Estate Administration in the Digital Era: Digital Assets, Cryptocurrency and More

Digital Assets and Cryptocurrency

The probate proceedings for the estate of the late musical artist, Prince Rogers Nelson, have been repeatedly profiled in the national news for a variety of reasons. Here are some digital age strategies for dealing with cutting-edge estate administration issues, including identifying heirs, working with digital assets and block chain technology, and administering estate assets in specialized industries.

  1. Genetic testing can determine the rightful heirs. If parentage may become an issue, obtain an order authorizing DNA testing of the decedent’s blood sample as soon as possible after death. Obtain a court order for genetic testing of purported heirs early on in the proceedings.
  1. Identify, catalogue, disclose and value digital assets. Digital assets include a wide variety of electronic files and works. Some examples are digital accounts (i.e., social media, e-mail and online commercial accounts such as Etsy and Amazon), video and audio files and electronically stored media (such as photographs, art, music, and original works and blogs), knowledge stored in electronic databases or formats (i.e., software and architectural plans). Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin) and block-chain technologies are also digital assets. Some forms of digital assets are more easily monetized than others. Digital assets are regarded as personal property by the taxing authorities and as such, must be clearly identified and properly valued on death tax returns. See I.R.S. Notice 2014-21. In some cases, discounts for lack of marketability may be appropriate. Initial coin offerings (ICO’s) may be subject to registration requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1933.
  1. Hire experts for specialized industries. Prince’s estate held a wide range of intellectual property. The personal representative faced unique business challenges, such as operating multiple entertainment businesses, overseeing a real estate portfolio and a museum, archiving a vast quantity of audio and video assets, and safeguarding personal property. The use of entertainment and other industry experts was needed to help monetize the estate’s assets.
  2. File any confidential information disclosed to the court under seal. Consider whether to file sensitive information under seal. Sensitive matters could range from business and licensing negotiations and confidential litigation settlements to details relating to parentage.

Questions? Contact Jane.

Jane Fearn ZimmerJane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA. You can contact Jane by phone at 856.661.2283 or by emailing jane.zimmer@flastergreenberg.com.

Choupette’s Legacy – Why Estate Planning Matters

Choupette royalIt is speculated that Choupette Lagerfeld, the pampered Parisian pet of the iconic late German fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld, may have a stake in Lagerfeld’s vast fortune.

Choupette Lagerfeld moves in the circles of the rich and famous. Ironically, her most universal legacy could be to demonstrate why estate planning matters for everyone, wealthy or not.

Choupette’s situation makes clear that a clever estate plan can transform the impossible into the possible.  With an estate plan opting into German law (which, on information and belief, may allow the use of pet trusts), even a cat living in France (the law of which apparently prohibits an animal from inheriting) can become an heir.

If Karl Lagerfeld died without any estate plan, and if Choupette had not already amassed a fortune of her own through social media and advertising, she could descend rapidly into a downward spiral from riches to rags by taking nothing from her master’s estate.

An estate plan enables anyone with property (whether a fortune or a modest estate), to literally reach back from the grave, provide for loved ones (including pets) and retain some residual control over those left behind.

An estate plan can protect an unmarried, unrelated cohabitant by allowing her to remain in your home after your death, with any inheritance tax liability paid from life insurance or liquid funds in your residuary estate.

An estate plan can protect an inheritance for a special needs child without disqualifying the child from Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.

An estate plan can ensure that the life savings you worked hard to accumulate (and your personal affairs) will be kept private by avoiding probate with a revocable trust.

An estate plan incorporating an irrevocable trust or lifetime gifting can help reduce inheritance taxes legally.

An estate plan (using a trust) can protect your life savings or your life insurance proceeds from being blown by little Johnny on a Maserati, upon reaching age 18. An estate plan can even bring hope to beleaguered parents and grandparents everywhere.  Suppose your heart’s sole desire is for little Susie or Johnny to take medication/ finish college/ remove the tattoos/get a haircut and get a real job. Having all your post-mortem dreams ultimately come true could be as simple as leaving a conditional bequest in your last will and testament or trust. However, conditional gifts are very rarely written into wills or trusts due to the heartache and hard feelings caused.

