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Archive for the ‘Trusts & Estates’ Category

Nobody knows. Congress has yet to take up the issue of extending or amending the current law, which is set to expire on December 31. If no legislation is forthcoming, then the lifetime exemption will fall to a million dollars, presumably ensnaring a large swath of the upper middle class– and even some of the house-poor or farm-poor in places that have seen property values skyrocket over the last generation. Simultaneously, the top rate on taxable assets will jump to 55 percent. The smart money is on some kind of legislative action after the election. My suspicion is that Congress will remain split, and the exemption will come down from its current $5.12M, but will still be set high enough to avoid hitting the vast majority of taxpayers. Beth Cohn has a nice overview of the current legal framework, and possible 2013 scenarios, over at JD Supra.

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Remsen on Wills

It’s not land use, but I recently started reading an excellently written 1907 primer on the law of estate planning and trusts, The Preparation and Contest of Wills, by Daniel S. Remsen. It often strikes me how well the authors of a century ago were able to tackle complex subjects with both precision and clarity, in contrast to the blather that characterizes a lot of today’s law books. It’s also interesting to see how much the essential doctrines of common law property have stayed the same, and have continued to dominate their field (land use, of course, being a major exception), in contrast to the statutization that’s taken place in areas like commercial or criminal law. That is to say, other than the always-idiosyncratic specifics of taxes and local procedures, Remsen’s book tracks the same issues that any current hornbook on estate planning would cover, and most of the rules he describes still remain in effect. To illustrate his exposition of the law, Remsen includes an appendix containing 78 wills and trust settlements made by 19th century luminaries, including Jay Gould, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Leland Stanford. You can’t make this stuff up.

One of the most valuable online resources is the seemingly endless selection of old law books that have gone into the public domain, and are now available in PDF through Google Books. Everything from Story on Equity to Wigmore on Evidence can be found there. And it’s all free.

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