as a "college savings plan"). Under a prepaid qualified tuition program, a person may purchase tuition credits or certificates on behalf of a designated beneficiary (the student) that cover future tuition charges and fees, and, in some cases, a room and board option may be purchased. There is generally a premium charged over the current price of tuition, intended to account for inflation. The benefit of this type of QTP is that it locks in tuition costs to the extent of the credits purchased. Many state-sponsored prepaid tuition programs are guaranteed by the state (this is not true for college savings plans). Most state-sponsored plans require either the owner or the beneficiary of the plan to be a resident of the state (college savings plans have no residency requirement). Prepaid tuition plans have a limited enrollment period (there is no limited enrollment period for college savings plans).

     A college savings plan generally allows an individual (the "accountholder") to establish an account for the student/beneficiary to be used for the payment of eligible college expenses, which include tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, and books and computers (where required). College savings plans are not guaranteed, meaning that investment options are subject to market risk and the loss of any benefit should tuition growth outpace investment results. A college savings plan is more expansive in its coverage, providing for the payment of tuition, room and board, fees and books, and a computer (payment for a computer is in doubt as a qualified 529 expense, with proposed federal legislation covering the question).

     The funds invested in both prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans will grow without being subjected to federal income tax, and funds withdrawn from the account will not be taxable as long as they are used for qualified educational expenses. A majority of states provide for a state income tax deduction or credit for an investment in a college savings plan offered by the particular state. Funds withdrawn from a 529 plan that are not used for eligible expenses are subject to federal income tax and to a 10% penalty on earnings. College savings plans charge a fee covering operating costs. One study found that an average annual fee charged by a savings plan obtained through a state was 0.69%, whereas the average annual fee for a savings plan obtained through a broker was 1.17%.

     Obviously a theme of the 529 plans is the assorted restrictions and rules imposed by these plans. More basic is the question of whether these plans are a wise investment for the long term, given rising costs. According to Time magazine (October 5, 2015), a nonpartisan think tank, Education Policy Center, has found that while an annual investment of $1,000 in a 529 plan for 18 years could have funded the tuition at a public university for four years for a student entering college in 1997, the same level of investment would not have covered even one year's tuition for a student starting in 2008.

     Thought should be given to other tax-advantaged strategies such as those available under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act ("UGMA") (allowing a donor to place securities in a custodial account for the benefit of a minor child), and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act ("UTMA") (also authorizing a custodial account for the benefit of a minor but allowing the deposit of assets such as real estate, patents, and royalties). Upon reaching the "age of trust termination" (not necessarily the age of majority), the beneficiary's use of the fund or assets is not restricted. Moreover, a Roth IRA, allowing after-tax dollars to be withdrawn by the owner prior to age 59½ if used for educational purposes, should be added to the mix of options.

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Topics: tax, James P. Witt, QTPs, tax-advantaged strategies, prepaid tuition plan, college savings plan

TAX: Carly Fiorina, Multistate Income Taxation, and the Dormant Commerce Clause

Posted by James P. Witt on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 @ 16:09 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 8

Jim Witt—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     A feature of recent U.S. presidential campaigns has been the interest of the press and the public (not to mention the requirements of the law) regarding the finances of those competing for the nomination and, ultimately, for the office itself. A key element of those finances has, of course, been the income tax returns of the various candidates. In this connection, one of the present candidates for the Republican nomination, Carly Fiorina, recently offered reporters who came in person to her campaign headquarters in Virginia the opportunity to review her state income tax returns.

     Ms. Fiorina and her husband had already put their federal income tax returns for 2012 and 2013 online, but it is her state income tax returns that are of special interest. She and her husband were required to file such returns in no fewer than 17 states in 2013, with the couple's connection with some of those states so insubstantial that their tax liability in 11 of the states was less than $250.

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Topics: tax law, James P. Witt, dormant Commerce Clause, multistate income taxation, Fiorina

ESTATES: Assets—Gold Bars, Bullion, and Coins—Tangible or Intangible Property?

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Mon, Jul 27, 2015 @ 09:07 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 6

Matt McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     When distributing a probate estate, it is important to determine whether particular assets are tangible or intangible property where the will's language distributes these classes of property to different beneficiaries. While many assets may be sorted based upon common-sense principles, other assets present analytical difficulties. One such problematic asset is gold formed into bars, bullion, and coins. Some laymen would classify these precious metal assets as money, others as collectibles, and it is not intuitive whether such gold objects constitute tangible assets (such as a chair or a computer) or intangible assets (such as bank account deposits or stocks).

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Topics: Matthew T. McDavitt, estates law, probate, tangible property

TRUSTS: Dean Smith Payments to Players—NCAA Violation

Posted by Gale Burns on Tue, Jun 9, 2015 @ 16:06 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40, No 4

Jim Witt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Dean Smith, the head coach of the University of North Carolina ("UNC") men's basketball team from 1961 to 1997, died on February 7, 2015, at age 83. Aside from the tributes paid to the man and his career that captured a good deal of media attention, a specific aspect of Coach Smith's estate plan also stirred up some interest. Following the modern trend, Smith's estate planners made a revocable living trust an important part, if not the centerpiece, of his plan for disposing of his assets at his death. Presumably, Smith transferred the bulk of his estate to the trust and, by doing so, realized a number of advantages for both himself and his estate: (1) privacy—the details of the trust, unlike information concerning an individual's assets that pass by will, do not become part of the public record; (2) because the transfer or transfers of assets to the trust are made during the individual's life, the assets are not subject to probate administration, and the expenses of such procedure are avoided (although the expenses of setting up the trust and having it administered must be considered); (3) the assets of the trust are not frozen, as can happen under a probate proceeding, thereby improving access to the assets for the estate and the heirs; (4) because the trust is revocable, the individual maintains control over the disposition of his or her assets transferred to the trust, because he or she can withdraw particular assets from the trust or dissolve the entire arrangement, which is also essentially true under a will in that a will has no effect until the individual's death.

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Topics: legal research, tax, revocable living trust

TAX: State and Local Sales Tax on Internet Sales of Goods

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 @ 17:04 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 2

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      A very recent decision by a Florida appellate court illustrates constitutional issues that arise when a state or locality seeks to impose a tax upon sales of goods to out-of-state customers via the Internet. In American Business USA Corp. v. Department of Revenue, 151 So. 3d 67 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014), the court addressed the question of whether Internet sales of flowers, gift baskets, other items of tangible personal property, and prepaid telephone calling arrangements by a corporation that was registered to do business in Florida to out-of-state consumers were subject to the Florida sales tax. The taxpayer in the American Business case objected to taxation of its Internet sales to out-of-state customers on the ground that such taxation violated the Commerce and/or Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The American Business court upheld the State of Florida's taxation of Internet sales of prepaid telephone call cards but rejected the State's taxation of Internet sales of flowers and other tangible goods.

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Topics: Commerce Clause, Due Process Clause, tax law, Internet sales, state and local sales tax

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