Choupette’s legacy teaches us that even if your estate is limited, the possibilities are not.  For best results, consult an experienced and knowledgeable tax and estate planning attorney, who can help you effectuate your testamentary intentions.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Medicaid Estate Recovery and the Home

Jane Fearn-Zimmer explains Medicaid Estate Recovery and the Home

MLTSS Medicaid pays for long term care for individuals with low income (below $2,313 gross monthly in 2019) and low assets.

Post-mortem (after death) Medicaid liens protect the fiscal integrity of the MLTSS Medicaid program by attaching to property held by a Medicaid enrollee at death. In most cases, such Medicaid liens are imposed upon property held by a former Medicaid enrollee to recoup the cost of care and services provided to the enrollee after reaching the age of 55. After the death of the Medicaid beneficiary, the Medicaid estate recovery program collects on the Medicaid liens, with the lien proceeds being paid to the government.

In most cases, Medicaid liens attach only to property in which the Medicaid enrollee held an interest at the moment immediately before death. If the Medicaid enrollee retained no interest just before death, there is nothing subject to a Medicaid lien.

An important planning strategy is to remove the name of the future MLTSS Medicaid recipient from the title to valuable property, such as a home. If the future Medicaid recipient is married, often this property can be transferred to the healthy spouse without any Medicaid penalty period, even during the five year Medicaid look back period.

If the future Medicaid enrollee’s name is not removed from the property at the correct time, a Medicaid lien on real property can cloud title, accelerate a mortgage, and potentially place the property in foreclosure.  Even if the mortgage is not accelerated, the Medicaid lien must be paid before the real property can be sold, given away or refinanced.  Consequently, that is one reason why you should only trust your Medicaid application to an experienced Medicaid attorney, who can determine the best strategy to avoid a Medicaid lien.

Every case is different.  Irrevocable trusts will be suitable for some clients; others may be able to transfer the home without incurring a Medicaid penalty period, where there is a blind or disabled child, a sibling with an equity interest in the home, or, less frequently, to a caregiver child.  There are also some limited exceptions to Medicaid estate recovery.

The good news is that an experienced and knowledgeable elder law attorney can explain how to protect your home and your life savings, even if your loved one is already in long-term care.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Estate Planning Check Up and the New Tax Laws

Estate planning tax reform

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 enacted the most sweeping changes to the federal tax code since 1986. Many people assume that due to the increase in the basic exclusion amount (BEA) to $11,180,000 per individual, only the wealthiest need now estate planning. That is just not true!

Certainly, many fewer federal estate tax returns will be required to be filed. However, it is still important to periodically review your documents and your estate plan.  Most clients should review their existing wills and trusts. Particularly where a formula bequest was incorporated, the estate plan must be reviewed to ensure consistency with the client’s legacy goals.  This is due to the increase of the BEA.  The BEA functions like a sponge to limit or prevent a decedent from any federal estate tax liability at death. The BEA soaks up the decedent’s aggregated lifetime gifts and the assets remaining in the decedent’s estate at the moment of death, allowing the donor’s wealth up to the BEA limit to be transferred free of federal estate and gift taxes. Beyond the BEA, the estate will incur federal estate transfer tax liability. When the BEA was significantly lower, it was very common for estate planners to draft formula bequests, which allocated all of the decedent’s assets up to the decedent’s basic exclusion amount, to a “credit shelter trust” for the benefit of the surviving spouse and/or the descendants of the decedent. The remaining assets would pass outright to or in trust for the surviving spouse. With the doubling of the BEA and with credit shelter trusts which do not name the surviving spouse as a trust beneficiary, those estate plans will now disinherit the surviving spouse, and the surviving spouse will then be entitled to a one-third elective share of the decedent’s augmented estate in New Jersey.  The solution is to update the estate planning now, possibly with a disclaimer formula.  The new law sunsets on December 31, 2025.

At least until the new law sunsets, under the current regime, family limited partnerships remain a viable planning strategy, with the possibility of discounts for lack of marketability and lack of control. Trusts will continue to be useful for non-tax reasons, including privacy by avoiding the probate process, creditor protection, curbing spendthrift children, centralizing asset management, fostering family harmony through controlled asset disposition, and preserving a fund for a special needs beneficiary while protecting the beneficiary’s Medicaid and SSI eligibility.

Questions? Let Jane know.