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Will your credit card debt haunt you when you die? Outstanding debts can be attached to an estate or trust if a creditor files a lawsuit against a decedent in court. Protect your estate and your loved ones from creditor attachment by taking precautionary legal measures to restrict debt collectors from forcing your last will and testament into probate court.

Who is obliged to a decedent’s credit card debt?

Whether a surviving spouse or other loved one is liable for the credit card debt of a deceased family member depends on signatory of creditor agreement. If a spouse or co-signing family member is participatory in a credit agreement, they will be obligated to pay outstanding debts owed on the account after the other co-signing party dies. Joint credit card accounts are the most common example of this circumstance. Authorized users of a decedent’s credit card account, however, are not necessarily liable for paying off the balance after the debtor dies. Not considered the true owner of the account, and authorized user does not have a duty to fulfill the card agreement with payment insofar that they have ceased using the card at the time of the owner’s death.

Creditor attachment of an estate to satisfy outstanding debt may subsequently involve those assets in a bankruptcy. Depending if debts are attached to estate property that is involved in a Chapter 7 (personal) or Chapter 11 (business) related bankruptcy, the court will appoint a trustee to oversee and administer the process.

The Bankruptcy Trustee’s role and responsibilities.

Before a bankruptcy petition is submitted to federal court, the bankruptcy trustee is responsible for the documented accuracy of liquidation transactions to meet court requirements for debt dilution (11 U.S. Code § 704 – Duties of trustee). Trustees receive a percentage of assets sold, as well as a fee for service for performing those transactions. Petition for Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy must be accompanied by the estate transaction record. The bankruptcy trustee must review all records involving an estate’s assets, including market value appraisals, and income tax returns. After the record substantiating the bankruptcy petition has been verified by the trustee, court filing may proceed.

The U.S. federal Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) offers guidelines to Unit Investment Trusts (“UITs”). A fixed portfolio of securities with specific expiry, UITs are a trust vehicle for high wealth investors looking for estate portfolio diversification. The composition of UITs, generally a portfolio of bonds, stocks, and other securities, remains the same for the duration of the trust. Similar with primary market, closed-end fund products and open-ended mutual funds, UITs require a collective of investors.

The “Right Blend”of Diversification

For investors looking for diversification, UITs offer a unique investment model for stable financial planning. Both bond trusts and stock trusts can be formed as unit investment trusts. Bond UITs offer consistent income at a lower risk rate. Payments from bond UITs continue until date of maturity, at which time the full asset is paid out to investors. Stock UITs “issue a fixed number of units (like closed-end funds)” at initial public offering (“IPO”) during a period. IPO unit purchases offer “unitholder” investors a net cost basis in a trust.

Legalized marijuana is having important legal impact on state property rules, and estate law is no exception. In “pot legal” states, estate planning attorneys are faced with questions about the transferability of cannabis assets to an estate or trust, and existing rules affecting distribution to beneficiaries. If an estate planning client owns a marijuana business, the option of estate transfer of cannabis assets will depend on both federal and state statute to ensure a client’s intent is carried out within the limits of the law.  

Cannabis Assets

Estate distribution of cannabis-linked assets at death is an issue that has received differential treatment under state and federal law. In some states, a will may be seized, and a beneficiary held criminally liable for an estate’s possession of illegal cannabis products and materials intended for distribution. There is also the potential that courts will not permit an executor to administer a will which contains cannabis assets. If those assets are part of a state-legal medical treatment program, there will be issues associated with an executor’s capacity to administer distributions from an estate or trust.

From the 1980s forward, patrimony laws have impacted major museum institutions around the globe. As source countries filed lawsuits against the cultural agents of former colonial empires, requesting return of antiquities and other cultural property, the response to due diligence by those foreign jurisdictions continues to be uneven. Conflicts over the rightful ownership of cultural property can also affect estate planning and probate proceedings. Beneficiary cultural institutions responsible for the accession, preservation, and management of those rare cultural objects can also decide to deaccession those gifted assets after the death of an estate holder, further complicating a matter.

Legal Definition of “Cultural Property”

Cultural property is distinct from personal or other forms of property within federal law. The United States recognizes the cultural property of sovereign tribal or foreign nations based on legal claims of territory, identity, or moral right. Rights to the ownership of registered cultural assets is considered a “superior claim” within international law; and supersedes “good faith” monetary transactions by collectors or museums.

