2014 Most Read Wills & Estate Planning Articles May Surprise You

Welcome to my first post of 2015!  In case you’re curious, below are the top ten most read articles in 2014 over at my Wills & Estate Planning Guidesite on About.com:

  1. See How the Federal Estate Tax Exemption Has Changed Since 1997
  2. How to Find a Deceased Person’s Will
  3. See How the Gift Tax Annual Exclusion Has Changed Since 1997
  4. Will Your Inheritance Cost You in Taxes?
  5. State Estate Tax and Exemption Chart
  6. 2014 State Death Tax Exemption and Top Tax Rate Chart
  7. State Inheritance Tax Chart
  8. How to Locate Online Probate Court Dockets and Request Copies of Documents
  9. What is a Revocable Living Trust?
  10. What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will?

If you’re interested in reading any of the articles, simply click on the article name.

Well, that is certainly a hodge podge of topics, isn’t it?  – estate, inheritance and gift taxes, wills, probate dockets, revocable living trusts, will contests – but then again, estate planning covers a hodge podge of topics, that’s why my Guidesite currently has 19 different categories!

The final count on page views for my Wills & Estate Planning Guidesite in 2014 topped 8.4 million, so thanks to all of my readers for reading and my newsletter subscribers for subscribing – if you’re not a newsletter subscriber yet, you can sign up here:  Weekly Wills & Estate Planning Newsletter.


Listen Up 2011, 2012 & 2013 U.S. Estates – Don’t Miss Out on the Portability Election

The clock is quickly ticking away for the estates of certain married U.S. taxpayers who died between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013.

What will happen to these estates when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2015?  They will no longer have the ability to make a “late” portability election with regard to the federal estate tax exemption.

What is the Portability Election and How is it Made?

Portability started with the passage of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010.  Under this law, a surviving spouse was allowed to add their deceased spouse’s unused federal estate tax exemption to their own exemption and apply the combined exemptions (up to a total of $10 million in 2011 and $10.24 million in 2012) to gifts made during life and/or transfers made after death. Portability was supposed to disappear in 2013, but the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 made it permanent for deaths occurring in 2013 and beyond.

In order to make the portability election, the executor of the estate must timely file a federal estate tax return (IRS Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return) and include the portability calculation.  Form 706 is timely filed if it is filed either (i) within nine months after the date of death, or (ii) by the last day of the period covered by an extension, whichever is later.

What Are the Special Rules for Making the Late Portability Election?

The uncertainty surrounding the future of portability coupled with the June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Windsor v. United States (which held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and prompted Treasury and the IRS to issue a ruling that same sex married couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including making the portability election) led to a lot of confusion and inevitably the failure of many executors to make the portability election.

In response to this confusion, Rev. Proc. 2014-18 was issued in early 2014 which allows an executor to make a “late” portability election on or before December 31, 2014 if the estate meets the following criteria:

  1.  The taxpayer must be the executor of the estate of a decedent who was survived by a spouse; died between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013; and was a citizen or resident of the U.S. on the date of death; and
  2. The estate was not required to file a federal estate tax return; and
  3. The estate did not file a federal estate tax return; and
  4. A person permitted to make the portability election on behalf of the decedent files a federal estate tax return on or before December 31, 2014; and
  5.  The person filing the federal estate tax return states at the top of the return that it is being “FILED PURSUANT TO REV. PROC. 2014-18 TO ELECT PORTABILITY UNDER § 2010(c)(5)(A).”
What Should You Do?

If you’re not sure if making the “late” portability election applies in your situation, hurry up and check with your estate planning attorney or accountant because the clock is ticking!

Estate Planning, Sam’s Club Style

Along with buying all of your favorite items in bulk (like a 36-can case of Diet Dr. Pepper!), you can now get your estate plan done at a discount at Sam’s Club.

Yes, you read that right, Sam’s Club is now offering estate planning as well as other legal services.  Well, OK, that’s not exactly accurate.  While the retail warehouse club that is owned by Walmart hasn’t gone out and hired itself a bunch of attorneys and stationed them in its 640+ stores, it has teamed up with LegalZoom to give its business members up to a 25% discount on LegalZoom products.  This includes things like incorporating a business, idea protection, and wills and trusts.

And that’s not all – Sam’s Club business members can also shop for personalized health care plans (in collaboration with Aenta) and payroll services (in collaboration with Execupay).  Who knows what will be next?

Death Becomes Them: Forbes Releases List of 2013 – 2014 Top Earning Dead Celebrities

It’s my favorite time of the year again – no, not Halloween, but the time when Forbes releases its list of the top earning dead celebrities for the past year.

