Legal Changes of Note

The following is our firm summary of some highlights of changes in the law that may be of interest to you:

Pet Trusts

You can now create a trust to provide for the care of a pet that would terminate upon the death of the pet. This trust can provide for food and medical expenses for a pet in a more formal manner than just leaving funds to a friend or relative for the care of your pet.

Guardian for Minor Children

You can name a guardian in your will to raise your children until age 18. An additional form you may want to consider having prepared for you along with your will is a Designation of Standby Custodian or Guardian. The purpose of this form is to indicate in writing that for the period immediately following your death, that this individual will have the authority to act as guardian for your children until the guardian can be legally appointed by the Probate Court. If you have minor children, this may be an additional document you want us to prepare for you to supplement your will.

Estate Tax Update

As of January 1, 2018, under federal estate tax law, a single individual can leave up to $5,600,000 estate tax free at his or her death, and a married couple can protect two times this amount, or $11,200,000. Any portion of an estate in excess of this amount is taxed at a marginal rate of 40%. Minnesota’s exclusion amount will be rising to the level of $2,000,000 for 2018. The Minnesota legislature passed a law increasing the Minnesota exclusion amounts to 2.4 million in 2018; 2.7 million in 2019; and, 3 million in 2020. However, these increases are still being contested between Governor Dayton and the Minnesota legislature. Also, it is important to note that in Minnesota, a married couple does not automatically have the right to protect two times the exclusion amount from estate taxes if they both pass away. For instance, if a couple passed away having an estate of $3,000,000 only $2,000,000 of the estate would be shielded from Minnesota estate taxes. Minnesota estate taxes are levied at a marginal rate of 13-16% on any amount in excess of the exclusion amount. However, by incorporating a Disclaimer Trust or Credit Shelter Trust in a couple’s wills, they can establish a method to protect up to two times the Minnesota exclusion amount, thus passing more of their estate, tax-free to their beneficiaries.

Motor Vehicle Transfer on Death Beneficiary

Individuals can now fill out a form at the DMV to designate a beneficiary on a vehicle. This can be helpful if a parent wants to leave a car just to a particular child or grandchild. If the owner is married and wants to name someone other than the owner’s spouse, a written consent by the spouse is required.

Limited Liability Company

An LLC formed on or after August 1, 2015, must be governed under a new Minnesota Statute Section 322C. Those that have been established under Minnesota Statute Section 322B can exist under this statute until January 1, 2018. Thereafter, they will be governed by the new law. If you have an LLC, you should contact us to discuss whether you should consider restating your documents to conform to the terms in the new law.

Digital Assets Clause

A law passed last summer established a process by which the personal representative of an estate can be assured access to the digital assets of a deceased user, such as access to any kind of computing device, online bank and investment accounts, data storage, user accounts, and, domain names. You can also specify who you want to get control of these digital assets after your death, or insure that no one can touch them. We are now including clauses related to access to these assets in our documents. If this is something you want added to your documents, we can amend them to include this clause and incorporate these provisions.

Beneficiary Designations

It is always important to review the beneficiary designations on your assets, especially if you have experienced a change in circumstances since your documents were prepared, such as a marriage, divorce, death, minor child becoming an adult; birth of a grandchild, inheritance of new retirement accounts or a new job with new work benefits. These designations must be carefully drafted to match your estate planning document, as the terms of these beneficiary designations override the terms of your will.

If you have any questions about any information in this letter and would like to consult with us about how these changes may affect your own circumstances or about updating your documents, please give us a call.

Please remember that we are a full-service law firm. We provide legal services to our individual, business and governmental clients on a broad range of legal issues, including corporate, small business, contract disputes, general litigation, workers’ compensation, criminal matters, real estate, elder law, probate, family law, estate planning, and wills and trusts.

If we can be of any assistance to you, family or friends in the future, please feel free to contact us.

Quarterly Legal Tips

Jennifer A. Williams, one of our attorneys licensed to practice in both Minnesota and Montana, shared the following tips in an article appearing in The Ekalaka Eagle on December 1, 2017. Her practice primarily focuses on the areas of real estate, oil and gas, water law, wills, probate, court disputes, criminal law (prosecution and defense) and mental health law.


In providing legal services to Eastern Montana, I find that it is essential to keep the public up-to-date on the legal trends in the area and some of the basic information about the legal system. This first article includes general information about what a lawyer is, when you should contact a lawyer, and why you need a lawyer.

What is a lawyer?

A lawyer is a licensed professional who advises and represents people and businesses in legal matters. Lawyers are specifically trained on how to interpret statutes, analyze case law, interpret documents (ex. contracts and leases), effectively argue in court proceedings on a client’s behalf, and manage a number of client legal concerns. The amount of education and testing that goes into becoming a lawyer is long, expensive, and, at times, exhausting. Lawyers are also subject to continuing education throughout their career, keeping them up-to-date on the ever-evolving legal system, as well as, providing skills training.

