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.
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!
Sometimes I have clients who have very specific requests that they want honored upon their death. Sometimes it has to do with charitable gifts, sometimes it relates to specific children, sometimes even to pets. When there are specific or unusual instructions, the question is “Will this be upheld?”
A general proposition is that a person’s assets are his to distribute as he wishes. If I own a diamond ring, and I want to leave it to my favorite waitress, I can do that. Even if my daughter gets angry about it. Or if I have a large life insurance policy and I want the beneficiary to be the local conservation organization and not my grandchildren, I can do this. Often parents will treat their children differently because they have different needs. One child may receive assets in trust due to a special needs situation, while the other will inherit outright. Some children who are in a superior financial situation may not inherit at all. It’s important to realize that just because you disagree with a decision, or find it impractical or infuriating, does not make it illegal or invalid. In order for a will provision to be struck down, the plaintiff usually needs to show that the will was made under duress, that the person who made the will was incompetent, or that the will is invalid for some other reason. Simply not liking the provision, thinking it’s not fair, or disagreeing with the provision is not enough to have it declared invalid.
There are some cases instructions that if a provision is “void for public policy reasons” will not be upheld. For example, a person may not be prevented from marrying someone – “I leave $100,000 to my son, in trust, so long as he does not marry”. A person may not be encouraged to commit illegal acts. Usually, depending on state law, a person may not entirely disinherit his spouse. And interestingly, probate courts will often not enforce an instruction to put down a pet. See Boots is Saved. However, most gifts, even if they happen at death, are just that. And usually the one making the gift gets to decide who gets it.
What happens to your on-line information if you can’t access it because of illness, incapacity, or death? Can someone easily access your email account, banking information, or social media accounts? If you are a parent, do you know how to access children’s accounts?
Some of this info should be kept accessible, although we all worry about security. It may be more likely that someone needs this information and can’t get it than that someone breaks into your home or office and steals the list…Here are some of the things you should keep track of — I have a checklist in PDF format, if you’d like a copy, just send me an email and I’ll get one out to you. email@example.com
Manchester by the Sea has a new-ish public body that will be considering one of our perennial hot button issues. DOGS ON THE BEACH! The Animal Control Board will meet on Tuesday 1/24/2012 at 5pm at Seaside 1 and will discuss animal control rules, the animal control officer’s job description, dog parks, and the potential prohibition of dogs on Singing Beach year round. I have to, at this point, tell you that my version of the agenda is based almost entirely on hearsay and a quick read of the last meeting’s minutes as there does not seem to be an agenda published on the town website. However, I know that this issue is one that is important to people on both sides, and that perhaps some public input at the meeting would be helpful to our town officials…
In Massachusetts, we are on the cusp of enacting the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC). While this has the advantage of streamlining many probate practices, and will bring our systems more into line with many other UPC states, it also provides stiff challenges for attorneys, court personnel, and regular people trying to deal with the death of loved ones. Changes to probate will be extensive, ranging from who gets what if you die without a will to how and when an estate is subject to formal probate.
The MUPC was supposed to go into effect last July, but has been postponed, first until January and now until the beginning of the second quarter. The postponements will hopefully allow all the new forms to be created, rules to be written, and any last minute corrections and changes to be put into place. It also gives the many attorneys who help with probate law a final chance to get into training classes and seminars. So if your attorney disappears for days or weeks at a time, rest assured that they are off somewhere memorizing the new intestacy laws, and not cruising in the Bahamas…
So here it is, the very last day of summer vacation. We’ve survived heat waves, hurricanes, supply lists, math packets, warnings about death by mosquito, coyote home invasions, and so many other things this year. I’ve lost count of the number of math packets I have printed out and distributed this summer. Has anyone else noticed that no one ever loses their “Black Ops” disk, but no child I’ve encountered has had one copy of the math packet all summer? I guess doing page one five separate times has some advantages. By the way, thank you to the Middle School teachers for getting these documents up on the website so early in the summer. I know it helped me immensely.
As far as I can tell, we will once again be gathering in a long line of cars between 7:15 and 8:00 to drag the unwilling middlers back to class. I’m sure there are some kids chomping at the bit to get back into the thick of their books and routines, and parents of those children, I envy you. I had one wise eighth grader point out that the first two days didn’t really count, so he still feels like he has a week of vacation left. I thought that was a great way of looking at things…
And to think that I used to love going back to school, what a geek.