The popular press is always full of cautionary tales about celebrities and their estate plans (see our previous post on Philip Seymour Hoffman). These stories make it seem that more celebrities get estate planning wrong then get it right. However, it appears that Robin Williams did take several steps to get his estate plan right before his untimely death.
Williams created a revocable living trust. Since trust documents are not part of the public record like a will, we may never know who Williams gave his assets to and how those assets will be handled (in a trust, outright gifts, etc.). The living trust will help protect Williams’ legacy and his family’s privacy (assuming there is no litigation or disclosure by those with knowledge of the plan).
In addition, living trusts help to avoid probate if they are properly funded. In California, where Williams lived, the probate process can be expensive due to fees for the attorney and executor that are based on the value of the assets going through probate in addition to appraisal fees and court costs. If Williams transferred all of his personal assets to the living trust prior to his death, he will have helped to avoid these expenses.
Williams also appears to have created a trust to hold his real estate in California (estimated equity of $25 million) and another trust to benefit his children (value unknown). While it is not known whether Williams created these trusts to help reduce his estate tax costs, it is possible that he did so. This uncertainty is because the terms of these trusts remain private.
I hope that Williams’ family benefits from his planning and foresight and that other celebrities take notice.
Colorado’s General Assembly will reconvene on January 8, 2014. At this time, it appears that at least two probate and trust related issues will be the subject of debate by the Assembly.
The first is a proposed change to the Colorado Civil Unions Act that would permit partners to a civil union to file joint income tax returns if they are permitted to do so by federal law. Under the current proposal being considered by the Colorado Bar Association, there would be changes to both the Civil Unions Act and Colorado’s income tax statutes. This is partly in response to the issuance of Revenue Ruling 2013-17 by the Internal Revenue Service, which permits married same sex couples to file joint federal income tax returns.
The second is a proposal to codify a testamentary exception to Colorado’s attorney-client privilege. The necessity and proposed scope of the testamentary exception are currently being discussed by a subcommittee of the Statutory Revisions Committee of the Trust & Estate Section of the Colorado Bar Association and will likely be discussed later this week at Super Thursday meetings.
The Colorado Supreme Court has previously recognized that the attorney-client privilege generally survives the death of the client to further one of the policies of the attorney-client privilege – to encourage clients to communicate fully and frankly with counsel. The Colorado Supreme Court has also held that a “testamentary exception” to the privilege exists, which permits an attorney to reveal certain types of communications when there is dispute among the heirs, devisees or other parties who claim by succession from a decedent so that the intent of the decedent can be upheld.
Last week, we held our first Fiduciary Solutions Symposium. We want to thank each of you that came and participated. We enjoyed seeing all of you and getting a chance to catch up with you over breakfast.
For those of you that couldn’t attend, here is a brief recap. When we discussed topics that we wanted to present at the Symposium, we kept coming back to the constantly evolving and changing nature of our practices. Whether it is taxes, ADR or changes in state laws, things never stay the same. As a result, we decided to discuss a variety of topics and the trends we are seeing each day in our practices. It was difficult to narrow down the topics to two hours of content, but we ended up discussing the following issues:
Social Media and Use in Litigation
Civil Unions/Same Sex Marriage and related tax issues
Reformation and modification of trusts and decanting
Apportionment and allocation of taxes and expenses in administration
Baby boomers and the “Silver Tsunami”
Migratory Clients and Differing State Laws
Trends in Alternative Dispute Resolution
Assisted Reproductive Technology
We had so much fun that we are taking the show on the road and will be in Salt Lake City on November 12th. We hope to see you there.