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Challenges to a Will or Trust Part IV – Undue Influence, Evidence and Inferences

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part IV – Undue Influence, Evidence and Inferences

Cases involving undue influence often include allegations of diminished mental capacity – i.e. that the alleged victim was suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or another mental disorder – and therefore was susceptible to the influence of another. The fact that an individual was susceptible to undue influence at one period of time is not, however, be conclusive as to their state of mind on another date. See Martin v. Martin, 687 So. 2d 903 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997). In Martin, court considered a will executed in August 1989 and a trust in May 1991. The Court held that that a determination the victim was susceptible to undue influence on one of those dates was not conclusive as to his state of mind on the other. As a result, litigants pursuing a claim for undue influence should be prepared to present evidence sufficient to raise the presumption of undue influence for each separate testamentary change or gift that is challenged.

Recently, a Florida court has approved of the use of an inference of undue influence where the influence did not relate to the testamentary change at issue.   See Blinn v. Carlman, 159 So. 3d 390 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015). In finding that the plaintiff had proven undue influence in the execution of a will, the court relied on a voicemail which recorded the defendant exerting influence, in part, by disparaging the plaintiff. Although that conversation that was recorded did not relate to the changes in the decedent’s will, the court reasoned that “if appellant were so bold as to openly display such influence over [the decedent], then the court could reasonably infer that similar or greater influence was occurring in the dark during their marriage.” Id. at *3. Thus, it may be possible to prove undue influence through generalized evidence showing a pattern of influence that is not directly tied to the challenged testamentary changes or gifts during the time those changes or gifts were made.

Custodial IRAs for Your Child or Grandchild

Custodial IRAs for Your Child or Grandchild

With summer having just ended, now is the time to discuss the importance of saving for retirement with your children and grandchildren. Many parents and grandparents will have wanted their children and grandchildren to work over the summer so that they appreciate the effort it takes to earn an income. Therefore, many will have worked a summer job; that is by itself an important step to understanding the value of the dollar and the rewarding feeling of earning one’s own income. The money they have earned is usually spent (or saved) however they would like. While there is nothing wrong with this, the savvy parent or grandparent will take this opportunity to shift their focus to their future. By creating a custodial Individual Retirement Account (an “IRA”), the child or grandchild that is a minor may begin to learn about saving money, investing assets, publicly traded markets, the benefits of income tax deferral, retirement matching programs, and the time value of money.

So long as the minor has earned income for the year, they may create and/or contribute to their own IRA (either a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA). Legal title to the account will rest in their legal or natural guardian as custodian of the IRA that is held for their benefit. The amount that may be contributed to the custodial IRA is limited by the lesser of the usual annual contribution limits for IRAs (i.e., Five Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($5,500) in 2015), or the total amount of the minor’s earned income in that year. Also keep in mind that most financial institutions have a minimum account balance requirement. Often this could be One Thousand Five-Hundred Dollars ($1,500) or more, which may be less than what the minor earned during their summer job. There are however financial institutions that only require a One Hundred Dollar minimum balance ($100).

For example, let’s say a grandchild earned Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000) this summer. The grandchild has several options, such as: (1) keep the Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000) and do with it what they will, (2) contribute all or a portion of it to their custodial IRA, (3) keep all of it, while a parent or grandparent makes a gift to the minor that may be used as a contribution to their custodial IRA, or (4) a combination of the second and third options.

To illustrate these options, we will describe the second, third, and fourth scenarios. The second scenario will not be very appealing to the minor. That is natural, as they just worked very hard for their income (perhaps for the first time in their life) and the thought of saving the money for retirement is a foreign concept to them. Most minors will need some encouragement to get excited about retirement savings. The third scenario is the “have your cake and eat it too” option. There is nothing wrong with that in this context. The parent or grandparent may just wish to help start their retirement savings process and hope that it will engage the minor and turn on a light bulb for them. However, the fourth scenario is the most likely to cause the minor to become actively engaged in the discussion about saving and investing for their future, since they have skin in the game now. Their grandparent could talk with them and explain that if they agree to set aside One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) of their own money for their future by creating an IRA, then the grandparent will also give the grandchild One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) for that purpose. The grandchild has One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) of spending money and Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000) for their retirement.

