Introduction

You may want to a use trusts for a multitude of reasons, including, but not limited to, avoiding probate, maintaining control of assets after death, and tax minimization. One of the more crucial reasons for you to use a trust is to allow for flexible property management.  The use of a trust to manage property is prudent when there are laws and regulations in place that limit the ownership, sale, and transfers of that property. This holds especially true when dealing with firearms. This post will discuss (a) some of the issues that the use of firearm trusts may address; (b) the relevant laws and regulations surrounding firearms; (c) what a firearm trust is; and (d) recommendations for planning for an estate that includes firearms.

What Issues Can Firearm Trusts Address?

Probate administration is an invasive process where the court makes much of your family’s private information public.  The types and values of the guns subject to probate administration are part of the public record.  Furthermore, if your firearms are part of the probate estate, then the parties receiving the firearms will be reflected in the public.  Often, this information is available online.  If you create a firearm trust, you can avoid the specifics of your firearm collection from becoming public knowledge and the recipients of the same.

Control of your firearms after death may be important considering the felonious implications of certain criminals and non-citizens possessing certain firearms. Those implications may make it difficult for you to legally transfer certain firearms to your heirs and beneficiaries, particularly when you do not know everything about their pasts. By creating a firearm trust, you can address that uncertainty.

In that same vein, under the current laws and regulations surrounding firearms, you may avoid certain regulatory requirements for the transfer of firearms at your death by putting your firearms into a firearm trust. For example, a transfer tax associated with the transfer of certain firearms may be avoided.

Generally, outright possession of a firearm limits possession to single individuals. However, if you create a firearm trust, one of the many results is flexibility of ownership. For example, if you name multiple co-trustees to the firearm trust, then those co-trustees may each enjoy the use of the firearms in the firearm trust. By knowing the laws and regulations, a competent estate planner should be able to take advantage of the many benefits provided by firearm trusts.

What Are the Laws and Regulations Surrounding Firearms?

There are many laws and regulations regarding firearms in the United States.  Generally, in accordance with the principles of federalism, states pass their own laws and regulations regarding firearms.  However, the federal government has its own firearm laws and regulations, including, but not limited to, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (the “GCA”); the National Firearms Action of 1934 (the “NFA”); and the various regulations implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (the “ATF”).

Congress passed the GCA in response to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The GCA is composed of Title I and Title II.  Title I of the GCA addresses most firearms in the United States, including shotguns, rifles, and handguns.  Despite being under the GCA, Title I Firearms are not largely regulated by the federal government, unless those Title I Firearms enter interstate commerce.

The federal government’s abilities to regulate Title I Firearms in interstate commerce are addressed in Bezet v. United States, 714 F. App’x 336 (5th Cir. 2017). The Bezet Court found that the federal government may regulate, through the Commerce Clause, the importation of certain firearms and ammunition, and the use of certain imported parts in the assembling of firearms.  Furthermore, in Bezet, the GCA withstood intermediate scrutiny because Congress enacted the provision of issues with the important government objective of “buttress[ing] states’ individual efforts to curb crime and violence” through a “comprehensive national response.”  Using the same logic, the Bezet Court found that the federal government did not infringe on any Second Amendment rights because the law did not completely prevent consumers from obtaining firearms. The consumers merely had to overcome certain hurdles.  So, while the GCA may not impose many federal restrictions on firearms, it still has teeth.

Title II of the GCA “revises and incorporates provisions of the original NFA,” which Congress passed, under the Taxing Powers, in response to the organized criminal activity of the early twentieth century.  In its original form, the NFA governed the possession and sale of certain firearms and taxed the manufacturing and sale of said firearms.  The firearms regulated under the NFA were, and still are, accounted for under Title II of the GCA.  Consequently, the firearms that fall under Title II of the GCA (i.e., machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, suppressors, and other destructive devices) have been deemed “Title II Firearms.”

The original NFA regulations on the manufacturing and transferring of Title II Firearms included requirements like (a) filing an application with the ATF; (b) paying a $200 stamp tax; (c) providing fingerprints; (d) providing photographs; (e) undergoing background checks; and (f) seeking approval from a Chief Law Enforcement Officer (“CLEO”).  Some of these original regulations did not apply to trusts, so estate planners and their clients started using the “Firearm Trust Loophole” as means to circumvent some of the NFA’s regulations. For example, estate planners and their clients used firearm trusts to bypass the fingerprinting and CLEO approval requirements. In lieu of those regulatory requirements, the ATF tasked the federal government with the job of verifying and investigating applications. The abuse of the Firearm Trust Loophole came to a head in 2013 to 2014, where trustees and officers of other entities filed over 160,000 Title II Firearm applications, none of which were subject to the close scrutiny imposed on individuals by the ATF.  In response to this, The ATF closed the Firearm Trust Loophole by implementing Rule 41F, in 2016.

