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    TRUSTS & ESTATES, WILLS, AND TAX LAW UPDATE

    Matthew T. McDavitt

    Recent Posts

    Creation/Timing of Self-Proving Affidavits

    Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

    Matthew McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In the execution of wills, many testators utilize the optional execution of self-proving affidavits, where statutorily authorized, wherein the will execution witnesses sign a statement before an officer authorized to administer oaths affirming their observation of the testator's mental capacity and testamentary intent, as well as the signing of the will. A properly executed self-proving affidavit raises a legal presumption of due execution and eliminates the normal requirement mandating that witnesses to a will testify in court as to the authenticity of the will.

                In practice, self-proving affidavits are normally created contemporaneously with the execution of the will, and some states' statutes mandate such simultaneous affidavit execution. However, some state statutes expressly allow self-proving affidavits to be executed at any time after the observed will execution. Thus, for example, we see both simultaneous and postexecution self-proving affidavit execution mentioned in Michigan's statutory provision on the subject:

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    Topics: trusts, timing, self-proving affidavits, contemporaneous with will

    TRUSTS: Charitable Trusts and Bankruptcy Proceedings

    Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 @ 17:03 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 42 No 2

    Matt McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         Where testators or settlors create charitable gifts in trust for named institutional beneficiaries, when the contemplated distribution is ready to be made, sometimes it is found that the intended charity is involved in bankruptcy proceedings. Therefore, the question arises as to the proper disposition of such charitable gifts in trust to the bankrupt institutional beneficiaries.

         There is little law, even nationally, discussing the proper course of action in the event that a named charitable beneficiary is found to be in bankruptcy at the time of distribution. It is logical that a testator who makes a charitable gift would not want his or her gift to be subject to collection by the intended recipient institution's bankruptcy trustee, as such action would solely benefit the charity's creditors, rather than advancing the intended charitable purpose. There is at least one federal opinion interpreting and predicting state law on this point, holding that: (a) Under Massachusetts law as predicted by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, a charitable organization that has ceased to perform charitable work, and that is incapable of redirecting funds for charitable purposes, is ineligible to receive a charitable bequest or gift, absent a contrary provision in will or trust instrument; and (b) It is "difficult to imagine" that, absent special circumstances, a testator seeking to advance general charitable interests would ever intend her gift to be used for the benefit of creditors rather than to promote charitable purposes actually intended. In re Boston Reg’l Med. Ctr., Inc., 410 F.3d 100 (1st Cir. 2005).

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    Topics: bankruptcy, trusts, charitable trust, proper disposition of gift

    ESTATES: The Inheritability of Digital Music Files

    Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 @ 09:12 AM

    Matthew McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         The average layperson might assume that digital music files (i.e., songs purchased from services such as iTunes and Amazon) can be passed by will or intestate succession. This is certainly true for music recorded onto physical media, such as CDs. However, the law currently treats digital files differently, given (a) the manner in which digital music is purchased, (b) the use of multiple digital files when accessing digital music files, and (c) the perishable nature of non-digital media.

         Because most consumers never read the "Terms & Conditions" agreements when purchasing digital music, they may be surprised to learn that when buying a song from iTunes or Amazon, the purchaser is not granted ownership of the downloaded song file, but merely acquires a non-transferable license to use the file on the purchaser’s device for the contract duration. Thus, by contract, such files cannot pass at the death of the purchaser, as the usage license is non-transferable to other persons.

         Digital music services have justified the new ownership regime based upon the manner in which digital music is accessed and played, as well as the non-perishability of digital files. Digital music providers argue that the digital file is necessarily "copied" each time it is accessed from the purchaser's device, the "cloud," or when streamed from the service-provider, so that the seller rightfully structures consumer access of the purchased music files as a personal, non-transferable license to access such usage "copies" during the term of the contract.

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    Topics: Matthew T. McDavitt, estates, digital music files, usage license is nontransferable

    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

    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

    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

    ESTATES: Depletion of Eventual Probate Estate Through Inter Vivos Transfers

    Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 13:04 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 2

    Matt McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         One problematic issue regarding the administration of probate or intestate estates is that in which the property of mentally or physically incapacitated persons is found to have been significantly depleted through lifetime transfers in the period just prior to death. The Virginia Supreme Court recently addressed this problem, establishing that where such lifetime transfers benefit persons standing in a confidential relationship to the grantor, a rebuttable presumption of fraud arises so as to protect decedent estates from the depredations by third parties upon whom the decedent relied at the end of life.

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    Topics: estates law, depletion of property in estate, inter vivos transfers, confidential relationship

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