Are you having trouble loading this page? Click here to view a text-only version.

donations2.jpg
woman-in-mask.jpg
COVID-volunteers.jpg
donations.jpg

Legal Notes

Seunghee ChaAttorney Seunghee Cha

Planning for a funeral

Funeral planning eases the burden on loved ones of making arrangements in a time of grief. This article provides guidance on options and some basics you should know.

Funeral trust

You can purchase a “pre-need” funeral contract from a funeral establishment, which must deposit the payment in a trust account of a Massachusetts bank. A trustee manages the account and upon your death the funds pay for goods and services included in the contract, such as basic services for arranging logistics, cremation/embalming, and burial.

Funeral Life Insurance Policy or Annuity

Some funeral establishments offer life insurance and annuities specifically to pay for pre-need funeral contracts. Anyone selling such products must comply with all state and federal laws and regulations governing the insurance industry, including licensing requirements.

Bank account

You can open a separate account to defray the cost of funeral expenses. The account is in your name and is labeled as a “burial” account.

Veterans

Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemeteries are located in Agawam and Winchendon. No fee is charged for the funeral of an eligible veteran, and a nominal fee is charged for spouses, widows and widowers, and qualified dependents.

Organ donation

You must obtain a donor card from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Only you can register to become a donor — someone else cannot do it for you.

Green burial

With a national conversation growing about “good death,” so is interest in environmentally conscious, green burials. Communities in our area where green burials are allowed include Chesterfield, Conway, Shutesbury, Wendell, Amherst, and Westfield. Local town/city clerks issue permits and provide guidelines for documenting the death and lawful possession, proper handling, and transport of the body.

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO…

  • Cancel a pre-need funeral contract, including the type funded with life insurance or annuity, within 10 days of signing without penalty;
  • Receive a written price list of goods and services offered;
  • Receive price information on the telephone (without disclosing your name and contact information);
  • Buy goods and services separately: you need not buy a package;
  • Use an alternative casket or urn for cremation without paying an extra fee.

SHOP AROUND, ASK QUESTIONS, GET IT IN WRITING.

  • What happens if the funeral establishment goes out of business?
  • What happens if you move or die while away from home?
  • Itemized list of goods and services;
  • Cancellation policy, commissions, and fees.

PRACTICAL TIPS

  • Make funeral instructions easily accessible by family after your death.
  • Joint ownership of burial accounts permits ready access by the survivor.
  • Organ donors should make an alternative plan in case the body cannot be accepted.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.

Planning for the unexpected in your estate plan

Just after Christmas 2016, the day after the actress Carrie Fisher passed away, her mother, the actress and entertainer Debbie Reynolds, unexpectedly passed away. There is no public information about Debbie Reynolds’s estate plan, but if she had a Will and her daughter Carrie was named as a beneficiary, there is a lesson learned from this situation about how an unexpected death of a beneficiary named in a Will affects that distribution.

Massachusetts General Laws has an antilapse statute, M.G.L., c. 190B, Section 2-603. This statute states that if a beneficiary named in a Will is a grandparent or lineal descendant of a grandparent (a child, grandchild, parent, sibling, niece or nephew,  uncle or aunt, cousin, etc.) and that person predeceases you, then that relative’s share will then pass to his or her issue (their child or grandchildren) and not lapse. If Debbie Reynolds resided in Massachusetts and drafted a Will under Massachusetts laws that named her daughter Carrie Fisher as a beneficiary in her Will, then Carrie Fisher’s legacy would not lapse and it would then pass to her child unless the Will stated otherwise. 

In most cases having the child or children of a deceased lineal descendant of a grandparent receive that predeceased beneficiary’s legacy in a Will is the desired outcome anyway. In some cases, however, it may not be the desired outcome or even in the best interests of the beneficiary. You may not want the child or children of this deceased beneficiary to receive the legacy, or a child of the deceased beneficiary can be minor or mentally incapacitated and a conservator may need to be appointed, or a child of the deceased beneficiary might be receiving federal or state means-tested benefits that possibly could be negatively affected by the inheritance.

It is advisable to consider if the antilapse statute applies to beneficiaries named in your estate plan and determine if a beneficiary is a grandparent or lineal descendant of your grandparents. If a named beneficiary is not such a relative, the legacy would lapse if that person predeceases you and it would then be distributed according to the residue clause in the Will. It is always a good idea to name alternative takers whether they are close relatives or not in case the beneficiary named in your documents unexpectedly predeceases you and you were unable to amend your estate plan. Consider who else you would want to alternately receive that legacy from your estate. Consider also if that alternate beneficiary is even able to directly receive the legacy because of being a minor or incapacitated or if that person’s receipt of certain means-tested public benefits could possibly be negatively affected. 

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.

Voluntary Probate

Pam OddyAttorney Pamela OddyMany relatives wonder if it is worth probating the estate of a relative who passed away owning no real estate and with only modest personal property. In fact, there is a short form of probate called a Voluntary that is specifically designed to simplify settling such an estate if assets in the estate are owned and titled in the deceased's name alone. It is significantly cheaper and faster than a standard probate.

