Like How You Prepare for a Nor’Easter

The 3 Nor’Easters we’ve had in the past 10 days or so here on the South Shore and around the Boston area remind us how important it is to be prepared for whatever life may throw at us.

You might fill water bottles, ready flashlights, pile on blankets, stock firewood, or gas up the car, generator, and take other steps to prepare for the possibility of a power outage.

You can also prepare for the possibility of temporary emergencies affecting your health  and/or your ability to manage your money.

The way to prepare for a storm or an emergency is the way that makes the most sense for your family and your home under all your current circumstances; that changes over the years.

Emergency responders might be able to come to your rescue to evacuate you if you wait too long, but it’s better to heed warnings to evacuate safely before then.

The new Massachusetts wills, trusts, and estates laws in the Probate code that took effect 6 years ago can make decisions about your health care, your children’s care, your sentimental belongings and everything else you have, but it’s better to make your own wishes known and your own plan for your family while you can.

Your decisions and plans changes over the years as your family and circumstances change, so your Will, trust, and estate plan should change too.

Just like Nor’easters are a predictable part of life here in New England, possible incapacity and death are also a regular part of life, whether you’re ready for them or not.


By preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, you can feel safer, less afraid, and more in control, no matter what nature brings.

Give yourself precious peace of mind and make life easier for the people you love by making sure you have a current, effective, personalized, comprehensive plan to guide them, no matter what happens or when. Don’t wait until it’s an emergency or until it’s too late.

Call DGVE law® in Hingham, Massachusetts today at 781-740-0848 or email to learn about how we’re different, why you should choose us, and to take that first step toward thoughtfully preparing to weather all life’s ups and downs.


Harper Lee – Privacy Please

It is usually preferable to have a trusted family member, friend, or professional trust company, bank trust department or other professional such as a long time Certified Public Accountant (CPA) serve as the Trustee of one’s Trust and that is precisely what I routinely advise my clients.

But sometimes they don’t have that kind of relationship or they don’t want to burden their loved ones with that responsibility.  Sometimes clients don’t have enough assets to justify paying the higher fees a bank or trust company would charge, and sometimes they just feels very strongly about paying a less personal bank or trust company that way.

privacy by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

In my small, local law firm practice, it is not uncommon for my clients and I to develop a comfortable, trusting relationship. It often flows from the nature of the intimate family and financial details involved in interviewing and counseling them to be able to prepare highly personalized legal documents regarding their lifetime health care and the management and distribution of everything they may have, according to their wishes.  Sometimes that results in me being the person most knowledgeable about and committed to helping my clients effectuate their wishes.

In that way, I am able to serve as a resource for my clients’ loved ones and trusted agents if they so choose, and which I am honored to do.  But sometimes, clients ask me to serve as their Personal Representative (formerly, but really not long enough ago, called “Executrix” for a woman and “Executor for a man” under a Will) and Trustee (of a Trust).  That’s what appears to have happened with Harper Lee and her longtime lawyer, whom Lee named as her Personal Representative and Trustee.

There is a potential conflict of interest, however, whenever a lawyer who drafts a Will or Trust is also named to serve as the Personal Representative for the estate and Trustee of the trust because the lawyer will be entitled to reasonable compensation, which often means the lawyer’s usual and customary legal fees, and also almost certainly use her own law firm to do the work. Therefore, it is common (and good!) practice that whenever a lawyer serves in that kind of capacity, she makes full disclosure of the conflict of interest, explaining it all carefully to make sure the clients understand and consent to the lawyer serving despite those conflicts.  The argument that Lee’s lawyer exerted undue influence seems from afar based more on frustration with her lawyer’s successful efforts to protect and preserve Lee’s desire that everyone respect her privacy.

Despite the New York Time’s successful lawsuit to have the public record of Harper Lee’s Last Will and Testament unsealed and made public, Lee’s lawyer’s efforts to keep Lee’s private wishes private was mostly successful.  That’s because, rather than a simple Will that would specify all the details of who is to inherit what, when, and how, Lee’s lawyer used a much more private trust and a corresponding Pour-Over Will to handle those details. So the public can estimate the size of Lee’s financial legacy and we know some of her living heirs at law, but that’s about where it stops.  The rest remains a mystery, as she wrote it.

