Massachusetts Estate Planning & Asset Protection Blog

Estate Planning Tips for Your Aging Parents

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Sun, Jul 28, 2019

P42.Sullivan.JulyBlog2 (1)As a child, you are likely accustomed to your parents protecting and shielding you from difficult situations. Unfortunately as you age, however, there will come a time when your parents are no longer here and it is important to plan ahead for that time as a family unit. One important step in accomplishing this is to discuss estate planning with your aging parents. To help you begin this difficult conversation, we want to share with you a few estate planning tips for your aging parents.

The first step is to discuss the needs of your aging parents and provide them with an opportunity to discuss their goals and concerns. Talking about finances, illnesses, and even death can be emotionally taxing. Ensure your aging parents that this conversation is in everyone’s best interest and is simply to ensure that all the necessary people are on the same page. It is important to approach this topic with sensitivity and to allow your parents time to express concerns, voice their opinions, and ask questions.

Second, it is important to discuss any pre-existing estate planning documents or long-term care plans your parents may already have. We encourage you to ask your parents whether they have created a will or trust, health care documents, or a durable power of attorney. If they have not created any of these documents yet, you may wish to make a plan as a family as to how you will proceed with creating the documents and the types of planning documents you need. Further, it is crucial that you ask your parents what their own wishes are for their long-term care planning. What are their goals? How can you help your parents accomplish those goals? Addressing these questions now will likely make it easier in the event of illness or incapacity.

Above all, encourage your parents to discuss their specific goals and needs with an experienced estate planning attorney who is familiar with the laws in their state. There are many different estate planning options available, some of which may fit your parent’s needs better than others. An estate planning attorney can present appropriate planning options, answer your parent’s questions, and propose strategies to help create your aging parents’ legacy.

We know this can be a particularly challenging conversation to have with your aging parents. Being proactive in creating an estate plan, however, is one of the most effective ways at providing both you and your aging parents with peace of mind. If you or your parents are ready to discuss your parent’s estate planning needs, do not wait to contact our office to set up an appointment.

Tags: Estate Planning, family, children

Tips for Protecting Your College Student in a New Semester Through Estate Planning

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Feb 01, 2019


Even young people need estate planning


Whether your child is just beginning to receive college acceptance letters or is preparing to leave home for the upcoming semester, your child is planning ahead for his or her future. As a parent, protecting your child does not stop when he or she leaves for college. Your role in their life, however, may have changed. Once your child turns 18, he or she is considered an adult in the eyes of the law. Accordingly, your ability to help him or her with their finances or medical decisions may be limited. We know this can be a challenging and emotional time, which is why we want to share a few ways to use estate planning to protect your child when they are not with you.

The first step, and perhaps the most important one, is to talk to your child about their planning options. As a parent, it is important to express any concerns you may have about their safety and well-being. Try to remember that your child is now an adult and may be hesitant to allow you access to their bank account or medical records. Talking to them about the importance of creating planning documents, however, and sharing examples of scenarios where you would use your decision-making authority may help make this conversation easier.

After you have had this discussion with your child, we encourage you to think about your goals for your child’s protection and the types of planning documents you need. A durable power of attorney is a document that provides you with the authority to make decisions if a legal or financial situation arises while your child is away at college. This can be for simple matters, for example, if there are issues with your child’s lease or if you would like access to your child’s grades. It is important to keep in mind that if you do not have an established durable power of attorney, your child’s bank, college, or rental company is within their rights to refuse sharing your child’s information with you, even as their parent.

Finally, health care documents are a crucial part to any estate plan, particularly when it comes to your college student. If you do not have HIPAA authorization, for example, or a health care power of attorney set up, medical professionals could refuse to allow you access to your child’s medical records. Designating a health care power of attorney before your child leaves for college can help combat this issue from arising.

College is an exciting time for both you and your child. No matter where your child lives, however, accidents and unexpected situations can arise. By planning ahead and creating planning documents for your child’s protection, you can feel confident handling any circumstance that comes up. If you have any questions or are ready to begin planning, do not wait to contact our office or attend a free seminar to learn more.


Tags: living will, Single, New Year's Resolutions, college planning, Estate Planning Recommendations, health, children, doctor, heir, grandchildren, 2019

Why Your Children and Grandchildren Should Have Healthcare Documents in Place

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Aug 17, 2018



First, you may ask, what are the Healthcare Documents that you recommend?

At Dennis Sullivan & Associates we recommend to everyone over the age of 18 (clients, friends, and family members) have appointed people to make health care decisions, and to receive health care information.

This is especially crucial for those who have college students and young adults in their lives. Young adult children and grandchildren, often times headed away to college, need health care decision making documents in place. These documents include an Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information forms in place (HIPAA), and Living Will and Health Care Proxy.

An 18 Year Old Is An Adult!

Once you turn 18, you are legally an adult, and no one has any automatic right to any medical information. Medical professionals are obliged to withhold any and all medical information of yours from anyone who may be requesting information, unless you specifically grant them authority to release the information. Sometimes, young adults will let the doctor know that it is okay to share information with their parents or close relatives, but it may not come up when the young adult sees the doctor. If an 18 year old forgets or is unable to give their consent, medical professionals, by law, are required to withhold the information.


