A Feud Over the Rockefeller Legacy

John D. Rockefeller is a name that is almost synonymous with fossil fuels. The heirs to his fortune, however, are conflicted and fighting over them.

Recently, the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller passed away at the age of 101. His passing has shined the light on an interesting feud between members of the Rockefeller family.

Standard Oil, the company Rockefeller founded, survives today as ExxonMobil. The Rockefellers are suing ExxonMobil because they believe the company lied for years about the effect of fossil fuels on climate change. Of course, fossil fuels are the reason that Standard Oil was founded. Without them, the Rockefellers would not have their great wealth.

Not every family member agrees on this issue, as Private Wealth reports in “Fighting Over A Dynasty’s Soul.”

A headline of “Rockefeller’s Sue Over Effects of Fossil Fuels” is interesting in and of itself. However, even more interesting is what this reveals about dynasties.

It shows how the beliefs and interests of heirs can be radically different than the interests of the founders. This has implications for how those with dynastic wealth set up the trusts to benefit their families.

Some founders will want to be flexible, so future generations will be able to change direction when information and beliefs change. Others might want to prevent that, since they will want to make sure their specific legacy is continued.

Reference: Private Wealth (June 22, 2017) “Fighting Over A Dynasty’s Soul.”

Do You Need a Trust?

One of the biggest questions in estate planning today, is whether a trust is the best option for your family.

If you were to conduct a representative poll of middle class Americans about the best way to plan for your estate, it is almost certain that the majority of respondents would suggest getting a living trust.

It is the first piece of advice you will find almost anywhere you look for estate planning information. The reason for that is complex.

One reason is that many internet companies who sell trust creation documents have been very active in pushing the benefits of trusts to get more customers. Trusts are also often the best estate planning option for people.

Nevertheless, the key is to determine what the best estate planning option is for you personally, not for society generally, as Madison.com points out in “Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?.”

Trusts do have many benefits over wills.

Trusts do not have to go through probate and, therefore, are not subject to the commonly cited costs and delays associated with probate.

Trust provisions do not have to be made public, as most wills do. Trusts are also a great way to control what your heirs might do with their inheritances, but “testamentary trusts” under wills do so as well.

If you really want to know whether you should get a trust, the best thing to do is to ask an estate planning attorney. Tell the attorney what your needs are and let the attorney suggest the best ways to meet those needs.

Reference: Madison.com (June 27, 2017) “Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?.”

New Zealand Trusts

Changes to New Zealand’s foreign trusts laws might show that using offshore trusts to hide assets is more prevalent than previously thought.

For many years, New Zealand has been thought of as a great place to hold foreign assets in trust. The nation had lax laws and allowed foreigners to have tax-free trusts with little oversight.

When the Panama Papers, the leaked emails of a law firm in Panama, were released, all that changed.

It was revealed that New Zealand was being used by some very wealthy people to hide assets from their own governments. This created some international pressure on New Zealand by other governments, as those other governments do not appreciate avoidance of their taxes.

In response to this pressure, the New Zealand government changed its trust laws. All foreign trusts were required to register, declare who controlled the trusts and declare who the beneficiaries of the trust were.

It was assumed this move would not be a burden for most foreign trusts, since there are many reasons someone might want to have a tax-free trust in New Zealand other than tax avoidance.

However, most foreign trusts have failed to register under the new law and many have fled the country, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog reports in “Trust the Kiwis.”

This suggests that using foreign trusts to hide assets is more common than previously thought.

Accordingly, government regulators will look for other ways to crackdown on trusts and make tax avoidance more difficult.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (June 20, 2017) “Trust the Kiwis.”

Tax Court Rules against Minnesota

The tax court has ruled against the state of Minnesota and declared its income tax statute unconstitutional, as it applies to some trusts created in that state.

Minnesota has an unusual way of taxing trusts. The state’s income tax statute makes 100% of a trust’s assets taxable in that state, if the trust became irrevocable when the settlor was a resident of Minnesota.

This rule applies regardless where the trust beneficiaries reside or where any trustees reside.

Fortunately, the tax court has decided this method of trust taxation is unconstitutional, according to the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog in “Tax Refunds for Trusts With Minnesota Grantors? Minnesota Income Tax Statute Ruled Unconstitutional.”