The fiduciary responsibility to create an effective estate investment plan is something that some trustees and administrators find to be a challenge. Trust laws allow estate planning clients a fair amount of control and flexibility in asset diversification. If the goal is to generate income while minimizing taxes, and protecting assets for the purposes of family legacy, working with a licensed estate planning specialist who offers expert advice about trust investment, will assist a client in accomplishing the financial objectives of an estate.

Asset Diversification Strategies

Most high net worth estate planning clients require a diversified portfolio of equities, fixed-income securities, hedge funds, private equity, real estate, and natural resource funds. Since enactment of the Uniform Prudent Investor Act (UPIA) in 1994, all trustees in the United States must consider specific guidelines when formulating an investment strategy. In accordance with the legislation, a trust investment planner must consider the duration of the trust; the size of the portfolio; liquidity and distribution; tax consequences; expected total returns; individual investments; and the overall economic environment. Rules of UPIA fiduciary duty stipulate that trust assets are to be diversified, unless the purpose of the trust is solely for the targeted transfer of a family interest in a business, or to avoid capital gains. Trustee fiduciary liability is the premise of the legislation; also limiting client exposure to high-risk diversification strategies.

The recent Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) announcement about federal enactment of a substantial piece of legislation that will likely delay close of some foreign direct investment (“FDI”) deals overseen by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”). The Act supports CFIUS regulatory response to the evolution in alternative trading system (“ATS”) transaction types. Under the new legislation, foreign investors will be responsible for filing mandatory “declarations” with description of transactions prior to close or transfer to an estate or trust; and payment of a filing fee of up to $300,000 per transaction.  

CIFIUS Oversight Expanded

Federal enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA) on August 13, 2018 expands the jurisdictional powers of CFIUS responsible for oversight of foreign direct investment (“FDI”) made by investors from abroad. FIRRMA establishes that ATS compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) NMS Regulation, and Regulation SHO close out standards. The Act also stipulates ATS have the capability of identifying trading risks occurring in those systems to be compliant. Full implementation of the Act will come in effect after the adoption of near future ATS regulatory provisions required to impose compliance within the investment sector.

The intent to commission, conspire to commission, or commission of a criminal act through intimidation, coercion, or solicitation of another for “racketeering activity” as defined by the  Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act  is illegal in New York. The RICO Act prohibits enterprises, including family businesses, from fraudulent and criminal racketeering activities while conducting interstate trade or foreign commerce. The costs associated with a RICO criminal proceeding can lead to excessive fees and the loss of an enterprise, including estate or trust held assets of a family business and its proceeds.  

A Lost Inheritance?

August 14, 2018 a federal US Court of Appeals declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a Connecticut Superior Court decision denying Virginia A. D’Addario damages for beneficiary rights to her mother’s estate inheritance coinciding with the conviction of her sibling, David D’Addario in a RICO violation case (D’Addario v. D’Addario, No. 17-1162 (2d Cir. 2018). The Second Circuit appellate court instead vacated and remanded the case, upholding her claim of legal expenses incurred in pursuance of complaint against her brother and the other RICO defendants; yet rested a claim for full distribution of estate assets under her name was not necessary as RICO losses were speculative; and the estate was not closed.  

As of 2018, cross-border families planning an estate will require an investment plan meeting relevant rules to domicile, succession, generation-skipping transfer, and gift tax laws in each country where distribution will occur at the time of a decedent’s death. International estate planners use investment techniques specific to cross-border transfers and enforceable transfer tax situs rules, domestic and foreign credits, and treaties where they may apply.

Recent Domestic Tax Reforms

U.S. federal Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) tax law reforms in 2018, have modified estate and gift tax lifetime exclusion amounts for:

A recent study suggests that people with moderate to severe anxiety in middle age may be more likely to develop dementia as they get older. The study based its conclusions off of data from four previously published studies that tracked a total of 30,000 individuals over a 10-year period and clearly shows a link between living with anxiety in middle age and developing dementia later on in life.

The findings were published in the BMJ Open, a an online, open access journal, dedicated to publishing medical research from all disciplines and therapeutic areas. While the study was not a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how anxiety might directly contribute to the development of dementia, it is nonetheless shines light on how mental health is just as important as our physical health as we age.

One of the study’s senior authors believes that dementia may develop after anxiety during middle age because of the increase in and constant elevation of stress hormones may cause brain damages across regions associated with memory. However, that same author is unsure whether treating the underlying anxiety and reducing the levels of elevated hormones would end up reducing the risk of dementia in old age.

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