Georgia's Trust Code was recently revised with changes that I have blogged about in part here.
The Georgia State Bar's Fiduciary Law Section recently published a synopsis of the trust code changes, along with the reasoning behind many of them here. I have found it a useful resource for practitioners and clients alike.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia and Atlanta-area law firm that specializes in trust issues, trust drafting and litigation.
The Wall Street Journal posted this about leaving unequal shares of your estate to your heirs.
Among the advice given by the columnist is a recommendation to write one's reasoning for unequal estate shares in a will. Similarly, one could write a letter of intent.
Experience in a litigation setting shows that such clauses and documents rarely carry much weight in court. The reason is that they are typically drafted by the law office preparing the will. If the testator lacked the capacity to make a will, the court will often think, then yet another piece of paper the lawyer drew up does little to add to that capacity.
Practical experience shows that the single best way to leave unequal shares in your will is to tell your children (or other heirs) you're doing it and why. Nothing leads to estate fights quicker than surprises in a will. Similarly, a child that has had months or years to digest the fact that he is receiveing a lesser share (and who has heard "why" straight from the testator) is much less likely to file a suit.
Second to this is some recording or document that demonstrates capacity. A handwritten note or letter; a video tape; a recording of the conversation with the lawyer; or (in extreme circumstances) examination by a physician competent to evaluate mental health are all ways to head off an estate fight before it begins.
This firm also publishes content at the lawyer directory and rating site Avvo.com. Most recently, we posted a 16-step guide to petitioning for year's support in Georgia.
Year's support is the right of every surviving spouse or minor child of a deceased to inherit certain property from the estate, regardless of what is stated in the will. Attorneys have also used year's support as a strategic way of legally avoiding certain debts of the estate, ensuring a maximum tax break on certain real property of the estate, and quickly administering some intestate estates without the need for a full court-supervised administration and all of the complicated steps that can involve.
Tanner Pittman, LLC regularly advises clients and assists with petitions for year's support, year's support litigation, and other probate and estate matters.
The down-economy is a boon to estate planners for the affluent, reports the Wall Stree Journal.
The reason: low interest rates and depreciated assets.
For this post, consider low-valued assets in estate planning. The U.S. federal estate tax is actually a two-tiered system, resting on both estate and gift taxes. At least at present, the unified amount that one may give away in lifetime gifts or after-death bequests without facing taxation is $5 million.
When assets - such as stock or real estate - are depreciated, gifting is an exciting way to estate plan, especially if one supposes the assets may rebound in value in the future. The reason is that one can fit more assets under the $5 million threshold than one could in the past.
Suppose a simple cas where an individual is 70 years old and had $12 million in assets four years ago that are now worth $7 million. $5 million of those assets may be gifted to heirs now. In another five years, the equity and real estate markets may have digested the toxicity they're presently ailing from, and the $5 million may be worth $8 million. The individual has effetively gifted away with no tax hit far more than s/he could in better economic times.
Consider too that the estate and gift tax exclusion of $5 million is presently set to endure only until the end of 2012. After that time, it's anybody's guess where Congress will reset the threshold. But the smart bet is that, even if it's reset to $2 million, Congress will not retroactively declare that gifts during the 2011-2012 window taxable.
Low asset valuations, therefore, may have come at the ideal time for gifting to family. In two years, we may see high valuations and a low gift tax exclusion, effectivly closing the door on such aggressive gift planning for an indefinite amount of time.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia and Atlanta-area law firm specializing in estate planning and complex planning to avoid estate and gift taxation for affluent individuals and families.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia law firm that specializes in estate services, civil litigation, and legal transactions.
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