The court looked at trusts that had an out-of-state trustee, beneficiaries who lived in Minnesota and beneficiaries who lived in other states.

It determined that these trusts could not be considered resident trusts of Minnesota and, therefore, the state could not tax intangible assets. Presumably, the same logic could be applied to some other trust situations.

This ruling could lead to refunds for some trusts.

However, those refunds may not come in the near future, since it is expected that the state will appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, which could render a different decision.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (June 7, 2017) “Tax Refunds for Trusts With Minnesota Grantors? Minnesota Income Tax Statute Ruled Unconstitutional.”

Protect Your Assets with Estate Planning

There is possibly no greater blow to a person, than losing all of their assets to creditors. It can happen to anyone, but you can protect against it by utilizing estate planning tools.

You have probably noticed at some point or another, that the U.S. is a very lawsuit happy country, much more so than most European countries.

The reasons for this have a lot to do with the way that our court system is set up. Anyone can file a lawsuit for almost anything. There is very little to deter someone from doing so, in most cases.

Even if the plaintiff loses, he does not have to pay the defendant’s legal bills, which can be quite high. Consequently, no matter how wealthy a person is, they can be sued and potentially lose everything if the court system rules against them, rightly or wrongly.

Therefore, it is extremely important for the wealthy to protect their assets from potential creditors, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “Asset Protection Measures.”

The good news is that protecting assets from potential creditors is not an inherently difficult task.

Estate planning attorneys have many ways to assist clients in doing that.

A trust is typically the best option for doing this. However, there are other ways to protect assets, including utilizing retirement accounts and college savings plans.

As a last resort, insurance can be purchased to protect against creditors.

You should protect your assets, and you should visit with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to do so.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 31, 2017) “Asset Protection Measures.”

Wealthy People Torn

Many wealthy people are torn between wanting to leave a large inheritance for their children and fears that their children will not be able to handle the wealth.

Wealthy parents whose children do not get independently wealthy on their own, often fear that leaving those children a large inheritance would be a mistake. The children might not be able to handle the money and it might cause them to give up their own careers.

In some cases, the children might also waste all of the money and leave nothing for their own children. Despite this common fear, the wealthy parents do want to leave their children large inheritances.

This tension creates problems for many people as they plan their estates, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog points out in “New Focus for Estate Planning.”

The key to resolving this tension is to understand that estate planning can be about more than just transferring a lot of assets to heirs. With a traditional will, heirs get all of the assets at once, which leaves open the possibility that assets will be misused.

There are many kinds of available estate planning tools that can be used to make sure that heirs do not waste everything.

Many types of trusts will help preserve the assets.

Of course, this can only be done, if an estate planning attorney knows that the client fears his children will waste an inheritance. The attorney needs the client to express these fears, so the attorney can devise the best plans.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 17, 2017) “New Focus for Estate Planning.”

Consider a SLAT for an Uncertain Future

It is currently difficult to know what the best possible estate planning method might be in the near future, since tax reform is uncertain. A spousal lifetime asset trust can be used as a way to plan around that uncertainty.

Given recent events in Washington, it is understandable if wealthy people are more than a little nervous about their estate plans. Just as it appeared that Congress was about to turn its attention to long-promised tax reform, President Trump has been distracted by ongoing investigations into his campaign.

While a special counsel has been appointed to oversee that investigation, a continuing steady stream of leaks has kept the pressure on lawmakers. This casts doubt over their plans for tax reform, since it is a contentious issue that has many in Congress deeply divided.

It is not clear what the President wants on some of the key items of reform.

All of this makes it difficult for many wealthy people to know how effective their estate plans might be and how to make changes to them.

Recently, Wealth Management offered a solution to the uncertainty in the form of a spousal lifetime asset trust in “SLATs Provide Flexible Plans for Many Clients.”

Like any other trust, SLATs do not have to go through probate. They also offer estate tax and capital gains tax benefits.

They key thing about them, is that they are an extremely flexible form of trust. They are more adaptable to changing circumstances than many other trusts.

That makes them a great tool for uncertain times, when no one can be certain what the tax future will look like.