The next big decision is whether to create a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA. If the minor is being claimed as a dependent on an adult’s income tax return, then you should first check with the CPA preparing that adult’s income tax return. It is likely that the minor would not be able to claim an income tax deduction for contributions to a Traditional IRA. Therefore, a Roth IRA is usually the preferred choice. Moreover, once the minor begins taking their Required Minimum Distributions (in the distant future), the withdrawals will be income tax free and will have had forty (40) or more years to grow tax free. For instance, assuming an average rate of return of six percent (6%), that Two Thousand Dollar ($2,000) contribution would become Twenty Thousand Five Hundred Seventy One Dollars ($20,571) forty (40) years later. If the minor continues to make annual contributions to their IRA, this growth only compounds over time.

It is also important to remember to fill out the beneficiary designation for the custodial IRA. Think through who is the likely choice as primary and contingent beneficiaries for the minor. If you feel the minor is mature enough to take part in this discussion, then ask them their opinion and desires on the matter. After all, the minor will eventually become owner of the IRA once the custodianship ends.

Assuming that the parent or grandparent does make a gift to the minor, then what are the tax consequences to the donor? Because the donor would be making a cash gift to the natural or legal guardian of the minor, for that minor’s benefit, it will qualify for the Gift Tax Annual Exclusion since it is a present interest. That means that the donor may give up to the maximum contribution for the custodial IRA ($5,500) (assuming that the minor earned at least that much income) and because that amount is less than the Gift Tax Annual Exclusion amount i.e. Fourteen Thousand Dollars ($14,000) in 2015, it will be excluded from being a taxable gift, will not reduce the donor’s Estate or Gift Tax Exemption Amount, and no Gift Tax Return (Form 709) will be required to be filed (assuming the donor made no other taxable gifts).

If you would like to discuss this, or any other gifting strategy for the benefit of minors, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to go over your options with you.

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part III – Undue Influence and Active Procurement of Testamentary Documents or Gifts

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part III – Undue Influence and Active Procurement of Testamentary Documents or Gifts

In In re: Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971) the Florida Supreme Court set forth a non-exhaustive list of factors courts should consider when determining whether an individual actively procured a change to a will or trust. Those factors are: (1) the presence of the beneficiary at the execution of a will or on the occasions when the testator expressed a desire to make a will; (2) recommendation by the beneficiary of an attorney to draw the will; (3) knowledge of the contents of the will by the beneficiary before the execution; (4) the beneficiary instructing the attorney drawing the will; (5) the beneficiary securing the witnesses to the will; and (6) the beneficiary has the will for safekeeping after the execution. In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d. at 702. While the court stressed that the circumstances of each case will be different and that not all the factors need to be present in order to establish active procurement, they are generally applicable when there is a challenge to a will or trust based on undue influence.

Different challenges arise when the alleged undue influence involves gifts or transfers of money during an elderly individual’s life. In those circumstances, Florida courts look to a defendant’s attempts to obtain the gift in question by “special effort.” See Davis v. Foulkrod, 642 So. 2d 1129 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994). In Davis, the court found that an individual’s suggestion of potential banks, transportation of the elderly adult to the bank and her presence when the joint account in question was opened were insufficient to establish active procurement. Additionally, courts have looked at other factors to determine whether undue influence exists, including the mental acuity of the donor at the time of the gift. See Cripe v. Atlantic Bank, 422 So.2d 820 (Fla. 1982). As a result, litigants should be aware of the different types of proof necessary to show active procurement.

 

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part II – Undue Influence And The Confidential Relationship

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part II – Undue Influence And The Confidential Relationship

Often, the circumstances underlying a change in a testamentary gift begin with an elderly parent turning to an adult child for help in their daily activities. Whether it is driving to and from doctor’s appointments or moving into an adult child’s house, such relationships, at first glance, would appear to meet the definition of a confidential relationship in every instance.

Recently, however, one Florida court found that this type of relationship, between an elderly parent and adult child, was not enough to support the presumption of undue influence. See Estate of Kester v. Rocco, 117 So. 3d 1196 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). In Kester, the daughter accused of undue influence assisted her mother with various tasks and provided transportation whenever her mother needed it. The Court found those activities were insufficient to prove a confidential relationship, stating that “[e]vidence merely that a parent and an adult child had a close relationship and that the younger person often assisted the parent with tasks is not enough to show undue influence. Where communications and assistance are consistent with a ‘dutiful’ adult child towards an aging parent, there is no presumption of undue influence.” Estate of Kester 117 So. 3d at 1200. As a result, an adult child accused of unduly influencing an elderly parent should carefully examine the boundaries of their relationship before conceding the existence of a confidential relationship and the other prerequisites to finding that there is a presumption of undue influence. The Kester case may signal a new trend that treats siblings who are caring for an elderly parent differently in the context of undue influence allegations.

