Category Archives: Wills

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.


“it’s not about what you have, it’s about how much you care"


Attorney Danielle G. Van Ess of the family-friendly, Hingham, Massachusetts law firm DGVE law, LLC wants to help you “protect your family, yourself, and your stuff.” She explains, “it’s not about what you have, it’s about how much you care. You care about who makes your medical decisions for you. You care who takes care of your children. You care about preserving whatever you have to use throughout your lifetime. You care about what you leave behind to whom, how, and when.”
If your children are minors you worry about who would raise them into adulthood. If your child just became a legal adult, you worry that, without his or her own basic estate plan in place, you lack access to financial and medical information to help him or her. If you have a child with special needs you worry about who would know everything you do about your child and how to ensure your child’s needs are always well met. If you have an adult child with a history of less than stellar financial management skills, addiction, gambling, or who may be divorcing, you worry about lost assets.
 More people are sued than ever today. We know most doctors will be sued sometime in their careers, but increasingly so will financial, accounting, real estate, and IT professionals. Car accidents, slip-and-falls, and accidents involving other people’s children are all real threats. The time to protect your assets from possible lawsuits is before you think you might be sued, before it is too late, and the way you try to protect your assets determines your likelihood of prevailing. Some DIY efforts, such as titling assets in your spouse’s name or establishing a family LLC or LLP without ensuring it owns the assets nor maintaining required formalities just provide false confidence and will likely fail to provide asset protection.
You may worry about how to pass significant resources to your loved ones without causing unintended consequences such as disrupting family harmony. Your estate planning attorney can help you design a plan so each family member can enjoy your cherished vacation home without disagreements far into the future. If you have always been charitably inclined, you can plan to support charities dear to your heart while also ensuring your loved ones are well provisioned. If you have a trusted financial advisor and CPA, your lawyer can and should work together with them as a team on your behalf to help you make your dreams for the future come true. Or you may worry about having sufficient resources to support yourself through retirement, possible long term medical expenses, remaining in your home as long as possible, and preserving your hard-earned resources for your loved ones. While you may not feel like you have enough to worry about estate taxes, you just might and perhaps ironically the less you have the more important it may be to preserve it to protect those you love.
Despite all these important reasons to meet with an experienced estate planning lawyer to learn how the law views your family or financial circumstances, whether your current plan is likely to achieve your goals, and what your options really are, most Americans mistakenly believe they do not need even a simple Will. Far too many Americans have stale, old estate plans that no longer reflect their current personal circumstances, especially given recent sweeping changes in the law.
In 2008 Congress passed a resolution proclaiming the third week of every October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week noting, “Many Americans are unaware that a lack of estate planning and financial illiteracy may cause their assets to be disposed of to unintended parties by default through the complex process of probate.” With a comprehensive estate plan and financial roadmap for success, Van Ess says, “you can control your own assets during your lifetime, designate the people you want to care for you and provide for your loved ones if you’re ever incapacitated, and make sure that after your death you leave what you want to whomever you want how and when you want, all while ensuring there are more assets left rather than wasted on unnecessary expenses.”
Because there is so much more to an estate plan than just filling in forms, you need to find a qualified lawyer to assist you. Van Ess is passionate about educating and empowering her clients. Says Van Ess, “Just as we as patients seek the right bedside manner in our doctors, we need to find the right deskside manner in our lawyers. Once we find that lawyer we can say with confidence ‘I want to talk with my lawyer’ and it takes away so much unnecessary worry, replacing it with true peace of mind and comfort of heart.”
DGVE law Hingham MA lawyer Danielle G. Van Ess.jpg
About Attorney Danielle G. Van Ess and DGVE law®
Raised on the North Shore in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Van Ess graduated with honors from the George Washington University in Washington, DC then met her husband, Chad Van Ess, Senior Counsel for the Acushnet Company, comprised of the Titleist and Footjoy golf brands, in 1998 as classmates at Boston University School of Law. Danielle “got her passport stamped” and moved with Chad to Hingham on the South Shore in 2006 where they laid down firm roots and are raising their four daughters, ages 1 through 9. Danielle established her law firm, DGVE law, LLC in their family home on East Street on September 1, 2008. For over six years now DGVE law® has been proudly “helping people add to, protect, and move their families”® by providing high quality professional legal services in the areas of adoption, estate planning, and residential real estate. For the right, truly passionate entrepreneurs, DGVE law® is also “helping you build, grow, and nurture your business.”
For more information, please visit: or call: 781-740-0848.

“It’s the Circle, the Circle of Life” – The Lion King

As my due date draws nearer, my toddler and preschooler keep me hopping, and I continue to focus daily on writing Wills and discussing funeral wishes as part of my clients’ estate plans, is it really any surprise that I keep hearing the theme song from Disney’s “The Lion King” in my head? It is truly the great circle of life – we are all born, we live our lives, and we will all eventually die. There could be frightening parts of all of those stages if we allow it. I choose instead to approach them all as bravely as possible in the face of so many unknowns, appreciating the universal nature of each stage, and preparing as best I can.

