General Legal

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Are 2 or More Fiduciaries Better Than One?

There is no denying that choosing a fiduciary—the individual or entity responsible for another’s financial affairs—is a difficult decision.  Who is the best choice for Executor of your will, or Trustee of your trust?  These fiduciaries are entrusted with your estate and expected to fulfill your wishes about the  management and distribution of your remaining funds upon your death.  Your attorney requests a name and an alternate or two, but you want everyone to serve together.  How can you possibly narrow down the field when you want to name 2 or more individuals to the position? Following are some tips to aid you in that decision:

(1) Courts Are Operating at Maximum Efficiency, so They Embrace a Challenge.  Why not name 3 or 4 Co-Executors?  Probate Court is a well-oiled machine, especially with its new electronic filing system, so it will embrace all the extra filings, signatures, and notices that will be required with numerous Executors.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Lawyer Joke

Diogenes went to look for an honest lawyer.  “How’s it going?”, someone asked.  “Not too bad,” said Diogenes.  “I still have my lantern.”


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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Change of Mind, Change of Estate Plan

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that change is the only constant in nature.   Modern times continue to demonstrate that change is inevitable, and human behavior models that same understanding.  In the area of estate planning, attorneys strive to draft plans that are flexible, withstand passage of time, and anticipate certain life changes.  Planning for a client’s change of mind is a bit trickier, but that is why most plans are revocable, amendable, or replaceable.

It’s a bit ironic when someone signs a “Last Will,” as it only means it is the last one they signed up to that point in time.

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Tip / News: New Numbers for 2021

Estate/transfer tax

Vermont estate tax exclusion: $5,000,000

Federal estate and lifetime gift tax threshold: $11,700,000

Federal gift tax exclusion (annual): $15,000 [no change from 2020]

Vermont Medicaid

Community Spouse Resource Allowance: $130,380

Home Equity Limit (singles): $603,000




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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Hello 2021—Let’s Get Motivated!

Is there anyone sad to say goodbye to 2020?  For many of us, 2021 epitomizes the symbolic renewal of a new year, with an extra kick of life motivation.  In what ways will you channel this energy?  Unread books, unfinished household improvements, abandoned fitness routines, neglected personal affairs?  This may be the year!

All adults should tend to their personal affairs in some manner, and the task need not be painful.  (Leave the “no pain, no gain” mantra to your exercise regimen!) For some this may be a simple review of existing documents or an update of contact lists and account inventories.   But for others this may be a new venture, and we’ll review the basics.

There are three key components to estate planning: (1) distributing assets at your death; (2) managing your assets and personal affairs during life; and (3) advocating your health care treatment.
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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Fighting Pandemic Blues

Many of us are suffering from pandemic fatigue—at home, in the workplace, and in the community.  Are you taking time for your mental health? And are you finding creative ways to safely connect with family, co-workers, and friends?  Because our office maintains a hybrid model of remote and in-office scheduling, our entire team is never in the office at the same time.  While we have enjoyed some outdoor lunches at the park, our most recent outing involved a local corn maze.  We all made it out!


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Monday, October 19, 2020

Pandemic Lessons Regarding Health Advocates

Autumn is in full swing, and most of us are certainly wishing an end to 2020!  Whether you have had health issues yourself, have assisted a loved one with their health care needs, or are now simply more aware of the fact that you may someday need to rely upon another to make medical decisions, the pandemic reminds us of the importance of advanced health care planning.

All competent adults aged 18 and over should have an Advance Health Care Directive (referred to as a Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care in other nearby states).  Should you lack the ability to effectively communicate with your health care professional at anytime, this document specifies who can speak on your behalf and make health decisions.  There are many free versions of sample documents on the Department of Health’s website, and estate planning attorneys also have versions they may create for clients.  If you do one on your own, be careful to follow the directions and obtain 2 qualified witnesses.

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Lady Bird Deed Has Soared into Vermont Statutes

An Enhanced Life Estate Deed (ELED), sometimes referred to as a “Life Estate Deed with Reserved Powers,” “Lady Bird Deed,” “Medicaid Deed,” or “Italian Deed,” graduated from Vermont’s common law into Title 27 of the Vermont Statutes when Governor Phil Scott signed the Vermont Enhanced Life Estate Deed Act into law on July 13, 2020.  Although there are variations of life estate deeds in other states, Vermont has been just one of six states that recognize an ELED.  (The 5 other states include Texas, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and West Virginia.)

With the common law life estate remaining intact, the main purpose of the ELED Act was to clarify some of the rights and reservations of the property owner (Grantor), settling title questions raised by Courts, lenders, and title insurance  companies.

The following outline recaps the highlights of previously-existing ELED:

¨ Grantor conveys a property interest to a Grantee that takes effect upon the death of the Grantor

¨ Grantee acquires immediate title to property upon death of Grantor, without probate

¨ There is no Gift Tax return requirement, as there is no present gift

¨ The property receives a step-up in tax basis (for capital gains)upon the death of the Grantor

¨ If used as a primary residence, the property is an exempt asset for Medicaid purposes (with an equity limit of $595,000 if no spouse resides there) AND there is no transfer penalty

As an improvement upon existing common law, the ELED Act adds the following clarifications:

¨ Grantor may revoke or revise the deed without consent of Grantee

¨ Granting of mortgage does not revoke the ELED

¨ If a sole Grantee, or a “tenant-in-common” Grantee predeceases the Grantor, that interest will pass to that Grantee’s heirs or beneficiaries in Probate


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Friday, April 24, 2020

Indoor Scavenger Hunt-Estate Edition

There’s no debating that we are living through unprecedented and challenging times right now.  While many are combating this pandemic on the front lines, many more of us are following the “stay home, stay safer” model prescribed by our leaders.  And staying home may be on our agenda for longer than originally expected or what some of us think we can tolerate.  The binge-watching, the banana bread baking, the macaroni necklace crafting, the mask-sewing, the spring cleaning, closet organizing, and the list goes on. Have you run out of ways to spend your time at home?

Here’s another suggestion: indoor scavenger hunt—estate edition.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The SECURE (“Setting Every Community Up for Retirement”) Act of 2019: Why it May Not Impact Your Estate Plan

Many individuals have questions and concerns about the SECURE Act that was signed into law at the close of 2019.  One section significantly changes the rules regarding required distributions from retirement plans (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and the like) – not for the plan participant or owner, but for the beneficiary. 

Spouses and a small category of other individuals are not affected by the law – they may continue to stretch the distributions over their life expectancy.  However, for most non-spouse beneficiaries inheriting a retirement account, funds will need to be withdrawn in full no later than ten (10) years after the owner’s death, instead of the previous lifetime “stretch” of those distributions.  Individuals who have been aggressively directing taxable income to retirement accounts, with the assumption that their children and grandchildren would be able to withdraw funds over many decades, are the most affected by the new law.

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Friday, November 8, 2019

Lawyer Joke

Q: What do you get when you cross a librarian with a lawyer?

A: All the information you need, but you can’t understand a word of it.


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