Thomas H. Sullivan

Attorney at Law

Probate

Defining Fair Market Value

Posted on: May 2nd, 2021
When reading through a will or trust agreement, you may see language that grants a right to an individual to purchase certain property from the estate or trust at “fair market value.” At first glance, this phrase may seem a perfectly reasonable method of setting a suitable purchase price for a property to be sold at a later date. But a recent court case out of Virginia teaches an important lesson to those who have a will or a trust that relies solely on the term “fair market value” to set a future price of property....

Planning Considerations for Unmarried Partners

Posted on: April 12th, 2021
When it comes to protecting your unmarried partner, there are several options to consider. Depending on the value of your money and property, your desired level of protection from your partner’s creditors, and other factors unique to your situation, one or more of these strategies may be beneficial. A word of caution: regardless of what methods you use, you must work with an experienced estate planning attorney. While do-it-yourself options may be cheaper, they can sometimes create more problems than they solve, and the problems can be expensive to remedy....

All in the Family: Understanding Common Legal Terms

Posted on: April 8th, 2021
While watching a movie or reading a book about wealthy individuals and their families, you may have come across terms such as “heir,” “descendant,” and “next of kin.” Though made-for-Hollywood storylines use these terms interchangeably, words describing familial relationships have distinct definitions. Using the correct terms is critical in wills, trusts, and other legal documents because words have significant implications. The wrong word can lead the courts to incorrectly interpret your documents and therefore cause an unintended result. Here are a few commonly confused words, their proper meanings, and some usage scenarios....

What If No One Wants My Stuff?

Posted on: February 28th, 2021
A critical question to ask yourself when creating an estate plan is who will get your stuff when you pass on? While most people think about who they would like to receive the major items—homes, retirement accounts, savings—personal property such as jewelry, clothing, sports equipment, vehicles, and other possessions are often overlooked. The truth is that while some mementos and sentimental items may be very valuable to you, the people that you want to give them to at your death may not need or want them. Who, then, will get your remaining property and possessions if no one wants them?...

My Loved One Has Died: As an Heir or Beneficiary, Do I Need an Attorney?

Posted on: January 30th, 2021
You just found out that your favorite aunt, Aunt Melba, has died. In the midst of your grief and sadness, you receive a notice from the attorney handling Aunt Melba's affairs stating that you are a beneficiary. Your best friend advises you to get an attorney. What should you do? Will Aunt Melba's attorney help you? After all, Aunt Melba's attorney has been helping your family for years. Since this attorney knows Melba and the family affairs, shouldn't her attorney be able to help you as well?...

The Importance of a Successor Trustee

Posted on: January 6th, 2021
An estate plan that includes a revocable living trust is an excellent way to protect yourself and your loved ones upon your passing or in the event you are unable to manage your own affairs. As opposed to other estate planning options, a revocable living trust gives you the ability to keep control of and enjoy your accounts and property during your lifetime and to maintain privacy in how the accounts and property are managed, and may save your loved ones the time and financial burden of going through probate....

Seven Ways to Avoid Family Fights over Your Property

Posted on: August 6th, 2020
Ask a group of friends if they have experienced a family fight over property after a loved one has died, and you will be in for a lively and eye-opening conversation. Far too many families end up fighting, or at least experiencing tension, over a family inheritance. But it does not have to be that way. Many families have worked through the details of divvying up a deceased loved one’s property remarkably well and ended up even closer. Having counseled families for years, we offer the following pearls of wisdom to help your family avoid fighting over your property when you are gone:...

5 Reasons Probate Takes So Long

Posted on: July 6th, 2020
After a loved one dies, their money and property must be distributed to the right people, either according to their will or the state’s default distribution scheme (found in its “intestacy” statute). While most people want the settlement process to be done ASAP, probate can take between 18 and 24 months. Yes, you heard that right. The time delays create unnecessary stress, especially for families who need access to those accounts or property....

Legal Requirements to Consider When Selecting an Executor

Posted on: June 30th, 2020
The person you choose to be your executor (sometimes called a personal representative) will play an extremely important role, as that person will be responsible for gathering, securing, managing, and ultimately distributing your money and property when you pass away. As a result, you should make your selection only after careful consideration regarding who is the best person to fulfill this role. Don’t just choose your oldest child because that’s what you think is expected: If a friend or advisor is more trustworthy or better qualified, that person may be a better choice....

How to Help Your Loved Ones Avoid Probate

Posted on: June 22nd, 2020
Today, many people are using a revocable living trust instead of a will or joint ownership as the foundation of their estate plan. When properly prepared, a living trust avoids the public, costly and time-consuming court processes of conservatorship or guardianship (due to incapacity) or probate (after death). Still, many people make a big mistake that sends their accounts and property and loved ones right into the court system: They fail to fund their trust....

