The broad scope of “intellectual property” (IP) laws protects United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registered ideas in the form of copyrights, patents, and trademarks. With the rapid expansion of technological innovation at the global level, the growth of statutory and legislative rule elements in this area of law has been remarkable. Estate law and its ability to protect the IP rights of inventors, artists, and authors, is now also applied to the rights of heirs and beneficiaries gifted intellectual property by way of inheritance. Estates without a will are subject to probate court proceeding. Intellectual property included in an estate will be divided according to a plan drafted by state legislature where the estate is held.

Transfer by Bequest

If a will has been written before a decedent has died, the transfer of intellectual property rights will be performed at the bequest of the owner in a written estate planning document. Bequests traditionally written to transfer tangible personal and real property, are now drafted with language that allows for the inclusion of intellectual property rights. Depending on the intent of the Decedent, the estate may also be structured to designate intellectual property assets separately in a “residuary estate” to be subsequently divided among its beneficiaries, rather than accorded specific heirs.

Robo-advisers are transforming the investment industry, including the estate advisory and planning segment. Algorithms present cost-effectiveness that translates to further savings for the investor by eliminating the “middleman.” Human advisers charge significantly more than these alternative wealth management services, making traditional services less appealing of an option for younger investors sold on technology and rapid returns. How does this bode for retirement investors, and especially the estate planning segment of the market?

Robo-Adviser Investment Services

The more complex the management of a fund, product, or portfolio of services, the less likely an investor will be fully-satisfied with robo-advisory services one hundred percent of the time. Major investment firms piloting robo platform as part of their consumer services offerings, are finding artificial intelligence to be a support feature rather than an obstacle to delivery of high-quality investment advisory services. Robo-advisers offer the kind of on-demand attention that a “living trust” requires; collecting the current financial position and investing goals of a client without the imposition of human delays. According to industry experts, the best is yet to come. Now that robo-advisers are capable of handling sophisticated tasks like retirement and estate planning, both investors and human advisers benefit from an obsolescence of human error. It is perhaps for this reason that legislators have been laissez faire in creation of new regulatory rules associated with robo-adviser practice.   

When estate planning clients require a legal guardian to perform power of attorney, the process can be complicated. This is especially true when rules of guardianship are involved in distribution of revocable trust assets for purposes of medical care or other life-sustaining care need of the trustee. In some states, like New York, state law allows for the legal guardians of incapacitated parties to withdraw life-sustaining therapies if the former deems the patient’s wishes are met with the decision. While informed consent laws provide for guardian power of attorney in meeting those medical treatment requirements, the payment for those professional services may be beyond a patient’s means without disbursement of convertible trust assets.

Guardianship and Estate Planning

The following is a checklist for representation of a trustee who is an incapacitated party in the estate planning process:    

At the turn of the 21st century, divorce or annulment of a marriage did not automatically revoke any revocable disposition or appointment of property from an ex-spouse at time of a decedent’s death in New York.  Since 2008, with the amendment of the. Existing Estates, Powers and Trusts Law, EPTL 5-1.4, estate law rules to divorce or annulment revocation of inheritance applies to any revocable disposition or appointment of property assigned a former Spouse as a designated beneficiary. New York Law EPTL 5-1.4 revokes any nomination of an ex-spouse as trust fiduciary, executor, agent, guardian, representative, trustee, or attorney-in-fact. Under the prior divorce and annulment revocation rule, the legal termination of a marriage agreement did not automatically revoke an ex-spouse’s power of attorney, or most revocable dispositions (“testamentary substitutes”), including joint tenancies (i.e. joint banking accounts), lifetime revocable trusts, or insurance policies (IN RE: The Estate of Joseph SUGG, Deceased. No. 2013–5055/B, Decided: June 29, 2015).

Amend, Restate or Execute a New Will?

When a couple divorces, changes to a will must be effectuated to an estate. Amendment, restatement, or execution of a new will is required under current New York estate law. Estate planning documents can be changed with the assistance of a licensed attorney experienced in matters of trust document modification and probate litigation. A client undergoing divorce is advised to review existing estate planning documentation at the commencement of a divorce, and at time of finalization. Estate law rules to entitlements provide that a soon to become ex-spouse will automatically lose named beneficiary status in a will or revocable trust. In matters where there is a judicial separation, annulment or final decree of divorce in process, revocation occurs only at the end of those proceedings, regardless of couple or court determined outcome.

In 2018 new legal reforms were implemented that will effectively protect estate trusts from retirement benefit plan asset seizure by creditors.