Get Organized for Tax Time!

Tax Time

While you are gathering all of your documents to prepare for tax season, why not use this time to check something else off your list?

Tax time is the perfect time to review or create your Will, Trust, Power of Attorney and all the other parts of a comprehensive estate plan?

Meet with DGVE law® soon and we’ll provide the tools and resources and help you organize your financial statements to bring to your accountant, OR organize it all for your accountant, then provide that information as context for reviewing your family’s estate planning legal needs in light of the many changes over the past few years.

Let us help you come out of this tax season feeling relieved and in control instead of confused and disorganized.

We only have a few appointments left in March, so if you want one of them, hurry up and call our office now at (781) 740-0848.   

There’s no time like the present to prepare for your family’s future.  The clock’s ticking.

Should I write my own Will?

The more cynical amongst us would say, by all means, please do your own estate plan! That is my retirement plan with guaranteed future work to untangle the inadvertent messes.DIY Will - Ticking Time BombI’m still holding onto hope that people will listen to us when we caution you that:

  • there is more to estate planning than “verbiage”
  • it requires more than a lawyer’s eyeballs to review it:
    • she has to actually use her brain to spot all the issues involved, recall all the laws that apply, analyze the best possible solutions for your unique situation, and then
    • she has to use her mouth to explain that all to you in plain English until you understand and can make well-informed choices about how to proceed with your own plan.

Meanwhile, here’s another cautionary tale from my friend and colleague, Texas Wills, Trusts, & Estates lawyer Rania Combs:

The Nightmare of DIY Planning

A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from a woman whose ex-boyfriend had died, naming her as the sole beneficiary and executor of his multimillion dollar estate.

Despite her ex-boyfriend’s substantial wealth, he had forgone the advice of a lawyer and prepared a Will using DIY software. He told her verbally that he wanted her to use the funds for the benefit of his minor children, but his Will was completely silent on that point.

The ex-boyfriend’s goal was apparently to use his substantial wealth to provide for his children. If he had consulted an attorney, the attorney would have advised him to create a testamentary trust for their benefit. Creating a trust would have allowed him to appoint someone to manage those assets for his children, and to dictate how and when the assets should be distributed to them. This would have ensured the assets passed to his children as he wished.

He took a substantial risk when he named his ex-girlfriend the sole beneficiary of his estate:

  1. Naming her as the sole beneficiary gives her legal ownership of those assets. She is not legally bound to provide anything to his children.
  2. Even if she does honor her commitment, life sometimes gets in the way. Because those assets legally belong to her, they can be exposed to her personal liabilities. For example, suppose she gets in a terrible accident and seriously injures someone else. The assets earmarked for the children could be exposed to a judgment for those claims.
  3. What happens she dies before the children? Since she has legal ownership of those assets, they will be part of her estate and will pass to her heirs or beneficiaries, who may not have made a commitment to care for the children.

As a result of his choice, his children’s financial future is in the hands of their father’s ex-girlfriend who has no biological or emotional ties to them.

What a nightmare!

Attorneys don’t simply fill in forms. We use our years of schooling and experience to analyze your unique circumstances, explain the ramifications of your choices, advise you on the best way to accomplish your goals and objectives, and tailor your documents to address your unique estate planning needs. Document preparation services and canned forms do not.

{What she said ^}

18-Year-Olds Need Estate Plans, Too

Every adult needs at least a few basic legal documents to provide for her own medical and financial affairs.

Once a person turns 18 years old he becomes a legal adult. This matters from an estate planning perspective because:

  • Parents or legal guardians lose their right of access to information about that young adult.
  • The young adult loses the automatic right of the parents or legal guardians to advocate on his behalf.
  • If the young adult needs assistance with medical care or financial advocacy, such as in the event of an emergency, the parent or legal guardian will be unable to do so without legal authorization.

That’s why every young adult needs at least a very basic estate plan. With proper legal authorization, parents and legal guardians can continue to support and advocate for their children and gain access to their medical, financial, and digital information.

A basic estate plan preserves good relationships between different family members who may not agree with one another about the young adult’s stated wishes.

