The 2022 Mortimer H. Hess Memorial Lecture: Is There Virtual Life After Death?

Modern estate planning involves much more than planning for the distribution of a client’s home, corporate securities, money, and family heirlooms. New types of property without tangible form are evolving rapidly, from ubiquitous electronic communications such as e-mail and text messages, to the generally understood realm of cryptocurrency, to the growing use of ethereal non-fungible tokens, and to the fringes of purchasing “land” in the Metaverse, or the non-physical digital world. Without an understanding of these assets, attorneys will lack the sophistication necessary to provide sage advice to their estate planning clients.

Professor Gerry W. Beyer is this year’s Hess Lecturer.  He is the Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law at the Texas Tech University School of Law and is an Academic Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC).  During his 40-year academic career, Professor Beyer has taught, researched, spoken and publish in the areas of estate planning, wills and trusts, probate, and property. He is a prolific author, credited with more than 25 books, 40 law review articles, 35 other significant works and 400 continuing legal education articles, and is the editor of the most popular estate planning blawg in the nation.  In recognition of his expertise and contributions to the legal profession, the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils inducted him into the Estate Planning Hall of Fame in 2015.  He currently serves as the Reporter for the Drafting Committee on Electronic Estate Planning Documents for the Uniform Law Commission, charged with researching and drafting the new act.

Professor Beyer describes the structure of cyber assets and examines the planning techniques currently available, starting with basic steps that provide substantial predictability. He discusses the uncertainty in outcomes that may arise due to the extreme value volatility of many of these virtual assets, and the prudent methods that planners should consider when these assets form part of an estate or trust to reduce the potential of fiduciary liability. His presentation concludes with a look towards what the future may hold for cyber property and its estate planning interface.

Since the late 1960s, the Mortimer H. Hess Memorial Lecture has been sponsored annually by the Estate & Gift Taxation Committee.  The lecture series, originally created by the family of the late tax lawyer Mortimer H. Hess, are made possible through a generous grant from Mr. Hess’s family and former partners.  The subjects of the lectures are related to the law of trusts, estates, and taxation, subjects on which Mr. Hess was an acknowledged authority.

Professor Gerry W. Beyer, Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law, and Academic Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC)

Sponsoring Committee:
Estate & Gift Taxation Committee, David Stutzman, Chair