Reform of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) in the past year extends protections to estate trusts, and their assets. The latest ERISA rules cover managed retirement plans and welfare benefit plans held by nearly fifty-four percent of retirement benefits, and fifty-nine percent of insurance benefits associated with those plans. With the new reform, trust assets will be at a lesser risk of court ordered attachment by creditors for the collection of a decedent’s outstanding debts due to fiduciary bonding agreements to nondisclosure.   

Prudential Measure, Fiduciary Reform

 Beginning Tax Year 2017, the U.S. federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will now require some taxation of cryptocurrency that may affect estate planners and executors. As of this tax season, capital gains and losses on property transactions involving cryptocurrency, for example, must now be reported to the IRS (Notice 2014-21). Before the current tax year, the IRS offered exemption for “like kind exchanges” of crypto assets allowing swaps of digital currency for other assets. With IRS rule changes, and latest insights into the fluctuation of cryptocurrency value, make those assets a bit less attractive to investors than in recent years.

Capital Gains, Estate Tax, ICOs  

If market analysts have advocated cryptocurrency as an estate asset in the past several years, the rule reform will impact investors seeking tax-exemption from Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin earnings. Once considered property rather than fiat currency by the IRS, the rules of have changed. The rules now also distinguish between the tax-exempt proceeds of equity funded trades, and cryptocurrency Initial coin offerings (ICOs), requiring that proceeds from the latter be treated as taxable income. In the short-term, it is likely that investors, including those responsible for estate trusts, will continue to invest in tax-exempt ICOs offered by off-shore banking institutions.   

When an estate holder dies as result of a circumstance of intentional or unintentional negligence of another, the beneficiaries of the estate can file wrongful death or survival action in court for due compensation.  

“New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law – EPT § 5-4.1 Action by personal representative for wrongful act, neglect or default causing death of decedent” statutory code provides the duly appointed, personal representative of a decedent who is survived by beneficiaries or heirs of an estate, the authority to file an action to recover damages for a wrongful act. Wrongful acts include “neglect” or “default” omissions to act cited as cause-in-fact of the decedent’s death. Actions filed against a person alleged to be the liable party to the decedent prior to the act causing death, can be sued for reason of such wrongful conduct.  

Wrongful Death Actions

In New York, a court will decide if spousal maintenance (“alimony”) should be extended to a former spouse’s estate. Marital property part of a decedent’s estate is only considered an asset of the former spouse if no other heir or beneficiary is designated in a written will. Division of marital property and major assets are a considerable decision in the distribution of resources during a divorce proceeding. Court award of finance and other property assets during a divorce is the result of judicial review. A range of factors are considered before a court issues an order for spousal maintenance. Rules to Special controlling conditions to division of property and spousal maintenance stipulated in New York Consolidated Statutes, Art. 13 §236. The same rule applies to award of estate assets.

New York Estate Laws and Marital Property

The adoption of the Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act of 1971 in New York legislation, recognizes community property rules to addressing equitable distribution at time of one ex-spouses death  (Estates, Powers and Trusts Laws §§6-6.1, et seq.). The Act preserves community property ownership rights of spouses that have moved from a community property state to New York, a non-community property state.

Partnerships, or “limited partnerships” LP, established with individual member capital contributions of money and property in the interest of forming a business are potentially asset that can be a substantial factor in estate planning. The transfer of business and personal capital to legacy capital establishes a trust for grandchildren or other beneficiaries who will benefit from a decedent’s wealth long-term. One of the main challenges is protecting those former business assets from taxation.

“Pass-through” Partnership Tax Rules  

The legal treatment of a LP is one of discretionary liability where partners are concerned. This bodes well for estate planning, as there is little worry of another general partner influencing the actions of an estate. All U.S. states have adopted the Revised Uniform Partnership Act (RUPA) so that all laws are consistent with federal rules to partnership. Partnerships (IRC §761) comprised of two or more members are not considered taxable entities as result.

When a person dies without a will in New York, probate rules to intestate succession guide the distribution of asset to relative survivors. New York rules of intestate succession provide that the closest living family member surviving the deceased is entitled to transfer of assets from an estate. The law of intestate succession limits asset transfer to property that would customarily be assigned to beneficiaries by an estate during probate. This default provision allows for persons identified as family members such as spouses, followed by children, parents, and siblings to be justly enriched should no beneficiaries be named in a will.  

What is the Law of Intestacy?

In New York, the Law of Intestacy states that asset transfer from “the Decedent’s estate when there is no will” is accorded to “distributees” who are or surviving relatives. When surviving relatives include a spouse and children, New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law mandates “the spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus half of the balance,” and “the children* inherit everything else” (EPTL § 4-1.1). If parents exist and no spouse or children, the parents retain 100% of the estate. Where siblings survive the deceased, and there are no spouse, children, or parents, probate law allocates the entire estate to the former.

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