3 Simple Ways to Avoid Probate Costs

Posted on: June 17th, 2020
The bad news: When a deceased person’s estate (all of their money and property) has to go through probate (the court-supervised process of distributing a deceased person’s money and property), it can be subject to a variety of costs stemming from attorneys, executors, appraisers, accountants, courts, and state law. Depending on the probate's complexity, fees can run into tens of thousands of dollars. The good news: Many of these probate costs can be reduced by avoiding probate. It’s really that simple....

How to Handle Savings Bonds in Estate Planning

Posted on: June 3rd, 2020
​A savings bond is defined as “a debt security issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to help pay for the U.S. government’s borrowing needs.” In effect, when you buy a savings bond, you are loaning the U.S. government money which is repaid with interest after a fixed period of time....

Ancillary Probate

Posted on: March 18th, 2020
Many people own property in more than one state—perhaps a vacation home in Florida, a rental property in a former home state, or even a car titled in another state. It is important to think about how that property will be handled as you create an estate plan. It may be necessary for there to be an additional probate proceeding called ancillary probate. Through proper estate planning, however, this result can be made less burdensome or even avoided....

Common Mistakes with DIY Estate Plans

Posted on: January 7th, 2020
The internet offers all the information and tools we need at our fingertips to create our own estate plan, right? For most people, this is simply not true. Several years ago, Consumer Reports®, an independent nonprofit consumer watchdog group, created wills using the forms provided by DIY websites and asked three law professors to review them. Although the professors found that the wills drafted using the DIY services were better than wills drafted by non-lawyers on their own, they were inadequate to fully meet the needs of most consumers. Although your DIY “estate plan” may initially cost only $49.95, it may end up being much, much more expensive than an estate plan designed by an experienced estate planning attorney. ...

Is a Handwritten Will Effective?

Posted on: December 3rd, 2019
At first glance, it may appear that a handwritten will is the easiest and cheapest way to dispose of your money and possessions when you pass away. However, this may not be the case for several reasons:...

Myths We Tell Ourselves About Estate Planning

Posted on: October 20th, 2019
Estate planning can be a very difficult process. While it’s not brain surgery, making the decision to move forward with the planning requires us to face the fact that we will not live forever. This thought can stop many people right in their tracks. Others talk themselves out of seeing a qualified attorney to put together an estate plan based on some of the following common myths:...

Planning for Your Automobile

Posted on: September 12th, 2019
Have you considered what will happen to your car when you pass away? In 2019, it is projected that there will be 281.3 million registered vehicles in the United States. Your car is a valuable asset—as well as a potential source of liability—that you should consider in your estate plan. Cars can be owned or leased. The way they are handled after you die depends on these and other circumstances. There are some steps you can take in your estate planning to make sure the transfer occurs smoothly....

Informal Probate Can’t Be As Bad As Formal Probate, Right?

Posted on: August 10th, 2019
The loss of a loved one comes with many unexpected challenges. Losing a beloved relative or friend can be overwhelming, and the process of handling their affairs in the wake of such a loss only adds to the stress. Many families are eager to tie up loose ends and distribute the assets of the deceased. To do so, formal or informal probate will need to occur....

4 Tips for Avoiding a Will or Trust Contest

Posted on: June 3rd, 2019
A will or trust contest can derail your final wishes, rapidly deplete your estate, and tear your loved ones apart. But with proper planning, you can help your family avoid a potentially disastrous will or trust contest. ...

The Harmonious Family that Won’t Fight? The Outcome May Surprise You

Posted on: May 28th, 2019
Most families are happy families. They get together for the holidays, share laughs, and tell stories. Everyone gets along and enjoys each other’s company. Then, the matriarch or patriarch dies. Suddenly, years of pent-up resentment and hurt feelings bubble to the surface, and the once-happy family is now embroiled in litigation over the decedent’s estate....

When is living probate necessary?

Posted on: May 2nd, 2019
If you become incapacitated, who is going to take care of you? You will not be able to make medical decisions for yourself and you will not be able to manage your day-today affairs. If you do not have the appropriate estate plan in place, your family may be headed to the probate court long before you are deceased....

When is probate necessary?

Posted on: April 7th, 2019
Whether or not you have an estate plan in place, you have likely heard the term "probate." Probate is the legal process by which a deceased individual's assets are distributed under court supervision. This process is necessary to distribute assets that are solely in the name of the deceased person. Probate is governed by state law....

