Category Archives: Guardian

July 5, 2017

Electronic Wills

by Morgan Wiener

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.

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April 25, 2016

Is Any Family at Risk for Competency Disputes?

by Matthew Skotak

Casey Kasem (famed American Top 40 DJ), Tom Benson (owner of the NBA’s Pelicans and NFL’s Saints), and Sumner Redstone (controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS) have much in common: wealth, prestige, and status. Though many may envy their fortune and fame, they may not envy their other common thread; competency disputes.

When Casey Kasem’s health deteriorated from Parkinson’s disease, an ugly court battle ensued between his children and his wife, which did not end until he died. A challenge to Tom Benson’s competency arose after he decided to vest controlling interest in the Saints and Pelicans with his wife, and lock-out his other heirs from those teams. Similarly, Sumner Redstone’s competency was challenged by his longtime companion, Manuela Herzer, after she was removed as his health care agent and was kicked out of his California mansion. These conflicts are public and recognizable, however, thousands of similar anonymous disputes occur every day across the country involving ordinary families.

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October 13, 2015

No Medical Evidence Required for Appointment of a Conservator

by Kelly Dickson Cooper

Imagine that you have just discovered that your father has received several unsolicited emails asking for money and that he has sent almost $500,000 to anonymous offshore bank accounts.  Worried for your father, you decide to seek a conservatorship to protect his assets. 

These are the facts that started the dispute resulting in a recent Colorado Court of Appeals case, In re Neher, 2015 COA 103 (July 30, 2015).

At the hearing, there was no medical evidence presented, but rather, expert testimony from a CPA.  The Court ruled in favor of son and his father appealed.  The father’s primary argument on appeal was that Colorado’s conservatorship statute requires medical evidence before a court can determine whether a conservator is necessary. 

Colorado’s conservatorship statute provides that a petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the individual is unable to manage his property and business affairs because they cannot effectively receive and evaluate related information.  In addition, a petitioner must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the individual has assets that will be wasted or dissipated unless management is provided and that protection is necessary.

The Court of Appeals denied the father’s appeal and held that medical evidence is not required evidence in a proceeding requesting appointment of a conservator.  The Court of Appeals considered the following in reaching the decision:

-The language of the statute does not expressly require expert testimony like other statutes in Colorado.

-The language of the statute does not require that a petitioner show the causes of the individual’s inability to effectively receive or evaluate information.

-The Court’s interpretation is consistent with other conservatorship statutes.

-To determine legislative intent, the Court compared the Colorado statute to the Uniform Probate Code and specifically identified that the Colorado statute did not contain the language “an impairment” like the Uniform Probate Code.

The Court of Appeals rejected the father’s arguments that the judicial department forms regarding the appointment of a conservator and the termination of a conservatorship contain references to a physician’s letter or professional evaluation.  The Court of Appeals also rejected the father’s out of state case citations as unpersuasive.

Litigation in the area of conservatorships is continuing to grow and this case provides important guidance for the interpretation of the Colorado standard for the appointment of a conservator.

December 22, 2014

Updates on UFADAA

by Morgan Wiener

The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (“UFADAA”) is the Uniform Law Commission’s answer to the relatively new issues caused by the proliferation of digital assets (online bank accounts, social media accounts, computer hard drives, email, online photos, etc). UFADAA provides solutions to questions involving how fiduciaries can gain access to digital assets, what access fiduciaries may have to digital assets, and what fiduciaries may properly do with digital assets.

UFADAA is a new uniform act, it was adopted in its final form by the Uniform Law Commission in July 2014. Delaware is the only state that has adopted UFADAA so far, and the act will be effective in that state on January 1, 2015. Florida has also introduced legislation to adopt UFADAA.

In Colorado, the Trust & Estate Section of the Colorado Bar Association has been considering UFADAA and revisions to UFADAA so that it will better conform to existing laws and work with this state’s current framework for governing fiduciaries, trusts, and estates. Just this past week, the Statutory Revisions Committee of the Trust & Estate Section approved its final comments and proposed revisions to UFADAA. You can view the version of UFADAA approved by the Statutory Revisions Committee here. Although there are still a number of steps that must be taken before any version of UFADAA is enacted in Colorado, this is certainly a step in the right direction!

October 7, 2014

The Fall of Colorado’s Same Sex Marriage Ban

By Kelly Cooper

Starting on Monday, marriage licenses were issued in Colorado to couples regardless of sexual orientation.

This change came because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear cases from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.  What do these five states have in common?  Each of them had banned same sex marriage and had those bans declared unconstitutional by a U.S. Court of Appeals. 

In refusing to hear these cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld three U.S. Courts of Appeal’s decisions declaring the same sex marriage bans unconstitutional and making same sex marriages legal in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

The impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear these cases has reached far beyond the borders of those five states.  This is because every state in the U.S. is subject to the decisions made by one U.S. Court of Appeals.  For example, Colorado is situated in the 10th Circuit and the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared Utah’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional.  Since Utah and Colorado are both bound by 10th Circuit’s decisions, it is likely that Colorado’s same sex marriage ban would also be declared unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit.  As a result, various county clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples in Colorado.

Current status: There are 19 states that permit same sex marriages plus the District of Columbia.  Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear these cases, five more states’ bans on same sex marriage will fall bringing the total number of states permitting same sex marriage to 24.  Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, an additional six states’ same sex marriage bans are effectively overruled, including Colorado’s.  The other five states are Wyoming, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.  This will bring the total number of states allowing same sex marriage to 30.

 We can expect more developments and changes in this area in the near term, so stay tuned.

