Preparing to load PDF file. please wait...

0 of 0

Transcript Of N E W S L E T T E R


James Wade and Jonathan Haskell spoke at the 37th Annual Estate Planning Retreat in Vail in June, which is sponsored by the Colorado Bar Association CLE Trust & Estate Section. Jim and Jonathan presented on the topic of Fiduciary Neutrality and Trust Modification.
Greg Washington participated as a panel speaker at the 29th Annual Spring Symposia of the Real Property, Probate, Trust & Estate Law Section of the American Bar Association, which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver in April. Greg spoke on the topic of Challenges to Wills/Trusts and Lifetime Disputes.
“Portability” allows a surviving spouse to add a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption onto his or her own exemption. Each spouse has an estate tax exemption amount of $5 million, which is Jonathan F. Haskell indexed for inflation after 2011. In 2017, the exemption is $5,490,000. To elect portability, a client must timely file Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, which is due 9 months after the decedent’s date of death, but the due date can be extended for six months if a request for extension is timely filed.
Surviving spouses have sometimes missed the due date for filing the Form 706 because (a) they have not met with advisors after the death and are unaware of the need to file the return, (b) the cost of preparing the return, or (c) believing, perhaps

incorrectly, that their estate will not exceed the exempt amount. A surviving spouse could request a Private Letter Ruling (with a filing fee of $10,000) for permission to file a late portability return under certain circumstances and, apparently, many people were filing such requests.
In response, on June 9, 2017, the IRS published Rev. Proc. 2017-34 which permits a late portability election to be made by filing a complete Form 706 on or before the later of January 2, 2018, or the second anniversary of the decedent’s date of death. This is an important opportunity for surviving spouses to file a portability return for estates in which the deceased spouse died several years ago, and the filing deadline for a portability return had been missed. If you think you might be in this situation, please contact an attorney in our office to discuss the matter further.
Will Requirements
Historically, will requirements and execution rituals have provided a protective framework to help ensure that the preparation and execution of the document is free of forgery, fraud and undue influence. In addition, having witnesses helps ensure that the testator possessed the requisite testamentary capacity at the time he signed his will. The witnesses’ observation of the testator’s signing of his will also ensures the authenticity of the document, providing an evidentiary foundation for the admission of the will to probate.
The addition of Uniform Probate Code §2-503, sometimes referred to as the “harmless error doctrine,” liberalized the requirements for the execution of wills or codicils. This section, to a large extent, created a mechanism by which courts could admit, by clear and convincing evidence, flawed wills which may fail to meet the strict technical requirements necessary for probate if the court is satisfied that the document was intended as a will.

July 2017
The modern trend followed by courts throughout the United States has been to relax the technical requirements for both typed and holographic (handwritten) wills. In Colorado, the applicable statute governing holographic wills requires only that the “material portions” of the document be in the decedent’s handwriting. Moreover, testamentary intent may now be established by reference to typed or preprinted language on a hybrid will, so long as the dispositive provisions are in the decedent’s handwriting. Colorado courts have been unwilling to extend the harmless error doctrine to unsigned documents purporting to be a will. However, other state courts have recognized the validity of writings intended as wills scratched into the fenders of tractors, boards and even women’s undergarments.
Recently courts in the United States and throughout the world have artfully used the harmless error doctrine and statutes permitting electronic signatures to admit copies of electronic wills.
The distinction between “paper” and “electronic” documents continues to be eroded by developing technology. As of November 2016, 88% of American adults use the internet; 77% of Americans own a smart phone; and 78% of Americans 18 years or older own a tablet or computer.
Remote Notarization
The National Law Commissioners in 2016 amended the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (“RULONA”) to address remote notarizations only for people who are physically outside of the territorial United States. In the 2016 legislative session, Colorado Senate Bill 17-132 was introduced by a group called Notarize. This Bill would have permitted remote notarization through audio/video technology where the notary would not be required to be in the physical presence of the signer. Virginia, Montana, Nevada, Texas and Florida have passed legislation permitting remote notarization. As more states adopt statutes for electronic wills, those states will also have to address whether or not to permit remote notarization through the use of audio/video technology. Senate Bill 17-132 was withdrawn by Notarize in order to allow Colorado further study.
Electronic Wills
Electronic wills have been upheld by several courts in the United States and throughout the world. Nevada is currently the only state that has an

