Category Archives: Parents of Minor Children

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Will

In an utterly predictable fashion, now that the media has calmed down about his overdose, they have turned their attention to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s will. I can just picture the eager little interns running down to the Manhattan Surrogate Court (which we call the Probate Court here in Massachusetts) to get a copy of his will, which, like all wills, is public record.

The stories seem to concentrate on 2 things – that he left instructions for his children’s guardian about where he wanted his son to live, and that he never updated his will after his daughters were born.

It is important to leave instructions for your children’s potential guardian, but these do not have to be in the will itself and I would never recommend that my clients do that. I encourage them to write a letter of intent for their guardians outlining their wishes for their children and their upbringing. This letter remains private unless and until it is needed. And even then, it remains private within the family and is not submitted to the Court along with the will. In addition, as interesting as it may be to some where Mr. Hoffman wanted his children to live, that decision remains in the hands of their mother. The instructions for the guardian don’t come into play here because they don’t have and don’t need a guardian – they have a living parent who will continue to make decisions about their lives as she has been.

The other thing the articles (and the people in their comment sections) seem to focus on is that his will wasn’t updated after the birth of either of his daughters. This does not mean that they have been disinherited. Most, if not all, states have a “pretermitted child” statute, which means that children who have been accidentally left out of a will, will inherit the same amount they would have if the parent had died without a will. If a parent wants to disinherit a child, they must specify in the will that they are being disinherited or receiving nothing from the estate.

In addition, I draft my wills and guardianship nomination documents to include “any child or children hereafter born to or adopted by” my clients. This makes sure that those children are included without my clients needing to stop by my office on their way home from the hospital to change their will.

While I find articles like this a little bit creepy, I think they do remind people of the importance of having a plan in place to protect ourselves and our families, and provide a way to bring up the topic with someone who may have been reluctant to discuss it.

As Your Family Changes, So Should Your Estate Plan

I have noticed that clients sometimes have difficulty making decisions on their estate plan because they can’t see the future. They get stuff on the “what if…” “We could name our friends out of state as guardians now while our kids are babies, but what if when they are older they don’t want to move?”Continue Reading

Pros and Cons of Having A Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is a legal entity (and a document) to which you transfer all or part of your assets during your lifetime. You retain the power to remove or sell the assets and to change or revoke the trust. It provides for the management and distribution of your property during your lifetime andContinue Reading

Being Prepared Has Its Benefits

I talk a lot about being prepared here – having the legal documents in place so that your family and advisors can step in in the event of an emergency and make sure that your finances, health care and children are taken care of.  It’s not that the chances of an emergency happening on anyContinue Reading

“We Can’t Decide On Guardians for the Kids”

This is, by far, the number one thing that holds up parents of young children on their way to the attorney’s office to get their wills and guardianship nominations done.  I’ve had people tell me that their solution was to just wait until the kids turned 18 to do any sort of planning so theyContinue Reading

Who Should Be Trustee of Our Special Needs Trust?

When parents are setting up a Special Needs Trust in Massachusetts for a child, one of the primary considerations is who will serve as trustee in the event that the parents can no longer fill this role.  The trustee is the person who would be in charge of making decisions about money and property, makingContinue Reading

What I Meant Was….

In my line of work, I spend a lot of time with my clients talking about their wishes for the future. Who they want helping them, what kind of help they want, where they want their things to go when they pass away.  I spend a lot of time making sure I understand completely whatContinue Reading

How Does Property Pass Without A Will For A Married Person With No Children?

If someone without a Will passes away in Massachusetts, the law states how their property is distributed. When that person is married, but has no children, many people think that all property would pass to their spouse. But that’s not actually what the law says. Let’s say for example we have a couple named CarrieContinue Reading

How Property Is Distributed Without A Will

Many people pass away without a will in place. When meeting with clients who have no Will I like to let them know how their property would pass if they died without a Will in place. This way, even if they decide not to proceed they will at least know what will happen, and explainingContinue Reading

Quick Tip – Nominating A Couple To Serve As Guardians

Many times when people are choosing potential guardians for their minor children they will choose a couple.  “My sister and her husband will be our primary guardians, and my husband’s brother and his wife will be our alternates.” I always ask another questions after this – if only one person in the couple was availableContinue Reading