The Big Book: Organize Your Estate Planning

In case you missed it, an article in the business section of the Washington Post discussed a topic that I have been concerned about for years, the creation of “The Big Book.”  As explained by Reporter Thomas Heath in his May 18 article, the rich have what can amount to an army of professionals to track information on their financial lives. For the rest of us, “The Big Book” is a way to keep ourselves well informed about our assets, liabilities, basic documents, and other important bits and pieces that make up our daily lives in a complex digital world, including passwords to various accounts.   Having “The Big Book” in hand promotes independence and self-sufficiency. Being organized is the basis of good financial and estate planning.   Among items to be considered for inclusion in “The Big Book” are important documents such as copies of passports, work IDs, marriage licenses, birth certificate and Social Security cards, along with digital sign-ons and passwords. Heath also recommends to include documentation related to real estate, automobiles, bank accounts and investments and retirement accounts, insurance policies, and lists of health care providers, medications and emergency contacts.  While copies of estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, and advance health care directives are a part of The Big Book, to avoid difficulties, it is wise to keep originals of certain estate planning documents – notably wills and trusts – in a separate space.  While we live in a digital age, maintaining the originals of certain key documents remains important.   While compiling The Big Book may initially seem daunting, when this...

Mutual Consent Ground for Divorce Expands

General Assembly Expands Mutual Consent for Divorce Effective October 1, 2018, mutual consent as a ground for an absolute divorce will significantly expand.  Currently, for divorcing couples who do not have minor children and who can come to agreement in writing about property and alimony issues, there is no need to separate and wait one year before filing for an absolute (final) divorce based on the ground of mutual consent.  Such couples will also be required to refrain from filing a pleading to set aside their settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing and must both appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.   The new law expands the ground of mutual consent procedurally and substantively.  Procedurally, only one party needs to appear at the court hearing on the absolute divorce.  Substantively, the new law allows parties with minor children in common to use the ground of mutual consent if they resolve all issues related to the care, custody and support of their minor children with a written agreement.  The parties must attach a completed child support guidelines worksheet and satisfy the court that any terms of their agreement related to their minor or dependent children are in the best interest of these children. Of course, spouses with minor children must also resolve all matters pertaining to property and alimony in the form of a written agreement to use the ground of mutual consent.   Interestingly, Governor Hogan declined to endorse the two bills passed by the General Assembly on the ground of mutual consent, although he did allow the bills to become law without his signature. ...

Yes, we all need a will and estate plan.

When we hear the words ‘estate planning’ many misunderstand its significance for all income levels; it really does apply to all of us. The first element, the will, and the second, trusts, when applicable, form the important foundations of a financial document whose basic purpose is to secure your estate, of any size. For those of us who decline to write a will, the State of Maryland will direct the disposition of assets through the law of intestacy as found in the Estates and Trusts Article of the Maryland Code. The will is essential, serving as your voice when you are gone. It allows you to determine beneficiaries, designate guardians for your children, reduce estate taxes, and contribute to preferred charities. While not everyone needs trusts, they are a way of supporting the will by specifically naming who manages your estate and even placing conditions on the distribution of your assets. Estate planning, finally, is a gift to your family. By preparing and planning not only will your estate be distributed as you wish, but you will help avoid potential conflict among members of your family after your...

Why is mediation ordered by courts in family law cases?

When families are in conflict, mediation may be the ideal way to resolve problems, particularly in regard to finances and children. Interestingly, over the past twenty years, Maryland courts have adopted rules to require litigants in custody disputes to participate in mediation. Typically, Maryland courts order litigants with a dispute involving their children to participate in a Parenting Seminar and to attend a minimum of two sessions of formal mediation with a certified mediator who has completed extensive training required by the courts. Why do courts order mediation and what can we learn from this? Disputes related to families are associated with about one half of all civil cases. Moving these cases along efficiently is certainly one goal of our courts. Mediation is a tool that has been shown to help people resolve their differences by creating a safe environment to speak openly and clearly. It is also not unusual in mediation to uncover the source of a problem that really is not something that courts can address. Mediation often is less expensive that a litigated case that goes to trial. Mediation may lead to an agreement that is durable and mutually acceptable simply because the parties came to their own conclusions and a court did not impose a result. In such instances, the likelihood that the parties will return to court is reduced. I think that the courts are really on to...

Autumn Love: Arrangements for the Older Couple

While it may not be now on today’s top 40 list of songs, one great American standard truly resonates with older people.  The song, recorded by many, including Frank Sinatra, is called “The Second Time Around.”  The lyrics go like this: Love is lovelier the second time around Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground It’s that second time you hear your love song sung Makes you think perhaps that love, like youth, is wasted on the young Love’s more comfortable the second time you fall Like a friendly home the second time you call Who can say what brought us to this miracle we’ve found? There are those who’ll bet love comes but once, and yet I’m oh, so glad we met the second time around How wonderful!  But as is true with many things, consideration of the practical is also an important aspect of maintaining, as the song says, “this miracle.”  Older people who have acquired experience and hopefully wisdom while on life’s journey can certainly understand this. To that end, it is important for older couples to think carefully about arrangements that they may choose to make in establishing a household with another in later life.  For some, marriage is appropriate, while others may prefer a domestic partnership arrangement or a situation where each maintains his or her separate residence, sharing only in certain assets and liabilities.  There is not necessarily a perfect right or wrong answer.  A conversation with an attorney can help sort out which approach is best suited in your situation. Basic documents such as prenuptial or domestic partnership agreement can...