Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fall, 2010 Seminar Schedule

The following seminars are offered at no charge; however, pre-registration is recommended, as space fills up quickly. To pre-register, please email

Topic: Caregiver Burnout

Date / Time: Thursday, October 14th . Dinner at 5:30PM, followed by lecture from 6:00-7:00 PM (you don’t need to have dinner to attend the event).

Place: The Atrium, 1 Veronica Drive, Danvers, MA

Topic: Basic Estate Planning

Date / Time: Wednesday, November 3rd, at10:00 AM.

Place: Salem Council on Aging, 5 Broad St., Salem, MA

Topic: How to Avoid Probate

Date / Time: Wednesday, November 10th, at10:00 AM. Light refreshments will be served.

Place: Ipswich Council on Aging, 25 Green St., Ipswich MA

** If my schedule allows, I will be adding an additional seminar on the popular topic : Medicaid Planning- How to Protect Your Assets.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We're Growing!

I am very pleased to announce to announce that Attorney Suzanne Benfield has joined the law firm as Associate.
She will practice in the areas of Family Law and Wills, Estates and Trusts.

Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1998, Attorney Benfield previously worked in the area of corporate compliance in the insurance industry.

Suzanne lives on the North Shore and is married with two children. While raising her children, she volunteered at the Jeanne Greiger Crisis Center in Newburyport as a Court Advocate and for her local municipality in various capacities. She is currently a member of her town’s Planning Board.

I am happy to have such a dedicated and compassionate colleague join me in the practice. Suzanne understands the challenges and stressors facing today's families, particularly as they relate to Family Law and Elder issues. She will undoubtedly be an asset to the firm, and a trusted advisor to our clients.

Welcome, Suzanne!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do The Math...

Will + Marriage or Divorce = Catastrophe!

Did you know?

1. If you write a will and then get married, your will is effectively revoked by operation of law in Massachusetts, unless you write it specifically with the upcoming marriage in mind.

2. Divorce or annulment has the effect of invalidating any bequests to the former spouse, causing property to pass as if that former spouse predeceased you.

Sounds good, but this makes it possible for minor children to inherit all of a parent’s assets, without oversight or restraint. That’s okay, your teenagers will appreciate having all that money left to them, and I’m sure they’ll use it responsibly!

I once worked on a case in which a man died, and his wife sued his estate.
She was his second wife.
He had not provided for her in a new will, and had in fact left trusts for the benefit of only his children. Under Massachusetts Law, his wife was entitled to a share, and sued the estate the claim it.
This sort of thing causes all sorts of bad blood between family members, and I can’t imagine that the husband would have wanted his wife and his children, their stepmother, to be fighting over his assets.

It’s important to take a look at your estate plan (you do have one, right?) whenever there is a major life event, such as birth, marriage, separation, divorce, death, or major illness that could require long term care, etc.

Plan for yourself, or the courts will be happy to do it for you!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This Little Piggy...

A True Story:

I presented a seminar a couple of years ago, which was attended by a middle-aged couple, among several others.
- It was a second marriage for both of them.
- The husband had adult children from his previous marriage; the wife had no children of her own.
- Neither of them had an estate plan.

The wife asked me, "What if I die? What happens to my assets"?
I answered that, pursuant to Massachusetts laws of intestacy (where one dies without a will), her husband would inherit everything, and after his death, his children would inherit the whole of their combined estates, if he remained single and did no planning.

She was outraged! She wanted her assets to go to her nieces and nephews. I explained that she needed to express this legally with a will or a trust or other such planning, for example:
by adding her nieces and nephews as joint owners of assets or pay-on-death beneficiaries of assets; naming them as beneficiaries of life insurance or retirement plans (when possible), etc.

Instead, this is the result- her blood relatives would inherit nothing from her estate.

She failed to plan and so: Her little piggy goes all the way to her unintended beneficiary!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Alzheimer's Families - Mine is one of them.

This post is a different one than my usual. Instead of offering some basic information on estate planning or family law, I wanted to share my own family's experience with Alzheimer's disease.

My grandfather was diagnosed about 6 ½ years ago, but I suspect that he was living with the disease for a couple of years before that, maybe after my grandmother died. We noticed that he started having trouble with numbers, which can be an early sign of the disease. He couldn't seem to make sense of his household bills, and could no longer manage his checkbook.

My dad took over the bill-paying tasks for him, and eventually we had to pull Papa's driver's license. This decision was preceded by much argument in the family, because it meant that Papa would lose his autonomy. Eventually, Dad became Papa's caretaker, a huge responsibility, and one that not every family can or should try to manage.

There has been much sorrow in seeing Papa struggle with confusion and disorientation and realizing that he has entirely forgotten my grandmother, with whom he shared over 60 years of marriage; but he remains cheerful in attitude, and rarely forgets his every day family members, which has been a blessing to us. There have also been some funny moments, such as when Papa was discovered vacuuming the lawn. He told the neighbor it needed a little trim!

My Dad has coped with his enormous responsibility with assistance from several agencies, including his local Elder Services agency, and a caregiver support group. Dad and Papa got by for five years with some subsidized home care services and a couple of days a week of elder day care, and we have recently investigated assisted living centers and nursing homes. That time has come.

Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, but there are many people living with this disease, and many families struggling to deal with it. I think I am now better able to understand the needs of, for lack of a better term, "Alzheimer's Families". These families will need to find competent and compassionate medical and legal help, and perhaps some form of emotional support.

Our family has found tremendous stress, but also tremendous support. To quote a Burmese proverb, "In time of test, family is best" (whether that family is made up of blood relatives or beloved friends), but I have learned that a family can't go it alone with this disease. Reach out; get the help and support that is needed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wills of the Rich and Famous!

Spring is here, and so is tax season, so thought I would keep this post short and breezy. Let’s talk about some famous and interesting wills from famous and interesting dead people, shall we?

FYI: Wills are public records. By design they must always be filed (proved) in probate to be effective, which allows anyone interested to read them. Trusts, on the other hand, are generally private documents. They are usually not subject to public view or court review.

From William Shakespeare’s will, some interesting language and an even more interesting bequest:
Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture; Item I gyve and bequeath to my saied daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bole. Question: Why does his wife get the second-best bed?

Leona Helmsley disinherited two of her grandchildren and left $12 million to her dog, aptly named “Trouble”. This kind of bequest is sure to cause trouble and invites a will challenge, and in her case it certainly did!

Warren Burger, Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote his own will. He failed to include certain important clauses, such as those giving the executors rights to sell real estate, or pay debts and administrative expenses, forcing his estate to spend time and money in probate court to cure the poorly-drafted will. Moral: Even if you are the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, don’t draft your own will, because you don’t know what you don’t know!

Elvis Presley incorporated trust provisions in his will (called a testamentary trust) in which he specifically provided for his daughter, his grandmother, and his father as beneficiaries. While this is not an unusual practice, it has the effect of making the trust provisions public, and subject to the oversight of the probate court. For these reasons, people often choose to write wills in which all of their probate property “pours” into an existing separate trust, and is managed privately from that instrument.

I hope you enjoyed this will trivia. Have a wonderful week!