December 9, 2013

Probate and Trust Issues in Colorado’s Upcoming Legislative Session

by Kelly Cooper

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.

September 24, 2013

Fiduciary Solutions Symposium Recap

by Kelly Cooper

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:

  • Digital Assets
  • Social Media and Use in Litigation
  • Gun trusts
  • 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.

May 13, 2013

I’ll Be the Judge of That

by C. Jean Stewart

I’ve been in San Antonio, Texas attending the Spring Conference of the National College of Probate Judges this week, catching up with old friends and learning about new trends and concerns among probate courts from Alabama to Oregon to Maine.  This has been an outstanding program in a very special setting.  Our thanks to Judge Mike Wood from Harris County Probate Court No. 2 (Houston) and Judge Ponda Caldwell from Spartanburg County Probate Court (Spartanburg, South Carolina) who assembled a group of outstanding judges and speakers to lead our conference. 

Probate judges and their probate court administrators continue to be restricted by severe budget cuts; nevertheless, we all share common concerns about probate court procedures in trust and estate litigation, abuse and financial exploitation of the vulnerable and elderly, and recent developments throughout the country in all areas of the law that impact probate cases.

Joanne Woodruff, Elder Fraud Prosecutor in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office inspired and challenged us with the many accomplishments of her office in gaining convictions and significant sentences against con operators, opportunistic neighbors, greedy relatives, unscrupulous caregivers, and others bent on improperly taking funds from vulnerable elderly citizens.  Joanne’s position (her office includes an advocate assistant) has been made possible by a grant from the Texas governor’s office but her substantial track record (nearly 100% success) clearly arises from the passion and expertise she brings to her work.  Many judges expressed a desire to replicate programs like Joanne’s that would provide every community with a fearless and committed prosecutor to stem the tide of financial exploitation of the elderly.

Stanley Johanson, the James A. Elkins Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law, is one of our favorite lecturers in probate law and procedure.  He raised multiple issues of interest to probate judges under the new federal estate and gift tax laws and introduced multiple ways in which estate planning and changes to estate plans will impact probate judges in the years to come.  He even offered a little advice for probate judges thinking about their own estate plans. 

We were heartened to hear from several of our speakers that the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Procedures Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPA) has now been adopted in 37 states (presently on the New York Governor’s desk for signature).  Perhaps no single uniform act has done more to insure the safety and security of vulnerable citizens in our mobile society by giving real legislative substance to the concept of “home state” and reducing the risks of conflicting court orders originating from multiple states than this uniform law created, in part, with the participation of NCPJ members.  The 13 states that have not adopted UAGPPJA will be the focus of the many groups committed to bringing an end to interstate support and involvement in disputes over physical control and custody of the incapacitated elderly.

No conference of probate judges is complete without a presentation on the special evidentiary rules – Dead Man’s statute e.g., that accompany probate court litigation.  Frank N. Ikard, Jr., a prominent Texas fiduciary litigator gave us his perspectives on many of these unique and complex rules.  Frank elaborated on the duties of a fiduciary to disclose complete, detailed records of the trust/estate account because (1) the records belong to the beneficiary who owns equitable title to the trust/estate account and (2) the fiduciary has an unquestioned duty to keep the beneficiary(ies) informed about the beneficiary’s property.  Frank refers to this as “equitable discovery” and lauds its virtues compared to the civil rules of discovery; most importantly, he has enjoyed great success in applying his analysis in his local practice in Texas.

At Friday evening’s spring banquet, NCPJ gave our annual Judge Isabella Horton Grant Guardianship Award to Erica Wood of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging.  The Isabella Award was established to honor the memory of the late Judge Isabella Grant, for many years the highly respected and innovative presiding judge of the San Francisco Probate Court. The Award, sponsored by The Rutter Group of California and administered by NCPJ, recognizes and encourages achievements in the field of guardianships of minors and adults.  Erica Wood is particularly suited for this award because she has dedicated over 30 years to the improvement and adoption nationally of appropriate rules and procedures for guardianship proceedings involving our most vulnerable citizens. We congratulate and applaud Erica’s outstanding accomplishments.   

We leave San Antonio to return to many diverse states, inspired and confirmed in our views about the unique and particularly human aspects of probate jurisdiction and looking forward to meeting in Nashville for the fall conference in November (meet us at Sheraton Music City November 13-16) and then in Vail, Colorado next May at the Four Season’s Hotel (May 15-18).

April 22, 2013

Civil Unions Legislation Effective May 1, 2013

by Kelly Cooper 

In 2012, a law that would have permitted same-sex partners to enter into civil unions in Colorado failed.  In this year’s legislative session, advocates for civil unions were successful and on May 1, 2013, the Colorado Civil Union Act will become effective. 

The Act provides same-sex partners the benefits, protections and responsibilities given to spouses under Colorado law if they enter into a civil union.  In addition, the Act provides that civil unions, domestic partnerships and other legal relationships between same-sex partners created in other states will be treated as civil unions in Colorado.

Even though the Colorado Constitution (by a 2006 amendment) limits marriage to a man and a woman, the Act provides that all Colorado laws granting rights to man and woman spouses will now grant the same rights to partners entering into civil unions.   

This means, for example, that if partners wish to dissolve their civil union, they will need to file for a legal dissolution and that the laws regarding maintenance, parenting time, child support and property division will apply.

The Act does not alter the impact of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which provides that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  As a result, federal laws granting rights to spouses will not apply to partners in a civil union.  The United States Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to DOMA.  An opinion is expected from the US Supreme Court in June 2013.  We can expect more developments and changes in this area in the near term, so stay tuned.