Don’t make the estate planning mistakes these celebs did!

Recently, I read a blog post by Penn Mutual (you’ll find the original HERE) about estate planning errors made  by the rich and famous.

Reading through, I was reminded that, although most of my clients are not rich and famous, there is still an imperative need for an estate plan.  Rather than go through all of the celebs mentioned, I want to focus on two:  Robin Williams and Whitney Houston.

Today’s post will be about Robin Williams, with Whitney coming next week.

Robin Williams had a pour-over Will and revocable Trust.  While this appears to be good planning on the surface, he had several issues with his trustees (One trustee resigned, and the remaining trustee appointed someone who took the role but then later resigned).  So the mistake he made was not being careful about choosing the proper trustee, and at least one appropriate back-up trustee.  This is crucial if you want your estate plan to work, and I advise my clients to think this over very carefully before they choose.  Even if the documents are done correctly, making a bad choice for trustee can blow everything up.

Another thing that Robin Williams got right, was having irrevocable life insurance trusts. Most of us won’t come close to the Massachusetts Estate Tax threshold of $1 Million when it comes to our assets, but MANY of us would eclipse that threshold if our life insurance were to be included in our taxable estate.  Although life insurance is income tax-free,  it’s not necessarily estate tax-free.  For many people, especially in the case of a married couple where both spouses pass away, the life insurance puts them over the top, and Massachusetts estate taxes would be owed.  Putting your life insurance into an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust keeps the life insurance outside of the taxable estate, and can be the difference between having to pay estate tax or not.

I can’t stress enough the importance of having an experienced estate planning attorney in your corner.  For more info, visit My Website.



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Law Change: 17-year-olds will now be tried as juveniles

On Wednesday, Governor Patrick signed the so-called “Juvenile Jurisdiction Law “, thus making it the new law of the land in Massachusetts.   Read the full press release here.  The law provides that 17-year-olds will be tried as juveniles and not as adults.     The new rule states that they will not receive an adult criminal record will get the benefit of other juvenile programs and services. I must admit that at first glance, I did not like the sound of this. Upon further reading, however, I think it is the right thing to do.

Here’s the thing: a 17-year-old knows the difference between right and wrong, and needs to be responsible for his or her actions. A 17-year-old is developmentally vastly different from a 12 or 13-year-old. The 17-year-old knows that there are consequences if he or she kills someone.  Or rapes someone.  Or assaults or hazes someone. So my initial reaction was that I did not like the change.  But then I did a little more reading and discovered tow things: (1) Currently in Massachusetts, 17-year-olds are treated as adults, regardless of the circumstances or severity of their offense; and (2)  that there are safeguards written into the law for violent crimes.

So right now, a 17 year old is an adult, and a criminal record will stay with him or her forever, even if the offense is relatively minor (no pun intended).  The new law provides that in cases of violent crime, although the case will still be heard by a juvenile court judge, the judge will have discretion to impose an adult sentence. Despite that, a 17-year-old will technically be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Youth Services and will not be sent to an adult prison or jail.  A 17-year-old is easy prey in an adult prison, so I agree with this idea of keeping them away from adult prison, as long as the system is not abused.

I am more of a “punishment” kind of guy, as opposed to a “rehabilitation” type.  Most of the time, I don’t think that people will change, especially if they don’t have any desire to.  However, a 17 year old has a lot better shot of mending his ways than someone further along in years.   A 17 year old, with a good scare in him from the police and judges, still has time to change, if he or she wants to.  If 17-year-olds are causing minor mischief, and doing other stupid things that 17-year-olds do, I don’t have a problem with them being tried as juveniles, or with them not having an adult criminal record that will follow them everywhere for the rest of their , and prevent them from getting jobs.  But if the 17-year-old engages in violent crime, I am in favor of them being tried as an adult.

When the issue came up for debate in congress, the child advocate for Massachusetts was asked to give testimony and opinion on the matter (Read her testimony here).  Not surprisingly, she was in favor of the new law.

But in cases of more serious crimes, I am in favor of adult punishments.  For example, if a 17-year-old was driving drunk after a party and hurt or killed someone in my family, I would be looking for the strongest punishment possible. This new law seems to allow for that to take place.  I say “seems” because we have not seen this in practice yet. It will take time to know whether leaving the decision in the discretion of the judge is going to work. In cases of violent crime, if we spend time feeling bad for these kids and trying to coddle them treat them as youths, we are going to be letting them get away with too much. Like I said, if it was my wife, son, or daughter, that was a victim of a violent crime by a 17-year-old, I would want the book thrown at them.

