Estate Planning Lessons from Robin Williams

Posted August 22, 2014 in Estate Planning, In the Community, Probate by Michael Lonich.

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August 22, 2014
Estate Planning Lessons from Robin Williams
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As many of us mourn the loss of this great comedic genius, new information is still coming forward about Robin Williams. According to ABC News, with more than half of his movies portraying Williams as the leading man, his movies grossed over $6 billion throughout his career. While he was paid $165,000 per episode for his one season of The Crazy Ones, it is unclear whether he returned to television because of alleged “bills he had to pay” following his two divorces.

Robin Williams is survived by his third wife, Susan Schneider, who was married to him for 3 years, and his three adult children from his prior two marriages whose ages range from 22 to 31. The question for them now is what was the state of his financial affairs when he passed away?

While it appears from public record that Williams left real estate with equity of around $25 million behind, it is unclear what else he left for his heirs. What is clear, however, is that Williams appeared to have several estate planning documents which will be invaluable to his family. These include two different trusts. The first is the “Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust” (Latin for “home sweet home”). TMZ also reported that someone had leaked a copy of a different trust, which Williams created in 2009. This would have been while Williams was in the middle of his divorce from his second wife, Marsha Garces.

This trust reportedly named his three children as beneficiaries, splitting their trust funds into three equal distributions for each of them, set to pay out when they reach ages 21, 25, and 30. While the Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust appears to have been done to minimize estate taxes, this second trust accomplishes the goals of safeguarding privacy for Williams and his family since trusts avoid probate, keeping his affairs private (as long as they are not leaked to the media).

If you would like to learn more about trusts or avoiding probate in general, call Lonich & Patton to schedule a free half-hour consultation. Our attorneys are passionate about estate planning and have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters, including wills and living trusts. If you are interested in developing an estate plan or reviewing your current estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information.

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Tax and Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples

Posted August 1, 2014 in Estate Planning, In the Community, Probate by Michael Lonich.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban, saying that withholding the fundamental right to marry from same-sex couples is a form of segregation that the Constitution cannot tolerate.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States in United States v. Windsor, held that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages and that it is up to state Legislatures to define marriage within state boundaries. Since then, numerous law-suits challenging the constitutionality of state DOMAs on equal protection and due process grounds have prevailed in various federal and state courts. Currently, 19 states, including California, plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage (recognition states), while 40 states prohibit it (non-recognition states).

The prevailing prediction is that a Supreme Court guarantee of a right to marriage is on its way. American support for same-sex marriage is at a new high of 55 percent, and California support is at 61 percent and increasing, if the trends continue. It is important for all couples to create an estate plan. Additionally, it is important for same-sex couples to be aware of the potentially complicated issues that arise when they move across state lines.

Same-Sex Couples Living in California

Same-sex married couples now living in California enjoy the same benefits and burdens under state and federal law as married opposite-sex couples. Before Windsor and IRS Revenue Ruling 2013-17 (which extended federal tax benefits to married same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residency), many married opposite-sex couples likely took this preferential treatment for granted.

Some of these benefits include:

  • Property transferred between spouses incident to a divorce is not subject to income or gift tax;
  • Spousal support (alimony) payments are tax deductible to the paying spouse;
  • Child support payments are not subject to income tax;
  • Spouses receive a community interest in 401(k) accounts and other retirement plans; and
  • Spouses receive all community property and anywhere from one-third to all of the deceased spouse’s separate property for intestate (when a person dies without a will or other non-probate instrument) inheritance purposes.

All couples should be aware of their legal rights at marriage, divorce, and death. It is important for both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples to consider pre-marital agreements, estate plans, and any tax consequences that arise from marriage or divorce.

The Marital Status of Migrating Same-Sex Couples

When a same-sex couple moves out of California, their marital status will depend on the other state’s law with regards to various issues including, state tax filing status, intestate succession, guardianship and conservatorship appointments, and adoption and artificial reproductive technologies. In other words, a non-recognition state may not recognize the otherwise valid same-sex marriage.

If and when the Supreme Court guarantees a right to marriage, moving across state lines will no longer be an issue for same-sex couples. However, in the interim, it is important to be aware of the possible legal consequences.

