Category Archives: Personal Representative

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.

June 24, 2015

Updates for fiduciaries from the IRS and Colorado

by Kelly Cooper

The IRS has stated that it will not issue closing letters for federal estate tax returns filed on or after June 1, 2015, unless one is requested by the taxpayer. The information provided by the IRS states that the taxpayer should wait at least four months after filing the return to request a closing letter. A closing letter indicates that the estate’s federal estate tax liabilities have been paid. While a closing letter is not a formal closing agreement, many fiduciaries wish to have a closing letter from the IRS before making final distributions and closing estates. For returns filed prior to June 1, 2015, please refer to the following document for guidance as to when a closing letter will be issued:

Frequently Asked Questions on Estate Taxes

Certain statutes in the Colorado Probate Code are subject to cost of living adjustments each year. The numbers for 2010-2015 can viewed here:

Cost of Living Adjustment of Certain Dollar Amounts for Property of Estates in Probate

May 12, 2015

What Does It Mean To Be A Trustee?

by Carol Warnick

We are constantly surprised to realize that the normal, average trustee who is not a professional fiduciary doesn’t really understand what is required of him or her and often makes serious mistakes.  You would expect that someone taking over the role of being a trustee would inquire or do some type of research as to what is expected, but unfortunately many new trustees don’t seem to take the responsibility seriously enough, often with disastrous consequences.

The trustee stands in a special relationship with the grantor of the trust as well as to the beneficiaries.  This relationship is unique and the trustee should keep that in the forefront of his or her mind.  By appointing someone as trustee, the grantor is depending upon the trustee to both honor the provisions of the trust to the best of his or her ability, but also to respond to the needs  of the beneficiaries and to maintain their confidence and trust.  The trustee must be careful not to do anything which would benefit the trustee to the detriment of the beneficiaries or to ignore the duties and obligations of a trustee.  Thus the word “trust” inside the term “trustee” should not be taken lightly. 

The obligations of a trustee are defined not only by the trust agreement, but also by state law, some of which is statutory and some of which is common law.  State laws may differ from state to state, but some basic premises hold true wherever  a trust is being administered.  In general, these duties of a trustee are important and can result in litigation, removal, and potentially surcharge if the trustee ignores them.  

Some of the general duties of a trustee are set forth below, as taken from “What It Means to Be A Trustee:  A Guide for Clients,” published in the ACTEC Journal, Volume 31, No. 1, Summer 2005. 

  • Duty to Administer Trust by Its Terms.  The trust, including amendments,  provides a roadmap for the trustee and unless its terms are ambiguous, the trustee must follow its terms.  As mentioned above, state law will govern many areas where the trust is silent, so the trustee must be versed in the state law where the jurisdiction is administered. 
  • Duty of Skill and Care.  Skill, prudence and diligence — this is a high standard of performance — higher that one would be expected to follow if administering one’s own assets. 
  • Duty to Give Notice.  The trustee must be familiar with the language of the trust as well as state law to determine when he or she must give notice to beneficiaries, or perhaps a co-trustee.  Some examples requiring notice to certain individuals are resignation, delegation or designation of a successor trustee, rights of beneficiaries to withdraw principal at certain times, the naming of a professional investment advisor, of delegation of the investment function.
  • Duty to Furnish Information and to Communicate.  The trustee must keep the beneficiaries informed about the administration of the trust.  This may include information about investment performance, actions of the trustee or anything else reasonably requested by the beneficiary. 
  • Duty to Account.  The laws of most states require that the beneficiaries be given regular accountings reflecting the liabilities, receipts and disbursements of the trust.  The form and frequency varies from state to state or the language of the trust document. 
  • Duty Not to Delegate.  Generally, the trustee has the duty not to delegate acts requiring judgment and discretion (typically the trustee was chosen because he or she exhibited good judgment and sound exercise of discretion) unless specifically given that authority in the trust document or by statute.  The trustee may hire agents such as attorneys, accountants, investment advisors, etc. but the trustee should not blindly follow their advice.  The exception to that would be a Directed Trust, which is beyond the scope of this article
  • Duty of Loyalty.  The trustee has a duty to administer the trust solely in the interest of the beneficiaries.
  • Duty to Avoid Conflict of Interest.  The trustee should not use trust property for personal gain and should not use the trust assets in a manner that benefits the trustee personally.  The exception to this is when self-dealing provisions are written into the trust for the benefit of trustees who are also beneficiaries of the trust.  Even if such provisions are present, a trustee needs to be especially careful of self-dealing transactions and should consider appointing an independent trustee (if the trust or state law allows it) strictly for the purpose of authorizing such transactions. 
  • Duty to Segregate Trust Property.  The trustee must not co-mingle personal funds or any other non-trust funds with the assets of the trust.
  • Duty of Impartiality.  The trustee must treat all the beneficiaries impartially unless the trust itself instructs otherwise.  This becomes complicated when the trustee must balance the interests of the income beneficiaries with the interests of the remainder beneficiaries of a trust. 
  • Duty to Invest.  The trustee has a duty to invest the assets appropriately.  Unless otherwise specified, that includes a duty to diversify assets.
  • Duty to Enforce and Defend Claims.  The trustee must take reasonable steps to defend claims against the trust and to enforce claims the trust may have against others.  Part of the decision-making process in determining what is reasonable needs to be an assessment of the costs  of enforcing or defending versus the costs to the trust of not taking action on the claim.
  • Duty of Confidentiality.  The affairs of the trust should be kept confidential except with those who are by law “interested persons” such as the beneficiaries and co-trustees. The trustee should not disclose to third parties the identify or interests of the beneficiaries or the nature of trust assets, unless requested to do so by a beneficiary who may need certain information disclosed to a third party.  This duty of confidentiality also extends to personal things about beneficiaries that may come to the knowledge of the trustee in the process of administering the trust.

