Category Archives: Personal Representative

May 22, 2017

Fiduciary Duty to Elect Portability

by Matthew Skotak

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling that has required the Personal Representative of an Estate to take the necessary steps to transfer the deceased spousal unused election (DSUE) to the surviving spouse. The case stems from the rights created by the federal gift and estate tax laws regarding portability.  More specifically, beginning in 2010 one spouse was allowed to transfer, at death, his or her unused gift and estate tax exemption to the surviving spouse. Prior to 2010, each spouse had his or her own gift and estate tax exemption, but any portion of that exemption which remained unused by the spouse at death could not be transferred to the surviving spouse.

In In re Estate of Vose, 390 P.3d 238 (Okla. 2017), the Personal Representative of the Estate, one of the children of the decedent by a prior marriage, had refused to make the required election for transfer even though the surviving spouse agreed to pay the cost required to prepare the necessary Federal Estate tax return to do so. Read more >>

March 13, 2017

Now That You Have Accessed the Digital Assets, Don’t Forget to Value Them

by Jody H. Hall, Paralegal

It is well documented that all of our lives have become more data-driven and we are practically tethered to our electronic devices.  Therefore, it should not be surprising to realize that more and more of our assets, and those of our clients, have a digital component.  What may be surprising, however, is just how much value we place on our digital assets.  Surveys report that the average value of personal digital assets owned by individuals globally ranges from $35,000 – $55,000.

A few key words typed into any search engine, including a review of articles written on this blog, will provide a wealth of information on accessing digital assets, including digital assets in your clients’ estate planning documents, and safeguarding your digital assets inventory.  However, after the client’s death, once we have a list of their digital assets, and have gained access those assets, it is prudent for the probate and trust practitioner to remember to value those assets.  Read more >>

January 17, 2017

New Fiduciary Act Brings Both Progress and Uncertainty

by Matthew S. Skotak

You may have previously read on this blog about digital assets, the impact they have on the administration of trusts and estates, the need for fiduciaries to access digital assets, and the privacy concerns that come along with such access. In order to address these issues, Colorado recently enacted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (“RUFADAA”). This new act became effective on August 10, 2016 and can be found at C.R.S. § 15-1-1501 et seq.

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 >>

July 18, 2016

Seeking Clarity in the Distribution of Mineral Interests from a Decedent’s Estate

by Andy Lemieux, Elizabeth Meck, and Jessica Schmidt

As any practitioner who has dealt with the distribution of mineral interests from a decedent’s estate knows, dealing with these interests can be tricky and the process is not always clear. This is particularly true when old interests have not been distributed properly at the time of death. Thankfully, recent decisions in Colorado, as well as updates to certain provisions of the Colorado Probate Code, provide some clarity to this process.  A recent decision in Utah also provides clarity about who is entitled to the proceeds of production from oil and gas operations when life tenants and remaindermen are involved.

Specifically, Colorado just updated its statutes governing the process for the determination of heirship, found in the Colorado Probate Code at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-12-1301, et. seq.  A sub-committee of the Trust and Estate section of the Colorado Bar Association carefully reviewed the existing statutes, coordinated efforts with other sections of the bar, and with the approval of the Trust and Estate section, presented revisions to these statute sections as part of the omnibus bill, SB 16-133, in February 2016.  The committee’s goal was to address the issues Colorado practitioners have experienced in trying to distribute these interests from dormant or previously-unopened probate estates and to make the process to distribute previously undistributed property, including mineral interests, more clear.  SB 16-133 was signed by Governor Hickenlooper on May 4, 2016, thereby adopting the revisions recommended by the committee.  A copy of the Bill as enacted can be found here.

Read more >>

June 6, 2016

Recent IRS Statistics

by Kelly Dickson Cooper

For our litigation clients, a fiduciary’s failure to consider the tax impact of their actions can be the genus for litigation and anticipated tax savings can be the engine that drives a settlement.  For our fiduciary clients, it is important for them to ensure that transfer taxes are minimized for the benefit of their beneficiaries.  For our planning clients, tax planning is a key component in determining the best structure for their wealth transfer planning.  Given the importance of transfer taxes in our practice, we wanted to highlight a few items from the IRS 2015 Data Book relating to estate and gift tax returns:

Number of Tax Returns filed during 2015

  • 36,343 estate tax returns (545 from Colorado)
  • 237,706 gift tax returns (4,492 from Colorado)

Amounts Collected

  • Estate tax returns  – $17,066,589 collected
  • Gift tax returns – $2,052,428 collected

Percentage of 2014 Tax Returns Audited in 2015

  • 7.8% of all estate tax returns
    • Gross estate less than $5 million – 2.1% audit rate
    • Gross estate greater than $5 million but less than $10 million – 16.2% audit rate
    • Gross estate greater than $10 million – 31.6% audit rate
  • 0.9% of all gift tax returns

Results of Audits

  • 22% of estate tax returns examined had no change
  • 34% of gift tax returns examined had no change
  • 70 estate tax returns and 135 gift tax returns had unagreed recommended additional tax
  • 543 estate tax returns and 43 gift tax returns resulted in tax refunds

May 16, 2016

Basic Estate Principles Learned From the Death of Prince

by Jody H. Hall, Paralegal

The entire world entered mourning when music legend Prince died unexpectedly on April 21, 2016 at the age of 57. There is certainly no shortage of stories and speculation in the news and social media regarding the circumstances surrounding his death, and the handling of his legal, personal and business affairs.

However, as trust and estates professionals, we are drawn to the estate planning, or lack thereof, of the cultural icon. The story that will undoubtedly change and evolve as the estate is administered can be an entertaining and valuable source of lessons learned to share with clients, family members, and dare I say, ourselves.

No one has been able to find a Will. The initial reports stated that no one was able to find a will, and no one had reason to believe that a Last Will and Testament had been created. This underscores not only the importance of having a Will, but also of making sure your nominated personal representative knows where to find it.  Most jurisdictions still require the original will to be lodged or filed with the Court, so your loved ones will need to be able to easily access the original signed document.  Copies are generally not acceptable without additional court action.  The best place to store those documents may also not be in a bank safe deposit box, unless that person has access to the box already.  Otherwise, it may require Court intervention to access the box to determine if a Will is inside.  Communication before your death with those that you trust to handle your affairs after your death will alleviate much stress and confusion.  Read more >>

April 11, 2016

New Reporting Required of Estate Fiduciaries by IRS

by Margot S. Edwards

Executors of estates required to file a Form 706 Estate Tax Return, and filing such return after July 31, 2015, must comply with two new reporting requirements. These requirements are set forth in Section 6035 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), and corresponding proposed regulations. The new reporting obligations are designed to ensure that the initial basis in property distributed to an estate beneficiary is equal to the value of such property for estate tax purposes, and to provide for ongoing consistency of basis. These obligations include both (1) filing form 8971 with the IRS, and (2) providing a statement to certain beneficiaries with information about the value of estate assets received by those beneficiaries.

Who Must File

The term “executor” as used in Section 6035 incorporates the estate tax definition set forth in Section 2203 of the Code. As a result, for purposes of identifying who must complete these filings, the term includes, for example, the trustee of a fully funded revocable trust.

The proposed regulations clarify that an executor filing a form 706 that is not required, but which is filed to elect portability or to make GST elections, is not required to fulfill these reporting obligations. Read more >>

January 25, 2016

Colorado Supreme Court Upholds the Strict Privity Doctrine for Attorney Malpractice Claims

by Kelly Dickson Cooper

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the strict privity doctrine for attorney malpractice claims by nonclients and reaffirmed that an attorney’s liability is limited to when the attorney has committed fraud or a malicious or tortious act, including negligent misrepresentation. Baker v. Wood, Ris & Hames, case number 2013SC551 (2016 CO 5).

In Baker, the dissatisfied beneficiaries sued the attorneys for their father and alleged as follows:

  • The attorneys failed to advise their father of the impact of holding property in joint tenancy.
  • The attorneys failed to advise their father that failing to sever those joint tenancies would frustrate his intent to treat his children equally with his stepchildren.
  • The attorneys’ actions allowed the surviving spouse to change their father’s estate plan after his death.
  • The attorneys drafted documents for the surviving spouse that were different from their father’s original plan.
  • The beneficiaries were the intended beneficiaries of the client’s plan, that the attorneys failed to advise the beneficiaries of the relevant facts, and that they had suffered damages as a result.