In the unfortunate event where a young adult is unable to give consent due to being unconscious or in a coma the only way for parents to gain this information is if their child has signed off on the Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information form (HIPAA). This allows a parent to get information from a college health center, and speak with the care team.

Health Care Proxy and Living Will

Terry Schiavo is the reason why the importance of a Living Will and Health Care Proxy gained national attention. A Living Will addresses end of life decisions including the permission/request to discontinue life support after an extended period if a person is in a persistent vegetative state. Terry Schiavo did not have a Living Will in place, and thus a decade long legal battle ensued between her husband and parents.


A Health Care Proxy designates an Agent that can make Health Care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make the decisions for yourself. Examples of this could include being unconscious, lacking capacity, or being placed in a medically induced coma. A Health Care Proxy/Living Will and is essential because it names agents to make health care decisions if you’re unable to make decisions on your own.

The Health Care Proxy and Living Will give authority to a person (or persons) of your choice to make decisions if you are unable to.

In short, a HIPAA document will allow for those of your choice to be privy to medical records and a Living Will and Health Care Proxy will appoint an agent to be your medical decision maker in the event that you are unable to do so.

If you would like to implement these essential documents, call our office to schedule a consultation. Many of the estate plans we review are death plans. They are designed to solve situations that occur at death, avoiding probate and distributing the estate. While all these objectives are important, there is much more that is needed. One of the most important parts of planning focuses on how documents work while you and your family are living. To learn more about necessary elements of an estate plan, attend a complimentary workshop.

Tags: HIPAA, Health Care, health care proxy, power of attorney, health, children, grandchildren, Skilled Care

Gift Tax Versus Estate Tax

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Mon, Oct 20, 2014

Gift Tax Versus Estate Tax | Massachusetts Estate Attorney





What Do You Do?

You want to leave gifts for your heirs, but should you wait until you pass away? Or should you give some money to them now? 

Caution: There Is A Lot of Confusion About Gifting

While gifts may make sense for taxes, they can also create a significant penalty for nursing home purposes. With all plans, you need to consider whether it makes more sense to preserve your benefits for nursing home purposes or to obtain tax breaks. As the old saying goes, “Don’t let the tax tail wag the dog.” For those who would like to protect their home, family and life savings with a trust based plan, they will also be able to continue to give gifts without triggering a penalty, but only if as the gifts are made from a qualifying trust. For more information on protecting your home, family, and life savings while also retaining gift giving privilege, take a look at our free report The Ten Biggest Estate Planning and Asset Protection Mistakes People Make and How to Avoid Them

Gift Tax versus Estate Tax
Gift tax is the tax imposed by the federal government on any transfer of property to an individual without any compensation in return. "Property" in this sense includes both tangible property, like art or furniture, and intangible gifts like stocks and cash.

Currently (under 2014 law), you are exempt from gift tax on lifetime donations up to $5.34 million. Once your donations go over that lifetime amount, they can be subject to taxes up to 40%.

However, it's essential to note that this is a lifetime exemption – meaning, that's your cap over the span of your life. The $5.34 million lifetime exemption is a well-known figure in the world of estate planning that's based on what's called the unified gift and estate tax credit.

In any particular year, you can also give a tax-free gift of up to $14,000 per recipient without dipping into the basic exclusion. This is known as the "annual exclusion." However, here's where it gets tricky because of the unified credit. This refers to the federal gift tax and estate tax, combined into one tax system. If you give more than the annual exclusion amount to any one recipient in any particular year, most people are eligible to use the unified credit so that the gift counts against your estate. For example, if you give $15,000 in 2014, $14,000 is eligible for the annual exclusion, and the remaining $1,000 is applied against your lifetime exemption, which also reduces the exemption for your estate when you die by the same amount.

Estate tax is the tax imposed by the federal government on any transfer of property (tangible or intangible) by your estate after you have passed away. It is calculated by figuring out your "gross estate" (all assets including real estate, cash and securities, business interests, etc.) and subtracting any deductions you may qualify for (such as funeral expenses and some charitable contributions). The net amount after these calculations is then added to any taxable gifts you have given that have used up your unified credit to generate your taxable amount. 

There are definite pros and cons to either option; we’ll take a look at some below: 

Giving Heirs the Money Now 
Here are some advantages to giving your heirs money while you're still alive.

