Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Do I need a lawyer to open a probate proceeding in Vermont?

There is no requirement that a lawyer open an estate in probate. Any interested person in the estate may file a petition with the Probate Court to open the estate. However, while the typical probate proceeding is not difficult, there are deadlines to meet, you want to ensure your rights are being protected, and you want to avoid mistakes. If you have been through the probate process a few times before, you may have learned a few difficult lessons already and might be in a better position to manage the process this time. If you have never been in charge of a probate process before, you probably want the assistance of an attorney who knows the process well and is there to answer your questions.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Top Estate Planning Articles, Week of June 29, 2015

Robert Milburn of Barron’s states that the Treasury Department is working on a new regulation that would limit discounts applicable to assets in a family limited partnership of limited liaiblity company. Minority shares in an FLP or LLC are often discounted 20 – 35 percent on the basis that the shares cannot be sold outside the family and therefore are worth less, from a tax perspective, than their market value. The new rules would tighten definitions and attempt to clarify existing murkiness, however, details are sparse leading up to an expected early September release. See IRS Considers New Tax on Wealthy Families (June 30, 2015).


Barbara Sedoric writes in the Huffington Post that blended families are too often overlooked in estate planning and end-of-life planning. She notes a 2011 Pew Research Center finding that 42 percent of American adults have a step relationship – a step-parent, a step- or half-sibling, or a stepchild. Decisions involving the distribution of money and personal possessions can become far more complicated and delicate in a blended family scenario. Planning for these situations requires more than financial spreadsheets, Sedoric states, it requires bringing sensitivities to the surface so that they can be addressed before they become landmines later. See Yours, Mine and Ours: An Estate Planner’s Nightmare (June 28, 2015).


Joshua S. Rubenstein lists in Trusts & Estates some planning opportunities that same sex couples should consider, following the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriages in all fifty states. The list includes taking advantage of the unlimited marital deduction, reviewing retirement account beneficiary designations, reviewing life insurance policies that may no longer be needed or could be converted to a second-to-die policy; and considering gift splitting among spouses when making annual exclusion gifts. See Eight New Key Estate Planning Opportunities for Same-Sex Couples (June 30, 2015).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


In Vermont Probate, what is an "Interested Person"?

An Interested Person is anyone who has a property right in or a claim against the estate of a decedent or a trust estate. Interested Persons typically include heirs, devisees, legatees, children, spouses, creditors and beneficiaries. In probate proceedings, the court looks first to see if there is a surviving spouse of the decedent. If a surviving spouse exists and there are no children from outside the marriage, then the Interested Persons would be the spouse, all other persons or entities named in the Will, and any creditors, if any. If there is no surviving spouse, or there are children from outside the marriage where a surving spouse exists, or their are other descendants of the decedent, it can get complicated to determine who are the Interested Persons. Probate Form PE2 contains a list of who the relevant Interested Persons are for specific situations.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Top Estate Planning Articles, Week of June 22, 2015

Ashlea Ebeling of Forbes points out the changed landscape for same sex couples who are now allowed to marry in the 13 states that had previously disallowed same sex marriage. She notes that spouses are allowed to gift unlimited amounts between themselves; may use the spousal exclusion for estate taxes, thus delaying any state estate tax until the death of the second spouse; if no estate plan exists, they may inherit under a state’s intestacy statute (the state’s default plan for passing assets if you don’t complete a will or trust); and a spouse may rollover an IRA directly into their own account rather than inheriting it, which could delay required minimum distributions. See Tax, Estate Planning, Benefits Opportunities After Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Decision (June 26, 2015).


Kyle E. Krull writes in about considerations surrounding choice of trustee. He points out the things to look for, common sense and someone who is trustworthy, and discusses the advantages of choosing a corporate trustee instead of a family member or friend. Regardless of the person or institution chosen, including flexible language to hire and fire trustees is important. See Trustee Selection Pointers (June 23, 2015).


