Q.
How much money do I need to have to know I need an estate plan?
A.The real question is – how much is enough to lose? Or better yet, how much do you want to protect for your loved ones. Frequently, people do not think they have a considerable “estate” and don’t need to do any planning. Estate planning is an act of love- so that when they are grieving they don’t need to do as much and your affairs are in good order. Any amount is enough to protect. But, certainly, if you own a home, have retirement assets or have children – you should consider doing some form of estate planning. Additionally, if you have minor or college-aged children or your natural family is not the intended beneficiary of your estate, planning is essential.
Q.
My loved one died, what do I do now?
A.Consult a lawyer. While you do need to allow yourself to grieve and be comforted by those around you, sometimes there are certain time sensitive matters that need to be dealt with by a professional. If a probate is needed in Massachusetts, you have thirty days from date of death to file the Will with the appropriate Probate Court or begin other proceedings. If there are pressing concerns, we can begin sooner with a temporary appointment. For more information on Probate, see Estate Administration.
Q.
I am named as a Trustee in a Trust, what does that mean?
A.That means you have a legal fiduciary duty to act prudently, follow all instructions in the trust and generally handle matters in the best interest of the Trust’s beneficiaries. It carries a wide variety of responsibilities depending on the type of trust and depending on what state laws govern the Trust. You should bring a copy of the Trust with you to discuss with one of our attorneys who can help explain your responsibilities under your Trust.
Q.
How much do you charge?
A.The Firm charges rates competitive in Boston and typically less than large law firm rates. We believe clients like to know what legal services will cost and not be surprised. As a result, most often for our estate planning work, we scope out the agreed upon work first with our clients and quote a fixed fee for the project based on what the clients and their attorney have decided is appropriate. Typically, one-half of that fee is due at the outset and the balance upon conclusion (often document delivery).

For probate, trust settlements, and complex matters, the scope of the work is not easily defined. In those cases we work on an hourly fee basis. Here, we strive to achieve value for clients by having work done at the appropriate staffing level and often will agree upon a ‘cap’ or regular monthly bills so that clients do not become surprised. In most of these cases, we will ask for a retainer amount to be paid prior to beginning the work.

In any event, we always work with clients based on a written engagement letter that sets forth our agreement with respect to fees. For a copy of our current rate schedule, please contact any attorney at the firm. We do not quote rates over the phone or via e-mail but will be happy to offer an initial complimentary meeting to help us understand whether we are a good fit.

