Jim Henson Says Goodbye to His Loved Ones

Before his death, Jim Henson, the creative genius behind the much-loved Muppets, penned two letters for his loved ones to open on his death, one for his children and one for his friends and family. In 1990, Mr. Henson died at age 53 leaving family, friends, and several generations of fans and admirers to morn his passing.

Jim Henson

Cover of Jim Henson

Despite his early passing, Mr. Henson’s parting words were hopeful and uplifting. He wished his children a “fun, and joyous, and fulfilling” life and promised that if he could not watch over them, he would at least be waiting to meet them on the other side. He continued by reminding his children that he “has always loved each of [them] with an eternal, bottomless love” and asked them to “watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody.” He finished with a simple reminder and request: “It’s a good life, enjoy it.”

To his friends and family, his message was similar in tone. Mr. Henson explained that he was not afraid of death, but, instead, looked forward to being reunited with old friends. He conveyed his wish for a “nice, friendly little service of some kind” with a song or two from some of his friends that sing and few happy words from some of his close friends about what they enjoyed doing together. He also asked that a Dixieland band play and end the service with “a rousing version of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’”

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Where do tweets go when you die?

When you pass away, you might leave behind online files at a number of different online sites. A recent article provides some advice on how to include these online assets in your comprehensive estate plan.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many companies with online accounts have set policy on what to do when their users die. Facebook will delete your profile at your loved ones’ request, or allow them to maintain the profile as a memorial. Yahoo and Instagram will delete your profile if your loved ones provide proof of death. However, they will not provide your loved ones with your password. Twitter will provide your loved ones with a copy of all your tweets. Google allows users to choose up to 10 people who can access designated files after you pass away.

It might not be practical to keep yourself informed of all the policies of the all online companies with which you have an account. Instead, consider maintaining a list of usernames and passwords for your online accounts. You can provide the list to a designated person and include instructions for how you want your accounts handled after you pass away.  If you are uncomfortable giving away your passwords while you are still alive, you can sign up for a service like PasswordBox, which allows users to store all of their usernames and passwords online. When you pass away, PasswordBox will grant a person of your choosing access to your information.

If you would like assistance with drafting an online estate plan or any other aspect of estate planning, feel free to contact me.

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Vulnerable Aging Populations are affected by Rising Rates of Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is a serious and ongoing issue facing seniors nationwide, with losses estimated at around $2.9 billion nationally, and Massachusetts’ aging population is not exempt. According to a recent article, the Massachusetts Protective Services authorities were contacted around 21,000 times last year on suspicions of elder abuse, with, approximately, one third of cases involved some form of financial exploitation. This problem is expected to increase as vulnerable populations of senior with Alzheimer’s disease are projected to double, and perhaps triple, in number across the country by 2050.

An Elderly Woman Wearing Glasses and Reading a...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In response to the projected increase in seniors targeted for financial abuse, several initiatives have been introduced. The initiatives, focusing on understanding the scope and size of the issue in order to create effective strategies aimed at combatting the abuse, include a Massachusetts special state commission tasked with investigating and making recommendations to the Governor’s office to strengthen protective services for elders.

The Commission, lobbied for by Massachusetts Representative Paul Brodeur, is expected to issue a report in January 2014, which includes a proposal establishing teams of financial experts who can serve as volunteer assistance in unraveling financial scams for the often overwhelmed protective service staff.

Specialists and legal experts have also come together to form the Center for Law, Brain, And Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital, which, among other things, is focused on better understanding the changes in the brain, which can leave seniors vulnerable to undue influence in financial decisions.

More Information on Reporting Elder Abuse
Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs: Protective Services

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Lexington Providers’ Meeting – January 23, 2014

Please join us for the Lexington Providers’ Meeting at Youville Place in Lexington on Thursday, January 23, 2014. The meeting features a special presentation by Noreen Murphy, Esq., Certfied Elder Law Attorney. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to lisayarin@youvillehouse.org


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Medicare Coverage: Going Home For The Holidays.

This week The Center for Medicare Advocacy  issued a timely reminder: patients in a Nursing Home may leave the facility to enjoy the holidays with family without losing their Medicare coverage. Medicare’s own Policy Manual instructs facilities not to tell patients that if they leave the facility they will lose their coverage.