The beneficiaries asked the Colorado Supreme Court to adopt the “California Test” or the “Florida-Iowa Rule” and set aside the strict privity rule. The Court rejected the adoption of both tests and reaffirmed the strict privity rule. The Court also held that the beneficiaries’ claims would fail under both the California Test and the Florida-Iowa Rule.

The Court put forth the following rationales for upholding the strict privity rule in Colorado:

  • It protects the attorney’s duty of loyalty to the client and allows for effective advocacy for the client.
  • Abandoning strict privity could result in adversarial relationships between an attorney and third parties. This could result in conflicting duties for the attorney.
  • Without strict privity, the attorney could be liable to an unforeseeable and unlimited number of people.
  • Expanding attorney liability to nonclients might deter attorneys from taking on certain legal matters. The Court reasoned that this result could compromise the interests of potential clients by making it more difficult to obtain legal services.
  • Casting aside strict privity would increase the risk of suits by disappointed beneficiaries. Those suits would cast doubt on the testator’s intentions after his or her death when he or she is unavailable to speak.
  • The beneficiaries have other avenues available to them, including reformation of the documents.
  • A personal representative can pursue legitimate claims on behalf of a testator.

The Court held, “We further believe that the strict privity rule strikes the appropriate balance between the important interests of clients, on the one hand, and non-clients claiming to be injured by an attorney’s conduct, on the other.” As a result, the strict privity rule remains intact in Colorado.

December 14, 2015

Now There Are Tax Transcripts In Lieu of Estate Tax Closing Letters

by Carol Warnick

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced earlier this year that it would no longer routinely send out an estate tax closing letter and that such letters would have to be specifically requested by the taxpayer. The change in procedure was effective for all estate tax returns filed after June 1, 2015.

Previously, an estate tax closing letter was evidence to show that the IRS had either accepted an estate tax return as filed, or if there has been an audit, that final changes had been made and accepted. Receipt of an estate tax closing letter has never meant that the statute of limitations on the return has run, but it has given comfort to the estate administrator that he or she could make distributions and/or pay creditors knowing that the chances of further IRS review of the return was not likely. Many personal representatives and trustees have made it a practice to wait for such a closing letter before funding sub-trusts or making any significant distributions.

On December 4, 2015, the IRS announced that “account transcripts, which reflect transactions including the acceptance of Form 706 and the completion of an examination, may be an acceptable substitute for the estate tax closing letter.”   Such account transcripts will be made available online to registered tax professionals using the Transcript Delivery System (TDS). Transcripts will also be made available to authorized representatives making requests using Form 4506-T. They still must be requested, but may be easier to obtain than an estate tax closing letter.

For further instructions, here is the link to the information on the IRS website: http://tinyurl.com/plhb6f6.

July 21, 2015

Opposition to the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

by Morgan Wiener

Despite the final version being passed by the Uniform Law Commission two years ago, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (“UFADAA”) has not yet enjoyed widespread passage by state legislatures.  According to the Uniform Law Commission, to date, UFADAA has only been enacted in one state – Delaware.  An additional 26 states introduced legislation to enact a version of UFADAA during the first half of this year, but none of those measures have been passed.  As tempting as it may be to lay the blame on the sluggish pace of the legislative process, it’s important to note that UFADAA also faces substantive resistance.

Although much of the commentary surrounding UFADAA, both on this blog and in the estate planning community at large, has been positive, industry and consumer groups have both opposed the act on privacy grounds.  For example, letters published by both Yahoo! and a coalition of civil liberties groups have raised concerns that the relatively unfettered access to digital assets allowed by UFADAA goes too far and does not do enough to protect the privacy interests of not only a decedent, but also those who communicated with a decedent during his lifetime.  These letters can be found here and here.  The Internet Coalition, a group that represents the interests of major e-commerce and social media companies, the State Privacy and Security Coalition, Inc., and NetChoice, a group whose goal is to promote e-commerce, have all also opposed UFADAA’s enactment in various states.

NetChoice has gone further than simply opposing UFADAA and has proposed its own alternative to UFADAA – the Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act (“PEAC”).  Rather than providing automatic access to a decedent’s digital assets, PEAC contemplates that the probate court will grant access only upon making certain findings and contains a number of provisions that appear designed to protect the holders of digital assets.  You can read the full text of PEAC here.

It will be interesting to see whether UFADAA gains more traction during the next legislative session or whether the opposition holds firm.  Watch this space for updates.