News & Important Updates


  • Estate Tax Update
  • MA Homestead Law
  • Crucial Documents for Adult Children
  • MA Uniform Probate Code

 I.    ESTATE TAX UPDATE:

FEDERAL ESTATE TAX: 

 

As of January 1, 2017, the Federal estate tax threshold is now $5.49 million (doubled to $10.98 million for spouses), with a 40% tax on the excess.

 

MA ESTATE TAX: 

 

MA residents still have to worry about the MA estate tax, since the MA estate tax is still effective for estates over only $1 million (not set to change).  The $1 million is just a "filing threshold", which means that if your estate exceeds $1 million, the entire estate is taxed in MA, up to 16%.  For example, for a $2 million estate (including real estate, liquid assets, retirement plans AND the full value of life insurance), the MA estate tax would be over $100,000. 


It is very important for MA residents, married or single, to learn about Trusts and other techniques to reduce the MA estate tax and pass more on to their intended beneficiaries.

 

 II.    MASSACHUSETTS HOMESTEAD LAW:

 

Following a 10-year effort seeking greater protection for homeowners, a new Homestead law was passed in March, 2011.  The primary changes are:

 

- Provide $125,000 of automatic protection to any primary residence (without having to record a Homestead); provide $500,000 protection for those who record a Homestead.

 

- Allow Homestead protection for Trusts!  This means that you no longer need to decide between the benefits of transferring your house into a Trust to avoid probate and/or reduce estate taxes AND the creditor protection of the Homestead.  For those of you who have opted to not re-title your home in order to benefit from the Homestead, you should now consider re-visiting this issue.

 

- Clarify that refinancing a mortgage will not terminate or invalidate previously filed homesteads.

 

III.    CRUCIAL DOCUMENTS FOR YOUR ADULT CHILDREN:

 

Once your children turn 18, they are legally considered "adults" and you, as parents, lose your legal rights as their decision-makers, as well as the ability to access their information. 

 

Proper planning can help bring everyone some peace of mind, ensuring that someone can make their decisions if they are unable to make them, and to allow you to have access to critical information.   

 

Here are the 3 essential documents your adult child should have in place, whether they are staying in Massachusetts, going off to college in another state, or (particularly important) going abroad to study or travel:

 

1.  Health Care Proxy:   A child over 18 has authority to make his/her own health care decisions, including whether to disclose information to parents or anyone else. 

 

The Health Care Proxy allows your child to name another person (typically parents) to make their medical decisions if they are unable make or communicate them.   This should be done for Massachusetts as well as the state where they are attending college (each state has its own form and requirements).   

 

2.  "HIPAA" Authorization:  Federal law prohibits information about your child's health from being disclosed to anyone other than your child.

 

The "HIPAA" Authorization form allows your child to designate you (or another person) to have access to his/her medical information.  

 

I typically combine the Health Care Proxy and the HIPAA Authorization into 1 document, and I am able to prepare these forms for MA and all other states.

 

3.  Power of Attorney:   The Power of Attorney allows your child to name you (or another person)  to be able to handle financial-type matters for him/her, such as dealing with banking, signing tax returns, and other non-medical decisions. 

 

In addition to allowing seamless decision-making, having these 3 simple, yet important, documents in place can avoid a lengthy probate process such as guardianship in the event that an adult child becomes incapacitated. 

 

In addition to these 3 "lifetime" decision-making documents, adult children should also have a simple Will if they own any assets, including investment accounts and/or stocks.   


IV.    MA Uniform Probate Code ("UPC" or "MUPC"):

 

MA has adopted the Uniform Probate Code, effective March 31, 2012.  The new Code changes the process for administering estates after a person dies.  There are now 2 options for probate - formal and informal, as well as the simplified process which is still called "Voluntary Administration" (now available for estates with less than $25,000 of "probate" assets - assets in a person's name alone, with no joint owner and no named beneficiary). 


While the new law simplified many aspects of the probate process, it is important to be aware that the process still takes at least 1 year from date of death to complete.