Every young adult should have at least some basic legal documents that provide the adults of her choosing the authority to:

  • Manage her financial affairs such as paying bills, requesting statement copies, and renegotiating contract or lease terms when she just wants helps and in case of an emergency;
  • Access her online banking and other electronic, financial accounts;
  • Access her protected health information;
  • Consent to or refuse medical treatments and procedures if she cannot do so herself;
  • Serve as her spokesperson regarding her end of life wishes;
  • Consent to donating her organs;
  • Arrange for her cremation or burial;
  • Organize the details of her memorial service according to her preferences;
  • Post notices to and/or memorialize, download copies of, or close out her social media accounts;
  • Specify who should receive certain sentimental pieces of personal property, like jewelry, collections or mementos.


Spring Cleaning? Dust Off Your Old Estate Plan With this Checklist

DGVE law’s March workshop featured a checklist for dusting off your old estate plan.  Here are some details to help you evaluate whether your plan will do what you need, and when. 

  • My legal documents were drafted by a Massachusetts attorney following a review of my family and financial circumstances and a personal consultation with me to clarify my wishes and create a custom-tailored plan to suit my unique circumstances. In other words, it’s not an online DIY plan.
  • My legal documents were created and I formally signed (in the presence of 2 totally disinterested Witnesses and a notary public) in Massachusetts after March 31, 2012.
  • My estate plan is written in plain English. I understand it and review it myself periodically to make sure it stays current.
  • I have reviewed my legal documents with my attorney in the past 3 years or less.
  • My spouse has not died and I have not: had any major health changes, had another child, had a grandchild, divorced, remarried, received an inheritance, moved, changed jobs, won the lottery or come into some other type of financial windfall, or been sued or threatened with a lawsuit since I last reviewed or updated my estate plan.
  • If my spouse wants to remarry after my death, I am confident (s)he will sign a prenuptial agreement to ensure that the assets I leave behind go to my child(ren) and not to any potential step-children or children with the next spouse.
  • I remain confident in the choices I made regarding which people will serve in what order to manage all of my assets in the event of my incapacity and after my death. I have named multiple backups or provided for succession to avoid a vacuum in the management of these affairs.
  • I have a Personal Property Memorandum and I know where it is and what to do with it.
  • I remain confident in the choices I made regarding which people will serve in what order to express my medical and end of life wishes and advocate on my behalf during my incapacity and after my death. I have named multiple backups.
  • If I were in an accident, emergency responders would have access to my medical documents and information and know whom to call for assistance right away.
  • I have legally appointed temporary, emergency guardians for my minor child(ren) in the event of an accident or situation in which I am unable to travel/return home. I have provided for my children to remain in our family’s home in such an event so my child(ren) is not further traumatized by being removed from comfortable and familiar surroundings.
  • I have legally appointed permanent guardians for my minor child(ren). Note: Godparents don’t count legally. Bonus points if your children are still minors and you’re not sending an adult child to live with Aunt Sarah.
  • I have legally appointed permanent guardians for my minor child(ren) outside of my Will to facilitate the quick resolution of that matter and establish permanency and minimize secondary traumas for my child(ren) as quickly as possible in the event of such a tragedy.
  • I have made arrangements and my wishes known regarding my stored genetic materials (sperm, eggs, embryos).
  • I have provided for my minor children’s guardians’ financial needs to help accommodate my children (e.g. new car, adding a bathroom or home addition, moving to a larger home, etc.).
  • I have considered how my child(ren) and my guardian’s might be economically situated relative to one another and have provided for my guardian’s child(ren) to also use some of the resources I leave behind so that they can benefit similarly in furtherance of their interpersonal relationships.
  • I have made provisions to maintain both sides of the family and lifelong, dear friends in regular visitation and communication with my child(ren).
  • My minor children’s caregivers know whom to call and what to do in the event of an emergency.
  • My college-age / young adult child(ren) have their own basic estate plan so that I can advocate for and assist easily on behalf of the child(ren) in the event of an emergency.
  • My loved ones will know where to find my estate plan and where to turn for help if I am incapacitated and after my death.
  • If my “nuclear” family and I were all to die, I feel good knowing where all of my assets would go and that the receipt of those assets wouldn’t cause any unintended consequences.
  • After ensuring I have provided adequately for my family’s needs, I feel good knowing that I have made provisions to recognize charities in my plan that align with my values and beliefs.
  • I am confident my loved ones will understand my end of life wishes and that deciding those important matters won’t cause them unnecessary pain or lead to potentially relationship-damaging disagreements amongst them.
  • I am confident my estate plan is structured to help my loved ones avoid the necessity for working through the court probate process, with all that entails, to inventory and gain approval for the distribution of all my assets after my death.
  • All of my assets are properly titled and/or beneficiary designations made in accordance with my plan. For example, my trust is fully funded and my life insurance policy and retirement plan beneficiaries are up to date and work in conjunction with my Trust or Will.
  • I have not named any loved ones who are minor children or disabled as beneficiaries of my estate, life insurance policy, nor retirement plan.
  • I understand the differences between Massachusetts and federal estate taxes and am confident my estate plan will help minimize those that may be due after my death.
  • My estate plan reflects my personal wishes regarding the use of my assets to provide for my surviving loved ones (i.e. the who, what for, when, why, & how of it all).
  • I have taken steps to ensure that my younger child(ren) are able to benefit as my older (child)ren and that my assets are able to be distributed to each child taking into account relative needs and their own independent resources rather than a sterile, mathematical division based on a presumption that equality of love translates to equal division of assets.
  • I am comfortable that my current plan will protect my spouse and/or children’s future inheritance from both curiosity seekers as well as those who might wish to prey upon them during periods of vulnerability.
  • I am confident my children’s inheritance is protected from loss from their own immaturity, potential addiction, divorce, lawsuits, and creditors.
  • I feel good about having documented my life’s values and left a lasting memento and legacy for my surviving loved ones for generations to come.
  • I have provided guidance and authority to manage my social media accounts, access my devices and their contents, online banking and payment accounts, etc…
  • I have provided for my pet(s)’ care in the event of my temporary incapacity and after my death. I have considered the best way to leave assets to assist with that ongoing routine, reasonable care.
  • I have included provisions to account for future changes in the law, tax codes, and to address minor corrections at a much reduced cost and without the need for formal court involvement.
  • I have included careful language to discourage people in my life who might disagree with my choices or feel entitled to some of my assets from challenging my estate plan in court.

