Imagine that, instead of wedding billionaire Howard Marshall, Anna Nicole Smith had merely gotten engaged to him. Marshall, being as he was sixty years Smith's elder, then predeceases her, and Smith requests a posthumous wedding.
Leaving aside the billions the affair would generate for gossip columns, the possibility of posthumous marriage would wreak havoc for estate planners. What would be the inheritance rights of a posthumously marrying spouse? What level of proof is required to show that s/he was actually the fiance(e) of the decedent? What if the decedent had planned to sign a pre-nuptial agreement limiting the new spouse's inheritance rights? What if everybody knows the decedent would have backed out of the engagement prior to the wedding ceremony?
In France, legal scholars have the pleasure of tangling with such questions, as illustrated by the recent application of the fiance of a man who died as a result of "Muslim" fanatic Mohamed Merah's deranged shootings.
No such lurid details exist in this case as posited in the Anna N. Smith hypothetical above. Rather, the bereaved fiancee, carrying the decedent's child has petitioned for a respectful ceremony in which she can posthumously wed her untimely dead betrothed.
States local attorney arranging the matter, "it's a really moving ceremony, with an empty chair representing the dead spouse."
And as to the questions of proof and legitimacy of the engagement? In France, apparently at least some of those problems are dealt with by a curious level of constitutional authority given to the executive. No less than the president must sign off on the application to posthumously wed.
As Alpharetta, Georgia, probate attorneys at the Tieger Law Center rightly report this week, estate taxes can be devastating to non-US citizens.
The reason is that most U.S. citizens' estates currently pay no taxes on the first $5 million of the inheritance. Not so for non-citizens, where every dime after $60,000 is presently taxed at a 35% rate.
The “logic” behind this policy works in the case of foreign nationals who earned money abroad all their lives, brought it into the U.S., and then died. Less so for the more typical case of a foreigner who lived and worked in the U.S. for decades, paid taxes during his lifetime just like an American, and then leaves a modest estate worth more than $60,000.
The author of Tieger Law Center’s blog post recommends gifting using offshore family corporations. Other approaches to the problem abound, but key to all of them is beginning to plan early.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is an estate planning and probate law firm that assists clients in the LaGrange, Newnan, Columbus, and Metro Atlanta areas.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia law firm that specializes in estate services, civil litigation, and legal transactions.
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