The ATF does many things regarding the federal regulation of firearms.  For example, the ATF provides guidance as to which types of firearms will fall under the NFA.  Likewise, the ATF helps to enforce various federal firearm regulations. However, one of the more critical roles of the ATF is to create federal firearm regulation through notice and comment rulemaking, as seen with Rule 41F.

The ATF’s reasoning for Rule 41F was “to ensure that the identification and background check requirements apply equally to individuals, trusts, and legal entities who apply to make or receive NFA firearms.”  In that spirit, Rule 41F changed the NFA in multiple ways.  Rule 41F added the term “Responsible Persons” to broadly encompass entities that were not covered under the original NFA. Responsible Persons specifically refers to partnerships, associations, companies, corporations, and trusts.  Furthermore, Rule 41F did away with the requirement that a CLEO had to sign off on the manufacture and acquisition of Title II Firearms.  However, Rule 41F did not entirely remove CLEOs from the picture, in that Responsible Persons, who are attempting to transfer Title II Firearms, must forward an application to a CLEO in the Responsible Persons’ domicile.  In addition to those changes, the ATF created Section 479.90a of Rule 41F to regulate the unplanned possession and distribution of Title II Firearms at the owner’s death.

What is a Firearm Trust?

A firearm trust is just what it sounds like, a trust used to legally transfer and possess firearms, and avoid regulatory requirements to that effect.  Firearm trusts can be used to ensure privacy, create situations where multiple beneficiaries may use the trust firearms, and ensure that firearms do not fall into the wrong hands.  Despite their continued utility, firearm trusts were once special compared to other trusts in that they were considered separate entities from the trustees and the beneficiaries. However, this became less true when the ATF passed Rule 41F.

Currently, trusts are bound by the regulatory requirements regarding the acquisition, ownership, and transfer of Title II Firearms. That being the case, it is important, now more than ever, for your estate planner to understand the relevant firearm laws and regulations that may surround your firearms, and how to draft an estate plan accordingly.

How Should Your Estate Planner Draft a Trust for Your Firearms?

Because of the laws and regulations surrounding firearms, there are certain things you should consider when creating a firearm trust, including, but not limited to, the type of trust, the language in the trust, the trustees and their powers, and the beneficiaries of the trust.

Regarding the type of trust used, you should consider creating a revocable inter vivos trust. Regarding the firearm trust language, your estate planner should use terms that reference the specific firearms you own and the applicable federal and state firearm laws and regulations. Likewise, the estate planner should use language that makes clear your intent to comply with said laws and regulations. To allow for the most utility, the language of the firearm trust should ensure that the firearm trust is a stand-alone trust, not one incorporated by another trust.

Regarding naming a trustee for the firearm trust, as with any other trust, there are factors to consider.  First, if dealing with a revocable inter vivos trust, you should consider naming yourself as a trustee, or co-trustee, which would allow you to benefit from the use of the trust firearms during your lifetime. Second, the trustee and the successors should be individuals who are legally capable of owning firearms (i.e., non-felons and citizens who have not renounced their citizenship).  Third, you and your estate planner should consider the possibility that a trustee, who is eligible at the time the estate planner drafts your firearm trust, may later become ineligible. To remedy that issue, your estate planner should draft a provision that outlines the appropriate course of action to deal with said situation.  Those provisions might take the form of treating an ineligible successor trustee as predeceasing a successor trustee, or a trust protector provision that allows an individual to elect eligible successor trustees.

Regarding the trustee’s powers, you and your estate planner should grant the trustee broad powers.  The broad powers should ensure that the trustee can fill out the requisite transfer forms, be reimbursed for costs that the trustee incurs while owning and transferring firearms, and have discretion regarding if, and when, the trustee must transfer firearms to beneficiaries.

Regarding naming beneficiaries, you should name eligible beneficiaries. Likewise, you and your estate planner should come up with an alternate plan of disposition to address situations where a beneficiary might later become ineligible to legally own certain firearms.  That may be done by providing a charitable remainder to certain entities that can possess and dispose of the firearms correctly.  Alternatively, you could decide to leave the firearms in further trust for other beneficiaries or dissolve the trust and distribute the firearms outright.

 

Conclusion

The creation of a firearm trust is a responsible thing for you to do. However, if you do not plan for the disposition of your firearms, the executor of your estate is not going to be entirely without direction. The ATF created Section 479.90a of Rule 41F to guide executors of estates through the disposition of Title II firearms in unplanned estates.

Section 479.90a provides that an executor of an estate may possess a decedent’s registered firearms but must apply to transfer the firearms to the decedent’s heirs before the close of probate.  In said application, the executor must, among other things, name the estate as the transferor and sign on behalf of the decedent. To avoid having to deal with uncertainty and regulatory red tape associated with unplanned estates and Section 479.90a, please feel free to contact the Finney Law Firm.

