Clear and Present Estate Taxation

When Tom Clancy died two years ago, he distributed his real estate to his 2nd wife, then left the remainder of his $83 million estate in equal thirds as follows:

1.  In trust for his wife,

2.  In trust for his wife and adult children from his first marriage, and

3.  In trust for his adult children from his first marriage.

The  primary asset was his 12% interest in the Baltimore Orioles which was valued at $65 million.  The last codicil signed by Clancy directed that his wife should receive her inheritance “estate tax free.”  His wife and adult children then proceeded to fight over whether the trust for her and them (Trust No. 2) should pay any estate taxes.  A Maryland court recently decided that the trust for the children (Trust No. 3) should pay the entire estate tax bill.

Several points:

1.  Poor drafting leads to expensive disputes.  I have never used the vague term “estate tax free” in any document I have drafted.

2.  If a trust for a surviving spouse is carefully drafted, it can postpone the taxation of its assets until the death of the surviving spouse which is what seems to have occurred here at least with respect to the trust for the spouse only (Trust No. 1).

3.  Shed no tears for anyone in this dispute.  Clancy’s adult children will presumably also inherit the substantial assets his first wife received upon their divorce while his 2nd wife is reportedly an heiress to a Pepsi bottling fortune.  Even the IRS receives nearly $12 million with significantly more millions coming when the 2nd wife dies.

4.  The second wife aka Evil Step-Mom likely cannot die soon enough for his adult children.

(Thanks to Chip Workman for bringing this to my attention).

 

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Procrastination Is Not Discrimination

An older woman adopted her younger girlfriend/partner in the 1970′s so the girlfriend could inherit the trust fund created by the older woman’s father.  When the older woman died in 1997, the girlfriend inherited a substantial sum from the trust.  The younger woman died in 2009 without a will.   Her brother staked a claim to her $25 million estate as her closest living relative.  However, NY law (and Ohio law) provides that once someone is adopted, they lose all relationships with their prior family, including the ability to inherit from them, and the ability to leave them assets without a will.  The woman’s estate will escheat to the State of NY because she has no relatives.

Several points:

1.  Lawyers in this case are arguing that the older woman adopted her girlfriend because same sex couples did not have the same rights as traditional couples in the 1970s.  However, that argument is a red herring because the funds were in a trust which could only be left to a descendant which caused the woman to adopt her girlfriend.  Funds not in trust could be left to anyone she pleased – girlfriend, charity, or relatives.

2.  I draft trusts to prevent this type of adoption chicanery by including only children who were adopted prior to the age of 18.

3.  In an era of Obergefell and Kaitlyn Jenner’s reality show, it is easy to create a legal smokescreen by arguing discrimination from 40 years ago, when the real culprit is simple neglect by a wealthy person to create a will.  

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Google and Death

Google recently updated its terms of service to make it easier for the relatives of a deceased owner of a Google account to deal with the account.  By checking a box, an individual can request that Google close an account, notify Google that a user is deceased, request the payment of funds from a deceased user’s account, and obtain data from a deceased user’s account.  The request page is here.

Three brief points:

1.  This is a a rare example of Google acting uncharacteristically altruistic instead of operating solely in its own self interest.

2.  The wills I draft always have provisions permitting an executor to access the digital accounts and digital assets of a deceased individual.

3.  The request to obtain data from a deceased user’s account does not apply to the NSA – they already have it.

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Love Thyself and Love Thy Shrink

Amy Blumenthal moved to NYC and started seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Turner, to fulfill her prescriptions.  Six months later Turner allegedly dropped Blumenthal as a patient, started dating her, and soon moved into her apartment.  Blumenthal eventually re-wrote her will to leave her $7 million estate to Turner.  Blumenthal died 3 1/2 years after starting the romantic relationship with Turner.  Blumenthal’s brother, a hedge fund manager and owner of a swimwear line, is challenging the will on the grounds that Turner unduly influenced his sister in the preparation of her will.

Several quick points:

1.  Although it is unethical for a psychiatrist to date a patient whom the psychiatrist is treating, it is not unethical for the psychiatrist to be named as a beneficiary of the patient’s will although an argument can be made that the psychiatrist unduly influenced the patient.

2.  When a woman leaves her estate to her girlfriend of 3 1/2 years while ignoring her brother the hedge fund manager who is presumably well off, it is difficult to prove undue influence.

3.  I thought that hedge fund managers only cared about billions, not single digit millions.  I also did not think that they had sideline swimwear businesses.

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Daddy Knows Best (But His Daughters Are Resentful)

Following up on the most recent post.  The 21 and 17 year old daughters of Maurice Laboz, who left them each $10 million in trust but provided that they can receive the funds earlier if they meet certain conditions, are reportedly going to court this week to challenge the list of conditions. Their mother is also set to contest the will of her estranged husband.

Several quick points:

1.  As stated ad nauseam here, the grounds for contesting a will or trust are two:  lack of mental capacity or undue influence.  The detailed conditions imposed by Mr. Laboz show a clarity of thought which rules out lack of mental capacity.

2.  Infrequently, the terms of a trust can be challenged because they are against public policy such as when a trust prohibits a beneficiary from marrying a person from a different faith or race.

3.  Rather than being against public policy, some would argue that it is good public policy to keep millions out of the hands of 21 and 17 year old beneficiaries.