If you are interested in a SLAT or want to know what your other current estate planning options are, talk to an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Management (May 15, 2017) “The Rise of Donor Advised Funds.”

Treating Your Children Fairly

One of the biggest problems in estate planning is figuring out how to treat children fairly in circumstances when fairly does not necessarily mean equally.

The default estate planning option for people with more than one child is to divide their estates equally between their children. That is the most common thing that is now done in estate planning.

It is easy and simple.

Most of the time it is a fair way to divide a parent’s estate and one that the children accept. That does not always work, however, because as every parent eventually learns, treating children fairly does not always mean treating them equally. That holds true in estate planning.

Adult children can wind up in very different life circumstances for a variety of reasons. For example, if one child became wealthy after receiving a large gift from his parents to start a business, it might not be fair to treat that child the same in an estate plan as another child who went into public interest work.

Figuring out how to divide an estate unequally but fairly between children can be difficult, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed in “Dividing Your Wealth Among Your Children.”

The biggest problem is figuring out how to make the unequal division without causing any of the children to dispute the estate. Trusts are extraordinarily helpful in these situations, since they are much more difficult to challenge.

Parents can create a trust with an independent trustee and give the trustee the power to make distributions to the children based on their circumstances and needs. It is also important that parents who are leaving unequal inheritances for their children talk to the children and let them know the reasons for doing so.

If you want to leave your children unequal inheritances, you need to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you do so in a way that your children will think is fair and not seek to challenge.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 5, 2017) “Dividing Your Wealth Among Your Children.”

Daughter Sues Mother for Wasting Her Inheritance

A case in New York is a good reminder that it is very important to make sure that trusts details are specific, in order to make the settlor’s wishes crystal clear.

The story had a Hollywood beginning. A schoolteacher and a wealthy real estate investor met through a singles ad, fell in love, got married and had a child.

From that beginning, things quickly turned south.

According to court records filed by the child of that marriage, Elizabeth Marcus, her mother refused to sleep with her father after she was born. The two divorced after a few years and the father passed away, when Marcus was nine years old.

The father did not want his ex-wife to receive any of his assets and instead left half his estate in trust to Marcus. Another child from a previous marriage received the other half.

The trust was originally overseen by Citibank, but after fighting for several years, the mother took control of the trust in 2003, according to the Daily Mail in “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

Marcus is suing her mother now, claiming that her mother has stolen her inheritance to buy expensive items for herself, including a mansion and fancy cars. Most of the original inheritance is now alleged to be gone.

The mother, of course, denies the accusations.

The missing piece of the puzzle from the reports is how the mother was able to gain control of the trust, if the father did not wish her to have it. He might have neglected to be clearer about his wishes in the trust documents.

Reference: Daily Mail (April 23, 2017) “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

The Danger of Wills

It is easier to get wills today than it ever has been, since forms can be downloaded and filled out on your own. However, that ease has led to many people not understanding the potential dangers of wills.

That everyone should have an estate plan is a principle which most people understand when the reasons are explained to them. Estate plans, even as simple as a will, at the very least can help prevent families from fighting over estates.

Since you do not know when you will pass away, you should go ahead and get an estate plan.
While most Americans still do not have a will, a greater percentage of Americans have them than ever before. It is easy and cheap to get wills today, since you can purchase downloadable forms from several different services.

However, there are some hidden dangers in doing that, as The New York Times explained in “Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps.”

The biggest issue is that the probate process is different in every state.

Submitting a will to probate for administration, in some states, is very expensive and can take a long time. That suggests that probate avoidance strategies should be used, which could lead some people to utilize a trust instead of a will as their primary estate planning vehicle.

Trusts, however, are more expensive to get than wills and in some states probate is relatively quick and inexpensive. Consequently, trusts may only be needed for people with larger estates.

There are other probate avoidance strategies that can be used, but they also have their drawbacks. For example, retitling an asset as joint property with a child, which is a common tactic, can make the asset vulnerable to the child’s creditors.

The best thing to do is to hire an experienced estate planning attorney in your state, so that attorney can help you with the best estate planning strategy for your state and your estate.

Reference: New York Times (April 21, 2017) “Wills Can Avert Family Warfare, but Have Their Own Hidden Traps.”