Tisbury Senior Center legal clinic outlined strategies for wills

Attorney Arthur P. Bergeron and Sharon McLaughlin of McLaughlin Education Consulting presented a legal clinic about wills at the Tisbury Senior Center. — Photo by Janet Hefler

Frank and Mary have three children, Peter, Paul and Mary Junior. Their goal is to divide their estate equally among their children when they are both dead. Although that sounds simple enough, as Attorney Arthur P. Bergeron explained recently, complications in their adult children’s lives, such as debt, divorce, and disabilities, are important considerations when planning a will.

On June 11 at the Tisbury Senior Center, Mr. Bergeron offered helpful tips about wills, using the fictional family as an example. About 60 people attended the free legal clinic titled, “Wills 202: Protecting Your Children From Themselves,” the last in a three-part series sponsored by the Tisbury Council on Aging.

Mr. Bergeron explained how to plan ahead so that bequests do not inadvertently go to an heir’s creditors or disgruntled spouse, or disqualify him or her for disability funds. Sharon McLaughlin of McLaughlin Education Consulting joined him to discuss how bequests in wills, whether to a parent or a student, can impact eligibility for college financial aid and the cost of college.

Mr. Bergeron, an attorney in the Mirck O’Connell law firm’s Worcester office, has practiced law in Massachusetts for more than 30 years. Elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration, and land use matters are his focus. Ms. McLaughlin, a college administrator with more than 20 years’ experience in student enrollment services, established her college planning service in 2003.

The two experts packed a lot of complex information into the hour-long program. Mr. Bergeron said their goal was to help their audience appreciate the fact there are a number of different ways to approach wills and estate planning.

“The goal of all estate planning is to sleep well at night,” Mr. Bergeron concluded. “Think about your children’s situation and if it has changed since you did your will. If you have a will that was done when things were simple, you owe it to yourself and your kids to rethink things.”

Following the legal clinic, in an email to The Times Mr. Bergeron listed what he considered the key pieces of advice included in the presentation:

If you are leaving assets to a person who you think may be headed for divorce, consider putting the money in trust for the person’s benefit.

Understand that your estate plan, and what you may be giving to a child, can be taken into account if that child gets divorced, even if you haven’t died yet.

Understand that if you give your grandchildren money for college, the money will probably reduce their eligibility for financial aid.

If your child is disabled or has creditor problems, you should put their share in trust for their benefit.

Mr. Bergeron will return in July and August to present two legal clinics hosted by the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging. He said he invited lawyers who practice in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to join him for the benefit of the many visitors and Islanders who own homes in those states as well as on Martha’s Vineyard.

On July 19, Mr. Bergeron and the guest attorneys will focus on the estate and income tax implications of owning property on Martha’s Vineyard. On August 16 they will discuss how owning property on Martha’s Vineyard impacts a person financially if he or she requires nursing home care and needs to qualify for Medicaid.

Both legal clinics start at 1 pm at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center at 21 Wamsutta Avenue and include lunch. For more information and to register, call 508-693-4509.