Tag: Estate planning

Wills & Trusts - the Basics , , ,

Estate Planning and Tax Season Go Hand-in-Hand

Add Estate Planning To Your List of Resolutions This Year

Wills and Trust Planner Dartmouth MassachusettsThe New Year means tax season is beginning. Here in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, like every other part of the country, we begin collecting our tax forms and looking for all possible deductions. Estate planning goes hand-in-hand with tax season as you’ll see in a moment.

The New Year also is a time for making resolutions.  I usually resolve each year to try and live a healthier lifestyle. I promise myself I’ll get around to losing that extra 10 pounds. My wife and I agree to save a little extra each week for retirement.

While many people focus on getting organized for the New Year, estate planning is an equally important personal finance goal that should make every adult’s “to-do list.”

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Wills & Trusts - the Basics , , , , , , , ,

“Estate Planning” Isn’t Just for the Rich and Famous. It’s for Everyone.

Massachusetts Estate Planning

Massachusetts Estate Planning Isn’t Just for the Rich and Famous

My wife, Nancy, and I were at a favorite ‘watering hole’ here in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, recently and we started a conversation with some great people sitting next to us. Naturally, the topic of what we all did for a living came up. When I said that I was an “estate planning” lawyer and that I prepared wills and trusts for people, they said, “yeah, we really need to do our wills, but we keep putting it off.”  They then asked, though, “isn’t estate planning just for really rich  people?”

In response, I told them that they weren’t alone by putting off doing their wills. According to an April 2014 Forbes article, 62% of Americans between the ages of 45 to 54 hadn’t drafted their wills. So, a majority of us clearly haven’t done our plans.

Then I answered their question and said, “no, estate planning isn’t just for the rich and famous, it’s for just about everyone.”

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Living Together/Cohabiting , , , , ,

Living Together: 3 Life Events Most Couples Aren’t Prepared For

living togetherMore couples are living together than ever before. Most, though, aren’t prepared for when tragedy or unexpected issues happen. In this post, Dartmouth, Massachusetts attorney, Andrew Garcia, reveals the 3 life events that most cohabiting couples simply aren’t prepared for and how that lack of preparation can leave each partner financially crippled.

First Life Event: Breaking Up

Judge Judy is famous for cautioning that when you live together “you’re playing house.” Since Massachusetts doesn’t recognize common law marriage, she’s basically right: there’s no rule book for when you break up.

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Uncategorized, Wills & Trusts - the Basics , , ,

5 Massachusetts Estate Planning Dos and Don’ts

Attorney Andrew Garcia of The Living Together Law Center offers 5 quick do’s and don’ts when it comes to your Massachusetts estate planing.

Don’t name your minor kids as beneficiaries on your insurance policy.

If something happens to you before they turn eighteen then a court is going to have to appoint someone to manage the money for them, and even worse when they do turn eighteen, they have instant access to everything you have left.

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Living Together/Cohabiting , , , , ,

Living Together: 3 Reasons to Do Your Estate Plan in 2016

living together Massachusetts doesn’t recognize common law marriage no matter how long a couple has lived together.  Since common law marriage isn’t recognized, there are no laws that require that property be automatically passed on to a surviving partner after the death of the first and there’s no guarantee that one partner will be in charge of making medical decisions for another.

If you’re living together in Massachusetts, it’s critical that you have your legal affairs in order in case the unthinkable happens. Attorney Andrew Garcia of The Living Together Law Center identifies three reasons why cohabiting couples should prepare an estate plan in 2016:

Reason #1: When You Die Your Surviving Boyfriend or Girlfriend Doesn’t Automatically Get Your Property

When a person dies without a last will and testament, Massachusetts law controls how property passes on. This is called the “law of intestate succession” or the “laws of intestacy.”

Massachusetts law says that when a person dies without a will their property will pass on to a surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, then it passes to surviving children. If there are no surviving children, then to surviving parents, siblings and so on.

One person that the law does not include is a surviving boyfriend or girlfriend. So, a surviving cohabiting partner is not guaranteed to receive any property from a deceased cohabiting partner.

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Living Together/Cohabiting , , , ,

Living Together: 3 Reasons to Do Your Estate Plan in 2016

Close up of couple having fun outdoorsMassachusetts doesn’t recognize common law marriage no matter how long a couple has lived together.  Since common law marriage isn’t recognized, there are no laws that require that property be automatically passed on to a surviving partner after the death of the first and there’s no guarantee that one partner will be in charge of making medical decisions for another.

If you’re living together in Massachusetts, it’s critical that you have your legal affairs in order in case the unthinkable happens. Here are three reasons why cohabiting couples should prepare an estate plan in 2016:

Reason #1: When You Die Your Surviving Boyfriend or Girlfriend Doesn’t Automatically Get Your Property

When a person dies without a last will and testament, Massachusetts law controls how property passes on. This is called the “law of intestate succession” or the “laws of intestacy.”

