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10 Misconceptions About Estate Planning

Thanks to Diane H. Gold, estate planning attorney, for offering her insights for this month's newsletter. We invite you to learn more about Diane's services and if you mention this newsletter when you contact her, she would be happy to offer you a free 30-minute consultation.

  1. Only people with a lot of money need estate planning.
    False. If you are older than 18 and have any money or assets, you need to have an estate plan. Besides addressing where your assets will go when you die, your plan can also designate who will manage your assets and make your health care decisions if you become incapacitated.

  2. It costs a lot of money to do estate planning.
    False. A basic estate plan costs little more than you would pay for a loaded iPad. Diane says that people are often concerned that they will be charged by the minute every time they call their lawyer. That's why she charges her clients a flat rate, with basic plans starting at about $800.

  3. It's a scary and intimidating process.
    False. If you are working with the right person, he or she will walk you through the process in a way that makes you comfortable. Diane says "Part of my job is to make sure you have enough time to think about your plan. If you change your mind about something, it's no problem. What you say in that first meeting is not set in stone."

  4. Once you do your plan, you are all set.
    False. Estate planning documents should be reviewed every 3 to 5 years because the laws change frequently. Diane points out that changes to the law in 2006 and changes coming in January 2012 have changed the way she drafts estate plans. In addition, people's circumstances change. You may buy or sell a property, have a child, or receive an inheritance after you do your initial estate plan, for example. These milestones will change your estate plan, so consider it a fluid document that needs regular monitoring.

  5. You have to be old to do estate planning.
    False. Diane says her youngest estate planning client is 19 years old, and she wishes more young adults would commit to a plan. She has seen many young adults and their parents face emotional and legal turmoil when accidents or sudden illnesses occur. A few years ago she received a call from a woman whose 23-year-old son had a bad skiing accident. She had to go to a judge to get a court order saying that she had legal guardianship of him just so she could interface with the insurance company. "Managing legal affairs in a time of crisis is time consuming, emotional and expensive and it puts your private information into the public domain," Diane says. "It's easy to avoid that trauma with a simple estate plan."

  6. If anything happens to me, everything will go to my kids anyway.
    Not always. Under Massachusetts law, if you are married and all of your children are from your current marriage, then all of your assets would pass to your spouse If your spouse has already passed away, then the assets would pass to your children. But if you have children from a prior marriage, then some of your assets go to your current spouse and some go to your children. If you have a blended family or do not have a spouse or children, it can get very complicated. "It's much better to state your wishes while you are alive than to have a state-appointed lawyer trying to find your closest relative. If a relative cannot be found, then your assets end up going to the state," Diane says.

  7. If anything happens to me and I can't make medical decisions, my spouse can do it for me.
    False. If you don't have a health care proxy in place, Diane says, the doctors are supposed to take care of any emergencies and then wait for someone to go to court and get guardianship that allows them to make medical decisions for you. For people who don't have family it's very difficult to get a guardian. It's much better to have a document that says "If I am incapacitated, this is who I want to make medical decisions for me."

  8. My spouse automatically has access to my financial and insurance information.
    Sometimes. If you and your spouse have joint accounts, then either of you has full access to those accounts. However, if you have any accounts in your name alone, e.g. bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, your spouse has no right to access them without specific legal authority.

  9. If I die my kids will automatically go to my parents or my siblings.
    False. If you die without a document that says "This is who I want to raise my children in my place," then there may be a fight for guardianship of the minors. There is nothing in the law that says who gets the kids if you fail to specify an individual.

  10. My family members can have access to my medical information if I am in the hospital.
    False. Federal law prohibits the disclosure of medical information to people other than the patient. Not even a spouse can legally get medical information from the hospital. An estate plan that details your wishes will make a difficult time a little easier for everyone.

December's Home Value Improver

5 Weekend Projects that Will Increase Your Home Value

You probably know that extra bathrooms, curb appeal, and modern kitchens add value to any home. But if you're not up for a big project financially or otherwise, there are still some weekend projects that will make your house look loved and attractive. Of course, if selling your home is not in your near future, you and your family will enjoy the changes.

Fireplace surround.
Fireplace surrounds can be beautiful and give a home elegance and character. Replacing tile can be a weekend project that doesn't require near the financial investment of tiling an entire room.

New hardware.
Think about your door handles, light switch plates, faucets, spigots or even lighting. These finishing touches can make the difference between a room that looks great and a room that looks really great.

Of course, this is one home project that stands the test of time. A fresh coat of paint can wipe away years of homeowner sins. As much as you might want to experiment with accent colors and wild borders, avoid the temptation.

Kitchen or bathroom upgrade.
These are the most important rooms of any house. If you're not up for big projects, look into those upgrades that only require a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond. New towels, a new shower curtain, and a thorough cleaning can make a big difference.

Clean those storage areas.
Sure, your basement may only serve as (disorganized) storage for you. But, a potential buyer may look at it and see it as a possible finished room. Get those storage boxes stacked up in nice neat piles. Get the work bench cleared off and put the tools in an organized fashion. De-cluttering is always a good project, so this is just one way to give some love to an oft-ignored space.

Westchester Mortgage

December 2011

As a mortgage professional, I tend to hear the financial and legal details of people's lives that they keep private from much of their family and friends. The topic of estate planning comes up a lot, and I'm surprised at how many misconceptions people have about this vitally important piece of family security.

This month, I talked to my friend Diane Gold, an estate planning attorney in Needham, about the importance of estate planning. She shared the top 10 misconceptions people have about estate planning - and cleared them up.

How about making it a New Year's resolution to get your estate in order and enjoy peace of mind in 2012?

Happy Holidays!

Best regards,
Debbie Siegel
Westchester Mortgage

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