Please contact Isaac Heintz (513.943.6654) or Jennings Kleeman (513.797.2858) to discuss your estate planning needs.

 

 

Attorney Isaac T. Heintz

Interest in estate planning grows

The COVID-19 crisis is prompting an increasing number of people to take care of their estate plan, including reviewing and updating their existing estate plan to comply with their current wishes.  We are seeing an increased number of people thinking about having an estate plan in place in the event something should happen to them.

What does a basic estate plan include?

Estate planning can be simple or can be complex, especially during a fast moving and potentially deadly pandemic.  At a minimum, it is recommended that each individual should have:

  • A basic Last Will and Testament,
  • A general durable Power of Attorney, and
  • Health care directives (i.e., Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will).

By having these minimal estate planning tools in place, the Last Will and Testament will direct the individual’s wishes for the disposition of his or her assets in the event of death.  The general durable Power of Attorney allows a chosen individual to make financial decisions.  The health care directives provide the individual’s wishes for medical treatment, and designate certain chosen people to make health care decisions on their behalf, and receive health care information from their physicians.

The additional option of a trust

If an individual is looking to avoid probate of assets upon his or her death, the establishment of a Trust is a beneficial tool for this purpose. Not only does a Trust instrument allow for the disposition of assets upon the death of an individual, it avoids the necessity for probate, and is effective in reducing probate administration expenses, such as attorney’s fees, fiduciary fees, and court costs.

Social distancing and safe execution of documents 

Finney Law Firm, LLC is practicing a safe signing environment at both of our offices, and is working with estate planning clients to arrange for signing of estate planning documents at the client’s residence upon request.

Conclusion

The experienced estate planning team at Finney Law Firm, LLC is available to assist with implementing an estate plan, and reviewing and/or amending an existing estate plan.

Our goal is to continue to fulfill the estate planning needs of our clients during this crisis.

Contact Tammy Wilson (513.943.6663) or Isaac T. Heintz (513.943.6654) for your estate planning needs.

With the advent of the COVID-19 Crisis, Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title have quickly stepped to the plate, with technology that allows for the practice of law with appropriate social distancing, with attorneys who focus on practice areas to help their clients, and with cutting edge information on emerging programs to help businesses and individuals in need.

Technology allowing for electronic interaction

Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title  have carefully developed the tools to be prepared for a day such as this:

  • DocuSign allows for execution of documents from your computer.  By federal and state law, e-signed documents are fully enforceable as with “inked” documents. Our team is licensed and trained in DocuSign technology for all documents in which clients will allow an electronic signature.
  • Electronic notary.  Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title contracted with one of only a handful of licensed e-notaries in Ohio for exclusive provision of e-notary services. Using the platform DocVerify, we have the strongest technology to allow real estate closings and other transactions to proceed.  By Ohio law, it is permissible to have documents signed and acknowledged (notarized) without person-to-person interaction via electronic signature and electronic notary.
  • Electronic payments. We use e-billing and credit card payments (and wire transfers and EFTs) for clients who prefer this method of billing and payment.
  • Electronic discovery and electronic depositions. Your litigation does not need to stop because of the COVID-19 crisis. Most of the work pre-trial can still move forward using e-mail, Zoom.US or Microsoft Teams for depositions, and motion work that can be electronically filed with almost all Courts.
  • Work-from-Home. If you do need to visit our offices, you will find that most of our professionals are not at their desks. Rather, they are safely (for you and them) working from home with the latest technology including Microsoft Surface laptops, Microsoft Teams Video Conferencing, Microsoft Office 365 data in the cloud, so we can access your data from anywhere in the planet, but with tremendous Microsoft security technology and backups.

Practice areas to help your business

Our business lawyers are up to date and prepared to help you through the thicket of issues that arise or are heightened with the COVID-19 crisis:

Attorney Isaac T. Heintz is proficient in contract interpretation, including how to enforce or avoid obligations under a lease or other agreement. He has already written purchase agreements with COVID-19 contingencies to extend due diligence periods to the declared end of the crisis. As you might expect, Isaac has also had many clients initiate their estate planning, or finish long-delayed estate planning work.

Attorney Stephen E. Imm heads our employment law group, and is advising clients on a myriad of new COVID-19 legislation and addressing employment law claims under previously existing law and the new enactments.

Attorney Bradley M.  Gibson heads our litigation group which is dealing with a multitude of business-to-business disputes, including those arising because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Attorney Richard P. Turner runs Ivy Pointe Title and in that capacity has been using every tool at our disposal to continue to close your transactions “accurately and on time, every time.”  These include closings respecting social distancing, and we stand prepared to be one of the first agencies in Ohio to implement fully electronic closings.  We also can do drive-by closings where you come to our office and sign documents from your car, or we come to you and you can sign them on our car hood.

