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With the implementation of the Biden administration in the country, various changes are likely to occur including several related to estate planning. One change involves a reduction in the estate tax exemption while a second revision to estate planning law is an elimination of the basis step-up for inherited property. 

While these changes are likely to occur, it is difficult to both predict what repercussions this change will have as well as when these changes take effect. To better prepare people interested in creating successful estate plans, this article reviews some critical details to understand about these approaching changes.

Preparing for the Elimination of Basis Step-Up

No one likes thinking about what will happen when their health begins to decline or what that person’s loved ones will do following their death. Failure to engage in adequate planning now can leave your loved ones in an undesirable situation and can also greatly increase the chances that these individuals face anger and confusion after you pass away. 

You can help to avoid these undesirable results by taking sufficient actions while you are still able to do so. To hopefully push you towards making the appropriate estate planning decisions, this article reviews some of the most critical estate planning decisions that you should make today.

# 1 – Appoint an Executor

In the 2020 case, In the Estate of Mayberry, a Texas court ruled that the common-law wife of a deceased individual who died interstate lacked standing to remove the deceased’s daughter as an independent administrator. 

The court’s ruling was based on the perspective that the deceased’s daughter was not an “interested” party following a settlement agreement between the daughter and the deceased’s common-law wife to voluntarily release all of the daughter’s rights in the estate.

Under the terms of the agreement, the daughter agreed to accept $2,000 as “consideration” for the settlement and release of all claims to any part of the deceased individual’s estate. The daughter later argued that she did not release her right to receive an inheritance from the estate but had only released “claims” against the estate. The daughter argued that her right to receive an inheritance from the estate was not a claim against the estate. 

The estate planning dispute that occurred following Prince’s death in 2016 has arisen again after the Internal Revenue Service determined that Prince’s estate is worth approximately $163 million or twice what Prince’s estate representatives reported on his estate tax return. This difference resulted in approximately $39 million of penalties and interest being placed against Prince’s estate.

This discrepancy is not the first time that the estate of a deceased celebrity has been undervalued. For example, following Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, representatives claimed that a likeness of Michael Jackson was worth $2,105. The artist’s fortune had dropped substantially in the years before his passing as a result of child molestation claims. Michael Jackson’s estate was also reported to be insolvent with assets estimated to be worth $236 million with debts of approximately $500 million. The Internal Revenue Service, however, later disagreed and valued Michael Jackson’s likeness at approximately $435 million. Michael Jackson’s estate later disputed this valuation and the case is still pending.

What happens next with the valuation of Prince’s estate will be decided on by the United States Tax Court. This article reviews just two critical lessons that everyone should understand about the valuation of estate assets.

The coronavirus pandemic has substantially altered the way that we engage in business. There are, however, ways to sign estate planning documents remotely without needing to be in close proximity to anyone. 

To better prepare you for navigating the estate planning process remotely, this article reviews some important details that you should remember.

# 1 – Executive Order No. 202.7

Many families in New York, as well as the rest of the country, are considered “blended”, which means that many families bring children from previous relationships into new relationships or marriages. Whether or not a family is blended can end up influencing how families should structure estate plans to achieve various goals. 

Under New York law, an adopted child is treated identically to how biological children of the adopting parent are. There are, however, unique issues to consider when it comes to adoption and estate planning. Some of these key concepts are discussed in this article.

# 1 – Establishing a Trust

In the recent case, In the Estate of Hohmann, a person passed away without leaving an executed will. The deceased man’s caretaker, however, found a handwritten document where the deceased man stated his wishes for his assets. The deceased’s cousin later applied to probate the handwritten document like a written will. An heir of the deceased man later filed an opposition to the probate process. The trial court then granted summary judgment for the opponent and the applicant appealed.

The court of appeals subsequently held that valid wills must be in writing, signed by a testator, and attested by two or more credible witnesses. Even if a document does not meet these requirements, however, it can be admitted to probate as a holographic will if it is handwritten entirely by the testator and the testator placed a signature or initials on the document to execute it. 

The court then held that the document had not been signed and was not valid. The court also noted that while signatures can be informal and that the location of signatures is of secondary importance, the testator must intend his name or mark to constitute a signature. In this case, however, the court found no evidence indicating that the testator intended the phrase to be used in such a way. The court also found that when the written document is viewed as a whole, the testator’s signed names bore no connection to any other provisions in the document.

One of the biggest changes to estate planning over the last few decades has been the increase in the number of estates that own digital assets. If you fail to create plans for how your digital assets should be handled after your incapacity or death, undesirable consequence could occur involving the asset. In some situations, your family or loved ones might even be blocked from accessing an account.

With a properly written digital asset plan, you can make sure that your digital assets are adequately handled in case something happens to you. This might mean that the assets are deleted or transferred to the ownership of someone else. The best-written estate plans can also make sure that your services are sufficiently closed if something happens to you and that these assets do not continue to train money from your estate. Additionally, a plan guides what you would like done with your digital assets as well as your online presence. 

In the hopes that it will help you gain control over the future of your digital assets, this article reviews some critical things that you should remember about creating an estate plan for your digital assets.

As we enter into 2021, the country remains in a state of flux. Following the United States Presidential election in November 2020, the beginning of January also saw the Georgia run-off which involved two seats in the United States. While the Republican Party had 50 seats in the Senate before the run-off and Democrats now hold 48 seats, this number after the election changed to 50 seats for the Republican party and 50 seats for the Democrats as well as a tie-breaking vote by Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as the president of the Senate in favor of the Democrat party. This change in political administrations in the country will almost certainly result in some substantial changes not just the federal estate tax but also other critical estate planning issues.

How the Change in Political Administrations Will Impact Estate Tax Planning

Firstly, certain provisions are already slated to disappear from the law. Other provisions are attainable as part of the give and take of the legislative process, while a third group of legislation is unlikely to be introduced out of concern of alienating voters in the 2022 elections. Some of the provisions likely include:

In the November 2020 case of Ochse v. Ochse, a Texas court heard a case that could potentially have a ripple effect on how trusts are interpreted. In this case, a mother established a trust that provided the trustee was authorized to make distributions to both the trustee’s son as well as the son’s spouse. At the time the trust was executed, the son was married to his first wife, but later divorced and married a second wife. The son’s children then initiated legal action against the son for breaching fiduciary duties as trustee and joined with the first wife who is also the mother as necessary parties. The first wife and son then filed competing summary judgment motions addressing whether the first or second wife was the son’s “spouse” as referenced in the trust. The trial court then held that the second wife was the correct beneficiary at the time of the suit. The first wife subsequently appealed.

What the Case Involved

The second wife and son argued that the use of the word, “spouse”, in trust documents did not mean the first spouse’s actual name. Instead, these parties argued that the term referred to the class of whoever was currently married to the son. The court of appeals, however, disagreed. The first wife argued that in the absence of contrary intent, a gift to a “spouse” of a married individual must be construed to mean the spouse at the time of the document’s execution instead of a future spouse. The first wife further argued that the terms “primary beneficiary’s spouse” as well as “son’s spouse” referred to the first wife because she was the son’s spouse at the time that the trust was executed. Both interpretations requested the court to view spouses as either statuses or class gifts. 

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