For example, under Florida law, the definition of “heir” does not include same-sex spouses for intestate inheritance purposes. This means that a same-sex couple that was married in California, but permanently living in Florida, will not inherit from each other under the Florida intestate system. Some courts in non-recognition states are willing to recognize same-sex marriage in certain contexts through the doctrine of comity, which is where a court gives deference to another state’s laws. However, most surviving spouses want to avoid litigation because it can be a headache, requiring time, money, and mental energy.

In some cases, it might be worthwhile for same-sex spouses to opt out of the intestate system with non-probate instruments, such as estate plans. A same-sex couple’s estate plan needs to be drafted with precision, specifically naming beneficiaries, rather than using general terms such as “spouse.” This becomes especially important if a same-sex couple moves to a non-recognition state, where the court may not interpret a same-sex spouse to qualify as a spouse or heir. If any other blood related heirs of the deceased spouse were to contest the non-probate instrument, they could end up inheriting property that would have gone to the same-sex spouse in California or another recognition state.

If you are a same-sex couple and are considering marriage, or need to create or update an estate plan, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law and estate planning matters and offer a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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How Facebook Can Affect Your Divorce

Posted July 2, 2014 in Family Law, In the Community by Gretchen Boger.

Last February 2013, a New York Father was awarded sole custody after a Mother utilized Facebook to “insult and demean” her ten year old child. The Court found that Father was “more able to provide a stable and nurturing environment” for the children, citing Mother’s “inappropriate use of the Internet and lack of remorse or insight into the appropriateness of such behavior.”

Social media can play a dangerous role during divorce proceedings. Facebook, which now has more than 800 million active users, has become an important and undeniable presence in today’s culture. Your profile shares and records everything from your personal information, to your new profile picture, and your mood. Your posts may be valuable evidence to your ex-spouse’s divorce attorney.

In recent years there has been an increase, especially in family law cases, of the amount of evidence collected from social media sites. Photographs, updates, and conversations you post online may be admitted into evidence. Further, it might not be a good idea to post about your divorce proceedings. If you do, choose your words carefully and express yourself diplomatically – on the same level as you would present yourself to your judge. This rule of thumb extends to iMessages, emails, Twitter, dating websites, your blog, etc.

Remember that anything online is extremely accessible. If you post anything that contradicts what you have stated in your pleadings, it can impeach your credibility and given the discretionary nature of family law cases, may negatively impact your case. For example, the following Facebook activity often makes its way into the family courtroom:

  • Posting pictures of an extravagant vacation – you at a resort indulging in the day spa can provide evidence of financial misconduct with regards to spousal support or child support.
  • Updating your status while inebriated – constant updates with slurred-speech or checking-in to five happy hours each week can suggest you have drug or alcohol dependency problems and sway the judge in awarding custody.
  • Bad mouthing your divorce proceedings – complaining about your judge or your ex-spouse’s nasty opposing counsel can appear as if you do not take the process seriously.

Even if you have de-friended people who know your ex and made your privacy settings air-tight, your ex may still be able to access your updates. Recently, Facebook was put in the spotlight over a controversial social experiment it conducted to determine whether emotions are contagious (conclusion: they are). Without first getting consent, Facebook manipulated 689,003 user’s News Feeds to display either positive or negative posts and then monitored the users’ reactions. People have had various reactions towards this experiment. Some feel violated for being used as a lab rat. This study is a reminder that regardless of your consent, you never know who has access to or has saved what you posted.

The bottom line: think before updating your Facebook status, especially during divorce proceedings. Online statements are similar to face-to-face conversations but they are much easier to document. Further, the court may consider your posts in your divorce proceedings.

If you have any questions or concerns about your or your spouse’s online presence and how it may affect your divorce, feel free to contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law proceedings and offer a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Can Your Child Sue You For Child Support?

Posted March 12, 2014 in Family Law, In the Community by Rachel Leff-Kich.

No, your child cannot sue you for child support – not yet, anyway. Recently, 18-year-old Rachel Canning caused a national stir when she sued her parents in a potentially precedent-setting lawsuit: the New Jersey teenager filed a lawsuit against her parents requesting $654 in child support per week, thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and immediate reimbursement of her high school tuition.

