Partners' Letter

"When flowers bloom so does hope."
Lady Bird Johnson

Dear Clients and Friends:
In a year marked by distance, we want to thank our staff and clients for adapting to and embracing the digital technologies that have allowed us to stay close and continue to serve you. It has been wonderful to be able to "see" our clients' smiling faces via Zoom, and we want to thank you for your emails, notes, and phone calls of support as we navigated the new waters of cyber space. We would also like to take a moment to remember the clients and friends we have lost this past year. You will live on in our thoughts and memories and you are dearly missed.

Spring has arrived and with it a renewed sense of joy and hope for a better year ahead. We are feeling extremely optimistic that clients will be back in the office in the coming months. And have no fear, we will not let our guard down prematurely. We will continue to take every precaution necessary to protect the health and well-being of our staff and clients. Zoom video meetings and curb-side signings will continue for the foreseeable future. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our office for our latest COVID protocols.

As many of you know, there have been some personnel changes at SSB in recent months and we are delighted to welcome our new Attorney, Frank Mulé; Administrative Assistant, Victoria Ung; paralegal, Celine Ramsingh; Legal Assistant, Michael Ives, and Assistant Law Office Administrator, Marcy Kadlec. You can read more about our new team members in the What's New at Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC segment of the newsletter.

French writer, Luc de Clapiers, once penned "Patience is the art of hoping." Well, Monsieur de Clapiers, we hope that the Massachusetts Probate Courts find a solution for the bottleneck that is trying everyone's patience. For more information on the delays that may be affecting your loved one's estate, please see the article Delays Continue at the Probate Courts.
 
This quarter's Smart Counsel Series, "Estate Planning and Elder Law 101," held on April 22nd, was a fun mix of Q&A and estate planning trivia. Kudos to all of our participants for doing such a great job. Here are a few of the brain teasers: Should you have an Irrevocable Trust? When you're in your 70s, should you put your house in your children’s names? What is probate and why do you want to avoid it? How much you can gift to your children and the implications of doing so? Think you know the answers? Click on the link above to find out.

In this issue:
  • 5 Things To Do Soon After A Loved One Passes Away
  • Delays Continue at the Probate Courts
  • Ask SSB: Can I disinherit my child?
  • Obtaining or Refinancing a Mortgage on Property that is Titled in Trust
  • What's New at Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC
  • Employee Profile - Meet Cait Fantegrossi

As always, please feel free to reach out to us with any questions, or ideas for future newsletter articles or topics for our Smart Counsel Series. And if you know someone who would like to receive this quarterly newsletter, please send us their email address, and don’t forget to forward this to your family and friends.

Happy Spring,
 
Steven Joshua Samuel
Suzanne R. Sayward
Maria C. Baler

Five Things To Do Soon After A Loved One Passes Away
By Attorney Abigail V. Poole
 
Thankfully here in Massachusetts, we are seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases. Hopefully, this trend will continue. However, sadly there are still many individuals who are becoming infected with COVID-19 and dying from complications due to the virus or other reasons. Whether a loved one’s passing is expected or unexpected, managing their affairs can be difficult to think about when struggling with the grief of your loss. “What do I do now?” may be a question that you have to ask yourself. Here are five steps to guide you on what to do soon after a loved one’s death, in no particular order:

(1) Arrange Burial and Memorial Services According to the Loved One’s Wishes
If the deceased was forward-thinking enough to pre-arrange and/or pre-pay his or her funeral when also preparing his or her estate plan, then contact the funeral home with which these arrangements were made. If no plan was put in place before death, contact a reputable funeral home to guide you through the burial and memorial service process.

As part of an estate plan, the deceased may have prepared a Directive as to Remains. A Directive as to Remains is a document that instructs the deceased’s Personal Representative (Executor) to arrange the deceased’s burial or cremation and funeral/memorial services as directed in that document. Your loved one alternatively may have written down similar wishes in a letter of instruction. Carefully review your loved one’s estate planning documents to learn if the deceased left such instructions so that his or her wishes are carried out.

(2) Find and Organize Important Documents
Hopefully, your loved one showed you where they keep important documents like their Will, income tax returns, financial account statements, and bills that are regularly paid. This information will be necessary for the proper services and administration of the deceased’s estate. Locate a safe but easily accessible place where you can store this information as you will refer to and use it often. Do not throw away any financial records or legal documents until you know you will not need them for tax filings, asset valuation, or other purposes.
 
 (3) Secure Property of the Estate
Your loved one may have several different types of assets in his or her estate at death. In every case, the Personal Representative (or Trustee if there is a Trust) is responsible for ensuring the deceased’s property is secure and protected for the beneficiaries of the estate. For example, it is important to safely store valuable jewelry and artwork. Similarly, any real estate should be securely locked (perhaps even change the locks) and regularly visited. In fact, it is an obligation of the Personal Representative to do so, and he or she may be liable if such measures are not taken and damage occurs to the property. The Personal Representative should also maintain or obtain insurance in connection with the deceased’s assets, as necessary, and may need to have some or all of them appraised for estate administration and/or estate tax purposes.