  • You get to see them enjoy it. If you'd prefer to see your gifts in action, giving your heirs the money now gives you a chance to see the difference it makes in their lives.
  • You can advise how they spend it. If you'd prefer to see your gifts in action in a specific way, giving the money while you're still alive gives you a chance to let your heirs know how you'd prefer they spend it.
  • You can give the gift in the form of paying for something. If you really want to ensure the money is spent on the thing you want it to be spent on, you can pay for something rather than giving your heirs the money for it. For example, you can pay for their wedding, make a down payment on their dream house, or pay for their tuition (which, incidentally, can qualify for the educational exclusion from gift tax).
  • You can stop giving them money if you see them falling off the rails. If you plan to give your heirs free reign with their money, giving it to them now allows you to put a stop to the cash flow if you see them spending it unwisely (like buying a flashy car instead of paying for tuition or paying down their mortgage).
  • You can avoid taxes up to a certain amount. For 2014, the IRS allows you to exclude up to $14,000 in gifts per heir (or $28,000 per heir if the gift is given by you and your spouse jointly). This means you will not have to pay gift tax on gifts up to that amount. If you choose to give a gift beyond that, you'll need to claim the "unified credit" (and have it count against your estate's lifetime exemption) in order to avoid paying taxes on the gift.

Waiting Until You Pass Away

Conversely, here are some advantages to waiting until you pass away before bequeathing gifts to your heirs.

  • You may need the money later. What if you find that you need the money to pay for your own expenses during your lifetime? You might need more than you think in order to enjoy your hard-earned retirement, pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance, or cover other long-term care costs such as home health aides and nursing home care.
  • Ability to change your mind. At the moment, you might want to split your money equally among your children; but what happens if one of your children later makes poor decisions that make you want to disinherit that person? Conversely, what happens if one of your children gets into a major accident and requires more medical care, and therefore more financial support? You can always adjust your will to change the amount you'll be leaving heirs after you pass away, but you can't take back money you've already gifted. Waiting until you pass away gives you the opportunity to change your mind during your lifetime.
  • Your heirs might appreciate it more and spend it more wisely. By waiting until you've passed away, you give your heirs a chance to "make their own way in the world" at a younger age. Rather than relying on an annual cash infusion from you, your heirs will be older and more responsible when they receive the inheritance. This might cause them to appreciate the gift more, as they will have experienced the task of earning money.


At the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center, we provide a unique education and counseling process which includes our unique 19 Point Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Review to help people and their families learn how to protect their home, spouse, life-savings, and legacy for their loved ones, click here for more information. We provide clients with a unique approach so they understand where opportunities exist to eliminate problems now as they implement plans for a protected future.

We encourage you to attend one of our free educational workshops, call 800-964-4295 and register to learn more about what you can do to enhance the security of your spouse, home, life savings and legacy.


Click Here to Register For Our Trust, Estate & Asset  Protection Workshop

Tags: Estate Planning, gift tax, estate tax, children

Unequal Inheritance, A Problem with Communication

Posted by Massachusetts Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney, Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

The Problems with Unequal Inheritance | Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorney

Inheritance, family, unequal 

Just Because It Makes Sense to You…

Sometimes clients want to leave more to one of their children than another. Their reasons may vary, ranging from their child’s current financial wellbeing, to any special needs they may have or even which of their kids is their favorite. What does not seem to change though is their concern that this may cause discord in their family once they find out.

It can be an uncomfortable subject to talk about with your family and you can never be certain how people will react, but the alternative of finding out only after their loved one has already passed, can be far more devastating. The reasons you use to make the decision of who-gets-what may be perfectly clear to you, but your children may not know what you based your decision on and they will never get a chance to ask you about it. The emotional fallout from this can rip once close-knit families apart.


Money Does Not Equal Love

This is because of the often mistaken tendency to equate love and money. If you leave more money to one of your children their siblings may think that you loved them more. After all, if you had some sort of logical reasoning behind the decision, why wouldn’t you have simply told them? You may have had very good reasons for why you did not talk to your children about this before but the lack of communication can have devastating effects on your family once you are gone.


Explanations Make Everything Easier

For example, you leave three quarters of your estate to your youngest child but only one quarter to your oldest, but you still make them the executor of your will. The older child will have a hard time not feeling resentment towards their sibling and their new responsibilities without any explanation from you. Simply explaining your reasons can go a long way towards preventing a bitter legal fight once you are gone. We recommend sitting down with all parties and explaining your reasoning to them in person. However, we know that not all families are comfortable talking about money, in those cases we recommend leaving a detailed letter explaining your reasons why you divided your estate the way you did.

Expanding on the earlier example, you may have decided to name your oldest child as executor simply because you know it will be more convenient for them to meet with your estate planner since your younger child has moved several hours away for work. Just telling your child this will lighten the burden on them. Likewise, you may have left more of your estate to your youngest because they need the boost starting their own business or because you know their financial situation isn’t as strong and they may need some help. A simple explanation can prevent a lot of needless stress from ever arising in your family.  



At the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center, we help people and their families learn how to protect their home, spouse, life-savings, and legacy for their loved ones.  We provide clients with a unique educational and counseling approach so they understand where opportunities exist to eliminate problems now as they implement plans for a protected future.

We encourage you to attend one of our free educational workshops, call 800-964-4295 and register to learn more about what you can do to enhance the security of your spouse, home, life savings and legacy.


Click Here to Register For Our Trust, Estate & Asset  Protection Workshop

Tags: family, executor, will, Wills, Massachusetts, senior, children, unequal, Inheritance

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