In 2014, Ray Cannon and Bridget Murray joined forces in CannonMurrayLaw, llc. In spite of this merger, we’ve had two separate web “faces” — one that was mostly focused on the Cape Ann practice and one that was focused on the Merrimack Valley practice. We’ve finally found the time and energy to create one website that reflects our single practice. Keep an eye out for the new site that will tell you (in one place!) about the attorneys, support staff, locations and services that we offer. We’ll have updated pictures, Ray’s great posts about Dick and Jane, and information to assist our clients in getting good planning done in a timely and cost effective way.
More than a year ago, I went into partnership with Attorney Ray Cannon and began spending time in the North Andover location, as well as in the Gloucester office. His practice, like mine, focuses on Estate Planning and Elder Law. With more than 20 years of experience, Attorney Cannon provides senior expertise in trust, tax and Medicaid planning. Our firm currently has three attorneys and provides specialized estate planning and elder law services to clients throughout Massachusetts. In the last few months, we have added Attorney Leslie Starritt to our practice, as well as Alyson Malavich, our Gloucester law clerk.
Attorney Starritt, who primarily practices in our Gloucester office, applies a commitment to client service and whole-picture design to her work in Estate Planning and Elder Law for CannonMurrayLaw, llc. Her area of focus is Elder Law, Medicaid planning, and assisting families with the Medicaid application process from nursing home admissions through the fair hearing process.
Alyson is a third year law student and brings enthusiasm and attention to detail as she helps keep us on track in Gloucester. Christine MacMullin is our business manager, who manages daily operations in North Andover. She is the person you will probably speak with when you call to make an appointment with an attorney, and can answer many procedural or administrative questions. Shobha Govindan, also in North Andover, is our experienced Estates and Trusts Paralegal. As we continue to grow and welcome new clients, we hope that you will think of us if you have an estate planning or elder law question.
Do you have a child in college? Did you realize that if he or she winds up in the hospital that you do not automatically have the right to direct the medical attention your child receives, or even to speak with the physicians? This comes as a shock to most parents. Everyone over 18 should have a Health Care Proxy and HIPPA release form. These documents tell the doctors who can see medical records, who can speak with physicians, and who can make medical decisions if the patients is unable to do that himself. Just because you pay the bills, just because you’re his mom, just because it’s the “right” thing does not mean the hospital needs to respect this. Get the documents in place; it is easy to do and if there is ever an emergency, you will be glad you did. The college might have forms you can use, and your estate planning attorney can certainly help you.
I’m almost 50, I use computers every day. My life is more organized and more efficient because of on-line banking, automatic bill pay, PayPal, and my smart phone. What happens to my life if I get hit in the head and forget my passwords? Have you ever forgotten the secret questions for the ITunes account you opened 8 years ago? Have you ever had a small child “re-set” your security code on your Iphone? Have you had a loved one pass away and have no way to access their email account or banking services? If any of these things have happened to you, you know that digital assets are an important part of life today.
All these services, data, and passwords are part of your digital assets. Your music collection on ITunes is a digital asset, as are photos and albums you store on the internet, blogs you write for personal enjoyment or for business, content that is published on YouTube or on Twitter. In many cases, these assets are licensed to you personally. If you die, your heirs may have not rights to them. If you become incapacitated and no one knows about them or how to access them, they may be lost. It makes sense to keep track of passwords, account numbers and names, security questions, where your domain is hosted, what email it was associated with when you set it up, and much more. It may also make sense to designate someone who can control these assets if you are not able to. Many estate planning attorneys are adding rights to digital assets to durable powers of attorney. Others are specifying what happens to digital assets in wills or trusts. Everyone should have a digital asset organizer that you update on a regular basis, preferably kept somewhere that a friend or loved one will be able to find it if they ever need to.
Clients often ask, how often should I review my estate planning documents? The best answer is, when anything major changes in your life, when there are changes to the tax laws, changes with estate related laws, or when you have moved from one stage of life to another.
If you made your will when your children were young and named guardians who would take care of them and handle any assets, and now you have young adult children, the guardians will no longer be relevant. But while we hope our 22 year old children can physically fend for themselves, do we want them inheriting a chunk of money outright? Perhaps not; perhaps a review of your documents is in order. If these same children are now 18 and 19, do you have health care proxies for them? Will the college health service be authorized to speak with you if there is an accident or illness? Time to get some health care proxies in place.
Did you have a power of attorney, health care proxy, or other document drawn up when you were close to someone who is no longer in your life? While a divorce or legal separation may take the spouse out of your documents, breaking up with a significant other does not have the same impact. They could still be in your plans, perhaps in a way you would no longer be comfortable with. (I personally would not want any ex-boyfriends showing up in my hospital room to make decisions for me while I was unconscious!)
Has the probate code just undergone a major overhaul? (Yes, if you live in Massachusetts). Are Federal tax laws changing? (Not really, but we get to worry a lot about that).
Really, there is never a bad time to call your estate planning attorney and just check in as your life changes.