Three Keys to Protecting Yourself from a Rogue Executor

Posted on: February 7th, 2019
Unfortunately, sometimes a death in the family can bring out the worst in people. Indeed, family resentments sometimes simmer during a time of grieving - particularly when money and assets from the deceased’s estate are involved. If you are a beneficiary under a loved one’s estate plan, you may be under the assumption that those assets will be distributed according to his or her wishes. Inheritance theft, however, is an underreported problem that can cost families dearly....

Do I Need a Will or Trust?

Posted on: February 7th, 2019
Yes! Everyone needs a will, trust, or both to ensure your legacy is passed on in the way you intend, to provide for children, spouse, and family members, and in the case of trusts, to avoid probate. Wills and trusts are not just for the wealthy: A well-drafted plan ensures that what you do have is not wasted in probate court, establishes your intentions for sentimental items and family heirlooms, and can even state your wishes for the care of pets....

11 Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Posted on: February 7th, 2019
Review this 11-point checklist to avoid the most common mistakes that could be lurking in your estate plan....

Did you or a loved one make any of these five critical estate planning mistakes?

Posted on: January 13th, 2019
Sadly, most Americans are indifferent to estate planning - at best - or completely ignore the issue - at worst. When it comes to estate planning, however, there are just some mistakes that you cannot afford to make. Below are five of the most critical estate planning mistakes....

Wills, Trusts and Dying Intestate

Posted on: January 2nd, 2019
Most people understand that having some sort of an estate plan is a good thing. However, many of us don’t take the steps to have an estate plan prepared because we don’t understand the nuances between wills and trusts – and dying without either....

Wills vs. Trusts: A Quick & Simple Reference Guide

Posted on: December 27th, 2018
Confused about the differences between wills and trusts? If so, you’re not alone. While it’s always wise to contact experts like us, it’s also important to understand the basics. Here’s a quick and simple reference guide:...

Consider "Micro" Estate Planning in the New Year

Posted on: December 18th, 2018
You are probably familiar with the idea and benefits of traditional estate planning: eliminating probate fees, lowering tax liabilities, and providing financial peace of mind and security for your loved ones. If you do not currently have an estate plan, you should consider getting one as soon as possible....

Murphy’s Law and Estate Planning

Posted on: November 17th, 2018
​As the old adage goes “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Referred to as Murphy’s law, this well-known saying has no mercy. Sadly, estate planning is no exception to its wrath. There is hope! Below are five-estate planning mistakes and how to fix them:...

Do your parents have an estate plan?

Posted on: September 19th, 2018
If you find yourself in the “sandwich generation” (someone who is caring for both your children as well as your parents simultaneously), you need to know whether or not your parents have put together an estate plan. While it is still your parent’s choice to make estate planning decisions, having a plan -- no matter how late in life it is created -- is an absolute must....

How an Estate Planning Letter of Intent Can Help Your Family

Posted on: July 13th, 2018
Estate planning is an important task that everyone should undertake as it helps to protect your family and loved one’s financial future. But estate planning can do much more than focus on finances, it can also provide for care of those you leave behind. One aspect of estate planning that is often overlooked but can be quite useful is the letter of intent. This document is typically contained within an estate plan and includes instructions on how the estate and decedent’s executors should manage the estate’s assets and care for family and loved ones....

Declare your Independence from Court Interference!

Posted on: July 3rd, 2018
While the rest of the nation celebrates its independence on July 4th, you can rest assured that you too can declare independence for your family -- from court interference. Life can be unpredictable. Whether it is a financial issue, the birth or adoption of a child, sickness or incapacity, it is important to be prepared with proper estate planning. In fact, failure to put together a comprehensive estate plan can leave you and your loved ones at the mercy of the court when it comes to distributing assets or caring for a minor or sick family member....

The Biggest Threats to Successful Estate Planning

Posted on: June 11th, 2018
Poor estate planning is a recipe for disaster. Look no further than Dickens’ Bleak House—or a telenovela—to witness the tragedy and melodrama inadequate estate planning can cause. While having your estate planning documents prepared is the first hurdle to overcoming these types of disasters, there are several threats that lurk around the corner that might derail your wishes....

Protecting Your Children’s Inheritance When You are Divorced

Posted on: May 1st, 2018
Consider this story. Beth’s divorce from her husband was recently finalized. Her most valuable assets are her retirement plan at work and her life insurance policy. She updated the beneficiary designations on both to be her two minor children. She did not want her ex-husband to receive the money....

Beneficiary Designations and a Blended Family

Posted on: April 26th, 2018
Whether you are in your first marriage or have remarried after a divorce, blended families are a common part of modern society. That being said, it is important to understand that blended families and subsequent marries create important and unique issues when it comes to estate planning....

