With summer upon us and pandemic-induced quarantines a distant memory, at least here in the Northeast, we are all looking forward to some fun this summer. If you are lucky enough to have a second home you are probably spending some well-earned vacation time there right now with family members, creating lasting memories. If you are the owner of a vacation home, it’s never too early to think about the future.
Is this a property you wish to pass on to your children and grandchildren so the good times can continue long after you’re gone? In many cases, your heirs may not be able to purchase a vacation home on their own so it is especially important to make sure the property will be there for them to enjoy. Here are five things to consider when planning for your vacation property:
1. Do Your Children Share Your Hopes and Dreams?
You may intend to leave your vacation home to all of your children to use and enjoy for their lifetimes. When planning, it is important to consider whether these intentions are realistic. Take a hard look at how the property is used and by whom. Do all of your children enjoy the property and will they continue to do so in the future, taking into account their busy lives and where they live? Or is the home primarily used by one or two children who live close enough to visit often? When planning for the future of your vacation home, talk to your children about your plans and encourage them to be honest with you. Knowing who wants to keep the property and who has no interest in owning a second home is vital information before you begin your planning.
2. How Will the Bills Get Paid?
If you intend for your children to contribute to the cost of maintaining the property after your death, consider whether all of your children can afford to do this, or whether it makes sense to leave the property (and the financial burdens of its maintenance) to the child or children who can afford the expenses that go along with owning such a property. If you are financially able to do so, you may want to leave extra money to support the property which can be used to pay ongoing expenses and make repairs as needed, and take the burden of those expenses off of your family members. If this is the route you choose to go, don’t underestimate the funds that may be needed, and err on the generous side if you are unsure.
3. How Will Decisions be Made?
No matter how smart your children are or how well they get along, it is always helpful to have a plan for how decisions will be made – such as who can use the property and when, what improvements will be made to the property, and whether the property should be sold. It is helpful, whether in a Trust or other written agreement to set out rules that clearly govern how these matters are decided, and how disputes are resolved. If a child cannot contribute to his share of the expenses, or wants to sell his interest in the property, a structured plan will allow for such transitions, including the opportunity for siblings to buy out one another
4. Don’t Forget the Tax Planning.
Vacation homes are often a beloved asset, but they are an asset nonetheless, subject to estate tax like the other assets in your estate. It is crucial to take into account how estate taxes will be paid when planning for a vacation home that will not be sold. In some sad situations, the next generation would love to keep the vacation property, but the estate taxes payable at the parents’ deaths are so steep that they cannot afford to do so. Consider undertaking planning to reduce the tax bite at your death by gifting the property or an interest in the property during your lifetime, and at your children’s death by incorporating generation-skipping planning. If taxes must be paid, consider using life insurance to provide a resource from which estate taxes can be paid, reducing the possibility that the property will need to be sold to satisfy a tax obligation.
5. Transfer during lifetime or at death?
Many vacation homeowners intend to continue to own their property during their lifetimes and leave the property to their heirs at their deaths. By doing so, they remain the sole decision-makers and keep their options open: they could sell the property, rent it out, change their minds about who will inherit it, etc. However, transferring ownership to the next generation during the parents’ lifetimes can make sense for tax planning or long-term care planning reasons. As Congress debates estate tax changes that could reduce the federal estate tax exemption, lifetime gifts of vacation homes are something that should be considered, balancing the capital gain tax and control implications of such a gift against the estate tax cost of retaining ownership until death.
Thoughtful and timely planning for a vacation property can ensure the property will pass to future generations in a way that will minimize issues and maximize the chances the property will be enjoyed by your family for generations to come. If you have a vision of your descendants enjoying your beloved cottage and building memories there, take the necessary steps now to make your wishes a reality. Failing to plan and simply hoping that your children will “figure it out” is the clearest path to family discord, which is the last thing you need on a relaxing family vacation.
Maria Baler, Esq. is an estate planning and elder law attorney and partner at Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC, a law firm based in Dedham. She is also a former director of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (MassNAELA), and the current President of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Forum of Estate Planning Attorneys. For more information, visit www.ssbllc.com or call (781) 461-1020. This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney.
© 2021 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC
Welcome to summer 2021 where the weather is hot and the real estate market is even hotter! Join us for our next Smart Counsel webinar where local realtors Adam Hayes of Milestones Realty and Ellen Grubert and Janis Lippman of the EllenandJanisteam/Compass will share their expertise on this very active real estate market, offer tips for sellers and buyers, and talk about what you can expect if you venture into the fray.
Adam and his team have a particular focus on representing seniors who have owned their homes for decades and are now selling that home. Adam will talk about issues specific to this growing population.
Ellen and Janis will talk about the market for first time home buyers and trade up buyers.
Attorney Suzanne Sayward will round out the panel and will speak to some of the tax aspects of selling property and what sellers who own their real estate in trust need to know.
In addition to hearing from our panel, attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions.
Join us virtually for this presentation on Thursday, July 22, 2021 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm.