There are things we can, and most of us do, to prepare for childbirth. I’m reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth in preparation for my third experience with labor and delivery. And last night when I remarked to my husband that the Braxton-Hicks contractions were starting in earnest, we looked at each other and suddenly agreed, as Rafiki from the Lion King would say, “it is time” to start pulling the newborn clothes out of the closet, buying some tiny diapers, and packing a hospital bag. It doesn’t mean that the minute the diapers are stocked or my bag is packed that I will go into labor immediately. (That certainly didn’t work when my second was a week late at the end of a very hot August almost 3 years ago!) It’s just time to do some planning because this belly baby is coming sometime in the next 40 days or so and if we invest the time, money, energy and effort now, it will be easier and less stressful for all of us whenever the baby does come.

If you think about it, we spend our lives planning – for schools, exams, vacations, weddings, moving, retiring, and so on. We fill out paperwork, study, research, and make inquiries and appointments. None of those steps ever make things happen right away, they just make it easier when the times come. Similarly, we all need to take some steps while we are able during our lifetimes to prepare for our deaths, to make things as painless as possible for our loves ones. The act of planning for and talking about death does not make it happen any faster any more than taking the ostrich approach will make death somehow miraculously avoidable. Death is part of the circle of life.

Last year after watching “The Lion King” and several other G-rated Disney movies in which at least one parent, usually the mother, dies, my older daughter had a lot of questions about death and dying (e.g. “why, why, but why, why”). I decided that rather than reply with vague euphemisms that might leave my children confused and frightened during a phase in which they think so literally, we would simply address the topic matter-of-factly as a regular part of the circle of life. A friend recommended the book, “Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children.” I incorporated it into our regular repertoire and began reading it whenever the girls wanted.

A few months later my daughters and I sadly observed a baby bird, that had fallen from somewhere onto our driveway, in its last death throes. It caught me off guard leaving me shaky with all my adult preconceptions and I found myself suddenly, unexpectedly, and unavoidably in tears. My then three-and-a half-year-old comforted me saying, “It’s OK, Mommy, it’s sad but soon there will be flowers growing where that baby bird used to be.” She had grasped the circle of life and made peace with it and I took great comfort in those big ideas coming from her little person.

Perhaps the greatest difference between preparing for childbirth, life stages, and death, is in terms of the one to benefit primarily from all that planning. In preparing for childbirth we are readying ourselves to avoid or deal with pain and confront our own fears at least as much as to meet our babies and provide for their immediate urgent needs. When we prepare for other life stages it is to help us, and/or our children, reach some goal or enjoy some pleasures or avoid some pains. Preparing for our incapacity and death is a less selfish act in which we engage primarily for the benefit of others. We know we won’t be aware or alive to suffer the consequences of not planning, but we do so to spare our loved ones the additional pain that would result from doing nothing (or not enough) during our lifetimes. In this way, we give them the selfless gift of being able to move on, continuing the circle of life (go on, sing it!).

What Happened Next to the Couple Who Chose Lawyer C

The couple is transported to a nearby hospital where the husband is pronounced dead on arrival. The wife is comatose and is initially connected to life sustaining machines, until two doctors conclude there is no reasonable expectation of recovery. Because the wife had a copy of her Advance Directive / “Living Will” in her wallet that the emergency responders discovered, the doctors made the difficult decision to honor her wishes and discontinue life support.

Meanwhile, the wallet card in each parent’s possession identified their minor children’s names and birthdates and instructions for whom to call in the event of an emergency. Law enforcement officials go to the home where they are greeted by a startled high school babysitter. The babysitter shows the officers the copy of the emergency notes and whom she is to call, which matches the parents’ wallet card information.

The officers call the first emergency guardian, the children’s maternal aunt who lives nearby. The children’s aunt rushes over immediately with her notarized copy of her emergency guardianship papers. The officers agree to allow her to stay in the family’s home with the children and they and the babysitter then leave.

The aunt calls her sister’s in-laws to inform them of what happened. She learns from them that they are named as permanent guardians and executors under the parents’ Wills. She also learns from them where the couple stored their estate planning documents in the home and retrieves them for review. Together with her sister’s in-laws and named permanent guardians, the children’s aunt plans how she will care for the children until the guardians are able to arrive from out of state. They also review together the parents’ wishes regarding anatomical gifts and funeral directions and are very grateful for the detailed letter to the executor the couple had prepared for them with Attorney C.

The next day the executors call Attorney C who provides them with a document detailing precisely what the next steps should be, which is extremely helpful in their moment of crisis. Attorney C promises to and does help them through every step of the process to make a horrible tragedy less traumatic for the surviving family members.