How Estate Planning Can Help You Dream About Your Future

Posted on: March 13th, 2018
A dream without a plan is simply a wish. Estate planning is not just about death and taxes -- it puts you in the driver’s seat of your financial life, allowing you to set achievable goals. It is a great opportunity to focus on the legacy you want to leave behind for loved ones, help you avoid the expense and delay of probate, as well as help you save on taxes....

What do successor trustees and executors do?

Posted on: February 13th, 2018
An executor, sometimes called a personal representative, is the person who is named in a will, appointed by the court, and responsible for probating the will and settling the estate. Depending on the state, an executor may work under court supervision or may use so-called “independent” administration for an unsupervised probate....

Are Payable-On-Death Accounts Right For You?

Posted on: January 30th, 2018
A payable-on-death account, also called a POD account, is a common way to keep bank and investment accounts out of probate, the court-supervised process that oversees distributing a deceased person’s property. Most people want to avoid their estate going through probate because their heirs will receive the inheritance faster, privately, and at lower cost....

Debt After Death

Posted on: January 16th, 2018
If you carry debt, do not assume that your death or incapacity will make it automatically disappear. To the contrary, the money you owe may eat away at the assets you were planning to leave to your heirs or -- if you owe a large amount of money -- may wipe out your estate completely. Debt comes in many different forms including credit cards, student loans, car payments, mortgages, and other financial obligations....

How Your HSA Works with Your Estate Plan

Posted on: January 9th, 2018
If you’re enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you must consider how your health savings account (HSA) fits into your estate plan—especially to make sure that any hard-earned money left in your HSA when you die goes where you want it....

Do You Own Rental Property?

Posted on: November 15th, 2017
​A comprehensive estate plan should address all of your assets. For most people, an estate plan must include three common categories: (1) your home; (2) financial accounts, like your checking and savings account; and (3) personal property. Other types of assets - such as life insurance, retirement funds, and annuities - should also be considered as part of your estate plan. ...

Vacation Properties and Your Estate Plan

Posted on: November 2nd, 2017
If you own a vacation home, timeshare, investment property, or any other asset outside of the state where you are domiciled you must make sure it’s included in your estate plan. If you fail to include these in your estate plan, or fail to have an estate plan at all, your heirs will encounter issues, and usually the expense and hassle of court costs, when inheriting these assets....

Estate Planning Isn't Spooky!

Posted on: October 25th, 2017
The idea of implementing an estate plan might be one of the scariest things you have to confront as an adult. But estate planning does not have to make chills run down your spine. On the contrary, estate planning is empowering for both you and your family and allows you to live confidently knowing that things will be taken care of in the event of your passing or incapacity. Remember, estate planning is not just for the ultra-rich. If you own anything or have young children, you should have an estate plan. Read below to find out reasons why....

How A Living Trust Helps Your Family

Posted on: September 18th, 2017
There are several parts to an estate plan, one of them being a living trust. Common factors that prompt someone to create a trust include privacy, tax benefits, avoiding probate, and caring for family members with special needs. Estate planning also lets you dictate how your assets will pass on to future generations after your death....

Estate Planning 101

Posted on: August 13th, 2017
You have worked hard for years, have family members and friends you care about, and have approached a time in your life when “estate planning” sounds like something you should do, but you are not exactly sure why. You may feel that you are not wealthy enough or not old enough to bother or care. Or you may already have a Will and feel that you are all set on that front. Whatever your current position, consider these common misconceptions about estate planning....

Isn't There Already A Law That Leaves Everything To My Spouse And Kids?

Posted on: July 11th, 2017
Many people think that if they die while they are married, everything they own automatically goes to their spouse or children. They’re actually thinking of state rules that apply if someone dies without leaving a will. In legal jargon, this is referred to as “intestate.” In that case, the specifics will vary depending on each state's law, so where you live when you die can significantly change the outcome for your family....

How to Build Freedom From Court Interference Into Your Estate Plan

Posted on: March 7th, 2017
It’s clear why you might want to avoid court involvement in your estate for financial reasons, knowing that probate can quickly get costly and time consuming for those involved. But there is an emotional component to it as well. Your assets are just that: yours. And the idea of them being discussed and deliberated on in a public forum might not be such an appealing one....

The Top 2 Ways the Court Gets Involved in Your Estate, and How to Avoid Them

Posted on: February 21st, 2017
No one wants unnecessary court involvement in their life. But without careful and proactive estate planning, chances are that some aspect of your estate will end up being decided there....