Attorney Christopher P. Finney heads our public interest practice, and the host of issues addressing government-to-business and government-to-individual interaction arising from the COVID-19 crisis.

CARES Act assistance for your small business

Congress just passed the CoronaVirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which includes the Paycheck Protection Program that will provide what essentially are grants to businesses with fewer than 500 employees and enhanced Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).

Attorney Rebecca Simpson Heimlich has been counseling clients through this program, and on Thursday night she joins other presenters on a panel addressing “CARES Act, Including Paycheck Protection and Funds for Businesses.”

Conclusion

We are working furiously to meet the needs of our clients in this fast-emerging crisis. Let us know how we can help you or your small business navigate these turbulent waters to come to the other side safely and profitably.

And our hope is that each of you remain healthy throughout this pandemic.

 

 

An inter vivos trust is a trust created during a person’s lifetime that becomes effective while that person (“Grantor”) is living.  As an inter vivos trust operates during the lifetime of the Grantor, it is commonly referred to as a “living trust.”

The Grantor may want to create a living trust, but may also desire to retain an interest in the trust property and control over its management, such as serving as Trustee, receiving all of the income, retaining the power to revoke or amend the trust, and keeping the right to change the beneficiaries.

Living trusts are not for everyone. Anyone considering a living trust should consult with an estate planning attorney to discuss the potential benefits and disadvantages for such person’s individual situation.

The following is a summary of some advantages of living trusts:

Provide For and Protect Beneficiaries.  The Grantor’s desire to provide for and protect someone is probably the most common reason for creating an inter vivos trust.

Minor Children.  Minor children lack the legal capacity to manage property.  A trust permits the Grantor to make a gift for the benefit of a minor without giving the minor control over the property or triggering the necessity for the minor to have a court-appointed guardian to manage that property. A trust is also more flexible and allows a Grantor to have greater control over how the property is used when contrasted with other methods, such as a transfer to a guardian of the minor’s estate or to a custodian under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.

Individuals Lacking Management Skills.  An individual beneficiary may lack the skills necessary to properly manage the trust property. This could be the result of a mental or physical disability, or a lack of experience in making prudent investment decisions.  By putting the money under the control of the trustee with investment experience, the Grantor increases the likelihood that the beneficiary’s interests are served for a longer period of time.

Spendthrifts. Some individuals may be competent to manage property, but are likely to use it in an excessive or frivolous manner.  By using a carefully drafted trust, a Grantor can protect the trust property from the beneficiary’s own excesses, as well as the beneficiary’s creditors.

Under the laws of the State of Ohio, the Grantor may protect trust assets by including a spendthrift provision. A spendthrift clause does two things: (1) it prohibits the beneficiary from selling, disposing of, or otherwise transferring the beneficiary’s interest, and (2) it prevents the beneficiary’s creditors from reaching the beneficiary’s interest in the trust. The spendthrift provision permits the Grantor to carry out the Grantor’s intent of benefitting the designated beneficiary, but not the beneficiary’s assignees or creditors. Grantors typically include spendthrift restrictions in a trust because they protect beneficiaries from their own lack of management of the trust property, or from disposing or selling of trust property, and also protects assets from the beneficiary’s personal creditors.

Persons Susceptible to Influence.  When a person suddenly acquires a significant amount of property, that person may be under pressure from family, friends, or other individuals or organizations who wish to share in the windfall.  An inter vivos trust can make it virtually impossible for the beneficiary to transfer trust property to other people or organizations.

Retain Flexibility.  The Grantor may restrict the beneficiary’s control over the property in any manner the Grantor desires, as long as the restrictions are not illegal or in violation of public policy.  This flexibility allows the Grantor to determine how the trustee distributes trust benefits, such as by spreading the benefits over time, giving the trustee discretion to select who receives distributions and in what amounts and frequencies, requiring the beneficiary to meet certain criteria to receive or continue receiving benefits, or limiting the purposes for which trust assets may be used, such as health care or education.

Revocation and/or Amendment.  The Grantor may amend, or even revoke, a revocable inter vivos trust during the Grantor’s lifetime.

Trustee.  The Trustee is responsible for handling the assets held in the trust, including distributing the assets according to the terms of the trust document.  Thus, the Grantor has the flexibility of designating the individual or corporate trust department of the Grantor’s choosing to serve in the role as Trustee.

Avoid Probate.  Property in an inter vivos trust or received by the trust as beneficiary upon the death of the Grantor is not part of the Grantor’s probate estate. The property remaining in the trust when the Grantor dies and all property received by the trust, is administered and distributed according to the terms of the trust; it does not pass under the Grantor’s Last Will and Testament nor by intestate succession.

Reduction in Administration Expenses.  Some expenses incurred in the administration of a probate estate include attorney’s fees, fiduciary fees, appraisal fees, and court costs. The use of an inter vivos trust may be effective to reduce these expenses because less (if any) of the decedent’s property would pass through the decedent’s probate estate.