electronic wills statute since, in a very recent development, the Florida Governor just vetoed electronic wills. The biggest challenge facing electronic wills is how the document will be executed, witnessed, notarized and stored. In the near future, internet service providers are going to offer electronic will applications which will include remote notarization for phones, tablets and computers at a relatively low price. It is also anticipated that these internet service providers will offer remote witnessing and notarization by way of a webcam or other video device, as well as storage of electronic wills.
Another impediment to creating valid electronic wills is the requirement that the testator affix an electronic signature or personalized mark to the digitized electronic will. The Colorado Probate Code does not define the term “signature”. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “electronic signature” as “an electronic symbol, sound, or process that is either attached to or logically associated with a document (such as a contract or other record) and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the document.” Some of the types of electronic signatures include a typed name at the end of an e-mail, digital image of a handwritten signature, and the click of an “I accept” button on an e-commerce site.
Electronic signatures are commonly used today in “e-business” transactions. The use of this technology raises important questions for will drafters and probate courts in the Twenty-First Century. Could an electronic signature act as valid authentication for a will that exists only in electronic form or stored on a disc or flash drive? Would an electronic will be more vulnerable to fraud and forgery than a paper document? What issues are raised in the preservation and storage of electronic wills?
Estate of Castro
In 2013, the Ohio Court of Common Pleas, in the case of In re Estate of Javier Castro, admitted an electronic will to probate. In 2012, Javier Castro was hospitalized. Castro was a chef and Jehovah’s Witness who was not married and had no children. Castro’s treating physicians advised him to undergo a life saving blood transfusion. Castro declined the transfusion for religious reasons with the understanding that his refusal would ultimately result in his death. While Castro was in the hospital, he told his brothers that he needed to prepare a will. Because Castro had no paper or pencil, one of his brothers suggested that the will be prepared on his Samsung Galaxy tablet. In the presence of his two brothers, Castro orally stated the terms of his will and his brother transcribed what Castro told him on the Samsung screen using the tablet’s

stylus. Before Castro could sign the digital will, he was transferred to a Cleveland hospital, where he later signed the will on the Samsung tablet using the stylus in his brothers’ presence. After Castro’s passing, his brothers printed the will onto paper and then presented the paper copy for probate.
The Ohio Probate Code required the testator to be at least 18 years of age, of sound mind and memory, under no undue constraint and to follow certain formalities. To be a valid will, it had to be (1) in writing; (2) signed at the end by the testator or some other person at the testator’s direction and in his presence; and (3) attested or subscribed to in the conscious presence of the testator by two or more witnesses.
Castro’s electronic will, however, contained no attestation clause above the witnesses’ signatures so admission to probate did not meet the technical requirements of the Ohio statute. The trial judge, however, ultimately admitted the will to probate based upon a will saving statute (similar to Uniform Probate Code § 2-503 and Colorado Probate Code, C.R.S. § 15-11-503) to rescue a noncompliant, defective will. The Ohio statute provided that: after hearing, the court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the decedent (1) prepared or caused the document to be prepared; (2) signed the document and intended the document to constitute his or her will; and (3) that the document was signed in the conscious presence of two or more witnesses.
As a threshold matter, the court had to resolve the question of whether Castro’s digital document on the Samsung tablet was a “writing”. Because the Ohio Probate Code did not define a “writing,” the trial judge turned to a section in the Ohio Criminal Code which provided that a “writing”, in the criminal context of theft and fraud, “means any computer software, document, letter, memorandum, note, paper, plate, data, film, or other thing having in or upon it any written, typewritten, or printed matter, and any token, stamp, seal, credit card, badge, trademark, label or other symbol of value, right, privilege, license or identification.” Using this broad definition, the trial court found that the will on the Samsung tablet was a “writing” because it contained the stylus marks made on the tablet and it was saved through the application of software.
In Castro there was no opposition to the probate of the will. Given the unrebutted testimony of Castro’s siblings, they were able to meet their burden of proof regarding the admissibility of the document by clear and convincing evidence. One must question, if the will had been contested, whether the result would have been the same.
The Fall newsletter will contain Part II of this article and will specifically address proposed legislation regarding electronic wills.


