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Hanover, NH office 603.643.6072
Rutland, VT office 802.773.3822
Woodstock, VT office 802.457.9492

November 24, 2009 Newsletter Archive

Changes May be in Store for the Vermont Court System


"Doing nothing is not an option."
Justice John A. Dooley, III


Like other government institutions, the Vermont Court System was not immune to last year's recession. Faced with the fiscal crisis, in November 2008, the Vermont General Assembly created the Vermont Commission on Judicial Operations. The Commission created specific work groups which produced reports to the Commission earlier this fall. Included in the work was a series of public information gathering through surveys, focus groups, meetings and public hearings. One of the workgroups was tasked with exploring the restructuring of, and access to, the judiciary. The result of the work of the Commission will certainly result in changes to the court system and most likely have implications for the probate courts.

Currently, there are seventeen probate districts in fourteen counties across the State, each serving a varying number of cases. Each County has its own district and three counties (Rutland, Windham, and Windsor) are split in two districts (e.g., Windsor and Hartford). The double districts will be consolidated one per county as of February, 2011.

The Working Group on restructuring the courts recommends that these seventeen courts be reduced to five Probate Courts around the State. The proposal includes the following regional probate courts:

Another important implication regarding the change in the probate courts is that there may be a shift from that court's current jurisdiction. Presently, the general jurisdiction of the probate court includes administration and enforcement of estates and trusts, guardian and ward, and the relinquishment and adoption of children. Disputes in probate court that are limited to purely legal questions may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, while factual disputes are appealed to superior court. The Working Group's recommendations include that

Although there has yet to be a final decision made on the Commission's work, it is clear that there will be changes in our court systems over the next few years. The probate courts, as we know them, are local, user friendly, hands on and helpful to both lay persons and lawyers. The proposed changes will undoubtedly have significant implications on probate court users. We will keep you apprised of the changes as we learn them. In the meantime, call us or email if you have further questions.

If you are interested in reading the Commission's reports please click on this link.


The Joy of Giving in the Season of Thanks

Thanksgiving is upon us, and soon after we will be in full swing of the holiday season. We hope you will have an opportunity to count your blessings, even as we ever so slowly emerge from the past year's recession.

It always strikes us how quickly the calendar has revolved once more, and we find ourselves again at year end, a time when we are all focused on giving, both to our loved ones, and hopefully to our community in the form of donating to our favorite charities. We all are familiar with the adage it is better to give than to receive, but do you know that with foresight and proper planning you may be able to accomplish both? In other words, you can maximize your charitable giving while you also maximizing your tax benefits.

Note that while we inform you from our point of view as estate planning attorneys, the tax aspects of charitable giving can be complex so be sure to consult with your attorney and accountant before launching into one of the strategies we set forth below.

The Basics

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you consider your giving:

Additionally, keep in mind, you can deduct up to 50% of your adjusted gross income (the "bottom line" on page 1 of IRS Form 1040) forÊcash donations to qualifying public charities each year (30% for gifts of appreciated property). If that's not enough to cover your charitable gifts in any given year, unused deductions may be carried forward for five years.

Some Options of Tax Treatments by Type of Gift

Cash: Cash donations are simple and usually fully deductible. Keep receipts no matter how small.

For those age 70 or older: For 2009, you can still make charitable contributions of up to $100,000 directly from your IRA tax-free. Even though you don't get to take the amount of the contribution as an itemized deduction, you're still likely better off because the IRA distribution is not included in your adjusted gross income. What's more, the tax-free transfer to charity counts toward your required minimum distribution.

Tangible personal property: You can donate almost any item, including old clothing, household goods, vehicles and so on.

Long-term capital gain property: You can usually deduct the full fair market value of appreciated long-term assets such as stocks, bonds or mutual funds you've held for more than one year. For example, the full fair market value of publicly traded securities is the average of the high-low price on the date of transfer. What's more, there's no capital gains tax.

Volunteering: Although the time you spend volunteering is not deductible, you can deduct transportation costs and other expenses related to volunteering.

Kicking it up a Notch - What's Your Charitable Legacy?

It's really a win-win when you benefit your favorite charity and a charitable legacy for you and your family. Here are some ways in which to do this.

Charitable Remainder Trusts: With this instrument, you donate appreciated property to a trust you establish. You receive a tax deduction and income for a set period of time or for life. After your death the charity receives the remainder interest.

Charitable Lead Trusts: With this instrument, the charity receives the current benefit of the trust income and upon your death, your named beneficiaries receive the remainder interest.

Donor Advised Funds: These are pools of money managed on behalf of many owners. You may advise how the funds are invested and which charities receive distributions from your part of the fund. You receive a tax deduction in the year you contribute to the fund, plus you can name the fund.

Private Foundation: If you are making a significant gift you may want to consider establishing a private foundation for the purpose of providing on-going charitable gifts.

This year, whether you are volunteering at the local humane society, donating home goods to the Listen Center, gifting of a portion of your IRA, or creating a charitable remainder trust, you can feel great both about your charitable contributions and about your tax savings.

For more information on charitable giving please call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492.

Melendy Moritz PLLC is a client centered boutique firm. We focus on your unique needs by providing the individualized legal counseling and advising tailored to your specific situation.

We concentrate on the planning that matters to you.
Call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492


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