More and more, I review trust agreements that appoint a trustee, but then appoint other individuals or institutions to perform certain tasks that are normally in the domain of the trustee. They are sometimes referred to as trust protectors, trust advisors, trust directors, special powerholders, investment trustees, or distribution trustees. I most often see these appointments in the areas of investments or distributions.
The trust language that attempts to divide the responsibilities of a trustee among a group is often unclear and give rise to difficult questions as to the scope of each individuals’ responsibilities. There is also the question of whether the trustee is responsible for the actions of the other appointees and if the appointees are fiduciaries. These problems with interpretation are often exacerbated because the laws are not clear about the division of these responsibilities and the liability of each actor. Read more >>
I recently joined forces with family law attorney Ian Shea to co-author an article for The Colorado Lawyer. The article highlights a few of the intersections between probate law and family law, including spouse’s property interests in trusts, the automatic temporary injunction, the revocation of spouse’s interests under the Colorado Probate Code, and representation of fiduciaries in divorce proceedings.
As regular readers of this blog know, one of our favorite topics is digital assets, including estate planning for digital assets. Today, we’re taking a slightly different focus and discussing developments in digital estate planning, more commonly known as electronic wills.
One of the more recent developments in estate planning is the concept of electronic wills. In general, an electronic will is one that is signed and stored electronically. Instead of signing a hard copy document in ink, the testator electronically signs the will, and it is also signed by witnesses and notarized electronically. Not surprisingly, companies like LegalZoom are very interested in this topic.
In my practice, I regularly answer questions regarding the permissibility and advisability of modifying irrevocable trusts. With the enactment of a decanting statute in Colorado in 2016, these types of requests will only increase. One of the major hurdles in modifying irrevocable trusts (and a trap for the unwary) is the potential tax consequences of a modification. We often have to consider estate tax inclusion issues, the possibility of the imposition of gift taxes due to the modification, and the potential loss of generation-skipping transfer tax exemption for a trust. Read more >>
The Colorado Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion reinforcing the breadth of the probate court’s jurisdiction. In re Estate of Arlen E. Owens, 2017COA53.
In Owens, the decedent’s brother filed a petition to set aside nonprobate payable-on-death (“POD”) transfers, alleging that at the time the decedent executed certain beneficiary designations, he lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by his caretaker. The caretaker filed an objection based on jurisdiction, which the court denied. After an evidentiary hearing on the petition, the trial court set aside the beneficiary designations and imposed a constructive trust over the transferred assets held by the caretaker. Read more >>
Does the fact that a husband and wife create “mirror-image” wills or trusts mean that they have entered into a contract with their spouse to maintain the dispositive provisions in the document? The law in Colorado is very clear that no contract exists merely because the documents are “mirror-image” or reciprocal.
Pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-514, a contract to make a devise may be established only by:
(i) provisions of a will stating material provisions of the contract, (ii) an express reference in a will to a contract and extrinsic evidence proving the terms of the contract, or (iii) a writing signed by the decedent evidencing the contract. The execution of a joint will or mutual wills does not create a presumption of a contract not to revoke the will or wills. (emphasis added).
Much has been written on this blog about digital assets, and you have likely given some thought to the impact that this relatively new category of assets has on estate planning and administration. But have you considered the other ways in which new digital devices and technologies might impact your practice and your clients’ lives? If not, a murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart, will give you something to think about.
James Bates is accused of murdering his coworker Victor Collins (yes, they both worked at Walmart) in a hot tub in November 2015. On the night of the alleged murder, Bates’s Amazon Echo was streaming music through its speaker, and Bentonville police have issued a search warrant for the Echo’s recording from that night hoping it will shed light on what happened.
The Amazon Echo is a speaker and virtual assistant that works by constantly listening to background noise and conversation. The virtual assistant, Alexa, is activated when the Echo hears someone say “Alexa.” The background conversations are not recorded by the Echo, but anything said after Alexa is activated is recorded. Because Bates’s Echo was streaming music on the night of the alleged murder, the police believe that it may have been activated and recording conversations. Read more >>
The rules and regulations surrounding the operation of family foundations contain traps for the unwary and prohibit self-dealing transactions. We regularly help families navigate the complex rules regarding self-dealing transactions for private foundations.
These self-dealing rules tripped up the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has admitted that it has engaged in self-dealing. How do we know? A private foundation is required to file a Form 990-PF each year and that return requires a foundation to answer questions regarding its activities and transactions. The following question caused issues for the Trump Foundation: “During the year did the foundation (either directly or indirectly): Transfer any income or assets to a disqualified person (or make any of either available for the benefit or use of a disqualified person)? By answering “Yes,” the Trump Foundation has admitted that a self-dealing transaction occurred. The Trump Foundation’s Form 990-PF (and many other foundations’ returns) are available through www.guidestar.com.
RUFADAA is a significant leap by the State of Colorado to catch up to the digital age. Prior to the passage of the law, the pervasive use of electronic banking and investing has posed a problem for many fiduciaries. Without the receipt of paper statements, personal representatives, financial agents, trustees and conservators have had a difficult time locating an individual’s assets, sometimes leading to an exhaustive search of several banking and financial institutions before asserts are uncovered. Read more >>
We are seeing an increase in the number of lawsuits in which people are challenging or trying to circumvent estate plans. The claims traditionally include lack of testamentary capacity and those involving improper actions by family members, agents under powers of attorney or conservators.
A challenge to an estate plan often involves a claim that the testator was not of sound mind. Under Colorado law, a sound mind includes the presence of the Cunningham factors and absence of an insane delusion that materially affected the testamentary instrument. The Cunningham factors are as follows: the testator must (1) understand the nature of the act, (2) know the extent of his property, (3) understand the proposed testamentary disposition, (4) know the natural objects of his bounty, and (5) that the testamentary instrument represented his wishes. Cunningham v. Stender, 255 P.2d 977 (Colo. 1953).
In addition to these factors, the testator cannot be suffering from an insane delusion. An insane delusion exists if a person has a persistent belief, resulting from illness or disorder, in the existence or non-existence of something contrary to all evidence, which materially affects the disposition in the testamentary instrument.Breeden v. Stone, 992 P.2d 1167 (Colo. 2000). For example, failure to include a child in the will because the testator believes that child has been abducted by aliens and will never return to earth. Read more >>