Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Estate Planning: How Much Does it Cost?

The better question, really, is. “What is the value of estate planning?”
The value of estate planning lies in providing security to your health and property for yourself and your loved ones. Those who fail to plan may see a major loss in assets, healthcare, and even the uncertainty of legal guardianship for one’s child in the case of incapacitation. The value of estate planning to a single parent could mean having the safety and security of choosing and knowing who will be the legal guardian of their child in the case of disability or death. Other issues could be avoided by planning and setting up trusts to hold to the benefit of their child to insure their future as well as to ensure the security of other assets to beneficiaries such as other family members.

In the case of a couple who own a home, a money market account, CD’s, and with their estate exceeding $1 million, failure to do estate planning results in any assets over $1million to be taxed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and also by the Federal Government (in the year 2013, assuming the return of the $1 million exemption) at a rate of 55%. This means double taxation and that less than half of the assets accumulated over a lifetime will pass to their beneficiaries.

In the case of an elderly or disabled person who may have long term care needs, perhaps including nursing home care, failure to plan could result in catastrophic loss of all the person’s lifetime assets. This is the value of Estate Planning. When you call asking us, “How much does it cost?”, I ask you to consider how much it is worth to you to safeguard your children’s future; to safeguard assets for your loved ones; and to protect yourself from nursing home impoverishment. How much is it worth to you?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alimony Reform; Consumer Protection; Review Your Plan; New SEMINAR!

The following highlights some new state laws, reminds you to review your estate and financial plans when doing taxes, and announces our new seminar. We hope you'll find this information useful!

NEW Telemarketer Consumer Protection Law

On Wednesday, the FCC issued Report and Order FCC 12-21: In the Matter of Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. According to the FCC,

The Order adopted today helps put an end to these intrusions by empowering consumers with increased rights under the FCC's telemarketing rules. The new rules reduce regulatory uncertainty with minimal burden on industry and maximize consistency with those of the Federal Trade Commission. Specifically, the rules protect consumers by:

Requiring telemarketers to obtain prior express written consent from them, including by electronic means such as a website form, before placing a robocall to a consumer;

Eliminating the "established business relationship" exemption to the requirement that telemarketing robocalls to residential wireline phones occur only with prior express consent from the consumer;

Requiring telemarketers to provide an automated, interactive "opt-out" mechanism during each robocall so that consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling; and,

Strictly limiting the number of abandoned or "dead air" calls that telemarketers can make within each calling campaign.

The provisions of the new rules take effect over the next year.

* The preceding is courtesy of Massachusetts Trial Court Law Updates

Alimony Reform Act of 2011 expected to go into effect on March 1, 2012

The new law sets limits on alimony and ends lifetime alimony. Duration of marriage will determine duration of any alimony award. The new Act reads, in part, as follows:

(1) If the length of the marriage is 5 years or less, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than one-half the number of months of the marriage.
(2) If the length of the marriage is 10 years or less, but more than 5 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 60 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(3) If the length of the marriage is 15 years or less, but more than 10 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 70 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.
(4) If the length of the marriage is 20 years or less, but more than 15 years, general term alimony shall continue for not longer than 80 per cent of the number of months of the marriage.

(c) The court may order alimony for an indefinite length of time for marriages for which the length of the marriage was longer than 20 years.

Alimony can also be modified or terminated upon cohabitation of the payee spouse.

Tax Time = Review Your Estate Plan Time

Your estate documents include 1) a Will or Trust; 2) a Health Care Proxy, and; 3) a Durable Power of Attorney, the latter two of which should be "refreshed" every 2 or 3 years in order that they will not be considered "stale" dated when needed. Use tax season to gather and review your materials with your estate planning team - your attorney, insurance agent, accountant, Certified Financial Planner, and investment advisor. You should also review your plan whenever a life-altering event occurs in your family. The birth of a grandchild, death or disability of an heir or sale of an asset all can affect your plan. Frequent reviews can also account for changes in your budgetary needs.