Q.
What happens if I do not have a Will?
A.Each state has comprehensive laws that will determine what happens to your property when you’re gone if you’ve not done an estate plan. The process is called intestacy probate. Typically, your property will pass to your closest relatives and family. This process is cumbersome for the survivors and will wind up being costly to your estate. Sometimes intestacy laws may apply in ways that do not reflect your intentions at all. In addition, not having an estate plan means that there are many missed opportunities to plan for tax consequences, protect assets or establish guardianships for minor children.
Q.
How much time does it take to settle an estate? Trust?
A.It is not everyone’s favorite answer, but it depends. It depends on how up-to-date the estate plan documents are; what they say; how well they are drafted and whether the family and loved ones understand them (or feel a need to contest them). We find, as a general matter, that a fully funded Revocable Living Trust is the easiest and quickest type of estate to settle for a family. A simple will, often takes the longest, particularly if it is out of date. Additionally, if there are trusts involved, trust settlement can involve considerable work if the trusts are not fully funded before death. Each case is different. And, with all the facts, we can give you a better idea of what the process and timetable would be for you and your family.
Q.
If I live out of state, can you help with my estate planning?
A.Yes. Although we do most of our estate planning for Massachusetts residents, we do work with people around the country. If you are a resident in another state, we can work with you but may need to collaborate with an attorney in your state, particularly as it pertains to real property. Lawyers in our firm are admitted to practice in Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C. We belong to a national group called Wealth Counsel we can help you find someone locally if we are not able to best serve you ourselves.
Q.
Can I leave something other than cash (like valuable antiques or art) to a Charity?
A.Generally, yes, assuming the Charity is able to accept the gift. There are many planning techniques to leave unique assets like real estate, individual stocks, retirement accounts, artwork, antiques, and other tangible personal property to a charity. When properly done, this can also save you (or your estate) certain taxes – like capital gains taxes and give you (or your estate) additional income (or estate) tax deductions. There are also interesting ways to use life insurance to enhance charitable giving. See our Charitable Giving tab for a broader discussion of options for you to consider. We encourage you to contact one of our attorneys to discuss these alternative choices for charitable giving.
Q.
Since your office is in Boston, do you only work with clients there?
A.We have clients all over the state and country. Most of our clients come from Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, Plymouth and Norfolk Counties. Of course, if you live in Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Barnstable, Dukes, Bristol, Berkshire, Franklin or Nantucket counties, we are able to work with you but recognize there may be some inconvenience for face to face meetings. We value our client relationship, so we will want to establish a good working relationship with the right balance of meetings and conversations. Most of our meetings do happen in our Boston office. We strive to strike the right balance with our clients and will plan the meetings so they will be convenient for train or ferry schedules. After an initial meeting, however, much of the work can be done remotely via phone, fax and e-mail.
Q.
What happens if I outlive my pet that I have created a Pet Trust for?
A.If the Pet Trust has been set up properly, that gift would normally lapse if you survive your pet. There are really a variety of choices you could make. You could choose to set aside some amount for the care and well being of your pet and in the event it were not all used up, it could be donated to a local animal shelter or other animal charity such as the ASPCA, or to any other beneficiaries that you choose.
Q.
Do my kids have to know what I’ve decided to leave them in my estate plan? Can you help me explain this to my kids?
A.We are not able to disclose details of your estate plan to anyone without your permission. This would include your children. We often encourage families, however, to have a family meeting to discuss estate plans and how things will work after your passing. Usually in those meetings we discuss the mechanics of how the plan will work, and do not typically disclose the specific bequests or amounts of those bequests. If, however, there is considerable wealth being passed along to another generation, we often suggest some counseling with professional wealth counselors to help families learn how to discuss these delicate issues.
Q.
How do I make sure my granddaughter gets a certain pair of earrings she has always liked?
A.You can always put such a bequest in your Will or your Trust. We also include in our estate plans a Memorandum of Tangible Personal Property. This Memorandum allows you to specify who you would like your personal property distributed to, such as the special pair of earrings for that lovely granddaughter.
Q.
How do I change an Irrevocable Trust I created?
A.It’s really, really difficult. The assumption is that an irrevocable trust is just that – not revocable – meaning, not changeable. That said, if circumstances change such that the purpose of the trust would be frustrated by not making a change – then, often a change can be made. This will usually involve needing to go to court to get a Judge’s approval and if there are charitable beneficiaries involved, sometimes too the approval of the Attorney General’s office is required. More modern (well drafted) trusts provide for reformation of trusts by use of a Trust Protector. When properly drafted, this mechanism may avoid needing to go to court to make changes. You will always want to carefully consult with an attorney for these matters.
Q.
Can’t I just download a will or trust from the internet?
A.Yes. And, it may work. The problem is, you may never know if it doesn’t. Only your loved ones will know and only after you’re gone. Of course, we are biased, but we tailor estate plans to fit indivdual goals and family needs. A downloadable document may not provide you the protections or options that we are able to provide. And, more importantly, you’ll have peace of mind if you work with a professional. Also, beware of the hidden costs in actually administering the form documents after you’re gone. These, too, can be considerable.
Q.
I am gay and married in Massachusetts. Can’t I just have an estate plan like my straight neighbors?
A.It depends. The United States Supreme Court ruled that state laws banning the recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional, making same-sex marriage legal in every state. While gay and lesbian couples may now enjoy the same state and federal benefits of marriage as their straight neighbors, there are other issues to consider. Just like many opposite-sex couples, couples in same-sex relationships may wish their individual property to pass to their surviving spouse during the survivor’s lifetime, but not to that person’s family after second death. Perhaps both wish their property to pass to charities as opposed to family members. It will take careful planning to ensure your property is transferred to whom you wish, not just to whom the state directs. While same-sex couples may still have some unique issues regarding children born through assisted reproduction, many other estate planning concerns are not limited strictly to same-sex couples’ needs. What is important is to consult with a professional who, without bias, will listen to your story, and be sensitive to your individual needs. Please contact us for an appointment.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this FAQ section and throughout the website is offered for informational purposes only. Nothing about these questions should be considered legal advice. Please review our Terms of Use policy closely for additional information. Your individual circumstances and facts can dramatically change what legal advice may be offered. You should consult with an attorney.