Increased Privacy.   All probate estate proceedings are public record, and can be viewed by anyone.  Documents filed in an administration of a probate estate include, but are not limited to, the inventory of all of the decedent’s probate assets, with the date of death value of each.  Further, the names of the beneficiaries of a probate estate, as well as the assets distributed to the beneficiaries, are also public record.  By the use of an inter vivos trust, the Grantor can keep private the extent of the Grantor’s assets and their disposition.

Avoidance of Ancillary Administration for Real Property Located Outside the State of Ohio.   If a decedent owned out-of-state real property, the decedent’s Last Will and Testament is probated in the county of the decedent’s residence, with some type of ancillary administration being necessary in the state or county in which the out-of-state real property is located. This ancillary administration can be expensive, inconvenient and time-consuming, and can be avoided if the property passes by way of an inter vivos trust.

 

Finney Law Firm prevails in “Mansion House case” through Ohio Supreme Court

Attorney Casey A. Taylor

Recently, our firm had a probate decision make its way all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court as part of joint effort by Attorneys Isaac T. Heintz of our transactional team and Casey A. Taylor of our litigation team.

While the precise legal issues in that case were somewhat idiosyncratic (and certainly underutilized), the underlying situation in that case was not all that unique. That is, our firm has been approached on more than one occasion by an individual whose spouse has passed away and, to their surprise (or perhaps not), had disinherited them before their passing.

Many times, the surviving spouses are left believing they have no recourse and will be left with pennies on the dollar relative to the decedent’s estate. However, that is not always the case.

A Surviving Spouse’s Right to Purchase Assets from Decedent’s Estate

Under Ohio law, a surviving spouse has the right to purchase certain assets from an estate at the appraised value, including “the mansion house.” See R.C. 2106.16 (providing the right to purchase “the mansion house, including the decedent’s title in the parcel of land on which the mansion house is situated and lots or farm land adjacent to the mansion house and used in conjunction with it as the home of the decedent” at its appraised value, provided that it is not specifically devised/bequeathed to someone else).

The “mansion house” is often not an actual mansion, as the name would suggest but, generally speaking, can be thought of as the decedent’s primary residence. See id. (“. . . as the home of the decedent.”) (emphasis added). Additionally, if there is a farm associated with the mansion house, which is used in connection with the home (and not a commercial farming operation), the farm should also be subject to the surviving spouse’s right to purchase.

The statute, however, is not limited to the “mansion house” but also may apply to household goods and other personal property under certain circumstances. Although it is typically not the focal point of a surviving spouse’s rights, R.C. 2106.16 can provide an opportunity for a surviving spouse to promote a more expeditious resolution of an estate and, if the facts and circumstances are right, benefit monetarily.

As a threshold issue, R.C. 2106.16 only applies to assets that are, “not specifically devised or bequeathed.”  A specific devise or bequeath occurs when a Will specifically references a designated asset transferring to a particular party (e.g., I give to John Doe the real estate located on 123 General Street, Anytown, Ohio).

A residual devise/bequest, by contrast, almost never qualifies as a specific devise/bequest (e.g., I give to John Doe the rest, residue and remainder of my estate).  As long as the asset in question is not subject to a specific bequest, R.C. 2106.16 may be an option as to the asset in question.

R.C. 2106.16 – the “Mansion House Statute” – Applied in Real Life

Not only can the exercise of this right allow the surviving spouse to purchase and, at his or her election, remain in the home that served as the decedent’s residence (and, perhaps, as the surviving spouse’s residence too, though this is not required – keep reading. . . ), but it can also serve to maximize an otherwise disinherited spouse’s share under the decedent’s estate. For instance (and especially where the mansion house appraises for less than the surviving spouse believes it is worth), a practical, yet largely overlooked strategy available to surviving spouses is to purchase the mansion house (or another undervalued asset contemplated under the statute) and immediately sell it to a third-party purchaser for a higher price. R.C. 2106.16 imposes no requirement that the surviving spouse maintain ownership of the mansion house/asset for any set period of time.

Thus, if the subsequent sale generates excess proceeds, those proceeds would belong to the spouse. In this scenario, even a disinherited surviving spouse who would otherwise take very little under the decedent’s estate may be able to pocket a significant amount by capitalizing on the difference between the appraised value and market value/purchase price of a sale to a subsequent buyer, consistent with his or her rights under R.C. 2106.16.

Further, there may be instances where the purchase of one or more assets by the surviving spouse (or the threat of him/her purchasing) could help facilitate a resolution or settlement of the decedent’s estate. For example, if the asset is desired by the executory/adverse party, he or she may seek a prompt resolution if that asset is in jeopardy, or the surviving spouse could otherwise use his or her right to purchase as a bargaining chip of sorts.