Liz Moyer of the Wall Street Journal reports the the IRS is scrutinizing family limited partnerships and limited liability companies. These estate planning vehicles usually allow discounting of an asset’s value so that when the asset is passed to the younger generation, the gift or estate tax impact is lessened. Where such assets are highly liquid marketable securities, some lawyers are expecting the IRS will propose to significantly limit or prevent the discounts. See IRS Takes Aim at an Estate-Planning Strategy (June 26, 2015).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Where can I get a Living Will or an Advance Directive?

If you live in Vermont, the Vermont Ethics Network has a website from which you can download the most popular Advance Directive forms in the state. If you live in a different state, you can visit the U.S. Living Will Registry to see if your state has a form available.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Recent Press Coverage of Estate Planning (July 29, 2011)

Saabira Chaudhuri of the Wall Street Journal notes that when completing your estate plan, you shouldn’t lose focus of some of the smaller, but important, details. One area often overlooked is what will happen to your pets. There are approximately 165 million dogs and cats in this country, and roughly 400,000 need to find a new home every year because their owners die. Also, if you have engaged in preserving sperm, eggs or embryos because you had cancer, were in the military or other high-risk occupation, don’t forget to spell what should happen to the cryopreserved gametes if you should die. See When Estate Plans Fail (July 23, 2011).

Kelly Greene of the Wall Street Journal stresses the importance of taking 15 minutes to write down your important user names and passwords for online accounts, including financial accounts, social networking accounts, and photo sites, among others. Without this information, your survivors could spend months trying to locate and access your important accounts. See PINs That Needle Families (July 23, 2011).

Paul Sullivan of the New York Times writes about charitable lead trusts (CLT) and why they are becoming popular again. The $5 million exemption level for the federal estate taxes alongside record low interest rates make CLTs good vehicles to pass more money to your heirs tax free. See A Trust Surges, Heirs and Taxes in Mind, But Mind the Details (July 22, 2011).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Recent Press Coverage of Estate Planning (July 22, 2011)

Hani Sarji of Forbes notes that this is a great time to use gifts as an estate reduction strategy if you live in a state that has an estate tax threshold lower than the current federal estate tax threshold of $5 million per person ($10 million for a married couple). If you live in a state that has its own estate tax but no gift tax, like Vermont, then you can gift property during your life to reduce your estate value to less than the state estate tax exemption level, and still avoid gift taxes on the federal level. The current high gift exemption level extends only through 2012, so you need to plan ahead accordingly. See How to Cut State Death Taxes – Without Moving (July 13, 2011).

Jay Adkisson writes in Forbes about ten rules to keep in mind regarding asset protection. Most importantly, there are many strategies available if you start planning before a claim arises, but few that work after a claim or liability arises. And engaging in asset protection after a claim is filed is likely to make matters worse. Other rules include pairing asset protection with insurance, ensuring personal assets are not placed in business entities, and avoiding asset protection plans that are so complex they are hard to clearly explain. See Ten Rules for Asset Protection Planning (July 13, 2011).

Ashlea Ebeling of Forbes discusses ways to avoid a protracted battle over your estate. Advice includes treating siblings equally, making a list of specific items that should go to named heirs, keeping track of loans and advances, including a “no contest” clause, and spelling out clearly if you intend to disinherit someone. See 10 Ways to Lawsuit-Proof Your Estate (July 13, 2011).

Deborah L. Jacobs of Forbes reviews the unusually difficult challenges facing executors of people who died in 2010, a year when there was the option to avoid the federal estate tax (but pay capital gains taxes) or apply the estate tax law as it exists in 2011 with its $5 million exemption level. Issues include locating purchase records to determine cost basis for many assets, coping with new paperwork and forms issued by the IRS for this unusual year, and meeting the fiduciary obligations of impartiality when one of several available strategies benefits one group over another. See New Heirs Face Confusing Tax Choice (July 13, 2011).

