Effective Date of Probate Code Overhaul Likely to be Delayed

The Boston Bar Association and Massachusetts Bar Association released the following announcement earlier today to members:

Today the House passed a bill extending the effective date of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) to March 31, 2012. The extension bill awaits action by the Senate. The MUPC was set to go in effect on Jan. 2, 2012.

Still under consideration by the Legislature is a bill establishing a uniform trust code, containing certain technical corrections to the MUPC, and granting the Probate and Family Court statutory authority to collect fees under the MUPC.

Both organizations look forward to continued work with the Legislature and the Court to ensure that these important provisions become law.

Probate Court Begins to Release MUPC Forms

The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court has begun to publish the new MUPC probate forms on a new page on its website here. At this time, more than thirty forms have been released, including forms for opening an informal probate, opening a formal probate, closing probate, and creating an inventory and accounts. The Court will publish additional MUPC forms as they become available and plans to remove current probate forms (those effective until January 2, 2012) from its website in January 2012.

The Court has also begun to publish certain instructional materials that have been used at recent trainings on its website here.

Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code Passes Senate

Author:
Brad Bedingfield, Esq., Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

On December 15, 2011, the Massachusetts Senate passed S.2094, a combined bill containing both the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code and the technical corrections to the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code formerly in S.704. Section 38 of S.2094 also includes a new probate court fee schedule to correspond with the new rules. 
 
Although the House passed a substantially identical version of the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (H.3756) on November 2, 2011, because S.2094 includes the MUPC technical corrections and the fee schedule, it has now been sent back to the House. We will keep you informed of any further developments.

Urgent Alert: We Need Your Help – Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code and Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code Technical Corrections

Author:
Kelly Aylward, Esq., Bove & Langa, P.C.

As discussed here, on November 1, 2011, the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (“MUTC”) (now H.3780/S.2034) was passed by the House and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The next step is for the Senate Ways and Means Committee to report the bill out for a vote by the Senate. Because the Senate is now in “informal session”, which is only open for the next three weeks, a unanimous vote by the Senate is required for this bill to pass in time to become effective on January 2, 1012 [the date that the trust provisions of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (“MUPC”) become effective]. This is where you can help.

Please contact your representatives in the Senate and urge them to send the MUTC to the Governor’s desk. As discussed here, it is vital that the MUTC pass in time to become effective on the same day as the trust provisions of the MUPC to avoid a scenario whereby courts, practitioners, trustees, and beneficiaries must grapple with multiple disparate bodies of trust law in succession.

In addition, the technical corrections to the MUPC (bill S.704) is still before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and has not passed the House or the Senate. We ask that you also urge your representatives to encourage the passage of the technical corrections.

As the Boston Bar Association continues to work closely with representatives and senators to encourage the passage of both the MUTC and the technical corrections to the MUPC, we would appreciate your assistance in contacting your representatives and senators to move this process along as quickly as possible. We have attached an updated template letter here for your consideration.

To identify your representatives, and for contact information, please visit here.

Thank you for your continued support.

T&E Litigation Update – Cohen v. Attorney General

Author:
Mark E. Swirbalus, Esq., Day Pitney LLP

The T&E Litigation Update is a recurring column summarizing recent trusts and estates case law. If you have question about this update or about T&E litigation generally, please feel free to e-mail the author by clicking on his name above.


Cohen v. Attorney General

In Cohen v. Attorney General, Case No. 11-11500-NMG, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120336 (D. Mass. Oct. 18,2011), the federal district court dismissed an action brought by Jillian Cohen, purporting to act in her capacity as “Full Statutory Administratrix” of the estate of the decedent, effectively seeking federal court review of two state court dismissals of her previous suit for alleged negligence, products liability and wrongful death.

In dismissing the case on a motion brought by the Attorney General on other grounds, the court offered the following commentary on the plaintiff’s inability to pursue the action pro se on behalf of the estate:

“Notwithstanding that Cohen may have authority to act based on her appointment as Administratrix, that is not sufficient to permit her to represent the interest of the Estate, where she is not a duly-licensed attorney admitted to practice in this Court. Although 28 U.S.C. § 1654 permits persons to proceed pro se, this provision does not allow unlicensed [sic] lay people to represent other pro se litigants. See Feliciano v. DuBois, 846 F. Supp. 1033, 1039(D. Mass. 1994); Eagle Assocs. v. Bank of Montreal, 926 F.2d 1305,1308 (2d Cir. 1991). Additionally, this Court’s Local Rules do not provide such authorization. See District of Massachusetts Local Rule 83.5.3(c), providing that “[a] person who is not a member of the bar of this court, and to whom sections (a) and (b) are not applicable, will be allowed to appear and practice before the court only in his own behalf.” Id.  See also Pridgen v. Andresen, 113 F.3d 391, 393 (2d Cir. 1997) (holding that “an administratrix or executrix of an estate may not proceed pro se when the estate has beneficiaries or creditors other than the litigant.”).  Here, it appears that there are several beneficiaries and/or creditors, and thus claims inuring to the Estate…may only be prosecuted in this Court by duly-licensed counsel.”

