Planning for Life

Harry S. Margolis

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Where Should You Live as You Age?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on March 19, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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Most people don't move when they retire, instead staying where they have lived all their lives and where they have the strongest personal and family connections. So, they must either hope that their towns and cities are good places to age in terms of the services they provide or work actively to improve those services. In my own town of Brookline, the Brookline Community Aging Network takes the latter approach, working actively "to ensure that older Brookline residents remain a vital part of the town's social, cultural, and civic life."

Others choose to move after they retire, whether full-time or for part of the year. They may move for a better climate, often during the winter, for a lower cost of living, or to be near family members, especially grandchildren. But if you can move anywhere in the world, where should you move?

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Topics: aging

What Happens in Massachusetts if You Don't have a Health Care Proxy?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on March 12, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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As long as we are 18 or over and have our wits together, we all have the right to make our own health care decisions. But what happens when we become incapacitated, whether temporarily or permanently, and cannot make such decisions?

Then, legally, only a court-appointed guardian or an agent under a health care proxy can make decisions for us. In an emergency, medical providers can take measures to keep us alive, but once the emergency has passed no one has the right to step in and make decisions in the absence of a health care proxy or guardianship appointment.

 

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Topics: health-care decision making, health care proxy

Lawyer for the Situation or for the Family

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on March 5, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

Wellesley-lawyer-fair-representation-Margolis-and-Bloom

Lawyers are trained, and legal ethics rules require, that they represent a single client or more than one client only if there's absolutely no differences in their interests with respect to the legal matter at hand. In addition, lawyers must do their best to represent the interests and goals of clients with diminished capacity.

The concept of zealous advocacy for a single client was expressed early in the 19th century by Lord Brougham who said "an advocate, in discharge of his duty, knows but one person in all the world, and that person is his client."

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Topics: Legal profession, ethical rules

Don't Let the Perfect Plan Get in the Way of a Good One

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on February 26, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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Some of our most thoughtful clients have the most trouble completing their estate plans. One client in particular continues to haunt me. A successful architect and city planner, a number of his children went into the "helping" professions, fields in which they would never reach his level of financial success. While well off, once divided into equal shares for his four children, whatever he would leave them could not on its own ensure each child's financial security.

My client struggled between his wish to help his children lead more comfortable lives and his concern that their inheritance act as a financial bulwark against their possible future needs for extraordinary health care or retirement. We tried to find the right balance to do some of each -- providing each with some direct inheritance while holding some money in reserve through a trust to provide for potential future needs. But it was clear that the funds were insufficient to meet both goals fully.

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Topics: Estate Planning

How Much Should You Give to Charity? When? Which Charities?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on February 5, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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How much should any of us give to charity? When? Which charities?

I raise these questions being troubled by my own charitable giving. In large part, I engage in random acts of charitable giving with no thought out plan. Instead, I respond to solicitations, making gifts on how I feel about the organization and how flush I feel at the time. My feelings about each group may be influenced by important factors, including:

  • Personal connection.
  • My sense of how effective the group is in its mission.
  • The need of the people helped by the organization.
  • Whether my donation will have a significant impact.
  • Whether my donation will be noticed, in other words will people in my community see my name on the list of donors.
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Topics: charitable giving

When to Use an ABLE Account

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on January 29, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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ABLE accounts were created by the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 as an alternative to special needs trusts and to share the benefits of 529 plans for people who are unlikely to pursue higher education. They only go part way towards those goals but nevertheless can be very useful in providing flexibility around very strict public benefit rules, especially those of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

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Topics: special needs planning, Special Needs Trust, ABLE Accounts, Attainable Savings Plan

Divorce-Created SNT Deemed Self-Settled for Creditor Purposes

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on January 22, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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In determining eligibility for MassHealth and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the state and federal agencies treat self-settled trusts -- those created by the applicant for benefit -- and third-party trusts -- those created by someone else -- entirely differently. The assets held in a self-settled trust are considered available to the applicant for benefits to the extent the trustee has discretion to distribute them to the applicant or to use them for her benefit. The assets of a third-party trust are only considered available to the extent the trustee actually distributes them to or uses them for the applicant for benefits.

These rules track the rules for creditors. With some exceptions, creditors can gain access to assets in trusts created by the debtor and cannot gain access to trusts created by someone else for the benefit of the debtor. The issue in the case of Calhoun, et al. v. Rawlins (93 Mass. App. Ct. 458, June 27, 2018) is whether a trust created by one divorcing spouse for the benefit of the other spouse is protected from the creditors of the beneficiary spouse. This has significance for special needs planning because it's not unusual for special needs trust to be created in the context of divorce.

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Topics: special needs planning, divorce, Special Needs Trust, creditor protection

SJC Rules Surviving Spouse Gets Life Estate in Real Estate

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on January 15, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

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There is just one exception to the American rule that you get to choose who gets your property after you die. As long as you're competent, you can give it to anyone, the postman, your babysitter from when you were a child, or the person who picked you up hitchhiking in the rain.

The one exception is protections for your surviving spouse. In Massachusetts, this is found at M.G.L. Ch. 191, Sec. 15. This is an odd or anachronistic law in that it creates a big distinction in the rights of the surviving spouse depending on whether the decedent's estate is worth more or less than $75,000.

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Topics: will in massachusetts, spousal share

Court Faults "Arbitrary and Capricious" MassHealth Hearing Decision

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on December 26, 2018

By Harry S. Margolis

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In the case of Pauline Coko vs. Daniel Tsai, Director of the Office of Medicaid (Essex Sup. Ct. CA No. 2018-00071-A, December 13, 2018), Judge Timothy Q. Feeley faults the arbitrary and capricious conduct of a MassHealth hearing officer in imposing a 193-day transfer penalty for four transfers by Pauline Coko totaling $68,632 in value.

Disqualifying Transfers

The transfers in question included a deed of Mrs. Coko's life interest in her home to her daughter, two disbursements from Mrs. Coko's bank account, and the gift of her 2003 Mitsubishi valued at $1,365 to a granddaughter.

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Topics: MassHealth, disqualifying transfer

6 Red Flags of Potential Undue Influence, and How to Respond

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on December 11, 2018

By Harry S. Margolis

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Most estate planning matters present no issues of potential undue influence or incapacity. The client or clients (if a couple) meet with the attorney. They discuss the clients' goals and the best ways to reach them, develop a plan, and then implement it.

But some situations are out of the ordinary and require the lawyer to take extra steps to ensure that the client is not subject to undue influence.

Definition of Undue Influence

Before we list those circumstances, let's review the elements that must be proved to establish the existence of undue influence to invalidate an estate plan. There are four such elements which together prove undue influence:

  1. The estate plan involves an unnatural disposition of the estate (see 3 below),
  2. By a person who is susceptible to undue influence (see 1 below),
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Topics: incapacity, undue influence

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