If you don’t feel you’ve checked off enough of these to feel confident in the adequacy of your current estate plan, please contact our office to set up a Peace of Mind Planning Session so we can review your existing plan in personal detail and see what needs updating to better reflect your wishes now.

(781) 740-0848

Should We Have Joint or Individual Revocable Living Trusts as a Married Couple?

Should We Have Joint or Individual Revocable Living Trusts
as a Married Couple Estate Planning Together?

I’ve been getting this question a lot lately: Why shouldn’t we, as a married couple who have had all joint accounts and joint ownership, just have one joint revocable living trust instead of separate or individual revocable living trusts?

Joint revocable living trusts can and do make sense for some married couples some of the time, just like Wills rather than trusts sometimes make more sense in a given situation. It is always important to review all of your personal family and financial circumstances with your estate planning lawyer to be sure that you have a complete and accurate understanding of how and why one approach may be better suited to you than another.

wedding rings

To broadly generalize, however, here are 8 reasons I would recommend individual living trusts rather than a joint trust for a married couple planning together:

1. If you and your spouse are likely to have over $2M combined total assets in your estate (including the value of any life insurance policies that would have paid out upon your deaths and the value of all retirement accounts), this is a way to minimize the impact of the Massachusetts estate tax (which has a $1M threshold for filing and an upper tax rate of 16% on the adjusted total assets in your estate).

2. If you and your spouse are likely to leave a combined total of over $10.86M, as the federal estate tax currently stands, then this is a way to minimize the effect of the federal estate tax as part of your overall estate plan. Note that the federal estate tax has been in existence for about a century in one way or another, but this is the highest exemption amount we’ve ever had and being the political hot button topic that it is, there is no guarantee that the present exemption or tax rates will stay where they are. In fact, if the last 15 years have demonstrated anything (going from a $1M exemption and 55% tax rate in 2001 to the present levels), it’s that the federal estate tax is highly likely to shift around, sometimes rather dramatically! Without a crystal ball the best we can do is to draft very flexible plans and keep a lookout for all the possible chances that may occur.