The following requirements must be satisfied before a Voluntary Probate can be used:

  1. The Petition cannot be filed until 30 days from the date of death have expired.
  2. The total value of the assets excluding the car cannot exceed $25,000.00.
  3. It can be used only for personal property.
  4. It cannot be used for real estate, even if the value of the real estate is less than $25,000.00.

I find that the most common assets which are required to be probated after a person has died and which qualify for a Voluntary Probate are stock (often the result of the de­mutualization of the company, i.e. MetLife) and a car (providing the deceased did not leave a spouse).

When settling the estate of someone who has died, it is always worthwhile to ascertain whether or not the estate can qualify for a Voluntary Probate.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.

ABLE Account: an investment vehicle for grandchildren with special needs

Seunghee Cha ProfileAttorney Seunghee ChaI often do estate planning for clients with a relative who has an intellectual or developmental disability. Quite a few of them are grandparents who contribute money to college savings accounts for their typically developing grandchildren. Over the years, some have expressed regret that they cannot do the same for a grandchild with special needs who is not expected to attend college. What could they do that is fair and thoughtful? They explore establishing a trust for the grandchild, even paying for the grandchild’s parents’ estate plan to help the family prepare for uncertainties.

Grandparents now have an additional new tool: the Achieving a Better Life Experience (“ABLE”) account. Modeled after the 529 college savings account, the ABLE account is a bipartisan accomplishment amending the federal tax law to permit a tax-favored investment vehicle for individuals with disabilities, thanks to advocacy by dedicated parents of children with Down syndrome.  

To open an ABLE account, the account owner and beneficiary must have a disability that began before age 26 and receive SSI or SSDI, or be medically certified to have a degree of disability that would medically qualify the person for SSI or SSDI. Each individual is permitted to have one ABLE account, to which anyone, including the individual, can contribute cash up to a combined annual total, from all contributors, of the annual gift tax exclusion amount ($15,000 in 2018). The funds are income-tax free at withdrawal, both at federal and state levels, if used for “qualified disability expenses” to increase the individual’s health, independence, and quality of life. Non-qualified disability expenses are subject to income tax and 10% penalty.

Examples of qualified disability expenses are education; housing; health, prevention, and wellness; transportation; personal support services; employment training and support; and assistive technology. The account assets are generally non-countable for eligibility for means-tested governmental benefits. The maximum account limit is the state’s 529 college savings plan limit ($400,000 for Massachusetts). For SSI recipients, up to $100,000 in the account is a non-countable asset. For people who receive Medicaid benefits, at death the remaining account assets are subject to state Medicaid estate recovery for Medicaid benefits received after opening the account.

The ABLE account is currently available in 28 states, 20 of which are national programs open to residents of any state. The Massachusetts program (open to residents of any state) is managed by Fidelity Investments and became available in May. If you are interested in opening an ABLE account for your grandchild, it’s worth shopping around for a suitable program. For more information and a comparison of the state programs, visit the ABLE National Resource Center.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online.

Free legal services for elders

LifePath supports Community Legal Aid (CLA) in providing free legal services to residents of Franklin County and Athol, Petersham, Phillipston, and Royalston in Worcester County who are age 60 and over. We want you to know more about these services and how to access them. This help is available because the Federal Older Americans Act provides funding to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs for civil legal assistance throughout the Commonwealth, and some of that money goes to LifePath, which then provides a grant to CLA.

Because the funding isn’t enough to allow us to provide full representation in response to each request for legal assistance, we are only able to assist with certain types of legal problems. The areas in which we are more likely to be able to provide advice or other assistance include:

  • denials or terminations of MassHealth
  • housing matters (such as evictions, denials or terminations of rental subsidies, and foreclosure)
  • denials, terminations or reductions of public benefits (such as unemployment insurance, SNAP/Food Stamps, Social Security/SSI/SSP, and state veterans services or ch. 115 benefits)
  • coverage denials and enrollment issues with Medicare

We also work with elders seeking assistance with issues of autonomy, abuse and exploitation.

In addition to looking at the type of problem for which our assistance is being sought, we try to:

  • determine the seriousness of the elder’s situation to ascertain whether we will provide a phone consultation to the caller
  • provide some level of legal assistance, which could involve representation in court proceedings
  • initially investigate the situation further on behalf of the elder before determining the role we can play
  • provide some referral information, if possible

Low-income elders with family law matters such as divorce would be referred to our Family Law Unit for a case acceptance decision, and those seeking assistance with bankruptcy would be referred to our Volunteer Lawyers Service for free assistance from an attorney in private practice.

CLA is open for telephone-assisted screening Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to12:15 p.m., and Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. Elders may call toll free at 1-855-252-5342. CLA also has an online application at www.communitylegal.org, which can be accessed at any time. Elders can also go to the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder website, www.MassLRF.org, which identifies what types of legal problems are appropriate for referral to CLA. The Legal Resource Finder can also help elders locate additional resources on a wide variety of legal topics.

We at Community Legal Aid look forward to assisting you with your legal questions and concerns. We accommodate clients with mobility and transportation challenges by meeting with them in our satellite office in Greenfield or in their home, medical facility, or in another mutually convenient location.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.