These are just a couple of ways that R.C. 2106.16 could be used to the benefit of a surviving spouse in an otherwise less-than-ideal situation in a practical sense. This is an area where our firm excels – we have a well-rounded team, with experience in diverse areas of the law and real estate, who come together to develop innovative solutions for our clients.

Our Case

In our “Mansion House” case, our client was a surviving spouse asserting her right to purchase the home and farm owned by her husband, which served as his primary residence. The executor of the decedent’s estate challenged our client’s right to purchase the home/farm, arguing primarily that she (the surviving spouse) did not live at the home/farm full time at the time of her husband’s (the decedent) death. In essence, the executor wished to impose a residency requirement on the surviving spouse where the statute only contemplates the residency of the decedent. Though more secondary arguments, the executor also asserted that:

  • the property was somehow specifically devised by virtue of the residuary clause in the decedent’s will and, thus, excluded from the purview of R.C. 2106.16 (conveniently, the executor was the beneficiary of the residual and desired the home/farm), and that
  • if the decedent’s home was the “mansion house,” and if our client had a right to purchase it, that right did not extend to the farmlands adjacent to the home because they were a separate parcel.

The trial court rejected all three of the executor’s arguments and found for our client (i.e., that the home/farm at issue was a “mansion house” under that statute and that our client was entitled to purchase it at its appraised value). Specifically, the trial court found that the plain language of the statute does not impose a residency requirement on the surviving spouse – the “mansion house” is the home of the decedent.

Additionally, the residuary clause contained no specific devise of the property at issue. And lastly, the statute (R.C. 2106.16) explicitly contemplates “lots or farm land adjacent to the mansion house” and used in conjunction therewith. On appeal by the executor, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the finding in our client’s favor. You can read the full appellate decision HERE (link to 12th Dist. Decision).

In a final effort to thwart our client’s purchase of the property, the executor sought discretionary review from the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that the question was a great issue of public importance. The High Court, however, declined to exercise its jurisdiction to hear the case, leaving the lower court decisions for our client undisturbed.

Conclusion

This was a very favorable outcome for our client and our firm, and we take pride in our ability to deliver creative solutions to our clients’ unique, and often difficult, legal questions. If you would like to speak someone regarding estate planning or any other legal questions you may have, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.  You may reach Isaac Heintz at 513.943.6654 and Casey Taylor at 513.943.5673.

 

The laws governing the administration of a decedent’s estate in the State of Ohio provide for the collection of probate assets, payment of debts and expenses, and distribution to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, or if the decedent died without a Last Will and Testament, in accordance with Ohio law.

Declaration of insolvency

The Executor or Administrator (“Fiduciary”) of the decedent’s estate may ask Probate Court to declare the estate insolvent if the debts and administration expenses of the estate exceed the total value of the assets.  If there are not sufficient assets in a decedent’s estate to pay all of the debts and expenses, Ohio provides a way to pay creditors depending on the “class” of the creditor defined below and the amount due.

Presentation of claims

Under Ohio law, all claims must be presented to the Fiduciary within six (6) months of the date of death of the decedent. After the expiration of this claim period, if the estate is deemed to be insolvent, the Fiduciary would report the insolvency to Probate Court, and provide a complete list of all debts and expenses, with the amount due for each.  A hearing would be scheduled, with notice of the hearing served upon the surviving spouse of the decedent (if any), all persons having an interest in the estate as devisees, legatees, heirs, and distributees, and all creditors.

At the hearing, Probate Court would review the classification of the claims as provided by the Fiduciary, and if approved, would allow payment of the claims in accordance with Ohio Revised Code.

Classes of creditors and priorities

The class of a creditor is defined in Ohio Revised Code, which establishes ten (10) classes of claims (debts) and priorities, as follows:

  • Class 1 – Costs and Expenses of Administration
  • Class 2 – Funeral and Cemetery Expenses.  This class provides up to $4,000 for funeral expenses and up to $3,000 for burial and cemetery expenses.
  • Class 3 – Family Allowance of $40,000.
  • Class 4 – Debts Entitled to a Preference Under the Laws of the United States.
  • Class 5 – Expenses of the Last Sickness of the Decedent.
  • Class 6 – Additional Funeral Expenses.  If the total funeral expenses exceed the sum of $4,000 in class 2 above, then the funeral director can receive up to $2,000 more toward the decedent’s funeral bill in class 6.
  • Class 7 – Nursing Home Expenses.
  • Class 8 – Obligations to the State of Ohio.
  • Class 9 – Debts for Manual Labor.
  • Class 10 – Other Debts.

In the state of Ohio, the law is very clear that payments must be made in the specific order listed above.  No payments may be made to creditors of one class until all of those of the preceding class are fully paid.  If the assets are insufficient to pay all of the claims of one class, then the creditors of that class must be paid proportionately.