New Seminar, presented by Attorney Suzanne Benfield:

Date & Time:

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 at 7:00PM

Topic: Estate Planning for Parents of Minor Children

Cuvilly School

10 Jeffries Neck rd.

Ipswich, MA

Call 978-468-9000 to reserve your seat.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why worry?

Dear Friends, Clients and Colleagues:

So many clients say that they feel a great sense of relief after completing their estate plans. Estate planning is one of those tasks that people think to themselves, "I' ll do it before the end of the year," or "I'll get around to it after taxes," etc. It becomes lost in a list of everyday priorities that include working, managing your life, paying taxes, and dealing with life's unexpected events.

Speaking of unexpected events, here are some common problems that can become big issues if you've not done proper planning:

If you've remarried, your prior will is revoked by law, unless your wrote it in contemplation of this new marriage.

If you've divorced, you'll need to update beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and insurance policies, otherwise your former spouse may be dancing to the bank!

If you've married and have children from a previous marriage/relationship, you need to write a trust or will, otherwise ALL of your assets will pass to your new spouse, under the new Uniform Probate Code. Thus, you can accidentally disinherit your kids by failing to plan.

If you've accumulated significant assets, or have inherited a large sum recently, you may need to do some Estate Tax Planning. Estates over $1 million are taxable in Massachusetts, and will be taxable by the Federal government in 2013, at a rate of 55%.

If you become incapacitated for a time, maybe due to complications from surgery or a sudden illness, who can access your checking account to pay your bills, renew insurance polices, enroll your kids in school, or make payroll, if you're a business owner? Without a Durable Power of Attorney, no one is entitled to act on your behalf, unless they go to Probate Court and establish a costly, lengthy & public Conservatorship action.

Also, who could make medical decisions on your behalf if you were incapacitated? Too often, children argue over treatment options, and this is a burden they shouldn't carry when they're already emotionally upset. A comprehensive Health Care Proxy takes care of that problem.

If you're unmarried, but living with a partner, can your family kick them out of your home if you die? This issue is so relevant today, with so many unmarried couples living together, and gay couples who have no rights under Federal law. Special planning is needed to protect loved ones.

Last, if you or a family member might need Long-Term Care (assisted living, nursing home care, etc.) then you should look into planning early, to protect your assets.

I see families in crises all the time. Don't let life catch you unprepared; plan now, not next month or next year. You'll rest easy knowing you've protected your loved ones. No worries!

Best regards & Happy New Year!

Denise Kent

To comply with the U.S. Treasury regulations, we must inform you that (i) any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this newsletter was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding U.S. federal tax penalties that may be imposed on such person and (ii) each taxpayer should seek advice from their tax advisor based on the taxpayer's particular circumstances.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples & Unmarried Partners

Here's a link to a short video clip that I posted: http://youtu.be/I5Atp5dJQNI
Regarding this important topic.

Same-sex couples and unmarried partners are confronted with many legal uncertainties due to the varying degrees of protection afforded them by the federal and state governments. Changes in state and federal law create a patchwork of protection for these couples.

Comprehensive planning is essential to protect inheritance rights, property distribution, and medical and final arrangement decisions. Tax planning and retitling are necessary to avoid unintended consequences.

My objective is to draft documents to protect inheritance rights, property distribution, and medical and final arrangement decisions of same-sex and unmarried couples;

To optimize the planning for inheritance rights for same-sex couples and unmarried couples whose relationships are not recognized by state and federal governments; and

To utilize tax-planning strategies to alleviate disparate tax treatment for same-sex couples and unmarried partners

Please feel free to contact me to arrange for a confidential, no-obligation consultation. Protect your loved ones and enjoy peace of mind!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What kinds of matters do we handle in a practice focused on Estate Planning, Probate and Elder Law?

1. Estate planning, including more advanced tax planning issues for estates subject to Federal or State estate taxation;

2. Asset protection planning, including implementation of asset-protection trusts, in conjunction with structuring of business entities, such as LLC’s.