3. It is easier for your surviving spouse and/or trustee to determine, in consultation with your estate planning attorney, your CPA, and your financial advisor working together as a team, which assets to fund into which irrevocable subtrusts to take into account the laws as they exist at that time of your death. If the assets were held in a joint trust, your surviving spouse and/or trustee would not be able to move assets held jointly into the credit shelter or family trust or it could invalidate the tax exemption status of that entire subtrust.

4. When you die, you’re not around to change the terms of your trust anymore, so at that point, your trust becomes irrevocable at least in part. The portions of your trust that would benefit your surviving spouse and your children, if applicable, become irrevocable. If you have a separate revocable living trust, you can still amend your own trust even after the death of your spouse. This provides a surviving spouse with more flexibility and autonomy than a joint trust would.

5. If yours is a second or subsequent marriage and/or blended family, you and your spouse may not have the same plan for distribution and the flexibility you have to make somewhat different plans can avoid some potential family drama.

6. To minimize estate taxes, you will have to divide assets at some point. I believe that it is probably a lot easier to cherry-pick and split up assets now, while you are in full possession of your faculties and not in the process of grieving the loss of your spouse, than it would be in the relatively immediate aftermath of his or her death and without his or her assistance with the process.

7. If you or your spouse came into the marriage with substantially unequal assets, separate trusts can also be a way to maintain the character of those separate assets and ensure that they end up where you ultimately intend.

8. There are also some questions, and potential traps, regarding the character of assets contributed to a joint trust as opposed to separate trusts. For examples, depending on the language and provisions of the trust itself, it may not be explicitly clear what portion of the assets in a joint trust should be attributed to the deceased spouse vs. which portion of those assets would be considered part of the surviving spouse’s estate, and contributions to a joint trust may be counted as a taxable gift to your children or other secondary beneficiaries.

After a full examination of your current family and financial circumstances and a personal discussion with you about your goals and priorities in terms of your estate plan, your attorney will be able to help you make the best informed choices about which type of plan best suits you and your family.

The End of an Era of Mad Men

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t already watched the series finale of Mad Men, don’t read on just yet!


Roger Sterling inherited more than just his father’s wealth; Roger inherited his father’s name. With that name hanging proudly on the side of the Madison Ave ad agency his father founded, Roger also inherited the title of Managing Partner at Sterling Cooper (turned Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce).

Roger has one daughter, Margo, and by her one grandson, Ellery. Ellery has his father’s last name, not Sterling’s, ending the family blood line name in an era when that still mattered very much to most. Then Margo rejects everything about her former life even her name, becoming “Marigold” instead, after leaving her husband and Ellery to live in a hippie commune.


Roger also has a son who is younger than his grandson. Having been conceived and born of an affair both he and his son’s mother, Joan Holloway Harris, wanted to keep quiet, Kevin bears the last name of a man who never was any kind of father to him at all. Roger tries to help take care of his son financially and even to be in his life, but in an effort to protect Kevin, Joan keeps Roger at a safe emotional distance.RS

Decades of living like he was on shore leave from the Navy haven’t changed Roger a bit, but something finally has and he tells Joan he is changing his Will. Roger asks Joan not to disclaim or reject the inheritance he wants to leave to provide for their son Kevin (and Ellery). Joan gratefully accepts, realizing that that gift spells freedom for her to pursue her own dreams without the fear of risking her son’s security.


And with that, Holloway Harris is born, with 2 names from the same woman, a pioneering working mother in a mad era that required the right combination of names just to be taken seriously.  Farewell, Mad Men, you will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.

It Would Have Been Us

The following is a guest post by Bob Beal.  Many thanks to Bob for keeping in touch and sharing this with us to illustrate why this type of planning is so important not just for the what-ifs, but also for the genuine peace of mind.  We are so happy that this beautiful family is OK.

In the Winter of 2011, my wife and I sat down with Danielle to put together a plan that would make sure our 2 children were taken care of if we ever weren’t around anymore.  It was a challenging task but it needed to be done.  Danielle put together a wonderfully laid out arrangement that we are completely comfortable having for our family.  Little did we know that just having it in place would bring us such comfort so fast. When you confront you own mortality things get pretty serious, pretty quickly.

One year later in March 2012 my wife and daughter were involved in a life-threatening “jaws of life” level car accident. Our medical documents were tested and having our plan in place brought a measure of immediate relief to an otherwise awful situation.