4.  Others would also argue that it is good public policy to prohibit teens and 20-somethings from adding to the national tattoo epidemic.

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Daddy Knows Best?

Maurice Laboz was a NYC real estate investor worth $37 million when he died earlier this year.  He left $10 million in trust for each of his daughters and provided that they will receive their inheritance when they reach 35.  However, they may receive funds earlier if they abide by his wishes of signing a pre-nuptial agreement prior to marriage ($500K) and graduating from an accredited college and describing the use of trust funds distributed early ($750K).  They will also receive a distribution of 3x their annual salary each April 15 and distributions for staying at home with children born in wedlock (3% of the trust value annually).   He also disinherited his wife whom he was in the process of divorcing.

Several quick points:

1.  Funded trusts are a great vehicle for disinheriting a spouse in the midst of a divorce proceeding.  Otherwise, the estranged spouse is entitled to a percentage of the estate at death (1/3 in Ohio).

2.  Incentive trusts such as Mr. Laboz’s are good for imposing one’s wishes and values from the grave upon one’s descendants.

3.  Personally, I favor a trust clause that distributes 10% of my children’s inheritance to charity for each tattoo that they have, visible or not.

 

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She Didn’t Know (Updated)

Now that Bobbi Kristina Brown has died after six months in a coma, let’s revisit what will happen to her estate and her mother’s estate, while also covering what she should have done differently.  To recap, Bobbi Kristina was a month shy of 19 years old when Whitney died.  Whitney’s 1993 will created a trust solely for the benefit of Bobbi Kristina.  The trust distributed 10% of Whitney’s estate to Bobbi Kristina when she was 21 with the remainder to be distributed at the ages of 25 and 30.  Bobbi Kristina received approximately $2 million on her 21st birthday.  After Bobbi Kristina was found unconscious, her father (Bobby Brown) and grandmother (Cissy Houston) made her medical decisions for her somewhat contentiously.

What should have happened?

1.  Whitney should have provided that her estate be distributed to her daughter at an age later than 21.  I never draft trusts with such a young age for principal distribution.

2.  When Bobbi Kristina received her first distribution from her trust, she should have created a will of her own which would have enabled her to leave her $2 million to her “husband”/adopted “brother”, Nick Gordon.

3.  Upon turning 18, Bobbi Kristina should have executed a health care power of attorney, living will, HIPAA release, and financial power of attorney designating a specific family member to handle her affairs if she were disabled.  I always recommend this for my clients whose children are heading off to college.

4. None of this was done.  Of course, I doubt that basic estate planning was a priority for a family prone to alcohol and drug use while bathing.

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Look In the Mirror, Sweetheart

A 22 year old rising college senior recently called into a radio advice show because she had exhausted the $90K college fund her grandparents had left her.  She does not have funds to pay for her senior year after using some of the funds for a trip to Europe, college breaks, and clothes. Some of her comments included the following:

1.  “Maybe [my parents] should have taught me to budget or something. They never sat me down and had a real serious talk about it.”

2.  “[My parents] said there was nothing they could do for me. They’re not being honest with me saying they don’t have [money] because my dad has worked for like a million years and they have a retirement account.”

3.  “Then my parents suggested I go take out a loan at a credit union and I’m, like, how am I supposed to do that?” coupled with “I have to go inside a bank to get a loan?”

4.  “I know they’re trying to teach me a lesson and blah blah blah and character building but, like, I hope they realize [working part-time] could have such a negative effect on my grades and as a person.”

Several quick estate planning points:

1.  The grandparents would have better served their delicate (and irresponsible) granddaughter by funding a 529 plan which would have allowed them to ensure that distributions were only made for tuition and other direct college expenses.

2.  If she received the funds as an inheritance, the grandparents should have left them in trust for her and provided that the funds could only be disbursed for education related expenses.

3.  This young woman is emblematic of many contemporary college students who are supporters of Obamacare, Big Government, and campus speech and sex codes because they are incapable of providing for themselves and need an authority figure to do that for them.

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Pistons, Lightning, Shock, and Fury

William Davidson was the owner of the Detroit Pistons, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Detroit Shock (WNBA). When he died in 2009, he was listed as the 62nd richest man in the U.S. His estate recently settled litigation with the IRS over the amount of estate taxes owed. The IRS claimed that the estate owed an additional $2.8 billion (yes, with a B) in estate taxes. The dispute involved the value of closely held stock transferred to various trusts. The estate settled for $388 million.

Points, if I must:

1. I would call this a victory for the estate given that the IRS was seeking 7X more than the settlement amount.

2. Of course, it is never a victory for the family when they had already presumably paid more than $1 billion in estate taxes and were fighting over the incremental taxes.

3. All of this begs the question about how much estate tax is enough from one individual. If Democratic candidate nee Socialist Bernie Sanders were president, Davidson’s tax bill would have been $1 billion more.

4. Last, if one owns a professional sports team, or three, good estate planning advice is essential.

WNBA Finals Game 1: Sacramento Monarchs v Detroit Shock


The Uncomplicated Line

Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer allowed me to guest write his The Morning Line blog today.  I wrote about his book “An Uncomplicated Life” in addition to the usual sports topics.  I hope you enjoy it.

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