Contact Victoria Ung at 781/461-1020 or firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot for you and a friend.
The program is free but registration is required.
Suzanne R. Sayward
Maria C. Baler
Abigail V. Poole
Francis R. Mulé
One of the goals of proper estate planning is to reduce the risk of conflict in the administration of your estate and the carrying out of your wishes both after your death and during periods of incapacity while you are alive. Though we all like to think that our families (both our legally recognized families and our chosen families) and loved ones will come together and unite during times of crisis, it is unfortunately not uncommon for such crises to lead to painful, emotionally charged conflicts.
Such cases are even more common when it comes to LGBTQ individuals whose legally recognized relatives disapprove of their lifestyle. Although acceptance of LGBTQ individuals is far greater than it used to be, LGBTQ individuals still risk being disowned, shunned, and/or shamed by their relatives if and when they come out. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment this Pride Month to talk about the particular importance of estate planning for LGBTQ individuals and families.
The most critical thing to understand is that, in the absence of estate plan documents that say otherwise, the law favors biological and legally recognized familial relationships over other relationships. Without a valid Last Will and Testament, upon your death the assets in your individual name will pass by law to your closest legally recognized relatives (known as your “heirs at law”) through a process known as “intestacy.” In Massachusetts, even if you are married, if you die without a Will, there are circumstances where your individually held assets will be distributed among your surviving spouse and your surviving parent(s).
Similarly, if you become incapacitated during your lifetime without a valid Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, it may become necessary to have a guardian and/or conservator appointed by the Probate Court. As in the intestacy process, the guardianship and conservatorship processes favor biological and legally recognized relationships, giving priority to your spouse and parents to be appointed as your guardian and/or conservator over romantic partners and close friends.
While having a comprehensive estate plan in place can close off many opportunities for disapproving legally recognized relatives to take control of an LGBTQ individual’s estate in times of crisis and potentially shut out or cut off the individual’s chosen family (i.e., romantic partners, close friends, etc.), not all estate plans are created equal on this front. In particular, if you have an estate plan that relies on a Last Will and Testament to control the disposition of assets after death, a public probate process will need to be initiated after your death in order to validate the Will. Part of that process involves giving notice to your heirs at law. This once again gives disapproving relatives an opening to object to the proceedings and attempt to assert control over your estate.
By contrast, a comprehensive estate plan designed to avoid the probate process will greatly reduce the ability of disapproving relatives to cause trouble. While the probate process requires that notice be given to those who would inherit in the absence of a Will even if they are not named as beneficiaries in the Will, under a Revocable Living Trust, only the beneficiaries named in the trust document are entitled to notice. Thus, if you want to ensure that your wishes are followed and that the people you choose to carry out those wishes are able to do so without interference, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney and create a plan to achieve your goals today.
Francis R. Mulé is an associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. He is an active member and the incoming Chair-Elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
© 2021 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC
Attorney Suzanne Sayward discusses the importance of updating your estate plan during life’s happy moments, for this edition of our Smart Counsel for Lunch Series. Please watch and if you have any questions or want to learn more please call us at 781 461-1020.
By Abigail V. Poole. Esq.
Sometimes I like to think of administering a probate estate as similar to investigating and solving a mystery. The Personal Representative (formerly known as Executor) of the estate is the Detective. The Personal Representative takes steps to administer the estate by accessing and consolidating estate assets much like a Detective discovers clues and pieces them together one at a time to solve a mystery. Simultaneously, the Personal Representative keeps in mind certain duties while performing these tasks due to his or her fiduciary position much like a Detective who follows the laws while investigating the mystery. Here are five duties the Personal Representative must obey while “solving the mystery” of probate administration.
- Follow Directions
The Personal Representative’s most important overall duty is to follow the directions left in the deceased’s Last Will and Testament and the relevant Massachusetts laws. The Will works hand-in-hand with the laws; it must be filed with the probate court, which approves the appointment of the Personal Representative. If the deceased did not leave a Will expressing the deceased’s intentions, then the intestate laws of Massachusetts govern the estate administration.
The Personal Representative is also duty-bound to administer the probate estate expeditiously and efficiently in a way that is consistent with the best interests of the estate. For example, if the deceased possessed an expensive diamond necklace at the time of her death and she stated in her Will that the necklace should be distributed to her daughter, then it is the Personal Representative’s responsibility to do so. However, if the diamond necklace is the only valuable asset and the estate has significant expenses and debt, then the Personal Representative may need to sell the diamond necklace to pay the estate expenses and debt instead of distributing the necklace.
- Be Loyal and Prudent
The Personal Representative has a duty of loyalty. The Personal Representative’s actions must be impartial toward all the parties involved (i.e., he or she cannot favor one party above another unless directed by the law or Will). The Personal Representative is also obligated to administer the estate with care and prudence by protecting the interests of the estate and administering the estate for the benefit of all the beneficiaries (the ultimate recipients of the estate distributions). Oftentimes, at the beginning of the probate process the Personal Representative may not have accurate information about all the assets owned by the deceased at the time of death. This means there may be valuable assets discovered after the Personal Representative’s appointment. In the case of the diamond necklace, it would be prudent of the Personal Representative to refrain from distributing or selling the diamond necklace until all the assets are discovered and weighed against the anticipated estate expenses and debt.
