Question: What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

Posted February 20, 2015 in Estate Planning, Probate by Lonich and Patton.

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February 20, 2015
Question: What happens to your Facebook account when you die?
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Answer: Now, you can designate someone to control your Facebook account with the legacy contact option.

As estate planners, we see people each day who think about what happens to their personal effects when they pass away. We write wills in order to designate who should receive a client’s material possession upon their death and answer questions like; where do my assets go? Who will maintain control of my estate when I pass away? But more and more of us are starting to consider what happens to our digital possessions such as our Facebook accounts when we die. Facebook has responded by creating what they call a “Legacy Contact.”

Up till now, when Facebook learned that someone died, they would offer only a basic memorialized account that other people could view but couldn’t manage. It would be frozen, angering heirs who wanted to edit the deceased’s online presence. When Alison Atkins died in 2012 after a battle with a colon disease, her sister and parents wanted access to her digital assets. Slowly, these accounts began shutting down in order to protect Alison’s privacy, per the websites’’ terms of service. Later that year when her Facebook account disappeared, her family felt like they were losing another part of Alison.

However, starting this Thursday, you can assign a legacy contact who can have more room to manage an account when the user dies.

Your legacy contact will have limited control

There are limits, however, to what a legacy contact can do. A legacy contact can:

  • Write a pinned post for your profile (ex: to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service)
  • Respond to new friend requests (ex: old friends or family members who weren’t yet on Facebook )
  • Update your profile picture and cover photo
  • Download a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook (this is an additional option that you can add/decline)

There are several things your legacy contact cannot do, and you should be aware of them. A legacy contact cannot:

  • Remove or change past posts, photos and other things you’ve shared on your Timeline (regardless of how embarrassing they might be)
  • Read messages you’ve sent to other friends
  • Remove any of your friends

Choosing your legacy contact

Once you have decided who your legacy contact will be, selecting them is easy. A concern that is coming is what if you select your spouse but you both travel frequently together? What if you both die? At this point in time, you can only select one person with no back up.

Estate planning has always been a complex field and the digital era is adding new complexity to this process. Facebook and other tech companies are starting to realize this, prompting changes to their terms of service. In 2013, Google began allowing people to assign beneficiaries of their Google accounts as well.

Whether you are concerned with devising a plan for either a family estate or that of a business, it is important to get good advice. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters including business succession plans, 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 as we are happy to offer you 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 detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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How will proposed tax reform affect your estate plan?

Posted January 30, 2015 in Business Law, Estate Planning, Probate by Jennifer Mispagel.

On January 20th, 2015, President Obama stood before a joint session of Congress and delivered the annual State of the Union address. Some of the topics discussed were the current State of the Union, College Savings Plan reform, his legislative agenda as well as several White House proposed tax reforms for the upcoming fiscal year.

While many of his new policies will affect all Americans in some way, several of his proposed tax increases will particularly affect upper-income persons and financial corporations. One in particular is a proposed change to the tax on appreciated estate property, otherwise referred to as the “trust-fund loophole.”

Taxation on Appreciated Estate Property

The term Capital Gain stands for the profit realized on the sale of a non-inventory asset that was purchased at a cost amount that was lower than the amount realized on the sale.  In the United States, individuals and corporations pay U.S. federal income tax on the net total of all their capital gains just as they do on other sorts of income. “Long term” capital gains are generally taxed at a preferential rate in comparison to ordinary income.

Currently, the law states that property which has appreciated in value that is owned by an estate is generally not subject to tax at death. Under this tax scheme, children and other heirs typically receive and sell property with little or no capital gains tax since most property receives an increase in basis to fair market value. For example, a parent who dies can pass along a valuable asset to their child or heir with no capital gains tax being due. When the child or heir eventually sells the asset, the current law limits the eventual tax bill by figuring the taxable gain only since the parent’s death. While this is a feature commonly known as a stepped-up basis the administration refers to this as the “trust fund loophole” and is looking to change it.

The White House proposal is to tax this appreciated estate property. The proposal states that the tax will be at 28% if the difference between the cost of the property and the fair market value at death exceeds $100,000 per person. There would be a separate exclusion for a personal residence of $250,000 per person. The proposal would not include clothes, furniture and most other personal items.