Any trustee paying close attention to the duties listed above will stand a much better chance of making the trustee experience a positive one and will be much more likely to avoid problems or lawsuits from beneficiaries. 

April 27, 2015

Who Gets the Embryo?

by Elizabeth Meck

This has been a busy week in celebrity news, particularly with regard to advancements in assisted reproductive technology and the applicability of legally enforceable agreements.

For example, Sophia Vergara, superstar of ABC sitcom Modern Family, is now embroiled in a legal battle with her ex-fiancé, Nick Loeb, regarding two frozen embryos created by the then-couple several years ago when they were planning to use in vitro fertilization and a gestational surrogate to have a baby. Vergara and Loeb executed documents at their fertility clinic stating their agreement to keep the embryos frozen unless both parties mutually agreed to use them (i.e., to implant them into a surrogate) or to destroy them. Otherwise, the parties agreed that the embryos would only be destroyed if one of them dies. Apparently, the standard documents did not address what would happen to the embryos in the event the couple did not remain together or could not agree whether to use or destroy the embryos. Hence, Loeb filed a lawsuit in which he requests that a judge order that the embryos cannot be destroyed under any circumstances and states his position that the survivor between Loeb and Vergara would have control over the embryos upon the death of the other party. For more on the dispute, click here.

This type of dispute is not limited to the rich and famous. Assisted reproductive technology, or “ART,” is on the rise.1 The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 12% of couples experience problems with fertility and as many as 12% of U.S. women and their partners receive infertility services.2 In 2009, the Colorado Legislature adopted the Uniform Probate Code III into the Colorado Probate Code (the “Code”), which incorporated several important changes regarding ART.3 For example, the Code now specifically includes definitions of a “genetic father” and a “genetic mother,” § 15-11-115(5-6), the definition of a “genetic parent," § 15-11-115(7), and clarification as to the individual who “functions as a parent of the child,” § 15-11-115(4), to assist in the determination of exactly who constitutes a child’s “parent” for purposes of succession under the Code.

Further, sections 15-11-116 to -121 of the Code re-codified the existing concept that marital status is not necessarily determinative of a parent-child relationship. As a result, the rules of who is eligible to “take” in an intestacy proceeding have been expanded to include ART children who are adopted or in the process of being adopted. § 15-11-119(5). An ART child does not, however, maintain intestacy rights as to a gestational carrier, absent additional evidence of the parent-child relationship. § 15-11-121(3). Importantly, though, an ART child who is born to a birth mother, who is not a gestational mother, is considered the child of the birth mother regardless of whether the child is genetically tied to the birth mother; and, the person who consented to the assisted reproduction by the birth mother with the “intent” to be treated as the other parent of the child is the parent. § 15-11-120. Intent can be demonstrated any number of ways pursuant to § 15-11-120(6).4 It is important to note that a parent can demonstrate “intent” to be treated as the parent of a posthumously conceived child, so long as the child is in utero within thirty-six months or born within forty-five months of the intended parent’s death. § 15-11-120(11).