Then this past August we were on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Late one afternoon were returning from a day trip to Aspen, driving along a four lane highway with a jersey barrier dividing the east bound from west bound lanes. My 8 year old daughter was complaining about starting to feel car sick so we moved her to the front passenger seat knowing it wasn’t the safest place for a child to sit but not wanting her puking in the car then either.


Just about then, my wife, who was driving, moved into the right lane to let a motorcycle pass us. He wasn’t speeding or doing anything wrong; he was just a guy out on his Ducati going down the road. He opened up a gap of about 50 to 75 feet ahead up us and coincidently the jersey barrier stopped at that same point.  A white Ford coming east bound veered over into his lane and it was a direct hit, a head on collision of two vehicles both going highway speed.  It was instant. It was violent. It was brutal.

The oncoming car went by us in the wrong direction with a gap of about five feet, the length of a typical house broom.  Our car was hit with debris from the bike. My wife managed to stop our car on the shoulder, in the grass.  The Ducati was laying there still running, badly leaking fuel.  I walked over and shut it off while my wife stayed with our kids, who were understandably terrified, trying to reassure them that we were all okay.

Without going into more details, we all had an avalanche of “what if” scenarios playing out in our minds for at least the next few days.  The most chilling of which was that if the Ford hadn’t hit the motorcycle, it would have been us that were next in his path. An experience like is difficult to make sense of.  We repeatedly came back to our planning with Danielle as a huge source of comfort.  If something tragic ever happened, we knew what would take place and that our children would be taken care of. We still talk about it once in a while, but we also reassure our children that we love them and have made sure that they are going to be all right, no matter what.

How Much Does a Simple Will Cost? (Redux)

Last Will And Testament

At least once a week we see or hear the same question and though we’ve addressed it before, it seems worth repeating.  In the interest of time, rather than write out another full- sentenced blog post on the subject, I’m simply copying and pasting here from the answer just wrote personally responding to this question in a local moms’ group of which, as a mother of 4 young children now between the ages of 4 and 13 (oh my head, my 1st baby is now 13! I’m still processing this from a couple days ago), I’m a member:

“I agree it’s really hard to just quote a fee without knowing more. Here’s (a long-winded answer – sorry!) why. If you are just looking to plug your names into a couple standard documents, you can probably do it free or very cheap yourself. Then you can wait & see what happens, eventually. Actually, by the time those documents are tested you’ll necessarily be incapacitated or dead (that’s when the documents come into play). A better plan is to seek legal counseling to help you make the most informed choices for your own family based on your unique family and financial circumstances and for that you will need a lawyer who practices in this area of the law (“estate planning”) all or most of the time who will know what questions to ask you so she can spot the issues unique to you and help counsel you through the choices you will need to make (& if she’s good, there will be a lot of questions & a lot of choices!). For examples: what kind of will are you really talking about – just 1 will or 1 for you and 1 for your spouse? simple or pourover into a trust? do you have any children with another partner or does your spouse? are either of you remarried? do you expect anyone to challenge your wishes? what if your spouse wants to remarry if you die? will your Will have a testamentary trust in case you & your spouse both die while your children are still minors? how do you make decisions about who to name for what roles under your plan? who will care for the children and who will handle their money for them – the same person or different people? what if you & your spouse can’t agree – how do you find a solution to that? what if you’re not married – what legal rights do both of you have? do you care about paying estate taxes? do you even know if you might have to? are there other legal documents (perhaps more urgently important than a will, which only comes into effect after you’re dead) included (medical directives, powers of attorney, guardianship for minors etc.), what if you’re pregnant and incapacitated? will you ever hear from your lawyer again? what if your circumstances change (they will)? what if the laws change (they will)? how will you be notified & know to make changes? where will you store all your documents & how? how will you notify and explain all of this to the people you want to take care of you? are there things you really want to say to the people you love or tough explanations you need to make & if so, is your lawyer going to show you how and help you do that? What everyone really needs is an estate plan, which includes a Will that may or may not be simple, depending on all the circumstances involved. And fortunately in this area there are a lot of lawyers so it becomes a matter of finding the right combination of skills, experience, and “fit” between you and your lawyer (like you would in seeking a doctor for ongoing consultation and care). Good luck!”