3. Long-term care planning, including advice regarding long-term care insurance and the availability of Medicaid;

4. Guardianship of the person and conservatorship of the estate;

5. Probate (or other procedures required on a person’s death), including will contests, and trust administrations;

6. Planning and implementation of “living wills” and other advance directives and health care rights;

7. Planning for the care of physically or mentally disabled children and adults, including special needs trusts;

8. Counseling on availability of Veteran’s Benefits, and prosecuting such claims as necessary;

9. Dissolution of marriage where one spouse is physically or mentally disabled;

10. Elder abuse and exploitation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Planning for "Never"

I am Suzanne Benfield, an attorney here at the Denise Kent Law Group and I especially enjoy helping out families with young children (like myself). Most people say to me, “Oh, I have a will. I’m all set.” Mmmmmm, no. Not quite. Not even close.

Unfortunately, we have to think of the worst case scenario. I have an acquaintance whose parents were killed simultaneously in an auto accident in upstate New York several years ago (really). The only good thing about it was that their children were grown adults, married and self-sufficient at the time of their death.

But what if the kids were young and at home with a babysitter while you and your spouse were driving to a local restaurant on a “date night” and the same turn of events occurred? Who would take care of and raise your kids in your absence? Not only should you consider who you would want to take care of your kids, but who would physically be able to take care of your kids? Further, how would that person/persons provide for your kids for day-to-day financial needs, as well as health insurance and college?

It’s really hard to imagine this scenario for yourself. Trust me, I know. Even though I am a lawyer, I didn’t have an estate plan in place for some time after my kids were born. More than imagining me not being alive, it was harder to imagine my young and vulnerable kids without me or my spouse. The good thing about this is that statistically, it is highly unlikely that both you and your spouse will be taken out simultaneously. But, we should plan for the worst case, so that no one else does it for you.
So, what to do? If you are like me, you don’t have a whole lot of assets…a house with a mortgage, a couple of cars, a retirement account, some cash accounts and maybe some other small investments. Will that, all together, support your kids in the event you die or can’t work due to disability? Probably not. So, I have life insurance whose proceeds will dump into a trust for the benefit of my spouse and kids. (Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the jist of it.)

What happens if you don’t do estate planning? Should something happen to you and/or your spouse, a judge (who doesn’t know you or your family) will decide the fate of your children. And, the proceedings will be public. I can’t urge you enough to take the time to think about doing estate planning sooner rather than later so that in the unlikely event something does happen, things go smoothly and seamlessly for your children at an already very difficult emotional time.

We provide solutions to these problems. Please feel free to contact us at Denise Kent Law Group, where we enjoy helping people, one family at a time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pet Trusts

Who will be your pet's guardian when you are not there? Providing loving care to your pet is a lifelong commitment. In light of recent legislation that allows use of pet trusts in Massachusetts, I have been drafting estate plans in which clients have provided for their pets.

The History of Estate Planning and Pets
• The concept is based on English common law, and was not introduced into the American legal system until the last century. In 1923, the Kentucky Supreme Court considered this issue and held that a bequest to a trust for a pet was valid, under a law that allowed gifts for humane purposes.
• Most states have now adopted pet trust statutes.
• In Massachusetts, M.G.L c.430 is An Act Relative to Trusts for the Care of Animals. It was enacted January 7, 2011, and covers trusts set up for the care of your pets after your death.

Taxes and Pet Planning
• The IRS does not yet recognize a trust whose beneficiary is an animal, but still requires that such entities are taxed under Section 641, as a trust!
• Presently, we cannot enjoy any income tax or estate tax deduction for gifts to a charitable trust when the non-charitable trust distributions are solely for the benefit of an animal.

Plan now: All too often, animal shelters and animal rescue organizations find that the incapacity or death of an owner results in abandonment, surrender or the inability to care for a pet. Here at Denise Kent Law Group, we respect your wishes and recognize the importance of pets as family members.

We look forward to helping you take care of your dependents.