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part I – Undue Influence And The Burden Shifting Presumption

Challenges to a Will or Trust Part I – Undue Influence And The Burden Shifting Presumption

In many disputes involving a change to a will or trust made by an elderly individual, it is alleged that the change to the testamentary document was the result of undue influence. Florida law defines undue influence as “over persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such an extent that there is a destruction of free agency and willpower.”

In In re: Carpenter’s Estate, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971) the Florida Supreme Court created a burden shifting presumption for claims of undue influence. Under Carpenter if the party alleging undue influence showed the existence of a confidential relationship between the doner and the donee, active procurement of the change or gift in question and that the donee was a substantial beneficiary of the gift, then a presumption of undue influence arose and the burden shifted to the opposing party to provide a reasonable explanation for the testamentary change or gift. If a reasonable explanation was provided, then the burden shifted back to the party claiming undue influence to prove its claims.

In 2002, the legislature altered Carpenter’s burden shifting scheme. Pursuant to Sections 733.1071 and 90.304, Florida Statutes, once the presumption of undue influence arises, the opposing party bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the gift in question was not the result of undue influence. Thus, it is no longer sufficient to provide a reasonable explanation for the testamentary change or gift. Once the presumption is raised, a party must prove that the testamentary change was a result of the grantor’s own free will.
 
 


1 Although this provision is part of the trust code, it provides that the presumption of undue influence implements public policy against abuse of fiduciary or confidential relationships, and is, therefore, a presumption shifting the burden of proof under Sections 90.301-90.304, Florida Statutes. Thus, because the legislature has declared that the presumption of undue influence implements public policy, the shifting burden of proof is equally applicable to actions alleging undue influence in the procurement of a trust.

 

15 Red Flags for an Audit

15 Red Flags for an Audit

  1. Income. If you make more than $200+ thousand dollars a year your chance of an audit jumps from .86% or 1 out 116 up to 2.701% which is 1 out of 37. If you make over a million dollars it is 1 in 13 chances. If you make less than $200 thousand then your chance of being audited is .78%.
  2. Information Returns. A miss match between information returns such as 1099s, W-2s, etc. and your personal return.
  3. Personal Deductions. Higher than average deductions for your income bracket.
  4. You run a small business and you are filing a Schedule C. The Schedule C reflects higher or lower gross sales than most sole proprietors, especially, if your business is cash intensive such as taxis, car washes, bars, salons, restaurants, and so forth. As opposed to C-Corps, the IRS is shifting its emphasis to S-Corps, small LLCs, and small partnerships.
  5. Taking large charitable deductions. IRS has statistical averages based on income brackets.
  6. Claiming rental losses. IRS is aggressively scrutinizing these, especially, where people are claiming to be real estate professionals and showing lots of income from non-real estate activities. There is a special audit project just for this.
  7. Taking alimony deductions. The IRS knows that court orders frequently do not meet the requirements to qualify as alimony, so they are looking at this issue frequently. They also want to make sure that the paid spouse is reporting the alimony as income.
  8. Writing off losses for a hobby. You must make money three out of five years, or the IRS will challenge your so-called “business” as a hobby.
  9. Business meals, travel, and entertainment. Large amounts set off alarm bells, especially, if they are too high for the type of business or profession. Documentation of this area is critical and, if it is not there, you will lose the deduction.
  10. Failure to report foreign bank accounts. IRS has received billions in this recent area and wants more.
  11. Claiming 100% business usage of a vehicle. IRS does not like this. Make sure you document with mileage logs and precise calendar entries as to usage. If you are buying a vehicle late in the year and writing it off, this is a red flag. If you are taking both depreciation and standard mileage rates this is incorrect and a red flag.
  12. Claiming day trader losses on a Schedule C. Investor losses are subject to a 2% cap of adjusted gross income. People trying to avoid this try to qualify as traders and get ordinary losses and avoid the 2% limitation.
  13. Gambling. First, is the failure to report winning or claiming big losses. Also, people frequently attempt to be classified as professional gamblers so they can take the cost of their lodging, meals and so forth.
  14. Claiming a home office deduction. Here there is an exclusive use issue. In other words, are you using the portion of your home exclusively for work? Also, it must be the principal place of the business.
  15. Engaging in currency transactions. If you are dealing with large cash deposits you may be triggering suspicious transaction reports by banks or any other financial institutions, and this can result in an audit.