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Estate planning in the shadow of the Abbey, part 2: estate taxes

In the first part of this post, we noted how easy it can be to overlook even the most basic estate planning steps. Even for a lawyer, such as the character of Matthew Crawley on "Downton Abbey," getting a proper will in place proved to be not at all straightforward.

Matthew, as Downton fans know, died suddently at the end of last season in a car crash. It had initially appeared that he left no will, which would have meant that his interest in the Downton estate passed to his newborn son.

At the beginning of this season of Downton, however, it was revealed that Matthew had actually left behind a document that arguably showed sufficient testamentary intent to serve as a valid will.

And in that document, Matthew stated that he wished his entire interest to go his wife Mary, the eldest of the three daughters of the Earl of Grantham, the current head of the Downton holdings.

The document took the form of a letter to Mary. But it had been signed by two witnesses and appeared in many ways to pass legal muster -- even though it had been tucked away in a book and not delivered in a timely manner.

Of course, regardless of the document's validity as a will, the issue of how to pay taxes on Matthew's interest in the Downton estate is not easily resolved. The deliberations and discussions - not to say machinations - regarding how to approach that issue will surely drive the plot for weeks to come.

As commentators have pointed out, estate taxes and gift taxes are still an issue on this side of the Atlantic as well. U.S. tax laws are constantly changing and it remains vitally important to be aware of them.

Source: Forbes, "Downton Abbey Breaks Rating Record, Now Let's Tax It," Robert W. Wood, Jan. 7, 2014

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