ART children may also be included in the definition of a class defined in estate planning documents such as “children” or “grandchildren” or “descendants,” even though they may or may not be genetically related to the grantor or settlor. For example, an ART child may be included in the class even though he or she is not in utero for thirty-six months or born up to forty-five months after the grantor’s or the settlor’s death. § 15-11-705(7).

The presence of ART and the constantly-evolving technologies in this area require that estate planning attorneys, drafters of marital agreements and probate litigators be vigilantly aware of the repercussions of these definitions and our changing laws, as well as how the changing definition of “family” will play out after a decedent’s death. It is increasingly important to ask estate planning clients whether they have any children who were the result of ART, or whether they still have any cryopreserved sperm, eggs, or embryos. Also, including specific instructions with regard to ART in the estate planning documents may become necessary so as to try to avoid dispute after the passing of a genetic parent, an adoptive parent, or an individual who consented to ART by a birth mother.

Additionally, it is increasingly important to inquire as to the existence of any existing written document or directive that specifies the ultimate use or destruction of frozen genetic material such as embryos. Sophia Vergara’s experience could teach us all a good lesson in terms of covering all aspects of “family” as well as “property” when discussing issues with clients whether in the planning stages or during the administration of an estate or trust. For example, practitioners should start to think about the importance of including genetic material in estate planning documents and marital agreements. Further, practitioners should discuss post-death use and disposition of genetic materials with their clients, and address questions such as whether the surviving spouse should be able to utilize a frozen embryo after the death of the other spouse.

At the end of the day, it is crucial to ensure that a client’s documents consistently reflect his or her wishes regarding all assets, family and dispositions, including the often-difficult decision of how to treat and manage genetic materials. Clarification in the planning documents and marital agreements may reduce the potential for surprises and disputes during estate and trust administration or divorce. Otherwise, as in many other areas of probate litigation, disputes with regard to one’s entitlement to an estate or trust will continue to rise.


1ART commonly includes a variety of assisted reproduction methods such as: sperm or egg donation, in vitro fertilization, gestational surrogacy, embryo donation or adoption, embryo or egg or sperm cryopreservation, post-death conception, and the disposition of cryopreserved embryos.
2Centers for Disease Control, 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth.
3The Code defines ART as “a method of causing pregnancy other than sexual intercourse.” § 15-11-115(2).
4Intent can be demonstrated by the following: a signed record that evidences the individual’s consent; evidence that the individual functioned as the parent of the child no more than two years after the child is born; or, the intent to function as the parent of the child within two years of the child’s birth notwithstanding that the individual’s intent was thwarted by incapacity or death. § 15-11-120(6).

April 13, 2015

2015 Cost of Living Adjustment of Certain Dollar Amounts Under Colorado Probate Code

by Peter J. O'Brien

The Colorado Department of Revenue has published a list of cost of living adjustments for 2015 for certain dollar amounts under the Colorado Probate Code.  Probate practitioners should be aware of the change in figures related to the intestate share of a decedent's surviving spouse, supplemental elective-share, exempt property, lump sum exempt family allowance, installment amount exempt family allowance and collection of personal property by affidavit.

The 2015 figures are as follows:

Statute

Description

2015 Amount

C.R.S. § 15-11-102(2)

Intestate share of decedent's surviving spouse if no   descendant of the decedent survives the decedent, but a parent of the   decedent survives the decedent

$335,000, plus   fractional share pursuant to statute

C.R.S. § 15-11-102(3)

Intestate share of decedent's surviving spouse if all of   the decedent’s surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving   spouse and the surviving spouse has one or more surviving descendants who are   not descendants of the decedent

$251,000, plus   fractional share pursuant to statute

C.R.S. § 15-11-102(4)

Intestate share of decedent's surviving spouse if one or   more of the decedent’s surviving descendants are not descendants of the   surviving spouse

$167,000, plus   fractional share pursuant to statute

C.R.S. § 15-11-202

Supplemental elective-share amount

$55,000

C.R.S. § 15-11-403

Exempt property

$32,000

C.R.S. § 15-11-405

Lump sum exempt family allowance

$32,000

Installment amount exempt family allowance

$2,667

C.R.S. § 15-12-1201

Collection of personal property by affidavit

$64,000

March 16, 2015

Advancements

by Rebecca Klock Schroer

Almost every estate dispute among children seems to have an emotional component relating to perceived disparity in treatment by one or both parents.  For example, a will may leave property in equal shares to the Decedent’s children, but the children still argue because one feels that the other received more financial support during the Decedent’s life.  Usually this results in one side making the argument that certain lifetime gifts should be counted against the child who received them and reduce their share of the estate. 