The Boston Bar Association Trusts & Estates Section Blog provides information as a service to its users and BBA members. Neither the Trusts & Estates Section nor the Boston Bar Association are a law firm and do not represent clients in any way. Although the information on this site is about legal issues and informational services it is not legal advice. Use of this blog does not in any way create a lawyer-client relationship. If you need a lawyer, the Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to a qualified attorney. http://www.bostonbarlawyer.org or call 617-742-0625.

Alert: Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code Passes House

Author:
Brad Bedingfield, Esq., Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

As discussed here, on October 19, 2011, the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (MUTC) (formerly H. 2261 and S. 688, now H. 3780 and S. 2034) was reported favorably from the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. On October 31, it was reported from the House Committee on Ways and Means, and on November 1 passed the House.

For those of you who have contacted your representatives to urge passage of the MUTC, thank you for your support. However, we’re not there yet. Please ask your representatives in the Senate to send the MUTC to the Governor’s desk. As discussed here, the trust law provisions of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) are scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2012. It is vital that the MUTC, which has an effective date of January 2, 2012, is signed as soon as possible, to avoid a scenario whereby courts, practitioners, trustees and beneficiaries must grapple with multiple disparate bodies of trust law in succession.

In addition, the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) technical corrections bill (S. 704) has not yet passed the House or the Senate. The Boston Bar Association is working closely with representatives to encourage passage of both the MUTC and the MUPC technical corrections bill as soon as possible. Please contact your representatives and urge them to push this bill through as well.

Thank you for your support.

The Boston Bar Association Trusts & Estates Section Blog provides information as a service to its users and BBA members. Neither the Trusts & Estates Section nor the Boston Bar Association are a law firm and do not represent clients in any way. Although the information on this site is about legal issues and informational services it is not legal advice. Use of this blog does not in any way create a lawyer-client relationship. If you need a lawyer, the Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to a qualified attorney. http://www.bostonbarlawyer.org or call 617-742-0625.

Standing Order 5-11, Guidance in Applying the MUPC to Pending Proceedings

Author:
Kerry L. Spindler, Esq., Goulston & Storrs, PC

The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court (the “Court”) recently announced new Standing Order 5-11, providing guidance as to application of the MUPC’s estate administration and trust provisions to proceedings pending before the Court after January 2, 2012, the MUPC effective date. A proceeding is “pending” if a petition was docketed, filed or date stamped as received by a Probate and Family Court on or before December 30, 2011 and where (i) a permanent decree has not entered, or (ii) a permanent decree has entered but other proceedings may be pending in the matter. The proceedings addressed in the Standing Order include:

  • Citations
  • Probate and administration decrees
  • Petitions to establish a testamentary trust or to fill a vacancy in a previously established testamentary trust
  • Petition for license to sell
  • Other petitions
  • Allowance of accounts
  • Voluntary administration
  • Appointment of certain fiduciaries

The Standing Order also provides that “all fiduciaries, including trustees, shall continue to have the obligations of their pre-MUPC bonds unless modified by petition after January 2, 2012”. This suggests that a fiduciary acting under a pre-MUPC bond may submit a petition to modify the bond and request access to the more flexible MUPC procedures. However, as previously reported, the MUPC technical corrections legislation, which would eliminate the ambiguity in the MUPC’s “effective date” provisions and cause Article VII of the MUPC (and the provisions incorporated through Article VII) to apply to trusts that became irrevocable prior to January 2, 2012, has not yet been adopted. As a result, it remains unclear whether trustees of such trusts may petition to bring those trusts within the MUPC.

IRS Proposed Regulations re: IRC Section 67 Limitations on Estates or Trusts Improved But Imperfect

Authors:
Nikki Marie Oliveira, Esq., LL.M.
Kerry L. Spindler, Esq., Goulston & Storrs, PC

On September 7, 2011, the IRS withdrew the 2007 proposed regulations and released new proposed regulations providing guidance as to when expenses incurred by estates or non-grantor trusts are subject to the two percent floor for miscellaneous itemized deductions under I.R.C. § 67(a). When final, the regulations will be published at Treas. Reg. § 1.67-4.

