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March Review: Estate Taxes, Britney, and a Good Read

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March review

At the end of the month, we like to survey the elder law landscape and share news and notable developments, and sometimes something that’s just interesting to read. For the March review, we have taxes and Britney and a good read.

March Review of Estate Tax News

The liberal Democrats have put a tax plan on the table, including dramatic changes in the estate tax. Bernie Sanders, who’s Senate Budget Committee chair, introduced a tax bill that drops the exemption to $3.5 million (it’s now $11.7 million), $7 million for couples. Tax rates would be: $3.5 million-$10 million 45%; $10 million-$50 million, 50%; $50 million-$1 billion, 55%; and $1 billion-plus, 65%.  Yet the plan summary asserts: “99.5% of Americans would not see their taxes go up by one penny.”

The Sanders plan is even more aggressive than President Biden’s, which some say puts Biden in a bind.

At least one wealthy person is on board with the Sanders plan, Abigail Disney.

Meanwhile, Republicans, as they usually do, introduced bills to repeal the tax. Farmers are on board with that; the LA Times is not.

Experts point out that the estate tax rate isn’t the big worry for most people. What is? Elimination of the basis adjustment, or ‘step up,’ at death.

No one knows how this will all end up, but if you want to peruse takes on the Democrats’ plans, here’s Forbes, Vox, Yahoo Finance, and Bloomberg.

Planning in Uncertain Times

With all this uncertainty, many may be tempted to wait and see, but that’s not the best idea. There are opportunities with the currently high exemption that will disappear, lock them in before it’s too late and consider various options to avoid or pay tax that could come due after your death.

It’s normal for anyone embarking on an estate plan to wonder whether they really need an attorney. We would say almost everyone should use an attorney, and here’s why.

It’s also normal for anyone embarking on an estate plan to worry about what that attorney is going to cost. This article attempts to break it down.

LegalZoom gathered up estate planning statistics. While planning has increased during the pandemic, it’s still estimated that nearly 70% have no plan.

March Review of Celebrity Estates

Britney Spears isn’t free, but she’s asserting herself. The pop star has filed to have her dad, Jamie, removed as her personal conservator (what we would call a guardian in Arizona). She apparently did not file to remove him as conservator of her finances, where he serves along with a financial institution, Bessemer Trust. Spears’ conservatorship is voluntary, and she reserves the right to terminate it at any time.

Aretha Franklin’s estate is back in the news. It looks like the estate has reached a deal with the IRS over income tax the Queen of Soul never paid  And yet more documents that could be construed as her will have surfaced.

Tips and Tidbits

Tips for . . .

. . .  protecting retirement savings, five easy ones.

. . . keeping caregivers from ripping off aging loved ones.

. . . dealing with trusts that hold inherited IRAs

. . . and understanding your options if you hold one.

And tidbits:

Want to be cremated like a Viking? You might be able to soon in Maine.

What’s an interpleader?

What’s a QLAC and do you need one to help with your RMDs?

Want more to read? Investopedia selected the best estate planning books for 2021.

Plus here are two articles about how a bequest can change everything . . . for a charity like the Cedar Rapids Public Library ($1 miliion is a lot!) and for ordinary people, explored in a Vox piece titled “The Impact of Inheritance: A ‘Great Wealth Transfer’ May Be on the Horizon. Will a Gift from Grandma Save the Middle Class?” It’s our “good read” pick. As the piece says, “Inheritance is a tricky thing to talk about, a subject that wraps up money, family, and death in one impossible package. For those who receive it, or stand to, it’s wealth that comes at a terrible moment; a boon and bureaucratic puzzle; and a reminder of someone you lost.” Though the piece ends up being a commentary on wealth inequality, that’s not the good part. Rather, it’s hearing people talk about loss and gain and the ways both affect them.

That’s it for the March review.




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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.