Janet Novack of Forbes writes about ways to pass on frequent flyer rewards before or after you die. Each program has its own set of rules, but several allow a parent or grandparent to use their miles to purchase tickets for someone else. Also, ensure someone has your list of accounts, passwords and usernames, because some plans don’t allow transfer of points to an heir, but will allow someone to log on and redeem points after your death. See How to Pass On Your Frequent Flyer Miles (July 13, 2011).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Recent Press Coverage of Estate Planning (July 15, 2011)

Saabira Chaudhuri of the Wall Street Journal wrote two articles about the importance of keeping your heirs aware of key documents, and where the documents can be found. Chaudhuri points out that some insurance companies are failing to pay out life insurance policies because the company may not be obligated to determine if a policyholder is alive, they simply pay a claim when beneficiaries come forward. The articles lists 25 key documents that your heirs should be able to find quickly after you die, and a follow-up article lists several more. See The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die (July 2, 2011) and Read This Before You Die (July 7, 2011).

Caren Chesler of Private Wealth reports that wealthy Americans are leaving more of their wealth to charities and less to their children. Reasons for the trend, according to a survey by U.S. Trust, include that parents believe their children won’t be able to handle an inheritance, that their children will become lazy, that their children will make poor decisions, and that their children would be taken advantage of by outsiders. See Tough Love (July 2011).

Arden Dale of the Wall Street Journal points out that some states are repealing state estate taxes, some are hiking state estate taxes, and some states don’t have an estate tax. It leads to a lot of confusion, particularly for families that have residences in more than one state. See State Estate Tax Changes Make Plans Trickier (July 8, 2011).

Carolyn T. Geer of the Wall Street Journal stresses the importance of properly filling out beneficiary designation forms and discusses what types of financial accounts usually have beneficiary designations, who can be named as a beneficiary, and who should not be named as a beneficiary, among other issues. See Beware the Beneficiary Form (July 6, 2011).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recent Press Coverage of Estate Planning (June 24, 2011)

Bob Carlson of Investing Daily reviews common estate planning goals and methods used for various categories of clients. Types of clients include the wealthy, moderately wealthy, blended families, couples without children, couples with special needs children, and unmarried couples. While there are common elements to every estate plan, each situation has unique requirements. See Finding Your Classic Estate Plan (June 21, 2011).

Rob Clarfeld of Forbes discusses Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRT) and Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGT) in the context of the recently changed gift tax laws. Between now and the end of 2012, it’s possible for a couple to give away up to $10 million during their lifetime, which makes both QPRTs and IDGTs attractive. QPRTs, however, are less favored because of the low interest rate environment, making this a good time to investigate IDGTs for large lifetime gifts. See Your Smartest Estate Planning Move Ever: Give Away Your House – Now! (June 22, 2011).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Recent Press Coverage of Estate Planning (June 17, 2011)

Bob Carlson of Investing Daily suggests the December 2011 changes in the federal estate tax laws should change the way many people view estate planning. Specifically, it will free many families from focusing on estate taxes and allow them to focus more on the non-tax aspects of estate planning, which Carlson reviews in detail. See The New Focus of Estate Planning (May 31, 2011).

Kelly Greene of the Wall Street Journal reports on recent cases where elder care workers have secretly married their elderly client, then start transferring funds or claiming a chunk of the inheritance. State laws have been largely ineffective in these situations, but some states are now severing the usual property rights given to spouses where fraud is apparent. Greene offers some advice on what to do if you suspect undue influence or coercion by a caregiver who married your family member. See Unholy Matrimony: How to Fight Back (June 11, 2011).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Recent Press Coverage of Estate Planning (June 3, 2011)

Daniel S. Rubin, Esq., writes in the Journal of Accountancy why it’s not a good idea for estate planners and their clients to rely on the new rules for “portability” of a deceased spouse’s federal estate tax exclusion. Reasons why reliance on portability is probably a bad idea include the fact that portability is on the books only through the end of 2012, portability applies only to the federal estate tax, and not state estate taxes, and the deceased spouse’s exclusion is not indexed for inflation. See Seven Good Reasons Credit Shelter Trusts Remain Relevant (June 2011).

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