Background

I.R.C § 67(a) provides that, with respect to an individual taxpayer, miscellaneous itemized deductions are allowed only to the extent that the aggregate of the deductions exceeds two percent of adjusted gross income (“AGI”). I.R.C. § 67(e) provides that estates and trusts compute AGI in the same manner as an individual except that deductions for costs “paid or incurred in connection with the administration of the estate or trust and which would not have been incurred if the property were not held in such trust or estate” are deductible without regard to the two percent floor.

The law around this exception has been evolving, and in 2007 the IRS published proposed regulations[1]providing that a cost is deductible without regard to the two percent floor to the extent that it is “unique” to the estate or trust.[2] The 2007 proposed regulations also provided that where an estate or trust pays a single investment advisory fee that includes costs subject to the two percent floor and costs not subject to the two percent floor, the fee must be “unbundled”.[3]

In 2008, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Knight v. Commissioner, 55 U.S. 181 (2008), holding that while trust investment advisory fees are generally subject to the two percent floor, they are not subject to the floor if they are “uncommon (or unusual or unlikely) for a[n] . . . individual to incur”.[4] Knight’s focus on “uncommon” expenses was considered to be less restrictive than the requirement in the 2007 proposed regulations that the expenses be “unique”.

Since 2008, the IRS has issued annual guidance stating that fees did not have to be unbundled until final regulations were promulgated.[5] In September 2011, the IRS withdrew the 2007 regulations and published new proposed regulations more aligned with Knight. Noteworthy provisions of the new proposed regulations are as follows.

Test for When Expenses are Subject to the Two Percent Floor

The new proposed regulations provide a three-prong test for determining when an expense is subject to or excepted from the two percent floor. A cost is subject to the two percent floor to the extent that it is: (1) included in the definition of miscellaneous itemized deductions under section 67(b), (2) incurred by an estate or non-grantor trust, and (3) commonly or customarily incurred by a hypothetical individual holding the same property.[6]

Expenses Commonly or Customarily Incurred by Individuals

Whether an expense is commonly or customarily incurred by a hypothetical individual holding the same property depends on “the type of product or service rendered…, rather than the description of the cost of that product or service.”[7] Costs that are commonly or customarily incurred by individuals include:

  • Costs incurred in defense of a claim against the estate, the decedent, or trust that are unrelated to the existence, validity, or administration of the estate or trust.[8]
  • Ownership costs, such as condominium fees, real estate taxes, insurance premiums, maintenance and lawn services, automobile registration and insurance costs, and partnership costs deemed to be passed through to and reportable by a partner.[9]
  • Certain tax preparation fees. Deductibility is dependent upon the type of tax return. For instance, tax preparation fees for an estate tax return, generation-skipping transfer tax return, fiduciary income tax return, or a decedent’s final individual income tax return are not subject to the two percent floor.[10] On the other hand, other individual income tax returns, gift tax returns, and tax returns for a retirement plan or sole proprietorship are commonly incurred by individuals and would be subject to the two percent floor.[11]
  • Investment advisory fees are generally subject to the two percent floor, however, the new proposed regulations provide an exception to the extent that any portion of the investment advisory fee exceeds the fee normally charged to an individual investor, and the excess is attributable to (a) an unusual investment objective of the trust or estate or (b) a specialized balancing of the interests of various parties, such that a reasonable comparison with individual investors would be improper.[12]

Unbundling of Fiduciary Fees

There has been much controversy over when and how fiduciary fees must be “unbundled” for the purpose of calculating the AGI of the trust or estate under I.R.C. § 67(e). While the new proposed regulations permit more expenses to avoid the two percent floor, looming is still the issue of how to allocate investment advisory fees.

The new proposed regulations provide that costs that are subject to the two percent floor and those that are not must be separately accounted for in computing AGI. However, if the fee charged is not based on an hourly rate, then only the portion for investment advice is characterized as subject to the two percent floor and any excess is deductible without regard to the floor. In response to concerns raised over high anticipated administrative costs associated with unbundling fees, the new proposed regulations allow “any reasonable method” to be used to unbundle. Nevertheless, this is a broad and vague standard requiring further clarification.

Effective Date

Estates and non-grantor trusts with tax years beginning on or after final regulations are published in the Federal Register must comply with the new rules. Since the public hearing is scheduled for December 19, 2011, it is unlikely that the final regulations will be published before 2012. Therefore, where a trust has a calendar-year accounting period, trustees should not need to unbundle fees until at least 2013, and unbundled fees should not need to be reflected on income tax returns until those filed in 2014, at the earliest.

