Planning for Life

How Long Must Lawyers Hold Original Wills?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on March 10, 2020

By Harry S. Margolis

estate-planning-attorneys-original-wills-Wellesley-MA

Most estate planning attorneys take on the responsibility of holding their clients' original wills and other documents. They do this for two reasons. First, they are often better equipped to keep the originals safe where they can be found when needed. Second, there's the hope that when the time comes, the client's family will return and engage the attorney or her firm to help probate the client's estate. Many law firms see their file cabinets as goldmines, or at least as insurance that they'll always have business in the future. This is especially the case, since many charge very low fees for preparing estate plans and higher fees for assisting with probate administration.

But this practice of holding original documents raises a number of questions that are seldom asked and answered. These include the following:

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Topics: Estate Planning, will in massachusetts

7 Ways to Divvy Up Your Stuff

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on April 23, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

estate planning - soft goods -Margolis & Bloom

When you die, your possessions will go to your heirs. Savings and investments are easy to divide up since they can be turned into cash. While real estate is more difficult, it can be turned into cash by selling it or co-owners can share it. But the most difficult items to divvy up are your personal possessions -- silverware, dishes, artwork, furniture, tools, jewelry -- that are unique rather than fungible. In legal speak these are known as "tangible personal property" and  can become the focus of family feuds, often one or more children claiming that a parent had promised them a particular item.

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Topics: will in massachusetts, will, tangible personal property

SJC Rules Surviving Spouse Gets Life Estate in Real Estate

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on January 15, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

iStock-1047163934

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

Can an On-Line Note Serve as a Will?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on September 25, 2018

By Harry S. Margolis

iStock-697091296

What constitutes a will? According to Massachusetts law, which is similar to the law in all states, wills must be in writing and signed by the "testator" and two witnesses.

However, the law also permits other writings to serve if the:

Intent that the document constitute the testator's will can be established by extrinsic evidence.

This means that a separate writing that does not meet all of the traditional requirements of a will may be admitted as a will by the probate court.

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Topics: will in massachusetts, will

Who Should Get Your Stuff When You Die? And Who Should Decide?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on August 26, 2016

By Harry S. Margolis

In the United States, we get to decide who gets our assets when we die, our children, our spouse, charities, or our hairdresser. The only exception is that absent a prenuptial agreement, spouses have the right to "elect against the will" to get at least a minimum inheritance. This "spousal share" in Massachusetts is relatively meager, $25,000 plus an income interest in half of the remaining estate if the decedent had no surviving children or grandchildren or an income interest in a third of the remaining estate if the deceased spouse did have surviving children or grandchildren. No one else has any rights to the estate at all.

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Topics: Estate Planning, will in massachusetts

The Rules in Massachusetts if You Don't Have a Will

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on January 3, 2012

By Harry S. Margolis

will-Wellesley-attorney-elder-law-Uniform-Probate-Code

When Massachusetts adopted its own version of the Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) in 2012, it changed what happens to your estate if you die without a will, which is technically called dying "intestate."  The results depend on whether you're married, have children, or have living parents. The rules are very specific. Here are a few examples:

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Topics: Estate Planning, will in massachusetts, Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code

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