Lawyers come in all shapes, sizes, and disciplines. Some lawyers choose to specialize in one area or another. Some don’t and can effectively discuss client issues in a wide range of subjects. Neither way is wrong or unwise. It is simply the path the lawyer chooses to take.

When do you need a lawyer?

According to the American Bar Association’s website, the most common situations where you need a lawyer are when:

  • You are charged or arrested for a crime;
  • You are served with documents related to a legal proceeding or lawsuit;
  • You are involved in a serious accident causing personal injury or property damage;
  • If there is a change or pending change in family status, such as divorce, birth, adoption, or death; and
  • If there is a change or pending change in financial status, such as filing for bankruptcy or getting or losing valuable personal property or real estate.

These are probably the most crucial times in a person’s life when legal counsel is essential. These events can be overwhelming and confusing for people not familiar with the legal system. I can almost guarantee that one or more of these events will occur in your lifetime and you need a competent legal professional to assist you with them. Why not plan ahead?

You need a lawyer before it’s “too late” or you “get in trouble.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they’ll call me “if [I] get into trouble,” I would be a rich woman living in a big log house with three fireplaces and a barn filled with horses. (Hey one can dream, right?) The fact of the matter is that people think they only need a lawyer when things go astray. WRONG. The best time to get a lawyer is before things go haywire. The best time is now. Planning ahead saves you time and money when something happens.

I always recommend that you plan ahead of a life-event and not scramble to find a lawyer when your situation turns drastic. Now is the time to plan ahead. Now is the time to make sure you are prepared if something should happen to you or a loved one. The legal system can be a confusing and frustrating place to manage. Lawyers effectively maneuver through the muddy waters of the legal system, so you don’t have to do it alone.

For example:

Hypothetical Scenario 1: Mr. X meets with his lawyer on how to transfer his ranch and other assets to his children and grandchildren upon his death. This results in a hypothetical cost of $5,000.00. Mr. X dies and children come into title as Mr. X instructed. The instructions were clearly written through the appropriate legal documents. The final transfer costing little (to nothing) for his children because he planned ahead.

-or-

Hypothetical Scenario 2: Mr. X is unmarried but he has children under the age of 18. (Ignore the spouse factor in this scenario). Mr. X feels he will live to a ripe old age and that his children will hammer it all out once he’s gone. He fails to plan ahead for a catastrophic event. Mr. X’s tractor tips over in the field and he is killed, leaving his children without a guardian. Because Mr. X’s children are minors and he has not planned ahead by naming a custodian or guardian for them, they are sent to live with next of kin – who happens to be a sibling whom Mr. X hasn’t spoken to for 15 years. Sibling also gets control of Mr. X’s land and funds as guardian to the children, since they inherit it in trust until they’re 18. Sibling gambles it all away and there is nothing left to provide for the children. Children turn 18 and sue Sibling for lost funds, costs tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees with no guarantee of success in recuperating the money.

Now, Scenario 2 seems extreme, but unfortunately, IT HAPPENS. In thinking about your life, which scenario would you rather have? Wouldn’t you want to plan ahead?

Jennifer A. Williams, is an Associate Attorney for MacMillan, Wallace & Athanases, PLLC. She can be reached at (406) 489-1269 or jawilliams@mwalaw.us should you have any questions regarding this article.

* DISCLAIMER: This article is for general informational purposes only. In no way shall this article constitute legal advice or substitution for legal counsel – and should not be relied upon as such. The information contained in this article is not promised to reflect the most current legal developments; accordingly, information found here is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, nothing provided in this article should be used as a substitute for advice of competent counsel.

Attorney Highlights from 2017

Seasons greetings! We wanted to share some announcements of interest related to our firm:

Jennifer A. Williams has joined the firm as an associate attorney. She is licensed in Minnesota and Montana. Before entering private practice, she was a commercial escrow officer for a nationally ranked title insurance company and a judicial staff attorney for the Honorable Karen J. Asphaug in the First Judicial District of Minnesota. Her practice focuses primarily on the areas of real estate; oil and gas; estate planning, wills and probate; criminal law; and mental health law. She also joins Michele Wallace and Peter MacMillan in the firm’s 30 plus year misdemeanor prosecution contract representing the City of Crystal, Minnesota. Jennifer is also a Rule 114 qualified neutral under the Minnesota General Rules of Practice.

Michele Wallace was recognized as the 2017 Volunteer of the Year for Community Mediation & Restorative Services. Michele has put in countless hours to this non-profit community-based mediation service in a variety of areas while continuing her busy practice in our Minneapolis office.

Jennifer Athanases was again recognized as a Five Star Investment Professional in the January 2017 issue of the publication Twin Cities Business and will also be recognized in the 2018 issue for her client services in the area of estate planning. The Five Star Investment Professional Award was given in the category of attorneys in the area of estate planning services. We are very proud that she received this recognition of the excellent services that she continues to provide to our clients.

Peter MacMillan is again helping to coach the Annandale High School Mock Trial Team in addition to his busy legal practice in our Minneapolis and Annandale offices.