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[1] 72 Fed. Reg. 144, 41,243 (July 27, 2007).
[2] Prop. Reg. § 1.67-4(a) (2007).
[3] Prop. Reg. § 1.67-4(c) (2007).
[4] Knight v. Comm’r, 55. U.S. 181 (2008) (emphasis deleted from original).
[5] I.R.S. Notice 2011-37, 2010-32, 2008-116 & 2008-32.
[6] Prop. Reg. § 1.67-4(a).
[7] Prop. Reg. § 1.67-4(b)(1).
[8] Prop. Reg. §1.67-4(b)(1).
[9] Id. at § 1.67-4(b)(2).
[10] Id. at § 1.67-4(b)(3).
[11] Id. at § 1.67-4(b)(3).
[12] 76 Fed. Reg. 173, 55,323 (Sept. 7, 2011)

IRS Announces 2012 Inflation Adjustments

The IRS recently announced inflation adjustments for several tax provisions related to income and estate planning.
  • Personal and dependent exemption.  The value of each personal and dependent exemption is $3,800, up $100 from 2011.
  • Standard deduction.  The new standard deduction is $11,900 for married couples filing a joint return, $5,950 for singles and married individuals filing separately, and $8,700 for heads of household.
  • Tax-bracket thresholds.  Tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status.  For a married couple filing a joint return, for example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $70,700, up from $69,000 in 2011.
  • Estate tax exclusion.  For an estate of any decedent dying during calendar year 2012, the basic exclusion from estate tax amount is $5,120,000, up from $5,000,000 for calendar year 2011.
  • Special use valuation for real estate.  If the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,040,000, up from $1,020,000 for 2011.
  • Annual Exclusion for Gifts.  The gift tax annual exclusion remains at $13,000.
See Rev. Proc. 2011-52 (Nov. 7, 2011).

Double Taxed – Massachusetts Cost Basis for Assets Passing At Death

Author:
Brad Bedingfield, Esq., Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

As we have reported in the past (here and here), because of an apparently accidental disconnect between various federal and Massachusetts statutes, it appears that assets passing from Massachusetts decedents in 2010 and thereafter may no longer receive a full step-up in cost basis for purposes of Massachusetts capital gains tax. The Boston Bar Association has promulgated and promoted Bill # H2559, which in essence would provide for a continuation of prior Massachusetts law in this regard, under which property passing upon death will receive a full step-up in cost basis for decedents regardless of the year in which they have died. Such a result avoids an unfair double tax (estate tax and capital gains tax) on the heirs of decedents who die in 2010 or thereafter.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue issued, for practitioner comment, a two-part draft Directive addressing this issue. In Directive 2, the DOR has interpreted the law as providing that the Massachusetts cost basis of property acquired from decedents who die in 2011 or thereafter is “stepped-up” basis. Although a legislative solution would be preferable to provide certainty regarding the law in this regard, Directive 2 would be a welcome relief to taxpayers facing possible double taxation with regard to property passing at death in 2011 and beyond.

Directive 1, however, addressing 2010 decedents, comes up short. Instead of providing for a full step-up in cost basis for Massachusetts purposes, in Directive 1 the DOR has interpreted the law as providing for the “modified carryover” basis regime applicable under IRC Section 1022 to estates of 2010 decedents whose executors elect out of application of estate tax (as discussed in more detail here and here).

Under federal law, this modified carryover basis regime was intended to be a “trade-off” for repeal of the estate tax. Current federal law provides the executor of a 2010 decedent’s estate with a choice – (1) no estate tax, but a potential capital gains tax burden on assets passing from the decedent (after application of certain cost basis allocations allowed under IRC Section 1022), or (2) application of estate tax, but full step-up in cost basis. Under no circumstances does federal law impose both estate tax and capital gains liability resulting from denial of step-up in cost basis at death.

Massachusetts law does not allow an election out of estate tax for 2010 decedents. Therefore, avoidance of double taxation requires a full step-up in cost basis for Massachusetts purposes in all cases. Although Directive 1, if put into effect, would potentially mitigate the effects of double taxation in some situations, many estates would still be subject to double taxation in Massachusetts.

The Boston Bar Association continues to support H2559, which would alleviate the need for the aforementioned Directives, would provide certainty regarding cost basis of assets received from a decedent after 2009 for Massachusetts purposes, and would conform Massachusetts practice in this regard with the federal policy, and with the historic Massachusetts practice, of subjecting assets passing at death to either estate tax or capital gains tax, but not both.

H2559 is currently before the Joint Committee on Revenue. Please consider contacting your representatives and asking them (1) to urge the members of the Joint Committee to report H2559 favorably out of the committee and (2) to vote for it. The phone numbers and email addresses of the members of the Joint Committee on Revenue may be found here.

To identify your representatives, and for contact information, please click here.

A template letter for your consideration may be found here.

Thank you for your support.

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Update as of October 24, 2011: The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has extended the deadline for comments on the draft Directive from October 28, 2011 to November 11, 2011.