Massachusetts law says that when a person dies without a will their property will pass on to a surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, then it passes to surviving children. If there are no surviving children, then to surviving parents, siblings and so on.

One person that the law does not include is a surviving boyfriend or girlfriend. So, a surviving cohabiting partner is not guaranteed to receive any property from a deceased cohabiting partner.

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Wills & Trusts - the Basics , , , , ,

The Importance of the “Story” Behind Life’s “Little Treasures”

Remove the story and it's just a toolbox.

One of the purposes of writing your will or a living trust is to direct how your property is passed on and to whom. What I’ve found over the years, though, is that when people work with lawyers or even with online will writing services, there is a tendency to just focus on how their “big ticket” items of property will be passed on. For example, they’ll decide how their house, their life insurance policies or their financial investments will be divided amongst their surviving spouse and children.

While this is absolutely important and a major part of any estate plan, what it tends to “gloss over” are the smaller personal pieces of property in our lives that have become treasured and which have deep meaning to us.   Making a “specific gift” or legacy in an estate plan allows you to give a piece of personal property to someone in your will or in your trust. For example, you may wish to leave your stamp collection to a nephew or your gold wedding ring to your goddaughter.

By making these types of gifts as part of your estate plan, you get a chance to pass on your memories of your life’s treasures. But, when doing so, don’t forget to tell the story behind the item so that your loved ones will always know why it’s such a treasure to you.

Let me give you an example. Most people who know me well, know that one of my hobbies (well a passion really) is building hardwood furniture in my workshop.  I’ve probably spent countless hours over the years in my shop surrounded by my tools and my hardwoods, in front of my workbench, hand finishing an end table or “squaring up” a cabinet door.

What many people may not know is that it was my father who started me down this road. He’s an avid “do it yourselfer” and was always building things around the house when I was growing up.

Well, probably some six years back, he gave me a toolbox that he had handcrafted himself from one of my favorite types of hardwood – American black cherry. The box was fashioned with hand cut dovetails and was hand finished by him with his own recipe of linseed oil.

This toolbox means the world to me. I carry all of my favorite hand tools in it.

The box is a treasure to me because it was made by my father for me to use in a passion that I had learned from him. It is a gift to me that is priceless.  It’s an heirloom because of the story behind it.

Now here’s the rub: if you take away the story behind this gift then it’s just a toolbox. Granted it’s a nice toolbox, but if you were to put that box in a yard sale you might fetch ten or twenty bucks.

And isn’t that the way with most of the personal items that are “treasures” in our life? Look around you? Think about what you treasure? What has meaning to you?

When I counsel clients these days about their estate plans and we talk about personal items that they’d like to pass on, I try to get them thinking about what the true “treasures” in their life really are and why they’ve become such treasures. And, I urge them to tell the story behind the item in writing so that their loved ones always remember why it meant so much to them. In that way, the gift will most likely become a treasure to them.

Remember – it’s the story behind life’s little treasures that make them priceless.

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I’m in a Second Marriage. Is Estate Planning Really All That Important?

Simple answer: it’s probably MORE important now in your second marriage than it was in your first.

In most second marriages, each spouse comes into the new relationship with “baggage” from the first marriage (and I don’t mean “baggage” in the negative sense). They have kids from the first marriage. They have a house from the first marriage. They have a 401k from the first marriage. Maybe they have a business that survived the first marriage.

Other than the “kids,” these pieces of “baggage” are all “assets” in the eyes of the law from the first marriage.

Now, usually there’s a pretty interesting dynamic that I see surrounding how each spouse feels about these different pieces of “baggage” from the first marriage. Generally, they tend to think of the property, or “baggage,” from the first marriage as their own individual property.

It’s not necessarily a negative or selfish feeling that they have about these assets – it is understandable – but they tend to have the view that they worked hard for them, they survived the break up of a first marriage and came out with them in tact, so they view them as “mine.”

Added to this dynamic each spouse then usually has very strong feelings about how these pieces of “baggage” should be handled when they pass away.

Here’s a great “real life” example that many second-marriage couples face. This couple’s been married for over 10 years. They both have adult kids from a first marriage. The couple is living together in the home that the wife brought from the first marriage.

Now, they live in this house, which has no mortgage, as if it is “their” home. They act as if it is “their” home. They both contribute to its upkeep. They pay taxes on it. But, if something happens to her, then the wife wants her husband to live in the house for as long as he wants (and for as long as he remains single after she’s gone), and then the house should go to her kids from the first marriage only. She doesn’t want the house to go to her stepchildren.