Once the approved claims and expenses are paid, the Fiduciary would report the receipts and disbursements to Probate Court for approval.  Upon approval by Probate Court, the estate would be closed.

Conclusion

In certain estates where there are assets with value, it may make sense to proceed with an insolvent estate, as the fee for the Fiduciary of the estate is a Class 1 claim.  Further, if there are sufficient assets to pay the Class 1 and Class 2 claims in full, the family allowance, as a Class 3 claim, would be paid to the extent of assets.  Therefore, the decedent’s family could possibly benefit from this approach.

___________________

For help with your estate planning or probate matter, contact Isaac Heintz (513-943-6654) or Tammy Wilson (513-943-6663)

 

A general durable Power of Attorney granted by a person (“Principal”) to a designated attorney-in-fact (“Agent”) provides full power, authority and discretion to do all things required or permitted to be done in carrying out the purposes for which the Power of Attorney is granted as fully as the Principal could do if personally present (unless it is a Limited Power of Attorney granting specific limited powers to the Agent).

It is very important for the Principal to appoint an Agent that is trustworthy and who the Principal believes will fulfill his or her fiduciary obligations to the Principal.  No matter how selective a Principal may be in appointing the Agent, there is always the possibility of the Agent abusing his or her fiduciary obligations.

  1. Theft and Improper Asset Transfers.

There is no question that an Agent acting under a durable Power of Attorney has a fiduciary obligation to the Principal, which includes both the duty to act in the Principal’s best interest, and the duty not to use the relationship improperly for the Agent’s advantage.  If an Agent transfers the Principal’s funds in a way that the Principal would not have wanted, the transfer seems abusive.  Such a transaction may even rise to the level of theft.  Many times there are cases where Agents use durable Powers of Attorney to extract money or assets from their Principals.  If the Agent is not a family member or a close friend, it seems clear that transfers of assets to the Agent are abusive.

Most people name family members as their Agents.  Determining whether a transfer is abusive becomes much more difficult in a family context.  A family member Agent who transfers funds or other assets to himself or herself may believe that the Principal would have wanted the Agent to make the transfer.

Therefore, it is important for the Principal to discuss his or her wishes with the Agent regarding transfers, and to make sure that the Power of Attorney authorizes the Agent to make any desired transfers.  If the Principal wishes the Agent to have the power to make only gifts that would qualify for the Federal gift tax annual exclusion, this limitation should be included as a provision in the Power of Attorney and also discuss it with the Agent.

Further, if a Principal does not want to grant the Agent authority to transfer assets, it is imperative that a provision be included in the general durable Power of Attorney restricting the Agent from making such transfers.

  1. Interference With Principal’s Estate Plan.

An Agent may be faced with dealing with property that has been specifically disposed of in the Principal’s estate plan.  This type of interference ranges from an act by an Agent performed with the specific intent to deprive a specific beneficiary named in the Principal’s estate plan to receive a gift, to a transfer made without thought of the Principal’s estate plan.

  1. Remedies for Abuse.

Attorneys are often asked what remedies are available for abusive acts by Agents appointed in a durable Power of Attorney.  In most cases, courts seem to agree that an Agent under a durable Power of Attorney is governed by some fiduciary standard.

It is possible that an improper transfer could be prosecuted as theft, and a court could order restitution to the Principal.  Also, improperly transferred funds could be recovered through a civil lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty.  The funds may not be recoverable because the abuse cannot be proven, or because the Agent has dissipated the funds.

 

Attorney Isaac T. Heintz

On multiple occasions, Finney Law Firm has been approached by a beneficiary of a trust when the beneficiary is concerned with the administration of the trust by the trustee.  In these types of situations, our firm has helped the beneficiary pursue and protect the beneficiary’s rights.

Although there are other rights, below you will find a summary of some of the statutory rights of a trust beneficiary.

Under current Ohio law, a trustee shall, within sixty (60) days after accepting its duties as trustee, notify the current beneficiaries of a trust of the trustee’s acceptance of the trust, together with the trustee’s name, address, and telephone number.

Further, within sixty (60) days after the date the trustee acquires knowledge of the creation of an irrevocable trust, or the date the trustee acquires knowledge that a formerly revocable trust has become irrevocable, the trustee must notify the current beneficiaries of the existence of the trust, the identity of the settlor/grantor, the right to request a copy of the trust instrument, and the right to receive a trustee’s report as defined below.

Upon the request of a beneficiary, the trustee shall provide to the beneficiary a copy of the trust document.  Unless the beneficiary specifically requests a copy of the entire trust document, the trustee may furnish to the beneficiary a copy of a redacted trust document that includes only those provision of the trust that are relevant to the beneficiary’s interest in the trust.  If the beneficiary requests a copy of the entire trust document after receiving a copy of the redacted portion, the trustee must furnish a copy of the entire trust document.