If You Voted The Couple Would Choose Lawyer C…

First, the couple has a very brief telephone call with Lawyer A asking for and being told they can have just want they want for a flat fee of about $800. Next they have an initial consultation with Lawyer B, who waives the initial fee. After an hour, in which the couple begins to feel very overwhelmed by a seemingly unnecessary for them complex process, Lawyer B says he anticipates their estate plan will cost somewhere around $5,000. But because it he bills by the hour and he can’t predict everything, it could run higher. Additionally, they would be responsible for several other itemized expenses that could prove necessary in the course of the representation. This plan would include far more than the simple Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills Lawyer A offered, but the couple leaves unclear as to why they are talking about trusts and feeling like they are being offered more than they need.

The couple then schedules a meeting with Lawyer C, receiving a welcoming packet of information and initial questionnaire in advance. Lawyer C explains she needs this information to properly evaluate and make recommendations about what type of estate plan might suit them best. Through the process of completing this questionnaire, which helps them organize their estate planning information and sharpen their focus on their wishes, the couple begins to feel better prepared and less “in the dark.”

With Lawyer C, the couple immediately feels comfortable, as though they are talking with a peer, rather than being talked down to by a superior. Lawyer C explains a little about her practice, the estate planning process generally, and asks some probing questions of them. She then suggests what she thinks would best protect the couple’s family and assets according to the wishes and goals they expressed. Understanding it is their choice to make, the couple then reviews Lawyer C’s printed fee schedule, comparing apples to oranges as it were. They choose a $4,000 flat fee package they feel provides them the best value, happy there will be no surprise fees, and agreeing to handle some of the administrative work themselves. Although this is far more than they originally planned to spend, they agree it is important enough to do now while they could and not wait for tragedy to strike, particularly in light of recent events. So they sign up for an automatic monthly payment via credit card, and leave already feeling relieved.

A few weeks later, after several very conveniently timed telephone conferences and thorough, patient reviews of and revisions to drafts, the couple’s estate plan is ready for signing. Lawyer C comes to their home one Saturday afternoon and they sit around the kitchen table, while the couple’s young children play around them. Lawyer C makes sure they understand and feel good about every document they sign, and thanks the neighbors who kindly stopped by to serve as witnesses. Lawyer C then reminds the couple to whom they should provide copies of each document, where they should store them, and offers some additional resources for information sharing. She reminds them to revisit their plan and promises to follow up with them as well, but says they shouldn’t be strangers in the meantime.

That night, the couple goes out for “date night” dinner and drinks with friends, leaving their young children happy at home with their favorite babysitter. On the way home, a drunk driver strikes the couple’s car directly. Stay tuned for what happens next . . .

If You Voted The Couple Would Choose Lawyer A…

Because friends recommended Lawyer A, the price seems reasonable, and the office location is convenient, the couple schedules a meeting. At the meeting later that week, Lawyer A asks them for some basic, personal information, which does not include their financial information. Lawyer A then asks whom the couple wants to name as Executor and as Guardian of their minor children in their Wills. The couple is not sure whom to choose and asks for some guidance. Lawyer A replies that they should ideally choose a Massachusetts lawyer as Executor and if not, then at least someone local with good financial sense, not necessarily a family member. For Guardians, Lawyer A says it is a personal decision for them to decide.

The couple does not know a Massachusetts lawyer they could name as Executor other than asking Lawyer A, which does not feel right. The couple is concerned about their local family members’ financial savvy and about how far away other family members live. The couple is also surprised to discover that they have fundamentally conflicting views about whom to name as Guardians for their children. They feel embarrassed to be having a highly personal, marital disagreement, in front of a virtual stranger who seems less than sympathetic. At this point, the couple asks for some time to think through these matters better before proceeding.

The couple goes home and disagrees passionately about their choice of guardians for their children, without the benefit of any real guidance. They also feel stuck about choosing an executor for their estate. They choose to allow the more urgent matters in their life (upcoming vacation, birthday parties, and such) to take precedence over the more important, and make no decisions.

Two weeks go by and the couple receives an email from Lawyer A saying their documents are ready to sign just as soon as the couple provides the names for the executor and guardian. A few more weeks go by the same way. Finally, the wife decides to agree to her husband’s choice of guardian and they both agree upon an executor even though neither of them feels confident or good about it. They just wanted to get it over with and have something in place. They inform Lawyer A and schedule a time to sign the documents at the office.

That Friday, the couple sits around Lawyer A’s conference table to sign their Wills, Powers of Attorneys, and Living Wills, feeling rushed and unable to really review the documents in any detail. They do catch a few minor errors, like the spelling of the wife’s name, which Lawyer A quickly has a secretary fix and reprint in the other room. Lawyer A does not explain the documents, but instructs the couple where to sign, which they do, along with some witnesses. The whole process feels incredibly awkward and unsettling. After receiving copies of their documents, the couple writes a check out to Lawyer A and leaves. They go home and put the documents in a pile with mail and kids’ artwork on the counter to deal with later.

Saturday is “date night” and when the babysitter arrives, the couple heads out for dinner and drinks with friends. On their way home, a drunk driver strikes their car directly. Stay tuned for what happens next . . .