PS: If you move assets into an irrevocable trust, check with your tax specialist about whether you need to file a gift tax return!
Trusts come in different shapes and sizes, and some will work for you and some will not. A good estate planning attorney, or perhaps your banker or financial planner, will need to know quite a bit about your individual situation before being able to recommend a trust.
Trusts can be invaluable for asset management purposes. Suppose for example, that your 25 year old son is not good with money right now. An inheritance held in trust and managed by a family friend or a professional trustee can help him manage his funds so that he has a nest egg for his first home or a bit tucked away to help him through a layoff later in life. Or perhaps you are concerned that an adult child’s marriage is rocky, and want to see that your money goes to your children and grandchildren, not to the soon-to-be-former spouse. A correctly drafted trust can help with that.
It also is a good tool for incapacity planning. If you create a trust and put assets into it, your trustee can see that the assets are managed if you ever become incapacitated.
Assets held in trust also avoid probate. Because a trust is an entity, not an individual, when the person who funded the trust dies, the trust can continue to operate according to its terms. This can provide privacy (probate filings are public), and continuing access to trust assets by the beneficiaries or the remaining spouse.
Irrevocable trusts (ones that can’t be changed or revoked) can be used for estate tax planning, to hold life insurance policies, for Medicaid planning, or for other types of asset protection.
When you think about doing a trust, think about your goals, who would be a good trustee, and find someone who is knowledgeable about tax law and estate planning to help you with the process. Think about what assets should go into the trust, and how the beneficiaries are likely benefit (or not) by having assets held in trust. Not every situation is right for trust planning; sometimes the simple approach is the best one. Estate planning, whether trust based or will based, should be carefully tailored to reflect your situation, because each family, each inheritance, and each set of goals are a little bit different.
I recently moved my office to 85 Eastern Avenue, Suite 301 in Gloucester, MA. All my contact information is the same, but now I have an elevator, lots of people in my building, and plenty of parking. Finding and moving is always a process, but I’m happily settled in and looking forward to starting the New Year in my new space.
My clients often ask me how often to review or update estate planning documents. Updates often turn on changes that are happening to you. An unsteady, or ending marriage is a time to review both your documents and your beneficiary forms. The birth of a child, the marriage of a child, or other major life events are a good time to review things. A change in the health of yourself, your spouse, or your children may spark a need for advanced planning in the form of trusts, or it may require you to update medical proxy forms or re-think your living will. Once a child turns 18, he or she will need a health care proxy so that someone can step in and make medical decisions if there is an illness or accident. A significant inheritance or the illness of a parent may prompt adult children to re-visit an existing estate plan, or to put a new estate plan in place.
The end of 2012 is something of a special case for Estate Planning, however. Depending on what Congress does (or does not do) with the tax code at the end of this year, estate tax planning may suddenly become important for a large number of Massachusetts residents. Right now, the Federal Estate Tax exemption (the point at which you need to pay Federal Estate Taxes) is $5 million per person or $10 million per couple. If Congress does not act, this exemption amount reverts to $1 million on January1, 2013. So if you have a house worth $400,000 and retirement assets of $200,000 and a life insurance policy of $500,000, you also potentially leave your heirs a significant federal tax obligation. There is no way to know right now what will happen, but these changes may necessitate more tax planning than is currently in your documents.
Keep an eye on the news or call your estate planning attorney to help understand how the upcoming changes will impact your personal situation.
Sometimes clients come to me, and looking for a simple way to do “asset protection” tell me that they want to put their property in their children’s names for simplicity. If you spend any time at all with lawyers, you know that their answer to a question is almost always “it depends”. Well, in this case it is not “it depends”. It is DON’T DO IT. It’s hard for me to think without caveats, well, what if…this or that, THEN is it a good idea? This is almost always a bad idea. When you “put it in their name”, you actually give it away. Totally. It no longer belongs to you, you have no say, legally, in what happens to it. Even if your child is the saint who will care for you always, the bank won’t see it that way if you want to re-finance, get a reverse mortgage, or sell it and move. It’s not yours to sell, leverage, or manage. What if the child develops a terrible medical condition and needs to declare bankruptcy? What if there is an accident and lawsuit? In this time of economic insecurity, unemployment or layoffs are commonplace. This is now the child’s asset, not yours and it may be available to satisfy their creditors. What if there is a divorce with no prenuptial agreement? “YOUR” house may become a marital asset.
While somewhat more complex to set up, a trust is a better tool for holding your home. Talk to an estate planning attorney and find out what other options are before you give away the farm. Literally.
Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post eloquently explains The Terrible Cost of Not Having a Will.
I hear from clients all the time who are either grateful for the planning that has been done, or determined to do a better job for their family members. Making a will is no fun, it can be hard to think about, there are documents to assemble, and often lawyers to interact with. Many clients put it off as long as possible, but it’s something to take off the “to do” list and move to the “done” list. Call your favorite estate planning attorney today!