Friday, March 20, 2009

That's no way to say goodbye

Excellent article by Paul Sullivan of the NY Times
Smaller Though It May Be, It’s Time to Look at the Estate

For all the upheaval that has attended Barack Obama’s presidency so far, at least one initiative has caused little commotion: a proposal to extend the estate tax at the current level.

Estate planning is not primarily about avoiding a tax that few have been subject to since it was instituted in 1916. The primary goal has always been how to bequeath what you have to the heirs you picked. And if handled wrongly, wills can become a vehicle that destroys families.

The biggest issue, given both the recession and the flux in federal estate tax laws, is whether wills already drawn up still fulfill their intent.

While estate-planning advice for the wealthy is more complicated, this is a time when all Americans can stand to re-emphasize the basics.

The article cites some stories from “Where There’s an Inheritance: Stories From the World of Two Wills Lawyers

In one, a favored sibling begged her mother not to cut her sister out of the will entirely. The mother gave in and left the other daughter 10 percent of the estate. That act dogged the favored daughter for years as her sister disputed every value in the estate to get her full 10 percent. A lump sum payment would have eliminated this.

It ends with an interesting story about the estate of Charles Kuralt. It's no way to sign off. Read the article here.

1 comment:

tvfields said...

Where There's a Will, There May Be a Loophole is the title of an article published in a newspapter ten years ago by an estate planning lawyer and reproduced online at This same lawyer is now speaker of Ohio's House of Representatives.

That article was written at my urging. The attorney who wrote it did so reluctantly and only after several years of encouragement. But that is another story.

A more insightful article titled "Wills, Testamentary Capacity, and Undue Influence" was published many years ago in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law by a future president of that academy after he presented it in an address before the American Forensic Society. See

My reason for writing this is to ask others to help victim advocates like myself ( bring about the legal reforms needed to prevent the most preventable cases of financial abuse of the elderly.

For example, consider the news report at

This case demonstrates how our legal system fails to protect even a comatose patient from being financially exploited

This this crime could have been prevented if (Step 1) the hospital had been required to immediately notify the courts when the woman fell into the coma and (Step 2) the courts had been required to immediately freeze that patient’s accounts until there is a legitimate reason for releasing the accounts (such as the patient recovers from the coma).

Moreover, Step (1) is consistent with a recommendation that was proposed by the American Medical Association and is included on pages 5 and 6 of the Ohio Physicians Elder Abuse Prevention Project Report. Much of this report, including the important pages mentioned here, is copied online, beginning with the report's front cover at

And Step (2) could be carried out by the creation of a limited, emergency guardianship.

Thank you,