If a nursing home resident leaves the facility for the day, but returns by midnight, the facility can bill Medicare for that day. If the resident leaves the facility, but does not return by midnight, that day will not be billed to Medicare, and is considered a temporary leave of absence.

The facility is allowed to charge the patient to hold their bed – called a “bed-hold” fee -during a temporary leave of absence. But, the facility must tell the patient ahead of time that they will be charged, tell them the cost of holding their bed, and the patient must elect to make the payment. Most of the time the bed-hold fee is worth paying. If a patient is well enough to leave the facility overnight, it is comforting for families to know their loved one can go back to the same bed, in the same facility, without having to go through any readmission process.

Center for Medicare Advocacy: You Can Leave the Nursing Home: Home for the Holidays (November, 2013)


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Social Security Going Up 1.5% in 2014

The Social Security Administration announced today that benefit amounts will be increasing 1.5% starting in 2014. The 1.5% increase is based on the Cost of Living (COLA), and is one the smallest increases since automatic COLA increases started in 1975.

It is not a big increase, but is better than 2009 and 2010 when there was no increase at all. The largest increase was 14.3, which happened in 1980.

History of COLA Increases Since 1975

Social Security Administration Press Release

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Estate Planning For Frequent Flyer Miles

There are lots of things people include in their Will or Trust: who will care for their minor children if they can not, special documents for disabled beneficiaries, even planning for pets. But how about those frequent flyer miles that have been collecting? Can you give those to someone when you pass away? Well, the answer seems to be a qualified “maybe.”


The formal policy for whether the miles can be passed on is found in the terms and conditions of the contract with each airline. Some airlines allow it, some do not, and some say they do not, but maybe the actually do – or at least they will if they do not know the owner has died.

In 2012, The New York Times asked six airlines about their policy on transferring miles upon the death of a member, and found that two have written policies allowing this: American and US Airways. JetBlue also allows transfers, but does not have a written policy. The transfer will be done upon request and within a year of death.

On the other hand, Southwest has a written policy that does not allow transfers of its RapidRewards when a member dies, but the account remains open for two years (see Tip 4 below for transferring miles using the account and password).

Delta’s official policy is to not allow the transfer, but until March 2013, had an affidavit on its website that would start the transfer process. That affidavit has now been removed, and here is an excerpt from the new Delta SkyMiles Membership Guide:

“Restrictions on Transfer

Miles are not the property of any Member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding (emphasis added).”

So, given the various airline policies, is there anything you can do to try and ease the transfer or redemption? Since these miles may be worth thousands of dollars, it’s at least worth trying – despite what the written policy may say.  Here are some tips that may help:

1. Mention your frequent flyer miles in your Will or Trust.  You can either give them to a specific person, or give them to a group of people. For example, “I give my miles (or points) in my [name of program] to my spouse, if she survives me. If she does not survive me, I give this bequest, in equal shares, to my then living children.”

2. If you are on the receiving end of the transfer, do not wait too long. Even airlines that allow transfers may have deadlines. Also remember, depending on the airline, inactive accounts may expire after a certain amount of time – usually 24 -36 months – so even if you have the account number and password, the miles may be gone.

3. If you are claiming miles under a bequest, be prepared to provide a copy or original death certificate and a copy of the Will that has the language giving the miles. Some airlines will also want an affidavit signed by the designated beneficiary.

4. Keep a list of your frequent flyer account and passwords up to date and let family members know where they can find that information. Most airlines allow transfers using the online account, but may limit the number of miles able to be transferred.

5. If you are unable to transfer the miles out of the account, call the airline customer service department. Despite some written policies, a customer service representative may be more accommodating and willing to help.

Additional Information:

Reuters: Don’t Let Frequent Flier Miles Die With You (2013)

NY Times Article: The Afterlife of Your Frequent Flier Miles (2012)

Forbes: How to Pass On Frequent Flyer Miles (2012)

American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys: Up-in-the-Air Estate Planning: Frequent Flyer Miles (2011)

Note: When I was writing this post, I was not sure whether to use “flier” or “flyer.” I noticed that my research showed both spellings seemed to be used interchangeably. So, I researched and found that either is acceptable. I decided that “flyer” was the better choice.  ”Flier or Flyer



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Winchester Elder Law Attorney Receives CELA

I am pleased, and proud, to let you know that I have recently been accredited as a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA)* by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF). Achieving this designation was not easy, but I knew that by taking part in and completing the rigorous certification process, I would be able to continue to provide you with the best possible counsel on matters impacting your well-being and that of your loved ones.

