I love the opportunity that a new year brings, providing an opportunity to take stock in goals and experiences. This year marks the start of my 31st year practicing law, and in looking back over the previous 30 years, I’ve realized that there are common themes that can be pulled from clients’ cases that may prove helpful to consider when looking at organizing your personal and business affairs this year and beyond.
How do you own the title to your home? This is a question that I often ask clients, and many times they don’t have a clear answer. It is important to understand how title is held, and what the consequences can be for your particular choice. Is your title held jointly with a spouse, other family member, friend or business partner? Often times, people assume that this is or is not the case. Perhaps you inherited property with a sibling from a parent or other relative’s estate, in which case title would be held as tenants in common, as opposed to as joint tenants. Either way, take the time to review the title to your home, or other real estate, you may own. There is no right or wrong way for how this should be handled, but if you own a home, it’s wise to be aware of how the title is held and to make changes where necessary to ensure that liability, risk and estate planning considerations are addressed properly.
What triggers an estate to be probated? The process of probating an estate can be quite costly, both in terms of time and money. Some folks think that if they have a Will, that their estate will not have to be probated. Others think it is the opposite, that if they do not have a Will their estate will not have to be probated. Actually, the answer is not whether you have a Will or not, but rather how you hold title to your assets at the time of your death that determines of your estate will have to be probated in order to pass title to your assets to your loved ones. Probating an estate comes into play when assets are held by the deceased party in his or her name alone (or as a tenant in common with another). If on the other hand assets are held jointly, or in a trust or with a designated beneficiary or beneficiaries, such as an IRA, then passing assets along is generally a simpler legal process. Therefore, it may make sense to change how you hold title to your assets, depending on the particular circumstances and your estate planning objectives.
The digital evolution of exchanging information. The single biggest change in the legal profession and in most professions is the evolution of technology and how information and documents are created, exchanged, and stored. Electronic communication can be confusing and can have serious legal consequences. Determining what is a binding agreement and what is just an informal exchange is the most dramatic factor in practicing law in 2017 vs. the late 1980’s. Who would have thought 10, 20 or 30 years ago that you’d need to consider if a text message could form a legally binding agreement? (The answer, as is often the case with many legal issues, is … “it all depends!”).
I’m hoping that this insight provides some good fuel for consideration as you get going in 2017. If you or someone that you know would benefit from discussing the ins and outs of their real estate or estate planning portfolios, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at (781)344-2886.
Best wishes for good health and happiness in 2017!