As I have previously written, due to Congress’s extreme irresponsibility and inability to get anything done at all, the Estate and Generation Skipping taxes are repealed in 2010, but for one year and one year only. Last December, in a post entitled, The Real Danger of the Expiring Estate Tax: Existing Documents, I discussed that the biggest concern among estate planners is that none of the documents that we’ve been drafting for clients make any sense. They don’t “work.”
The problem is that the dispositions of property in the documents are often worded in such a way that they take the estate tax into account. Take a look at the following examples that might be found in an existing Will or Trust:
- “I give to my children an amount equal to my remaining estate tax exemption, and give the balance of my estate to my spouse.”
- “I direct that my Personal Representative set aside an amount equal to my remaining generation skipping tax exemption, and said amount shall be held in trust for my grandchildren.”
- “I give to the United Way the minimum amount necessary to reduce my estate tax liability to zero, with the remainder of my estate to be equally divided among my children.”
If there is no estate tax, then if each of the above formula dispositions are literally followed, then they will result in a disposition of the estate that the testator did not intend. Although the estate tax is federal law, the interpretation of wills and trusts and other documents is state law. So, like usual, the states are left to deal with Congress’s irresponsibility.
I saw, via, Miami Attorney Juan Antunez’s Florida Probate & Trust Litigation Blog, the Forbes Magazine article, States Race to Clean up Congress’s Estate Tax Mess. The article explains that the lapse in the estate tax could, “lead to the unintended disinheritance of spouses, which could in turn lead to expensive legal fights among family members and, ultimately, the impoverishment of some widows or widowers.” Apparently, various state legislatures are introducing legislation to try to insert some sanity — or at least a roadmap — for fixing these problems.
For the full text of Florida’s proposed fix, along with a copy of Florida Attorney Bruce Stone‘s presentation from the Heckerling Institute, see Juan’s blog. Below is some selected language from Florida’s proposed fix:
1) Upon the application of a trustee or any qualified beneficiary of a trust, a court at any time may construe the terms of a trust that is not then revocable to define the respective shares or determine beneficiaries, in accordance with the intention of the settlor, if a transfer occurs during [a time when the tax is repealed] and the trust contains a provision that:
(a) includes a formula devise referring to the “unified credit”, “estate tax exemption,” “applicable exemption amount,” “applicable credit amount,” “applicable exclusion amount,” “generation-skipping transfer tax exemption,” “GST exemption,” “marital deduction,” “maximum marital deduction,” or “unlimited marital deduction;”
. . .
(3) In construing the trust, the court shall consider the terms and purposes of the trust, the facts and circumstances surrounding the creation of the trust, and the settlor’s probable intent. In determining the settlor’s probable intent, the court may consider evidence relevant to the settlor’s intent even though the evidence contradicts an apparent plain meaning of the trust instrument.