- Find the Assets
The Personal Representative must investigate, determine, collect and inventory all the estate assets after appointment. Typically, an estate bank account is opened to consolidate and retain the balances from the deceased’s individual bank accounts. The Personal Representative is responsible for determining the value of the assets as of the deceased’s date of death. With respect to the diamond necklace, the Personal Representative should have it appraised to determine its value in the event it needs to be sold to pay the estate expenses and to include on the estate inventory. The inventory is a list of all the assets of the estate and their values that will be provided to the probate court or beneficiaries.
The Personal Representative is obligated to collect the income, interest and refunds due to the deceased or the estate, and dividends from stock.
- Protect the Assets and Pay the Expenses
The Personal Representative has a duty to secure, safeguard and manage the estate assets. The diamond necklace should be securely stored until a decision is made to distribute or sell it, and insurance maintained for it, as necessary. The Personal Representative is responsible for collecting payments on any outstanding loans due to the deceased’s estate.
The Personal Representative must also pay estate expenses, such as funeral costs, fees to file assorted tax returns, and the fees of professionals to accomplish these goals (e.g., accountant, attorney, jewelry appraiser). If there is outstanding debt, such as a mortgage, credit card or Medicaid claim, the Personal Representative must prioritize payment of the debt according to the laws.
A crucial responsibility of the Personal Representative is to track all the income and expenditures of the estate. These records will assist the Personal Representative with making decisions regarding payment of expenses and debt during the administration of the estate. It will also demonstrate to the beneficiaries and the probate court that the Personal Representative administered the estate properly via an account (report).
- Distribute the Assets
The final obligation of the Personal Representative is to distribute the remaining probate assets to the beneficiaries as directed in the Will or by law. Luckily, the Personal Representative discovered other assets to cover the estate expenses so the diamond necklace was distributed to a grateful daughter.
Every good Detective has a partner to help solve the mystery. Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC can partner with you to find, protect and distribute the probate assets in accordance with the deceased’s instructions or the laws. Our attorneys are dedicated to guiding you through the probate administration process to ensure you adhere to your duties as the Personal Representative to successfully complete settling the estate.
Attorney Abigail V. Poole is an associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. She is an active member and Vice President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
© 2021 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC
Attorney Francis R. Mulé discusses Probate Court Delays, for our Smart Counsel for Lunch Series. Please watch and if you have any questions or want to learn more please call us at 781 461-1020.
There’s nothing like a pandemic to make people worried about dying – that’s something we learned all too well during the past year. Here at Samuel, Sayward & Baler, we were grateful that we all remained healthy and able to help our clients – both old and new – create and update estate plans that gave them peace of mind.
Now that the end of the pandemic is in sight, consider this a friendly reminder that reviewing and updating your estate plan is not something that should only happen when you are in pandemic-induced lockdown. It’s something you should do on a regular basis – review things once a year, and meet with your estate planning attorney to review things (whether you think you need to or not) every five years or so, or sooner if you know changes are needed.
Updating your plan is important for any number of reasons. Here are some things you should ask yourself when reviewing your existing documents:
- Are the people named in your Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy to make financial or health care decisions for you still trusted people you can count on to be there if you are not well?
- Is your Executor/Personal Representative named in your Will and the Trustee of your Trust still a trusted individual you can count on to settle your estate and administer your Trust fairly and efficiently at your death, working with your attorney, accountant and financial advisor?
- If the people you have named are getting older or are not well, do you have appropriate alternates named to take their place if they cannot (or do not wish to) serve in those roles when the time comes?
- Do your documents still reflect your current wishes about the distribution of your assets at death? Does your Will or Trust refer to assets, such as real estate or a business, that you no longer own?
- Have you recently been divorced? Melinda Gates is updating her estate plan in light of her divorce, and you should too!
- On a happier note, have you recently been married, had a baby, won the lottery or received an inheritance? Those type of events should also prompt a review and update of your estate plan.
In addition to the things you know should be changed, there may be other provisions of the documents that need to be updated as well. For example, provisions of your Will and Trust regarding how estate taxes will be paid may not operate as intended if certain assets are no longer owed, or if beneficiaries have been changed. The federal estate and gift tax laws, laws governing inherited retirement accounts, and Massachusetts probate or trust laws have all changed within the last ten years, making many provisions of older documents out-of-date.
Unfortunately, this past year has taught us that life and health are unpredictable. Although having an estate plan is an important first step, keeping that plan up-to-date is just as important, as a plan that’s out-of-date can often create more issues than no plan at all. Make it a priority to review your plan today, and sit down with your estate planning attorney to discuss any necessary updates. They will be happy to see you alive and well and keeping your estate plan up-to-date, since it will make their job easier when you are no longer around.