In arguing its case for revising this aspect of the tax code, the White House claims that all of the gain on valuable property or assets that occur prior to the death of a parent unfairly escapes tax. The White House claims it is in good company. Critics of the current tax code say that it is outdated. They claim that while the current policy reduces disputes over prices paid for assets long ago, they acknowledge that revision to the tax code would unlock capital by removing an incentive for holding valuable assets for generations.

Many experts, such as USC tax expert Edward Kleinbard, agree. Mr. Kleinbard notes that the capital gains tax is our only truly voluntary tax. Taxpayers can defer it for a considerable amount of time simply by withholding on the sale of their taxable assets. He argues that if you’re rich enough to hang onto your stocks and bonds, or can utilize financial strategies to enable you to exploit their value without selling them, you can defer paying capital gains tax your entire life.

Whether the White House prevails in passing this legislation remains to be seen. It seems clear, however, that negotiations on tax policy will continue in attempts by the current administration to eliminate tax loop-holes. Eliminating the lock-in effect, where holders of appreciated assets avoid selling because of the taxes imposed on the sale, could have a major impact on estate planning strategies and should prompt concerned individuals to look more closely at their estate plans, which should be revised periodically to ensure the best treatment of ones assets.

These are issues that make estate planning a complex field. Whether you are concerned with devising a plan for either a family estate or that of a business, it is important to get good advice. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters including business succession plans, 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 as we are happy to offer you 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 detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

 

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Estate Planning Lessons from Robin Williams

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

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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Estate Tax Portability: A Valuable Asset You May Not Know You Had

Posted March 27, 2014 in Estate Planning, Probate by Michael Lonich.

Have you heard about the “portability provision?” Believe it or not, your estate (or your spouse’s estate, if you were to pass first) could benefit tremendously if the executor of your estate elects this provision. In short, the portability election allows the transfer of any unused estate tax exclusion amount of the first spouse to die (commonly referred to as the “deceased spouse’s unused exemption” or “DSUE”) to the surviving spouse, who can then utilize the remaining amount to benefit his or her gift or estate tax purposes. Essentially, this provision operates as a safety net for couples with joint assets exceeding the exemption amount for the estate of the first spouse to die because the surviving spouse can reduce his or her estate or gift tax liability. Depending on the size of the estate, electing this provision can mean saving a significant amount on estate taxes.

Although this portability provision technically expired after 2012, Congress passed the American Tax Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”), which made the “portability” of the applicable exclusion amount between spouses permanent. This favorable estate tax rule should be incorporated into estate plans because as previously mentioned, the potential impact of the portability provision can be quite substantial.

For example, suppose the following: A husband and wife each own $2 million individually and $3 million jointly with rights of survivorship, bringing their estate to a total of $7 million in assets. Suppose their wills instruct that all assets pass first to the surviving spouse and then to the couple’s children. If the husband dies in 2014, his $2 million in assets is covered by the unlimited marital deduction. His $5.34 million exemption remains unused (his DSUE). When the wife dies, her estate can use that leftover DSUE amount, in addition to the exemption for the year in which she dies, to shelter the remaining $7 million of assets from tax. ATRA has permanently set the top estate tax rate at 40 percent. As such, if the wife died later in 2014, $1.66 million in assets would have been subject to estate tax without the portability provision. Therefore, the family saves $664,000 in federal estate tax (40% of $1.66 million).

Not only is the portability provision an excellent tool to use for estate and gift planning considerations, the provision can also be used as a negotiation tool during marital agreement negotiations. The portability provision can be viewed as a highly valuable asset that attorneys and their clients should consider when drafting marital agreements. However, there are also certain limitations to be aware of. For example, the executor of a deceased spouse’s estate must elect portability for the provision to take effect, and the election must be made on an estate tax return filed within nine months of death.*

If you or your loved ones are in the planning stages of creating an estate plan, take the necessary steps to ensure that you and your family members are maximizing the benefits available to you by an experienced, knowledgeable estate planning attorney guide you through the process. Estate planning laws are constantly evolving and having a trusted estate planning attorney by your side can prove to be invaluable. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters, including wills and living trusts, and we are happy to offer you 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 detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Sources: http://www.bizactions.com/n.cfm/page/e120/key/259853661G1005J3585631N0P0P2268T2/;http://www.forbes.com/sites/lewissaret/2014/02/25/estate-tax-portability-and-marital-agreements-a-new-consideration/

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