If a lifetime gift counts against a share of the estate, it is commonly referred to as an advancement.  The Colorado Probate Code is very specific regarding what is necessary for a gift to qualify as an advancement or ademption by satisfaction.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-109, which is entitled “advancements,” addresses the requirements when a Decedent dies intestate.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-609, which is entitled “Ademption by Satisfaction,” addresses the requirements when a Decedent dies with a will.

To be considered an advancement, (1) the will (if there is one) must specifically provide for deduction of the gift or (2) a contemporaneous writing by the Decedent or the heir (or devisee) must declare that the gift should be counted against a devise made in the will or the intestate share of the heir.  Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 15-11-109(1) & 15-11-609(1).

For purposes of valuation, the property is valued at the time the heir or devisee came into possession or enjoyment of the property or the Decedent’s death, whichever occurs first.  Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 15-11-109(2) & 15-11-609(2).

The two statutes address the effect of the heir or devisee predeceasing the Decedent.  If the Decedent dies intestate, the property is not taken into account unless the Decedent’s contemporaneous writing provides otherwise.  If the Decedent dies testate, the gift is considered a full or partial satisfaction of the devise, as appropriate, in applying 15-11-603 (antilapse statute) and 15-11-604 (failure of a testamentary provision), unless the testator’s contemporaneous writing provides otherwise. Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 15-11-109(3) & 15-11-609(3).

Finally, for a Decedent who died intestate, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-109(4) provides that an heir does not have to refund the estate if he or she received more than his or her share, unless otherwise provided under the elective share statutes.

In order to minimize disputes, an estate planning attorney should ask their clients whether they wish to have any gifts counted as advancements and whether they have executed any other relevant writings.  For example, ambiguity could arise if the Decedent had a contemporaneous writing that referred to a certain gift as an advancement, but then signed a will at a later date that does not mention the gift.  Does the later will override the contemporaneous writing? 

Finally, the calculation of the impact of an advancement is referred to as a “hotchpot.”  Below is an example:

  • an estate holds $280,000
  • the estate is to be divided equally among three children
  • one child received a $20,000 advancement

First, the $20,000 advancement has to be added back in: $20,000 + $280,000 = $300,000. 

Second, the total is divided by the number of beneficiaries: $300,000/3 = $100,000 per beneficiary. 

The $20,000 is then subtracted from the share for the beneficiary that received the advancement, so the final shares of the estate would be (1) $100,000, (2) $100,000 and (3) $80,000.

February 2, 2015

Trustees Take Heed: Arizona Adopts the Fiduciary Exception to Attorney-Client Privilege

by Kelly Cooper

For trustees in Colorado, the question remains to what extent does the attorney-client privilege offer protection from disclosure of confidential communications between trustees and their attorneys in litigation with beneficiaries.  Despite the uncertainty in Colorado, several states and the U.S. Supreme Court have weighed in on this question and Arizona is the latest state to adopt the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege.  Hammerman v. The Northern Trust Company, 329 P.3d 1055 (Ariz. App. June 3, 2014).

The Court of Appeals of Arizona held that a trustee’s attorney-client privilege “extends to all legal advice sought in the trustee’s personal capacity for purposes of self-protection.”  However, the Court also held that the trustee had an “obligation to disclose to Hammerman [beneficiary]  all attorney-client communications that occurred in its fiduciary capacity on matters of administration of the trust.”

These standards will inevitably give rise to many questions depending on the facts and circumstances of the trust administration at issue, but one will likely come up over and over again.  At what point will a trustee be permitted to seek advice for self-protection.  Is a question from a beneficiary enough?  Does a lawsuit have to be filed?  A demand letter sent?  Can the trustee use trust funds to pay for the advice?

In a departure from other courts, the Court of Appeals of Arizona held that the trustee’s attorney-client privilege does not end merely because the advice was paid for out of trust funds.  (For example, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that the source of payment for fees is “highly relevant” in identifying who is the “real client.”  United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 131 S. Ct. 2313, 2330 (2011).  The Delaware Court of Chancery found that the source of payment was a ““significant factor… [and] a strong indication of precisely who the real clients were.”  Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C. v. Zimmer, 355 A.2d 709, 712 (Del. Ch. 1976).)

Without any clear guidance in Colorado, it is important for trustees (and their counsel) to keep a close watch on future developments. 

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!