Ms. Canning claimed her parents threw her out of their Lincoln Park home two days before her 18th birthday, whereas her parents insisted the teenager moved out voluntarily. Her father, Sean Canning, explained that his daughter left the family home because she didn’t want to do reasonable household chores, be respectful, or abide by their curfew. Mr. Canning stated that “the whole thing is just destroying our family. We love our daughter. She’s our pride and joy.” A retired Police Chief, Mr. Canning explained that he’s “a liberal, liberal parent… I was tougher on my cops at work than I’ve ever been at my home, that’s for sure.”

Last week, Morris County Court Judge Peter Bogaard ruled in favor of the Canning’s, reasoning that any other decision would set a bad precedent by setting limits on parenting. The court expressed concern that Ms. Canning’s rare case, if successful, could inspire similar suits in the future. Brian Schwartz, chairman of the New Jersey Bar Association’s Family Law Section states that “in my 20 years of practicing family law in New Jersey, I’ve never seen anything like this.” Adds Jeralyn Lawrence, the incoming Family Law Section chair: “This could open the floodgates of recalcitrant kids fighting with their parents, moving out, and then suing them to keep paying.”

To the relief (presumably) of all parties involved, Ms. Canning returned home to her parents and siblings this morning. During this afternoon’s press conference, Ms. Canning’s lawyer said the suit brought against her parents had been settled “amicably,” and that her return home was not contingent upon any financial or other considerations.

Notably, Ms. Canning was not seeking to be emancipated from her parents – her lawsuit was primarily financially driven. With emancipation, minors essentially function as adults in society. Generally, they can attend the schools of their choice, enter into legally binding contracts, purchase a home, keep any income earned from a job, and so on. In court filings, Ms. Canning insisted she was “old enough to do what she wanted” – but perhaps she realized that without anyone bankrolling her endeavors, her options to do whatever she wants at this stage in her life are fairly limited.

If you have any questions about your family law issues, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists (as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). Having a knowledgeable, experienced family law attorney by your side can prove to be invaluable for your situation. Lonich & Patton’s attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law proceedings and offer a free half-hour consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Sources: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/03/05/new-jersey-teen-sues-parents-for-support-claiming-was-kicked-out-home/; http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-rachel-canning-goes-back-to-family-20140312,0,1541517.story#axzz2vmlZmHUm

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The “Dirty DUI” Case

Posted March 4, 2014 in Family Law, In the Community by Gina Policastri.

The last of the participants in a widespread police corruption scandal was sentenced last week, finally concluding the saga that has been dubbed the “Dirty DUI” case. For those who haven’t been following the case, former Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy, Stephen Tanabe, along with multiple other former police colleagues, aided a private investigator in arresting unsuspecting men outside bars for drunken driving. The private investigator’s attractive female employees had lured the men into drinking and driving in a plot to help their wives gain an advantage in their divorce and custody battles.

These elaborate stings were known as “dirty DUIs” and caused significant damage – both personally and financially – for all parties involved. Last week, Tanabe was ordered by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer to spend 15 months in prison for his role in the scandal, which was notably lighter than the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s guidelines of 21-27 months for the crimes. However, Judge Breyer didn’t elaborate on his reasoning, only stating that the case was unique in his 15 years on the bench.

Another individual implicated in the ring was Mary Nolan, a former San Ramon family law attorney who represented the ex-wives of two men who were arrested for the DUI sting operation.  Nolan hired the same private investigator working with Tanabe to wiretap the cars of people she was opposing in divorce and child custody cases. After setting up the spouses of her clients for DUI arrests, Nolan would then use the evidence gathered as leverage in family court. Though prosecutors were initially seeking a 33-month prison sentence, Nolan was ultimately sentenced to two years in prison for evading taxes and for illegally eavesdropping on a client’s spouse.  Nolan was also required to relinquish her law license and pay nearly $500,000 in back taxes.

Family law cases are oftentimes emotionally charged and can lead parties to take desperate measures. A knowledgeable, experienced family law attorney can help you legally navigate the system and guide you through this trying time. If you have questions about divorce planning, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists (as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law proceedings and offer a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Sources: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Ex-Contra-Costa-Co-Deputy-Sentenced-in-Dirty-DUI-Case-246253961.html; http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Ex-Deputy-Sheriff-Stephen-Tanabe-sentenced-in-DUI-5249741.php; http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_25053072/dirty-dui-attorney-gets-two-years-prison-her

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