Selecting your trustee is

one of the most impor-

tant decisions to make

when creating a revo-

cable trust. The trustee is

a fiduciary with the legal

obligation to carry out

the directions set forth

Gary Potter

in the trust agreement. The responsibilities and

duties include collection and management of

assets, preparing tax returns and distributing the

income and principal of the trust as the document

sets forth.

The initial trustee of a trust typically is the grantor of the trust. Many married couples choose to have the spouse as a co-trustee. The purposes of a revocable trust are to establish a vehicle to manage assets in the event of the grantor’s disability, to avoid the need to probate assets in the event of the death of grantor, and to distribute the assets to the intended beneficiaries.

Successor trustees are designated to carry out directions if the grantor becomes disabled or dies. Choosing the right successor trustee is crucial. Choices include family members, friends, professionals, bank trust departments or other corporate entities. The trust document can name either one or more trustees to act jointly. When the trust’s primary beneficiaries are minors, choosing a family member and a corporate co-trustee allows for professional money management coordinated with the attention of the family member.

The successor trustee takes over asset management and is responsible for making income and principal distributions as set forth in the trust document. Provisions commonly seen in trust documents allow the successor trustee to have broad powers over the trust property and decision-making authority over distributions for health care, maintenance, education and support of the grantor, grantor’s spouse, children and other beneficiaries.

A successor trustee should have the following qualities:

• Impeccable integrity and honesty; • Investment experience including:
• ability to make investment decisions regarding the retention, sale or purchase of securities;
• management of closely held business interests held by the trust;
• ability to work with other advisors; and
• good judgment and discretion regarding conflicting interests.

• Understanding of tax laws; and • Probability of outliving grantor since
duties can last for many years.
Selecting a close family member as successor trustee does not guarantee successful trust administration if the person is not capable of managing the grantor’s finances or carrying out the grantor’s wishes. Even if capable, relatives may be too close to the family and all the family issues to be objective. The family member may bring knowledge of the family history and dynamics to the situation, but they also may bring biases, unsettled feuds and emotions.
Since the trustee’s duties require much effort and responsibility, they should be compensated for their time and responsibility, even if they are relatives.
Corporate trustees often are a better choice as successor trustee, particularly in situations with more complexity and significant assets. Corporate trustees may be bank trust departments, independent trust companies, financial advisors or some other objective entity. Corporate trustees generally have the skill, experience and professionalism to administer trusts and have the following additional benefits over family members or friends serving as trustee: • Investment expertise; • Continuity for the long term; • Ability to make discretionary deci-
sions according to the trust provisions without jeopardizing personal family relationships; • Use of systems to process timely, accurate and compliant reporting of trust activity; • Experience in trust administrative details such as bill paying, preparation of tax returns, budgeting, valuations, the discretionary process, and continuity throughout the term of the trust for the changing needs in the lives of the trust beneficiaries.
Some disadvantages of a corporate trustee include lack of responsiveness; lack of knowledge about the issues of beneficiaries, such as alcohol and gambling addictions; and lack of familiarity may cause legitimate needs to be ignored.
Fees of a corporate trustee may be a disadvantage in trusts of certain sizes. The additional cost can be worthwhile, however, since individual trustees may need to hire experts for services such as investment management and accounting and tax filings.