Based on revenues generated between October 2013 and October 2014, the estate of Michael Jackson, who died in June 2009, remained at the #1 spot as the top earning dead celebrity for the second year straight, bringing in $140 million (down from $160 million in 2012 – 2013, but still enough to keep the #1 spot by $85 million). What’s so impressive about Mr. Jackson’s estate is that it brought in the same amount as the estates of the next four dead celebrities combined. In addition, Mr. Jackson’s estate brought in $10 million more than the 2013 – 2014 top two earning living actors (Robert Downey Jr., $75 million, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, $55 million).

And now, without further ado, here is the list of the top money-making dead celebrities ranked in order of earnings from October 2013 through October 2014:

  1. Michael Jackson – $140 million, down from $160 million last year (date of death June 25, 2009)
  2. Elvis Presley – $55 million, the same as last year (date of death August 16, 1977)
  3. Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts comics – $40 million, up from $37 million last year (date of death February 12, 2000)
  4. Elizabeth Taylor – $25 million, the same as last year (date of death March 23, 2011)
  5. Bob Marley – $20 million, up from $18 million last year (date of death May 11, 1981)
  6. Marilyn Monroe – $17 million, up from $15 million last year (date of death August 5, 1962)
  7. John Lennon – $12 million, the same as last year (date of death December 8, 1980)
  8. Albert Einstein – $11 million, up from $10 million last year (date of death April 18, 1955)
  9. Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss (tie) – $9 million, the same as last year (date of death September 24, 1991)
  10. Bruce Lee (tie) – $9 million, up from $7 million last year (date of death July 20, 1973)
  11. Steve McQueen (tie) – $9 million, the same as last year (date of death November 7, 1980)
  12. Bettie Page (tie) – $9 million, down from $10 million last year (date of death December 11, 2008)
  13. James Dean – $7 million, Mr. Dean’s estate did not make the list last year (date of death September 30, 1955)

Falling off the list this year was singer Jenni Rivera, who died on December 9, 2012, and whose estate earned $7 million last year.

Read more:

Are You Ready for 2014 National Estate Planning Awareness Week?

In 2008 the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (or NAEPC for short), in conjunction with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and 49 of his colleagues, co-sponsored and helped pass H. Res. 1499, which declared the third week in October National Estate Planning Awareness Week (or NEPAW for short). This means that in 2014, National Estate Planning Awareness Week falls on October 20 through 26.

NAEPC works with over 230+ local estate planning councils to educate its 27,000+ members on all areas of estate planning and emphasizes a multi-disciplinary approach to estate planning involving all members of a client’s financial advisory team, including attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, and life insurance agents. In addition, through its foundation known as The NAEPC Education Foundation, NAEPC has an ongoing commitment to promote financial awareness and literacy in estate and financial planning throughout the year.

As leaders in the financial and estate planning community, members of NAEPC have first-hand experience with the challenges Americans face with regard to saving, investing, and planning for their financial futures. For example:

  • The majority of Americans over 65 are totally dependent on their Social Security checks. With proper knowledge and planning, future generations can have a more secure retirement.
  • It is estimated that over 120 million Americans do not have an up-to-date estate plan to protect themselves and their families, making estate planning one of the most overlooked areas of personal financial management. By planning now instead of after a crisis happens, issues such as guardianship of children, managing bill paying and assets in the event of sickness or disability, care of a special needs child, long-term care needs, and distribution of retirement assets can all be handled with sensitivity and care at a reasonable cost.
  • The majority of Americans lack the ability to adequately plan for their retirement. This can be changed immediately with knowledge and the right planning tools.
  • Many people mistakenly believe that since they aren’t “rich” they don’t need to do any financial and estate planning at all. Estate planning is not just for the wealthy and is important for everyone. This attitude can be financially harmful in the long-run and can be avoided with a proactive approach.

With these factors in mind, NAEPC is offering a free, one hour webinar on Monday, October 20, 2014, at 3 pm EDT, presented by Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, PFS, MBA, JD, AEP® (Distinguished), called “Basic Estate Planning in 12 Steps.”  Visit NAEPC’s website to sign up:  NAEPC – For the Public.

In addition, local estate planning councils will be offering programs to educate the public on the importance of initial estate planning as well as updating old estate plans as the years go by. A list of local estate planning councils can be found on the NAEPC website so that you can check for a program in your area, or if there is not a local estate planning council close to you, then make it a point this week to locate and meet with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area to discuss all of your estate planning needs.

You can also visit The NAEPC Education Foundation’s website called EstatePlanningAnwers.org for informative articles about estate planning, disability planning, long term care planning, estate and trust administration, and financial planning.