Wednesday, December 23, 2009

One Year Estate Tax Repeal -- Can Congress Act Before New Year's Eve?

As it stands right now, the current Estate Tax (enacted in 2001) that applies to estates of a certain size ($7 million for families, $3.5 million for individuals) will be repealed on the first day of 2010, only to return in one year's time (01/01/11). In its rebirth on January 1, 2011, the top tax rate will be 55% (today it's 45%) and the exempt amount will be $1,000,000 (right now it's $3,500,000) -- and it will apply to smaller estates (e.g., $1 million for individuals).

However, for this one year -- 2010 -- there'll be no tax rate and no exempt amount, because there will be no Estate Tax unless Congress does something.

Checking the online newsfeeds, Reuters is predicting chaos ("Estate Tax Repeal Seen to Bring Chaos") and the Associated Press is reporting a probable extension of the current law, passed retroactively in January 2010.

Today is the day before the day before Christmas. Already, the Senate declined a House proposal to temporarily extend the current Estate Tax for a two months, to give Congress time to do something more concrete after year's end. Today, there's nothing on the table. What are the chances that President Obama will have something to sign within 10 days time?

There's talk about Congress passing legislation early next year that would apply retroactively. Of course, someone starts talking about retroactive taxation and someone else immediately brings up litigation on its constitutionality.

And, let's not forget that in 2010 -- unless something happens -- some estates that will be required to pay a capital gains tax that has been avoided in past years.

It's going to be an interesting year in probate circles ....

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

San Antonio Holiday Events - December 2009

With the wonders of the web, you can find so much to do over this holiday season - truly something for everyone, and lots of it with free admission!

1. There's a handy calendar tool at VisitSanAntonio.Com -- you plug in the dates, and it gives you back a list of events in the San Antonio area along with detailed information (location, if it's free, etc.). 

2.  Go to HistoricSanAntonio.Com and you'll find a list of events to choose from (including the beautiful Fiesta de las Luminarias). 

3.'s San Antonio page has a nice list -- and some things appear there that might not be on some of the other sites. 

4.  SAEvents.Com is interesting because its home page asks you to pick your interests, and then the site takes you to things you might like -- art, sports, etc.

5.  Finally, the San Antonio Riverwalk has its own events calendar ready for your review online and it covers more than just the confines of the Riverwalk itself.  For example, you can learn about the Cowboy Christmas with Cowboy Santa over the weekend of December 19-20 at the Enchanted Springs Ranch. 

So, even if we didn't get any snow last Friday we remain so blessed to live in this remarkable, wonderful city of ours.  Get out there and find some fun with you and yours!!! Have a happy, happy holiday season!

Image of the Riverwalk at Christmas 2005 - Zereshk, Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Google Builds Free Legal Database at Google Scholar – Is it the New Lexis or Westlaw?

If you access Google and choose its Google Scholar , you can find a remarkable feat: Google has made available not only full opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court, but also those from all the federal district courts and the federal appellate courts, too. No bankruptcy court opinions yet, but you know that is a matter of time.

What is the extent of the Texas law library available at Google Scholar?

As for providing legal research options for the states, all 50 states are represented at Google Scholar --- both their appellate and supreme courts. For Texas, a cursory surf through Google Scholar revealed a plethora of opinions from both the Texas Supreme Court as well as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and many opinions from the various state appellate courts. There’s a lot to be found at Google Scholar, and it’s all for free.

How much does Google already have available?

It’s hard to tell. We couldn’t get any solid feel for how far back in time the precedent reaches (state or federal), much less how fast they update their databases. You also don’t know if the individual case is an unpublished opinion. We did find some cases going back to the 1950s – and Google is nothing if not hard-working and persistent. This time next year, who knows how much will be available to use at the Google Scholar web site.

Of particular note, there are also search results for law review articles and various journal submissions. These are not free, unlike the precedent that Google provides. Usually, you are directed to a site with a synopsis of what the full article provides, and you must paid a small amount to gain access to the complete work.

How do the cases appear?

They are easy to read, and contain hypertext linked in a very user-friendly format. (Case citations within an opinion are cross-linked, for example.) There is also a pseudo-citator (“HowCited”) which seems incomplete right now. It does list precedent as well as secondary sources that mention the particular case, but we can’t confirm its completeness or accuracy here. Clearly it’s no KeyCite or Shepard’s at this point (but given time, that might change).

Does it compare to Lexis or Westlaw?

Time will tell and you will have to be the judge on this one – as of today, a clearer comparison seems to be with Justia or Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. Who knows about tomorrow?