The trustee is also required to send a trust report at least annually and at the termination of the trust, to the current beneficiaries, and also to other beneficiaries who request it.  This is commonly known as an accounting.  The report shall detail the trust property, liabilities, receipts, and disbursements, including the source and amount of the trustee’s compensation, a listing of the trust assets and, if feasible, their respective market values.

Any beneficiary may waive the right to a trustee’s report or other information otherwise required to be furnished to a beneficiary. A beneficiary, with respect to future reports and other information, may withdraw a waiver previously given.

A trustee, in fulfilling its fiduciary obligations, must keep the current beneficiaries reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and of the material facts necessary for them to protect their interests.

Please note that the above rights are not a comprehensive list of the rights of a beneficiary of a trust.

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For assistance with an Ohio trust or more generally Ohio estate planning and estate administration needs, contact Isaac T. Heintz (513-943-6654; Isaac@FinneyLawFirm.Com) or Eli Krafte-Jacobs (513-797-285; Eli@FinneyLawFirm.Com) of our transactional team.

 

Technology consumes the lives of most Americans.  In fact, humans create an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day and an estimated 90 percent of all the world’s data was created in the last two years.[1]  In perspective, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is equal to about 530 million songs or 90 continuous years of HD video.[2]  Holding power and control over digital assets is advantageous to the owner, but many jurisdictions do not have laws to effectively govern what happens to a deceased person’s digital assets.  Prior to April of this year, Ohio was one of those jurisdictions.

Ohio House Bill 432 (HB432) was signed into law by Governor Kasich at the end of 2016 and it became effective April 6, 2017.  This Bill, otherwise known as the Omnibus Probate Bill, made significant changes to estate administration in Ohio.  Chief among those changes was the adoption of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA).  Under the original Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), fiduciaries were authorized to manage digital property such as computer files, web domains, and virtual currency, but it restricted a fiduciary’s access to the substantive content of electronic communications (e.g., email messages, text messages, social media accounts, etc.).  However, HB432 and RUFADAA extended the reach of a fiduciary to include the power to manage a person’s substantive digital assets.

Rather than granting this power across the board, HB432 outlines the means through which an individual may grant such power to his or her fiduciary.  These means include: (1) online tools offered by a custodian or possessor of digital assets and through which an individual can select how their digital assets will be treated, (2) a will, trust, or power of attorney, and (3) the custodian’s terms of service.[3]  The foregoing means are listed in order of descending authority.  In other words, an online tool supersedes the terms of a will or trust, which supersedes the custodian’s terms of service, which supersedes the default RUFADAA rules.

As estate planning catches up with technology, it is important to understand how newly enacted legislation can affect your rights.  With Ohio’s recent adoption of RUFADAA, individuals now have greater control over what happens to their digital assets after death.  As is good practice with estate planning, individuals seeking to exert a measure of control over their digital assets after death should consult with an estate planning attorney.

[1] Bringing big data to the enterprise, IBM.com, https://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html (last visited May 25, 2017).

[2] Mikal Khoso, How Much Data is Produced Every Day?, Ne. U.: Level (May 13, 2016), http://www.northeastern.edu/levelblog/2016/05/13/how-much-data-produced-every-day/.

[3] See generally, Ohio Rev. Code § 2137.03 (2017).

As we have grown, the vision of the Finney Law Firm is sharpening for our clients and the public: A broad array of services offered in one firm, each practice area delivered in a quality fashion.

At our core, we are a real estate firm, with experienced transactional attorneys, a title insurance company that insures residential and commercial titles, and commercial litigators who can address virtually every aspect of disputes relating to real estate: Eviction, foreclosure, title disputes, easement disputes, construction disputes and mechanics lien claims, as well as complex real estate litigation.

Beyond that, we offer quality estate planning and probate administration and our transactional team rounds our its services with corporate formation and development, including acquisitions, dispositions and financing.

Isaac T. Heintz, Kevin J. Hopper, and Eli Krafte-Jacobs, along with paralegals Tammy Wilson and Misty L. Winkler, and Richard P. Turner at the title company, lead our transitional team day in and day out.

Our litigators are well-known for our public interest practice — handing legislative and regulatory matters aggressively, confronting government officials who would illegally interfere with their life, their business and their fortune.  Three times we have ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court, and three times we won the relief we sought with 9-0 victories there.   We apply this same sophistication and vigor to commercial litigation, personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice matters.

Bradley M. Gibson, Stephen E. Imm, Julie M. Gugino, and Casey A. Taylor along with paralegal Brandy E. Fitch are our quality litigation team.

Finally, we are proud to recently have expanded our litigation services to include labor and employment law with experienced litigator Stephen Imm.

When a client asks “do you do that,” I am proud to respond “yes, and we do it well.  Let me introduce you to …..”

Let us know how we we can help with your business or personal opportunity or challenge.  It is with you in mind that we have assembled this team of quality practitioners.