I don’t like to toot my own horn about personal achievements, so I’ll let the folks at NELF toot the horn for me. Here is how they describe the rigorous accreditation process, and the standards that must be met, to receive certification.

A Certified Elder Law Attorney is more than just an attorney who specializes in the field of elder law. CELAs are committed, through certification, to maintaining and improving their proficiency with continual practice and continuing legal education. Becoming certified in elder law validates a lawyer’s specialty to handle issues that affect senior citizens. A CELA is in a unique position to serve the interests of older, maturing populations by having met comprehensive and strict requirements. He or she must:

  • Be licensed to practice law in at least one state or the District of Columbia
  • Be actively practicing law and must have practiced law for at least five years prior to applying for certification
  • Be a member in good standing of the Bar Associations in all places where he/she is licensed
  • Have spent an average of at least 16 hours a week practicing elder law during the three years preceding the application for certification. The attorney must also have handled at least 60 elder law matters during those three years with a specified distribution among a wide variety of topics
  • Have participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in elder law during the three years preceding the application
  • Be favorably evaluated by five elder law attorney specialists
  • Pass a one time full-day certification examination
  • Repeat a similar elder law certification process every five years

An elder law attorney must be fully aware of the applicable tax consequences of any action, or will recommend the need for more sophisticated tax expertise if needed. Attorneys certified in elder law will also readily recognize areas of concern that may arise during counseling and representation relating to the following issues:

  • Abuse, neglect or exploitation of an older or disabled person
  • Insurance
  • Housing
  • Long-term care
  • Employment
  • Retirement

It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I did it. I look forward to meeting your planning needs in the future.

*Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation.

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Estate Planning: Don’t Forget The Life Insurance

People put a lot of thought into their Wills and Trusts – particularly the part about who will get what after they die. Specific gifts are carefully drafted, percentages are tweaked, and special needs beneficiaries are addressed using special documents.


But there may be other assets that slip through the cracks of this careful planning.  As part of the estate planning process, all beneficiary designations should be reviewed, and copies placed into the estate planning binder. Any asset that has a beneficiary designation will go to the person listed – regardless of the direction in the Will or Trust. Since this designation pulls the asset out of the control of a Will, it is called a “non-probate” asset.

In Massachusetts, there are several statutes that specifically deal with non-probate transfers. M.G.L. ch. 190B, sec. 6-101 states that the asset “must be paid” to the person designated.

M.G.L. ch. 190B, sec. 6-309 deals with “Transfer on Death” designations, and states that the Transfer on Death designation will be followed because it is a “contract” between the owner and the company. Because another document is controlling the distribution of the account – not the Will – it is a non-probate transfer. Any contradictory terms in a Will or Trust are ignored.

So, even though you may have spent hours planning the distribution of your PROBATE estate, make sure you also check your beneficiary designations regularly. Keep copies of the current designations with your other estate planning documents so the Personal Representative can notify the beneficiary.

Additional Information:

Supreme Court Favors Ex-Wife Over Widow In Battle For Life Insurance Proceeds (Forbes)

Joint Ownership Is Not An Estate Plan

Estate Planning With An IRA


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Estate Taxes: How Much and What States?

For many people, the “Fiscal Cliff” deal done in January 2013, resolved potential estate tax issues: the Federal threshold for taxable estates was permanently moved to $5,000,000.00 per person (indexed for inflation, so the actual 2013 amount is $5,250,000.00).  If the total estate is below that amount, there are no Federal taxes on the estate.

However, 21 states and the District of Columbia still impose some form of tax on estates. A few states impose an “inheritance tax” of varying degrees, depending on the relationship of the deceased to the person getting the inheritance. Some states are gradually eliminating the state estate tax entirely. Other states, Massachusetts for example, have a lower threshold than the Federal amount ($1,000,000.00 in Massachusetts), and cap the estate tax taxable percentage (in Massachusetts the maximum tax rate is 16%).

Forbes Magazine has an interesting and useful state-by-state map detailing estate and inheritance taxes: Where Not To Die In 2013  

A more detailed analysis of the estate tax: Is the Estate Tax Doomed (NY Times)

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