No matter who is chosen to act as trustee, the document creating the trust should clearly state your choice for the ultimate successor trustee. Failure to name an ultimate successor results in a court appointing your successor trustee.

If you have a revocable trust, selecting your trustee and successors should be done after careful consideration and discussions with your family and advisors. We suggest you review that decision on a regular basis and make changes when appropriate.

As a point of interest, Gary is a Past President of the Denver Trust Officers Association.


Many of our probate stat-

utes are designed to carry

out a decedent’s inten-

tion as expressed in his

or her will. Certain rules

of construction (survi-

vorship, substitution of

James Wade

assets) apply to wills and revocable trusts as will

substitutes. The statutes also provide for recogni-

tion and ordering of third party (non-beneficiary)

interests in probate and revocable trust assets.

These would include taxes, creditor claims, and

family protection entitlement during the period

of administration.

There are two main limitations in this model. First, what happens if the estate is so small that there are not enough assets to go around? Secondly, what happens if all or most of the assets are nonprobate assets, that is assets which pass directly to beneficiaries without going through the estate? Non-probate assets include joint tenancy, life insurance, retirement benefits, trust assets, TOD (transfer on death), and POD (payable on death) assets. Compared with the non-probate transfers, assets actually passing under wills in probate constitute a small percentage of the total value of all assets passing at death.

The Colorado Probate Code is not especially friendly toward creditors. Certain rights may be cut out within four months after death on account of publication of a notice to creditors in what is often an obscure newspaper. Further, since the Probate Code does not require the filing of an inventory of assets in the public court records, creditors may not know of a death (notwithstanding the legal fiction that death is notorious) or know whether there are assets worth going after.

As to the normal estate with assets available for distribution, there is a priority of third party interests which generally must be satisfied “off the top,” that is prior to distribution to the beneficiaries. This general priority is:
1. Income and other tax liabilities.
2. Funeral and administration expenses.
3. A family exempt property allowance, currently $33,000.
4. A family support allowance, currently $33,000.
5. Creditor claims which have been perfected.
What if the probate estate is insufficient to pay or satisfy the third party claim, but there are nonprobate assets sufficient to pay these obligations? Colorado statutes have evolved to help address the situation.
As to death taxes, Colorado has an equitable apportionment statute which provides that all assets subject to estate tax are required to contribute their pro rata share. Similarly, the Colorado Probate Code provides for a surviving spouse to elect to take a forced amount equal to one-half of the decedent’s probate estate assets increased by the value of certain non-probate transfers. The statute provides that the beneficiaries of non-probate transfers are subject to contribution (or payment to the electing spouse) to satisfy the election on a pro rata basis.
Probate assets are also burdened with the payment of creditor claims; but if they are not sufficient, then certain non-probate transfers (including revocable trust assets, POD and TOD bank and securities accounts) are liable for contribution for the excess. Similarly, if the probate assets are insufficient to satisfy the statutory exempt property and family support allowances these non-probate assets are liable for contribution.
Last year, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that revocable trust assets are subject to creditor claims during or following the death of the settlor/beneficiary. This was no surprise.
The lesson is clear both for clients and professional advisors. The creation of non-probate transfer documents (revocable trusts, POD bank accounts, TOD security accounts, joint tenancy bank accounts and the like) will not avoid the legitimate interests of third parties at death (such as death taxes, creditor claims, and statutory family protection benefits).

(303) 322-8943 Office • (303) 320-7501 Fax www.wadeash.com
4500 Cherry Creek Drive South, Suite 600 Denver, Colorado 80246
Please visit our website at www.wadeash.com regularly for more information on our firm, lawyers and publications. This newsletter is for general informational purposes. It is not legal advice. If you have questions about your specific situation, please call (303) 322-8943 and reference this newsletter.