So here’s the rub: if that wife dies without some sort of estate plan in place, then state laws will determine how that house is passed on. So, the surviving husband will now have part ownership in that house with her kids from the first marriage. If that surviving husband then dies without a will, his kids will inherit his share of the property – a result that the wife didn’t want.

For this couple, like most couples in a second marriage, a living trust combined with wills could solve their dilemma and help get them the result that they want.

So as you can see, if you’re in a second marriage (or a third or even a fourth), it’s imperative that you do some estate planning. If you have questions, contact an estate planning attorney to talk about your second marriage questions.

Andrew J. Garcia - "Don't leave a financial mess for your loved ones. Get some Family Legal Planning done before it's too late."

The Family Legal Planning system at Phillips & Garcia has been designed to help busy families get their Massachusetts estate planning done in a convenient and affordable way. To learn more about trusts and how they can be used in your estate plan, schedule your complimentary Family Legal Planning session with Attorney Andrew Garcia. To speak with Attorney Garcia call him at (508) 998-0800 or email him at [email protected]

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How Do We Define the “New American Family?”

Not long ago, the traditional American family typically consisted of a husband, a wife and two to three kids (think “Leave it to Beaver”). But, the growing incidence of separation, divorce, remarriage and unmarried hetero and same-sex couples living together with kids has changed the landscape of how we as a culture define a family.

Noted Indiana University sociologist, Brian Powell, set out to determine how Americans’ definition of what constitutes a family has changed over the last decade. Not surprisingly, what he found was that we’ve been moving away from the traditional “Leave it to Beaver” idea of family to arrive at a view of the “New American Family” which comes in many different forms.

Powell’s findings revealed that almost 100% of people consider a husband, wife and kids as a family. Yet, he also found that over 83% of people consider cohabiting heterosexual couples with kids to be a family and that now over two-thirds of Americans agree that same-sex couples with kids are a family.

Take the kids away from the “family equation” and those percentages drop drastically. For example, only 39% of people consider a cohabiting hetero couple with no kids to be a family even though that cohabiting couple might consider themselves a family.

In the end, though, when it comes to defining a family all that may matter is how people view their own living arrangements. Whether you’re a traditional family, blended family, domestic partnership or single parent, over 60% of people now agree that if you consider yourself a family, then you are a family.

Regardless of how it’s defined, the “New American Family” faces many different legal issues in this day and age. From designating health care agents, to drafting wills that protect everyone, to choosing guardians for kids, all families are faced with these challenges.  So like the old program “All in the Family,” our blog is dedicated to tackling the legal issues facing our New American Family.

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Mega Millions Lottery Fever – What Would You Do If You Won the Jackpot???

The Mega Millions jackpot has reached a record high and millions are playing with the hopes of winning the lottery of a lifetime. But, what would you do if you beat the odds (they are something near 1 out of 175 million to win) and won that jackpot? How drastically would your life change?

Well here are some tips from professionals who know a lot about money – MSN Money:

Protect Yourself.  Hire an experienced team of financial managers. This includes investment advisors, accountants who specialize in tax savings, bankers and wealth planning lawyers.

Be Generous, but Don’t Be Stupid. This is certainly your chance to give back to society, but you’ll need to be careful. People are going to be lining up at your door looking for handouts (this includes family and friends who are going to feel entitled to some of your winnings). Don’t let them control you.

Set up a charity budget and only give to legitimate charities that you, or your team of advisors, have fully vetted.

Keep Your Day Job. Well, if you really hate your job and you only stayed there to be able to pay the bills, then maybe it’s time to get a new career. But, don’t just quit and do nothing. It’s great to be on vacation for a week or two, but that can get old very, very fast. People need a purpose in their lives so that they can feel they contribute to something. Don’t just give up working – have a purpose.

Do Some Estate Planning. This is a lot of money and if you’re careful with it, then chances are it’s going to last well beyond your lifetime. Set up a trust for yourself and your family. Create a trust for your kids and grandkids. Work to reduce the inheritance tax bite from your winnings so that your financial legacy can last for years. Again, this is why you need a great team of financial advisers on your side.

You Still Need to Raise Responsible Kids. Don’t forget that you still have to be a responsible parent and raise kids who appreciate the value of money. Plenty of lottery winners have spent it all, don’t make the same mistake. Your kids still need to be productive members of society (think about some of these rich-kid celebrities we see on t.v. – we won’t name names here, but you know who we’re talking about – would you really want your kids living that kind of lifestyle?)

Avoid Excess. It’s okay to buy a new house (that is still within your means even with your lottery winnings), but you don’t really need 5 houses. Rent vacation houses, unless you plan on staying in one place for 3-6 months out of the year. And, don’t be tacky. Remember your surroundings. If you live in the country, you may look a little out of place driving around in a Lamborghini.

Enjoy. Ultimately if you are the lucky winner, enjoy yourself and congratulations!