One might assume that the very first words of advice from the author of “The Complete Book of Wills, Estates, and Trusts” would be to make a will. “Who hasn’t heard this line at least 100 times?” asks Attorney Alexander Bove, Jr., an internationally recognized expert on the topic whose office on Tremont Street in Boston is blocks from his alma mater. “The problem is that it suggests if you do have a will, you can stop worrying about your estate plan. The fact is that in many states, passing your estate through a will is the most expensive, vulnerable, and potentially time consuming way to pass your estate.”
Bove has spent a career re-educating clients and the general public about his area of expertise. A Quincy, MA native who has been living in Newton for over 40 years, he wrote a column called “The Family Money” for The Boston Globe from 1973 to 1995. “The public’s knowledge and especially its awareness of trusts, wills, and taxes has dramatically increased from what it was 30 or 40 years ago,” he says. “At the same time, however, so has the complexity of our lives and assets, as well as the system under which we must live.”
Here, a re-write of some rules for estate planning from the lawyer who wrote the book on it:
Trust but verify Joint ownership is one of the most popular subjects of estate litigation. A survivorship right can be automatic but only if no one objects.
Don’t make the trust mistake One of the greatest myths is that if you have a trust, your estate plan is complete. Perhaps the biggest mistake made by clients and lawyers alike is to have a trust but fail to fund it. Unless the estate assets are actually placed in the trust, the trust has no value.
To keep creditors at bay, you must give control away While trusts may be designed to protect an individual’s assets from creditors, the typical estate planning trust does not. Generally, trusts designed to protect assets require the client (and beneficiary) to relinquish control over the assets.
Never say never Is it really impossible to change an irrevocable trust? The creator may not be able to revoke the trust and take her money or assets back, nor amend or change the terms, however, a “protector” may be given broad powers over the trust.
Keep your living trust alive The myth is that assets in a living trust will be protected from nursing home costs. Like asset protection trusts, Medicaid planning trusts can be established, but the client must give up all control over the assets, and there is typically a five year waiting period, as well as a loss of the use of the underlying assets, except for the income from those assets.
Relax-not every estate pays tax State taxes vary but the Feds allow us to die with well over $5 million before our estate is taxed, meaning married couples can pass along a $10.8 million estate tax fee.
“I attended Suffolk nights and appreciated the chance to do that, since I had a family, a job, and a mortgage,” Bove recalls. “For a long time after I graduated, making a gift to Suffolk (or anywhere else) was not really on the punch list. Later, when I could spare something, I felt that even a small contribution might indirectly help someone else like me get an education in the law. Later, when I was in a position to direct additional funds to Suffolk, I felt that a contribution to the Moakley Law Library to fund a specific set of law books and their upkeep gave me an even closer connection to the school and the students. Someday it would be rewarding to fund a scholarship, which would be a self-continuing way to help needy and deserving students who cannot quite manage the high cost of the education.” To inquire about supporting your alma mater, please contact the development office at 617-573-8443.