(4) Contact an Estate Planning and Administration Attorney
The settlement of an estate can be incredibly complex depending on the assets and beneficiaries involved, and the provisions of the deceased’s estate plan. The Personal Representative should contact an attorney to guide and assist him or her through the process of completing and filing the required documents to be appointed as Personal Representative by the probate court, gathering assets, paying appropriate expenses, and making distributions, to avoid failing to fulfill his or her obligations. This is especially important if the estate assets are valued at over $1 million and a Massachusetts estate tax will be payable, or if it is anticipated that MassHealth (Medicaid) may file a claim against the estate to be reimbursed for any MassHealth benefits (for home care or nursing home care) received by the deceased during his or her lifetime.

Keep in mind that the administration of an estate typically takes at least one year so you may want to take the tortoise’s point of viewslow and steady wins the race.

(5) Communicate and Work Together
On top of the issues mentioned above, estate administration can be made more difficult if there are strained relationships between the beneficiaries, which often also includes the person who is serving as Personal Representative. Perhaps there is a history of family disharmony. Perhaps multiple beneficiaries are sentimentally attached to mom’s diamond engagement ring and they must decide who gets to keep it. The only person who wins when there are disagreements between beneficiaries that cannot be resolved is the attorney who gets paid to resolve them via negotiation or court action. Instead, consider embracing the three C’s as much as possible when working with each other: Communication, Cooperation, and Compromise.

Attorney Abigail Poole is a lawyer with the Dedham law firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. Attorney Poole is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Women’s Bar Association Massachusetts Chapter, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Forum of Estate Planning Attorneys. This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit our website at www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
Delays Continue at the Probate Courts

They say that patience is a virtue, and when it comes to Massachusetts’ probate courts, they are right. Capacity limits imposed as a safety precaution to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 mean that court personnel across the Commonwealth are operating on a rotating schedule such that only a limited number are physically in the various courthouses at any one time.
Naturally, this severely limits the courts’ capacity to process mail and issue important documents like Letters of Authority and Decrees and Orders of Complete Settlement, which require official stamps and seals. Our contacts at one courthouse have told us that they are as much as three months behind on processing their incoming mail as a result of the capacity limits. The limited staffing issues, coupled with the significant increase in the number of estates needing to be probated as a result of the 17,000+ deaths attributed to the pandemic over the past year, have placed a severe burden on the probate courts.

Beyond the issues created by COVID-19, there are county-specific issues that are exacerbating these delays. In Norfolk County, for example, the long-serving Register of Probate was elected Sheriff this past November, and the new Register is, understandably, still learning the ropes. Meanwhile, Middlesex County not only split its Probate Court into two divisions last spring, but its southern division also moved from its long-time home in Cambridge to Woburn last fall and it unexpectedly lost one of its most experienced staff members around the same time.

As you can imagine, all of these factors combined have led to extreme backlogs at several courthouses such that even the processing of routine, uncontested cases can take weeks, if not months. While you can rest assured that we are diligently pursuing every avenue possible to ensure that our probate cases are processed in as expeditious a manner as possible, ultimately it will take time for the courts to work through these backlogs.

Ask SSB

Q:    Can I disinherit my child? 

A:    Parents often joke about disinheriting their children, but this is a question we get more frequently than you would think (and not because COVID quarantining in close quarters with their children has driven the parent to it). Disinheriting a child arises in cases where a parent and child have become estranged – sometimes because of a specific event, sometimes not. In more fortunate circumstances, sometimes the parent and child are on good terms, but the child has sufficient wealth that the parent wants to leave their assets to their other children. 
 
Regardless of the circumstances, the answer is yes, a parent can disinherit their child. Put another way, the law does not require a parent to leave their assets to their children at their death. The only person the law protects in this regard is your spouse. If you disinherit your spouse, your spouse has the right to claim a certain share of the assets in your estate or in your revocable trust if they wish to do so. But if you have no spouse and you wish to leave all of your assets to the New England Wild Flower Society rather than your kids, there is nothing to stop you from doing so.
 
If you intend to specifically disinherit a child your Will should clearly state that you intend to disinherit the child in question and that their omission from the Will is intentional. There is no need to leave the child One Dollar, or some other nominal amount of money. There is also no need to specify the reason(s) why the child is being disinherited, and in fact it is not a good idea to do so, as it leaves the door open for the child to argue that the reasons stated were invalid. For children who are perceived troublemakers, who the parent fears will sue the Estate and tie things up in Court for years trying to fight the disinheritance, even if they have no grounds to do so, the parent can try the carrot and the stick approach. This involves leaving the child some amount of money that is meaningful to the child, and stating in the Will that if the child contests the Will they will forfeit any amount left to them. If this is done thoughtfully, it often serves as a deterrent to the child causing further trouble, saving the estate and the other beneficiaries time and money in the process.
 
