Safekeeping of Important Documents

A common question I hear from my clients is: “where should I keep my estate planning documents?” Often, the first thought people a have is to put important documents in safe deposit box. Makes sense, right? Wrong! Unless there is a co-owner on the safe deposit box, no one will be able to gain access to the box or its contents without your permission or court order, and the documents that may provide that permission are in the box! As such, I always advise my clients to not keep their documents in a safe deposit box.

So what other options do you have for safekeeping these documents?

As having the original documents is of utmost importance, it is imperative that the documents are kept in a safe place, but are also accessible. Often, my clients choose to keep the originals at my office with copies at home in a filing cabinet or desk drawer with the location of the original documents noted.

Many times clients will also consider keeping their estate planning documents in a safe, but that presents many of the same problems of keeping the documents in a safe deposit box.

Regardless of whether you choose to keep your estate planning documents at your lawyer’s office or at home, it is imperative that your family knows the location of the documents and how to access them quickly and without delay when they are needed.

 

#estateplanning #will #lawyer

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What Happens to My Social Media Accounts When I Die?

With so much of our lives taking place in the cloud, it is important to think about protecting our digital assets post-mortem. A few online services have a policy regarding what happens to your account, or allow you to select what happens.  For example, Google allows you to “Plan your digital afterlife with inactive Account Manager” which allows you to have your Google data deleted after a selected period of time of inactivity or selected trusted contacts to retrieve your data.  Facebook allows you to designate a “legacy contact” who is able to pin a final post on your timeline after your death. This person cannot log in as you or read private messages, but can respond to new friend requests and update profile and cover photos.

But what about our digital assets, such as our iTunes libraries, e-books, and video games? Are these able to be passed as though they were a vinyl record, leather-bound book, or board game? The answer to that is not so clear. Many companies, such as Apple and Amazon, state in the End User License Agreement when you purchase a digital item that you are simply purchasing the license to use said product, but that you do not actually own that product and do not have the authority to transfer that license to anyone without the express permission of Apple or Amazon. This remains a grey area in the law that is likely to be tested by creative estate planning techniques, such as having the digital assets purchased by a Trust with you and your children as the named beneficiaries, for example.

Many popular social media sites, however, do not have a specific policy like Google or Facebook. Many Social Media providers will only allow the personal representative (formerly known as the executor) to deactivate the deceased person’s account, but will not allow access to private content. The account is owned by the deceased person. As digital assets are a relatively new component to the estate planning puzzle, it remains unclear what these sites will permit if a personal representative is given specific power to access the accounts.

If your social media accounts are not set up to address what happens when you die, your will may leave specific instructions as to your wishes. Instructions may also be left in a trust or power of attorney. I also advise my clients to leave a list with their estate planing documents of their online accounts, usernames and passwords. This eases the difficulty of addressing the digital estate.

Have more questions about protecting your digital assets? Contact Broadbent & Taylor for a free consultation!

THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY ATTORNEY CATHERINE TAYLOR AND IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP OF ANY SORT.

 

#estateplan #will #digitalassets #lawyer

When should you update your estate plan?

You met with your attorney and set up your estate plan, and now you never need to worry about it again, right?  Wrong!  There are certain life events that warrant having your estate plan reviewed and updated, if necessary.  

 

1.  Changes in your Family.  

Families are ever evolving, and with those evolutions, there may be modifications that you want to make to your estate plan.  You should absolutely have your estate plan re-done if you get married or divorced.  It is also a good idea to update your estate plan if you have had or adopted a child or grandchild.  If a named beneficiary in your estate plan dies, you will want to update your estate plan, even if you have a contingent beneficiary named.  Finally, if you have children that have attained the age of 18, you may want to modify your estate plan to remove guardianship provisions and update the way your children will inherit (i.e. you may no longer want or need a trust in place).

 

2.  Changes in Assets

If your estate has recently undergone a substantial change in value – either up or down, it is a good idea to at least review your estate plan to ensure it still accomplishes what you need it to.  Changes in value could result from buying or selling real estate, inheritances, starting a business, purchasing life insurance, etc.

 

3.  Change in Location

If you have moved to a different state from where your estate plan was originally created, you should definitely have your estate plan updated.  Each state has its own probate and estate laws whose differences can greatly impact your estate.

 

4.  Changes in Probate, Estate, or Tax Laws

Recently, Massachusetts implemented the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) which introduced significant changes to probate and estate law.  Although wills and other estate planning documents executed prior to the passing of MUPC are “grandfathered in” and are still valid, a previously executed will may no longer distribute your estate as you intend, and it is best to update your estate plan in accordance with the new laws.  A review should also be done when estate tax laws change to make sure that your estate is properly planned to minimize potential estate taxes.

 

5.  You are Approaching Retirement

If you are approaching retirement and/or have reached the age where you are required to start taking distributions from your you should not only meet with a financial planner, but you should also work with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan is still set up in a way that will accomplish your goals as far as what you want to leave behind for your heirs, while allowing you to live comfortably during your retirement.

