Probate Legislation Wiki – Everyone gets a say

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) has introduced a program for public commentary on proposed legislation called a “wiki-bill.”  The “wiki” concept is intended to tap into the “wisdom of crowds” to provide a solution that is greater than what could be achieved by one person or even a small group (of, say, elected legislators, for example).  Assemblyman Gatto uses the website wikispaces to bring this to the legislative process, and his first subject is probate law.

If creating laws is like watching sausage being made, creating laws by crowdsourcing is, well, even scarier. I looked at the commentary on Assemblyman Gatto’s wiki site for proposed changes to the Probate Code sections regarding disqualification of trustees and beneficiaries, and trustee’s duties to report to beneficiaries.  Several of the contributors were badly misinformed about the laws or their meaning, and did not understand how these particular statutes interact with others in the Probate Code.

Hopefully, the wisdom of the crowd will prevail, and effective legislation will be created (or current legislation will remain the same, if it is determined that it does not need to be changed).  I must admit that I am somewhat skeptical of this innovation.  Time, I suppose will eventually sort out how crowds impact the world, and Assemblyman Gatto does deserve credit for trying something new.  Whether it achieves its purpose is yet to be seen.

Speaking Tomorrow October 5 in SF

Tomorrow I’ll be presenting for the CEB Estate Planning Intensive Course at the Bar Association of San Francisco. It’s a marathon – Probate procedure, will and trust contests, creditor’s claims and professional responsibility from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Speaking Engagement: Probate Litigation Boot Camp

lecternOn Friday, September 20, I will be speaking on the tactical considerations regarding attorney’s fees in trust litigation at the East Bay Trust & Estate Lawyers (EBTEL) Probate Litigation Boot Camp in Oakland.  I’ll cover how attorneys fees factor into the decision of whether or not to litigate, methods and tools for getting the other side to pay your fees, and how to avoid paying the other side’s attorney’s fees when litigating.

The boot camp is an all-day affair, but my presentation will be about an hour.  EBTEL’s all-day boot camps are a great learning experience for attorneys and fiduciaries, and EBTEL does a great job of getting top-notch speakers for these events.  I’m honored to be a part of this year’s camp.

If you are a member of EBTEL, I hope to see you there!  For details, check out EBTEL’s website

Gandolfini will is a tax ‘catastrophe,’ estates lawyer says – ABA Journal

The will of the late Sopranos star James Gandolfini is a “disaster,” a “catastrophe” and “a nightmare from a tax standpoint,” according to an estates lawyer who reviewed the document. Lawyer William Zabel reviewed Gandolfini’s will for the New York Daily News. Gandolfini left 80 percent of his estimated $70 million estate to his sisters and 9-month-old daughter, making the 80 percent subject to a

via Gandolfini will is a tax ‘catastrophe,’ estates lawyer says – ABA Journal.

What to do about the family home?

In today’s New York Times Real Estate section there is an article about how to start a conversation about the family home with mom and dad. Read about it here<!

DOMA Struck Down, Prop 8 Sent Back

As you may have already heard, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Second District Court of Appeals’ ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  This is a very big deal in estate planning as well as a host of other areas.  With DOMA struck down, married same sex couples can now take advantage of, among other things, the unlimited marital deduction, which allows married couples to transfer their assets to each other without incurring any estate or gift tax.

For the text of the DOMA case, United States v. Windsor, click here.  For some backstory on Edith Windsor and her deceased spouse Thea Spyer, watch the movie Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement.

The Prop 8 decision is less clear.  The Supreme Court basically held that the petitioners, who were defending Prop 8, did not have standing to do so.  You may recall that two same sex couples challenged Prop 8 on the grounds that it violated Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of laws.  The plaintiffs sued then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, among others, who refused to defend the law.  The district court allowed Dennis Hollingsworth and others to intervene to defend Prop 8.  Judge Vaughan Walker agreed with the plaintiffs and ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  Hollingsworth, et al, appealed, and the 9th Circuit ruled that they had standing to defend the law, but otherwise upheld Judge Walker’s ruling that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  Hollingsworth, et al, appealed to the US Supreme Court, which held that they did not have standing.  The Supreme Court sent the case back with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing.  That means that the Judge Walker’s US District Court  ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional is the law.  Same sex marriage is no longer banned in California.  It does not affect any same-sex marriage law outside California.  Read the Hollingsworth v. Perry decision here.

How to hold a family meeting

There was an article In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about how to run a family meeting.  The context of the meetings in the article centered on children dealing with aging parents.

I’ve seen the aftermath of when these meetings go badly, or when they don’t happen at all.  Often, well-meaning children end up doing things that breed suspicion and resentment in their siblings who are not included in the decision.  Sometimes, the decisions even breed suspicion and resentment in the parents as well.  If the family meets and discusses things in the right way, animosity among the family members can be minimized or even eliminated.

Here’s a link to the article. (warning: subscription may be required)


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