Whatever the reason, if you choose to disinherit a family member when creating your estate plan, be sure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who will ensure that the planning is handled properly and the documents are written in such a way that your wishes are carried out.
 

Obtaining or Refinancing a Mortgage on Property that is Titled in Trust
 
Conveying real estate into a Revocable Trust or a so-called Nominee or Realty Trust is a common aspect of the estate planning process for people who own real property. Property owned in trust avoids probate which reduces time, cost and aggravation for surviving family members. In addition to probate avoidance, titling real estate in trust is often a vital part of estate tax savings planning undertaken by married couples.   
 
However, if you decide to obtain a mortgage or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) on property titled in the name of your Trust, or refinance an existing mortgage, be aware that many banks and mortgage lenders require that the property be removed from the Trust for the loan closing. The property may be conveyed back into the Trust following the completion of the loan transaction. There is a federal law (the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act) that prohibits a lender from exercising the due on sale clause under a mortgage for certain types of transfers, specifically including the transfer of property to a trust of which the borrower is a beneficiary. 
 
When your property is titled in a Revocable Trust (or in a Nominee or Realty Trust which names you or your Revocable Trusts as the beneficiary) there is no impact on your estate plan to remove and then re-convey the property to the Trust. Note that this is NOT the case for property held in an IRREVOCABLE Trust. 
 
We are happy to prepare the deed and related documentation to remove property from your Trust and re-convey it to the Trust once the mortgage transaction is complete. Our typical legal fee for this service is $550 per property. In addition, there will be recording charges to the Registry of Deeds. 
 
Please contact our office if you are obtaining a mortgage or HELOC, or refinancing an existing mortgage and your lender requires that your property be removed from your Trust in order to complete the loan transaction.

What's New at Samuel, Sayward & Baler
Welcome Attorney Frank Mulé
Attorney Francis R. Mulé is an associate who joined Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC in March 2021. Prior to joining the firm, Attorney Mulé practiced in Natick, Massachusetts at Rico, Murphy, Diamond & Bean LLP, and in Waltham, Massachusetts at Mendel & Associates LLC. He received his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law and his B.S. with highest honors from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he majored in public policy with minors in American politics and Italian.
Attorney Mulé concentrates his practice in estate planning, estate and trust administration, and elder law. As a member of the LGBTQ community, he is particularly sensitive to the needs and concerns of LGBTQ clients, as well as the special considerations involved in planning for non-traditional families. Attorney Mulé also has substantial experience in advising clients regarding long-term care planning and assisting clients through the MassHealth application process.

Outside the office, Attorney Mulé is heavily involved with the Massachusetts legal community as a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, where he currently serves as the Secretary of the Young Lawyers Division, a Foundation Fellow with the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and a member of the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association. Avid movie lovers, in pre-pandemic times, Attorney Mulé and his husband could frequently be found at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, where they are both members.
Legal Assistant, Victoria Ung joined Samuel, Sayward & Baler in February 2021. As the receptionist and legal assistant, Victoria interacts with clients on a daily basis. Victoria provides additional support to the firm’s paralegal team and attorneys, handles changes/updates to client files and disseminates all client correspondence. Victoria recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a B.A. in Legal Studies and Political Science. Outside of work she enjoys spending time with her Pitbull named Delilah, hiking and gardening.
Legal Assistant
Michael Ives

Michael Ives joined SSB this spring. Michael is a veteran of the United States Army and brings a wealth of corporate experience to the firm. Michael is an avid runner and has run several marathons around the country. When not in the office or running Michael loves to spend time with his wife, daughter and new puppy Ollie.
Assistant Law Office
Administrator
Marcy Kadlec

Marcy Kadlec joined the firm this spring. She has over 20 years of administrative/paralegal experience and will be scheduling appointments for clients, and assisting office staff with projects. Outside of work she enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, and cooking.
Paralegal Celine Ramsingh. Celine joined the SSB team just this month. Celine earned her Paralegal Studies degree from Bunker Hill Community College, and her Legal Studies & Advocacy degree from Southern New Hampshire University. Celine works closely with our Attorneys and Paralegal team to assist clients with their estate plans. At home, Celine enjoys spending time with her Siberian Husky named Rex & her Red Eared Slider Turtle named Frankie.
Not everyone who played is in this image
QUARTERLY SSB FUN EVENT!!
The staff of SSB loves to have fun! Each quarter we all get together to enjoy each other's company and engage in some friendly competition. This quarter we held a TRIVIA AND TUNES night, hosted by the wonderful Vincent Pisacreta owner of Trivia and Tunes. It started out a little slow, being a Friday evening of a busy work week, but soon we were all in the groove, chair dancing and singing the hits of the last 4 decades. It was a pretty tight race until the last all-or-nothing-at-all question, where Team Baler emerged from the middle of the pack for the win! Congratulations to Attorney Baler and paralegals Janine Cronin (80s movie and music whiz) and Cait Fantegrossi. (Note: the image is missing some of our staff who did participate).