 

6.  A Change in Circumstances of Your Fiduciaries

If any of the individuals you have named in a fiduciary capacity in your estate plan – personal representative, guardian, trustees, etc – have passed away, are no longer competent to serve in a fiduciary capacity, or you no longer wish an individual to fill a fiduciary role, you should update your estate plan to account for this.  Although most estate plans include contingent fiduciaries, it is always recommended to have at least two named individuals who are able to fulfill the fiduciary role named in your documents.  

 

7.  It’s Time for a Check-Up

If it has been 3-5 years since you last had your estate plan reviewed by your attorney, it is a good idea to make an appointment to have your estate plan reviewed.  Your attorney will know if there are any changes in the laws or your circumstances that would warrant a change to your existing estate plan, and be able to advise you accordingly.  

 

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment to have your existing estate plan reviewed, please contact Attorney Catherine Taylor at Broadbent & Taylor for your free initial consultation.  (508) 438-1198 or catherine@kbctlaw.com 

Top 10 Reasons to Have a Will

10.  You control who manages your estate.

 

9.  You can make specific gifts to individuals and/or charities.

 

8.  You can establish a trust.

 

7.  You can choose to disinherit an individual.

 

6.  Allows you to minimize potential estate taxes.

 

5.  Simplifies the probate process, making it shorter and less expensive.

 

4.  Life is unpredictable.

 

3.  You control the distribution of your assets.

 

2.  Your spouse / significant other.

 

1. Your children.

A New Era

On March 31, 2012 Massachusetts entered into a new era of estate planning and administration. Massachusetts has totally revamped its probate laws by adopting the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC). The changes to te law are vast and this article in no way addresses each change. The purpose of this article is to briefly cover the more important changes.

 

Administration of Estates

Previously, many people were confused by the jargon used in the administration of estates. What is the difference between executors, temporary executors, administrators, and special administrators? Worry no more! These terms have been done away with and all replaced by the simplier title of personal representative. 

 

In addition to the title change, there are now more ways in which the estate can be administered:

1.   Informal Administration  : this option is the simpliest and allows for a personal representative to be appointed as soon as seven (7) days after the person applying for appointment sends notice by mail to the interested persons specified in the statute. This is the fastest and least expensive form of administration because it does not require court supervision. The personal reqpresentative is still required to prepare an inventory, publish notice in the newspapers and circulating accounts, etc., this does not need to be done under the supervision of the court. Informal administration is available to estates of any size; however, this form of administration is the best option when the beneficiaries are in agreement regarding the distribution of the estate.

 

2.   Formal Administration  : As its name suggests, this form of administration is more formal and more closely resembles estate administration under the old law. Formal administration requires the filing of a petition resulting in formal notice to be ordered by the Court, with an opportunity to object. This of course means that this process takes more time. This type of administration is the better option when there are legal questions about the proceedings, the possibility of controversy, or if questions about a previously commenced informal administration arise. 

 

3.   Supervised Administration  : Supervised administration should only be used for the most controversial and complicated estates as it requires constant supervision by the court. 

 

4.   Voluntary Administration  : The final type of administration is available only to estates valued at less that $25,000, plus the value of one vehicle and includes no real estate. This administration has very little court involvement. If no probate is commenced, after thirty (30) days a statement may be filed with the Court. The signatory on the statement gives an oath that s/he will administer the estate according to the will, or as provided under the intestacy law.

 

Guardians and Conservators

Under MUPC the law distinguishes between a guardian and a conservator of a minor child. A guardian has control over the person and the conservator has control over the minor’s property. A parent should still name a person or persons to fill these rolls in the will, and the same person can be named as both the guardian and conservator. MUPC also allows a parent to name a guardian and conservator in a separate document so long as the separate document is witnessed by two people. 

 

Disposition of Tangible Personal Property

One of the most substantial changes brought about by MUPC is the ability for a testator to leave a memorandum of tangible personal property and the recipients of such property. This document can be separate from the will and can be changed without disrupting the will. The memorandum must describe the property and recipients with reasonable certainty and be signed. This document can be created either before or after the will as it is now a totally separate and binding document.

 

The Effect of Marriage and Divorce

Pre-MUPC, any existing will was automatically revoked upon marriage unless it is clear that the will was made in contemplation of the marriage. MUPC does require such automatic revision. Rather, the will survives and any bequests to descendants of the decedent are preserved. If any part of the estate was left to non-descendants of the decedent, these assets are used to satisfy the surviving spouse’s intestate share. This may be avoided, however, if it can be shown that the decedent otherwise provided for the surviving spouse in another manner, such as through a life insurance policy. 

 

Previously, the law stated that divorce partially revoked wills and unfunded revocable trusts of divorcing spouses so that property transfers to the ex-spouse, as well as nominations appointing the ex-spouse as executor or trustee, are cancelled. MUPC broadens this rule to have the same canceling effect on non-probate assets, such as life insurance policies. MUPC also revokes bequests to relatives of the ex-spouse. If the parties re-marry, the revoked provisions are revised; however, it is always advisable to update your estate planning documents after any major life event, including divorce and marriage.

 

Conclusion

As mentioned above, this article is not intended to be exhaustive of the changes to probate law in Massachusetts since the adoption of MUPC. The above-mentioned is a brief overview of some of the changes that will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people.