Category Archives: Will & Trust Construction

October 9, 2017

Decanting to Eliminate a Beneficiary – New York Says Yes

by Kelly Dickson Cooper

Settlors often ask whether they can change the beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust because life circumstances or relationships have changed. Often, the answer is no.  However, in a recent case in New York, the trustee was able to accomplish the settlor’s desire to disinherit one of his children through a decanting. Read more >>

September 26, 2017

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover (or Fifty Ways to Plan, Administer and Litigate Estates)

by Carol Warnick

As the old song by Paul Simon contemplates, there are fifty ways to leave your lover, and there are also fifty ways to plan, administer and litigate estates and trusts.  I have recently become aware of various situations in which attorneys assume that because things are done a certain way in the state in which they practice, they are done the same way in other states.

I am licensed in three states, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and deal regularly with the significant differences between them.  For example, Colorado tends to use “by representation” in dealing with passing assets down the generations, but Utah and Wyoming both use “per stirpes.”  Read more >>

August 2, 2017

New Uniform Directed Trust Act

by Kelly Dickson Cooper

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 >>

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 10, 2017

Contracts to Make Wills or Trusts

by Carol Warnick

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).

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January 30, 2017

Charitable Trusts and the Cy Pres Doctrine: An Overview

by Jessica J. Smith

Charitable trusts are both valuable estate planning tools and excellent philanthropic devices. For instance, certain charitable trusts provide appealing tax benefits for donors creating charitable inter vivos trusts. While in most respects, charitable trusts are governed by the same state law concepts often discussed here on this blog (like fiduciary duty obligations for trustees), there are a few notable exceptions worth highlighting for anyone looking to take advantage of charitable trusts for estate or tax planning purposes.*

In general terms, a charitable trust is simply a trust that has a charitable purpose. See, e.g., Denver Found. v. Wells Fargo Bank, 163 P.3d 1116, 1125 (Colo. 2007) (“Instead of identifying a person or corporation as beneficiary, the settlor of a charitable trust must describe a purpose which is of substantial public benefit.”). Under Uniform Trust Code § 405, charitable purposes include “the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, the promotion of heath, governmental or municipal purposes, or other purposes the achievement of which is beneficial to the community.” The Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 28 largely matches the UTC, although it is a tad more expansive. For instance, the Restatement includes the advancement of knowledge, rather than just education, in its definition of charitable purpose. The differences between the UTC and the Restatement, though, are slight.
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December 19, 2016

Claims Challenging Estate Plans

by Rebecca Klock Schroer

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.

Testamentary Capacity

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 >>

September 26, 2016

Tax Apportionment Controversies Continue to Fuel Litigation

by C. Jean Stewart

Last month Maryland’s highest appellate court released[1] a narrowly-divided (4-to-3) opinion in a tax apportionment case involving the estate of celebrity novelist Tom Clancy (The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and other popular espionage novels), who died on October 1, 2013.  This case once again confirms that (1) blended families, combined with (2) tax apportionment disputes and (3) ambiguity and inconsistency in estate planning documents, inevitably fuel expensive and protracted probate litigation.

In his will, Clancy gave his tangible personal property and two of his residences outright to his second wife, who survived him, and directed his Personal Representative to divide his residuary estate into three equal parts.  One part, designated as the “Marital Share,” was to be (a) comprised entirely of assets qualifying for the federal estate tax marital deduction, (b) held solely for the benefit of his widow, and (c) exonerated from all tax liabilities to qualify entirely for the marital deduction.   Read more >>

September 12, 2016

A Killer Cannot Profit from His or Her Own Wrong

by Matthew Skotak and Rebecca Klock Schroer

Common law provides that a killer cannot profit from his or her own wrong.  This policy underlies what is known as the “Slayer Statute.”  The Colorado Probate Code includes Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803 to address the scenario where a person kills another and stands to inherit the victim’s assets.

Under the Slayer Statute, there are two ways to show that a person cannot inherit.  First, if the person is convicted of a felonious killing in a criminal proceeding, after all right to appeal has been exhausted, such conviction is conclusive under the Slayer Statute.  Accordingly, the killer’s right to inherit from the victim is extinguished and the killer is generally treated as though he or she predeceased the victim.

Second, a civil action may be commenced under which the accusing party may try to prove, by the preponderance of the evidence, the elements of a felonious killing.  If the elements are proven, the killer’s right to inherit from the victim is extinguished.  The ability to move forward with a civil action may be particularly useful if the criminal proceeding is subject to multiple appeals and is pending for a number of years.

The Slayer Statute generally addresses the killer’s right to inherit under revocable instruments, nonprobate assets, e.g., life insurance, and statutory rights.  It does not address every possible scenario and therefore, has a “catch-all” provision.  This provision provides that “A wrongful acquisition of property or interest by a killer not covered by this section shall be treated in accordance with the principle that a killer cannot profit from his or her wrong.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803(6). 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.

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