I’m not a criminal attorney so I’m looking at this less as a lawyer, and more as a husband and father. I’m trying to evaluate it with common sense, and not really focusing on how this will play into a criminal trial, criminal procedure, or evidentiary rulings.   Most of the on-line chatter seems to agree with me (See a Patch article here, which points out that we require individuals to be 18 to vote, serve on a jury, and enter into contracts.  In other words, we recognize that until age 18, these kids are still developing their abilities to think and make choices.

I think that if used properly,  I do agree with the law despite my initial misgivings.  But if its used to give a slap on the wrist to more violent crimes, I will be first in line to want it overturned.  Like many things, only time will tell.

Please take a minute and answer the poll below, and give me your opinion. I can be reached at: and .

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Mortgage Loan Scams

Apparently there are a lot of people making money by taking advantage of those who are fearing foreclosure and desperate to either refinance or modify their loans.  Take a look at this article, from MSN money, about some recent scams, many of which made over $1 Million dollars through fraud:

Bottom line, you have to check, and double-check, on anyone claiming to be able to help you in this area.  Further, ask for referrals if you are seeking a refinance.  If you are looking to refinance, I provide referrals to my colleagues at Wells Fargo, and I would be happy to provide you with the names of some reputable loan officers.

Visit for more info, or email at :

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Retire with $1 Million

With everything that’s been going on, I haven’t been able to update for the past several weeks.  There is an article on MSN Money that you should check out, as it gives great retirement investment advice; regardless of whether or not you have the $225 per month they suggest, the article gives some  plans they deem worth investing in, even if you only have a small amount.  The article can be read: Here .

They suggest that if you invest $225 per month, starting in your 20’s, you will retire with $1 Million.  For most of us, that ship has sailed long ago.  And for most people in their twenties, barely getting by, coming up with $225 per month might be a pipe dream.  However, investing something for retirement each month is the best way to go, even if it is only a small amount.

They suggest some investment firms and plans that are geared to your retirement date.  For example, they recommend Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 which targets a 2050 retirement date.  These funds are typically more aggressive early on, and then more conservative as the target date draws near.  This is a theoretically good fund for someone in their 20’s, but again, they have corresponding funds for different years (for example, a fund with a 2040 date is more suited for those in their thirties.)  Also, though this particular plan was recommended, several brokerage firms, such as Fidelity and T.Rowe Price, offer similar plans based on a targeted retirement date. Each firm and fund will have its own minimum buy-in, fees, etc.)

Another recommendation is Schwab S&P 500 Index, which they suggest is an index fund set for the “long haul”, based on the expectation that stock values will gradually go up over time.  The buy-in is only $100, which is comparatively very low.

Regardless of the specific fund you choose, or whether you have a little or a lot to invest, it is a good idea to start, no matter what the age.  The time flies by, and with the uncertainty of social security, as well as real estate values, you can only count on yourself to make sure you have money to live on once your working days are over.

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10 Mortgage mistakes to avoid

10 Mortgage mistakes to avoid (from Yahoo Finance): . Pay close attention to #s 3 & 4.

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Do you auto-pay all of your bill payment

Do you auto-pay all of your bill payments? Check out this Article for 5 bills you should NOT automate.

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Help for “upside-down” homeowners

Something to keep an eye on.  Check out this Article on, which was forwarded to me by my title insurance company (copy here: News Brief – August 2011).  One of the largest private mortgage insurers, PMI Group, is starting a program that will run in “Select Markets”, where they actually offer cash incentives to homeowners who are in negative equity situations (when you owe more on your home than it is worth).  Basically, the program will offer cash incentives forgiving from 10% – 30% of the unpaid prinicpal balance on the mortgage loan, in exchange for 36 to 60 months of timely payments. 

This is the first such program I have heard of, and it could help a lot of people, as there are MANY hoemowners stuck owing more than their home is worth, due to depleting home values.

As yet, I do not know what the “select markets” are, and I am trying to find out more (the process, contact info, etc).  But if this takes off, we could see more of these in future, which is not a bad thing.

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