Monday, March 30, 2009

The Silver Lining of Stock Losses

We have covered some of the opportunities that a depressed economy can provide some people.  What about that bank stock that you own?  One possibility is selling an asset for a loss to help offset capital gains tax in the present and future.  While the idea of selling an asset at a low point might make one cringe, the tax offset might be worth it.  If you have a lot of nearly worthless stock, you might want to discuss this strategy with your financial planner and/or accountant.

The Probate Law Institute (PLI) is in “Must See” Category

The Columbus Bar Association’s 15thAnnual Probate Law Institute (PLI) is scheduled for Friday, May 1, 2009.  What does the PLI have to offer?  How about two probate judges, the Ohio Attorney General and several knowledgeable estate planning and probate experts.  Our newly elected Franklin County Probate Judge Eric Brown will kickoff the Institute and Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger will present the statutory and case law update.  Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray is the keynote speaker.  If you are a probate practitioner, this is an Institute that you do not want to miss.

Income Tax Season is Upon Us

There are a number of sites on the Internet that help people with basic tax terminology; however, some of the best information comes from the taxing authorities.  The IRS website provides tax forms, online filing instructions, and has a “Frequently Asked Questions” section.  The IRS website address is

For Ohio filers, the Ohio Department of Taxation has an equally valuable website.  The website address is

If you itemize your deductions, you probably would benefit from the services of an accountant.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Welcome Caregivers Attending Alzheimer's Association Presentation

I want to welcome the attendees of tonight's Caregiving 101 Program sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association of Central Ohio.  The attendees have already covered, among other topics, the medical aspects of dementia, safety and communication, the art of caregiving, and community resources. Tonight we will discuss legal issues.  I hope you find the discussion, the written materials and this site useful.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

529 College Savings Plans Not Without Risk

While you do not get a federal income tax deduction for contributions to a 529 college savings plan, you do benefit from the tax-free growth of the account.  The key factor is that your account must grow to realize that benefit.  As you probably know, your 529 plan is subject to the same risks as most other investments.  Parents with younger children who will not be using the investment in the immediate future are less concerned with the market woes.  You can imagine the disappointment of a person needing to use their account now or in the near future and the value of their account has dropped 30 – 50%.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Every Time I See an Ad for LegalZoom I Cringe

You have seen Robert Shapiro, the criminal attorney known for his representation of O.J. Simpson, on these ads for  He is plugging his website-based product as an easy, inexpensive way to, among other things, form a legal entity, get a divorce or prepare a will.  While I have never tried the service, I have read their disclaimer.  You know, the fine print where you are told that LegalZoom is not a law firm and they are not your attorney, and they are not permitted to practice law or give you legal advice.  The disclaimer discusses that they do not review your information for legal sufficiency or draw legal conclusions.  It adds that its product “is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Because the law changes rapidly, is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction…”  Still feeling confident?  It continues “LegalZoom is not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to your use of this site…, whether from errors or omissions in the content of our site…, from the site being down or from any other use of the site. In short, your use of the site is at your own risk.”  So, in the words of LegalZoom, use their site at your own risk.

 It is conceivable that, despite not using an attorney, you may end up with a valid legal document that meets your needs.  It is just as conceivable that you end up with an insufficient document without even knowing it.

 As an estate planning attorney, I have never taken the “one document fits all” approach.  Also as an Ohio attorney, I would never try to prepare a will for a resident of another state.  I have wondered how the people at LegalZoom could know whether a will was executed properly under the laws of the State of Ohio?  How could they advise people on the importance of understanding what assets are non-probate assets and the importance of beneficiary designations?  How could they advise a young couple with children on the advantages of a contingent trust?  How could they know whether a will was prepared for a person by another and that person lacked capacity or was unduly influenced?  There are several other questions that one could ask and the answer would always be the same.  Read the disclaimer.

 I recently handled an estate where the decedent tried to create his own will, apparently using a form off of the Internet.  He signed it and had it notarized.  Guess what?  It was not a valid will.  He died intestate.  If you ask any estate planning/probate attorney whether they have encountered a matter where problems arose from a person preparing their own legal documents, the answer will almost certainly be yes.  These are the types of cases that end up making attorneys a lot more money cleaning up the mess after the person is gone.  Seriously, if there were a problem with a will you created on the Internet, how would you ever know?

 Finally, take a look at these comments regarding LegalZoom users.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Madoff Seeking to Keep $62 Million in Assets

Despite his role in a fraud that may cost his victims in the vicinity of $50 billion, Bernard Madoff is seeking to keep a $7 million Manhattan penthouse and an additional $62 million in investment assets, claiming that those assets are his wife’s and not part of the alleged scandal.  Madoff Seeks to Keep NYC Penthouse, $62 Million in Assets.   Should Madoff and his family be able to keep these assets separate from his victims losses?

Monday, March 02, 2009

More Quotes

“In these hard economic times, we need to make sure tax and regulatory policy encourages growth in philanthropy,” said Steve Gunderson, chief executive of the Council on Foundations, quoted in a New York Times article, Limiting Deductions on Charity Draws Ire. 

 "This proposal could have an adverse effect on a market that is already in trouble, and this is not the time to reduce incentives for buying or refinancing a home," Mortgage Bankers Association chief executive officer David G. Kittle as quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer article, Plan to Limit Mortgage Deduction Draws Fire.

 "It's a no-brainer for economists.  Why have taxpayers been [in effect] subsidizing home payments for the highest income people in the country?"  Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a D.C. think tank, in a CNN article, Mortgage Deductions: Wealthy on the Losing End, stating that he was impressed with this part of the budget plan.  This article indicates that the move would generate $318 billion in a 10 year period.

These quotes are in response to President Obama’s tax proposal to limit deductions on things like charitable donations, mortgage interest and investment expenses at 28%.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Stimulus Bill Extends to Your 529 College Savings Plan

Last month President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The Act permits funds from 529 college savings plans to be used to purchase computers and Internet access.