Vaughn-Martel Law Welcomes Law Clerk Michael J. O’Brien

MichaelO'BrienMichael J. O’Brien joins Vaughn-Martel Law as a law clerk and will be assisting the Firm’s attorneys and its clients.

Michael is a Juris Doctor Candidate at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to his studies, Michael is also a staff member of the Journal of High Technology, a Lexis Associate, and member of the Queer Law Alliance and Child and Family Law Student Association.

Michael recently served as research assistant for Suffolk Law School Professor John Infranca, where he preformed extensive research to help develop a new law course, Boston Urban Law and Policy.

Michael was part of the dual undergraduate degree program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he simultaneously received a B.S. in Kinesiology, and a B.A. in Spanish. While pursuing his undergraduate degrees, Michael studied abroad at the Colegio Salesiano María Auxiliadora in Salamanca, Spain, and volunteered in rural Llamas, Peru.

Michael is interested in pursuing a career in estate planning and real estate. He is a member of the American Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Boston Bar Association.

In his free time, Michael enjoys training for half-marathons and marathons, traveling, and relaxing at home with his fiancé, Andrew.

Tax-Time Reminder: Insurance Premiums For Same-Sex Spouses Are Not W-2 Income

same-sex couples tax preparationTax season is upon us again and although the process is slowly becoming more streamlined for married same-sex couples, there are still some additional things to consider when filing your 2014 income taxes and, possibly, amending prior year returns. Last year, the IRS issued an Information Letter which provided married same-sex couples with guidance and instructions regarding how to file their income tax returns as to properly exclude health insurance premiums incorrectly included in their gross income on their W-2 forms.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in the 2013 case, United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013), same-sex spouses were not considered “spouses” as defined by the federal government. As a result, even if the couple’s marriage was recognized in their home state, for federal income tax purposes, health insurance premiums paid on behalf of the spouse of the employee were includable in the employee’s income. This is known as “imputed income”.

Following the Windsor case, the IRS issued guidance making it clear that all spouses of married employees are to be treated as “spouses” for federal income tax purposes. While many employers and their payroll departments complied immediately, some 2013 W-2 (and possibly 2014) forms were issued with health insurance premiums included in gross wages, incorrectly. Information Letter 2014-0012 gives tax payers the guidance and instructions they need to correctly exclude the health insurance premiums incorrectly included in their gross wages from their income tax returns. Because most employers are not issuing corrected W-2 forms for same-sex couples for years before 2013, the Letter is also helpful to those who need to file amended federal income tax returns.

Please review the Information Letter using the link above for instructions and always speak with an accounting professional when preparing and filing your taxes.  Emily Towne McNeil is an attorney at Vaughn-Martel Law and focuses her practice in estate planning and probate administration.

Tax Implications of Divorce; Recent Tax Court Decisions Affirm Alimony Principles

In nearly every divorce, decisions will need to be made regarding property division, alimony, and child support.  For almost every decision, including alimony, there are important tax implications that must be considered prior to signing off on the financial terms of a divorce agreement.

Alimony payments are tax deducTax Forms Imagetible to the payor and taxable to the recipient.  Any divorce agreement must specifically lay out all alimony terms, if any, including the exact amount of alimony and/or formula for calculating alimony, and the timeline for the alimony payments. In order for a payment to be considered alimony for income tax purposes, it must be made pursuant to a written divorce agreement (commonly called a “separation agreement”) or a divorce decree.  Payments made before a separation agreement has been signed or a divorce decree has been entered cannot be considered alimony.

In contrast to alimony, child support payments and payments related to the distribution of your marital estate (such as property settlement) are non-deductible to the payor and non-taxable to the recipient.

The US Tax Court recently upheld two basic alimony principles, reinforcing the importance of preparing and signing a carefully thought-out divorce agreement and the importance of specifically categorizing any and all payments to be made with an eye towards future tax implications.

In Milbourn v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the US Tax Court recently affirmed the principal that payments made from one spouse to another can only be considered alimony, and therefore tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the recipient, if the spouses have already signed a divorce agreement outlining the specific terms for alimony payments.  If payments are exchanged prior to the signing of the divorce agreement, for example at a time when there is only a draft divorce agreement in existence, those payments cannot be considered alimony for tax purposes.  The tax implications of this decision should be considered when one spouse makes support-like payments to another during a separation or before an agreement has been reached.

In Becker v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the US Tax Court recently affirmed the principal that a payor cannot allocate a payment that is less than a combined alimony and child support amount to alimony so as to reap the tax benefits.  Where the support payments actually made by the payor are less than the amounts specified in the parties’ specific divorce agreement, the support payments made are to be considered to have been made towards the child support portion first, and will only be allocated towards the alimony portion once child support has been fully paid.

It is always best to consult with an experienced divorce attorney while you and your spouse are negotiating the terms of your divorce agreement to ensure that you are financially protected.  The tax implications of any one of the terms of your divorce agreement can have further financial consequences to the parties.

About the Firm.  Vaughn-Martel Law represents parents and children throughout Massachusetts in divorce litigation, divorce mediation, child custody, modifications, co-parenting, and all aspects of family creation and family law. If you wish to speak to an attorney about a family law matter, we invite you to contact us.

Vaughn-Martel Law Welcomes Law Clerk Annette G. Macaluso

AnnetteMacalusoHeadshotAnnette Macaluso joins Vaughn-Martel Law as a law clerk, where she will assist the Firm’s attorneys and clients.

Annette is a dual degree candidate seeking her Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration from Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts, where she is also a research assistant and on the executive boards of the Queer Law Alliance and the Child and Family Law Student Association.

She received her B.A. from Smith College, where she double majored in Government and Russian Literature.  She has interned for the Honorable Judge David G. Sacks of Hampden Probate and Family Court, as well as Senior Partners for Justice in the Suffolk Probate and Family Court.  She is deeply dedicated to giving back to the community and has worked as a legal intern at a number of non-profits, including Jane Doe Inc. and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Annette is interested in pursuing a career in domestic relations, estate and business planning.

In her free time, she volunteers at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, runs with her dog, and bakes.

Vaughn-Martel Law Attorneys Walsh and McNeil Recognized as “Top Women Attorneys in Massachusetts”

Boston Magazine April 2014Vaughn-Martel Law is pleased to announce that both of its female attorneys have been recognized with the distinction of Top Women Attorneys in Massachusetts by Boston Magazine.  Both Attorney Jessica M. Walsh and Attorney Emily Towne McNeil appear in the April, 2014, edition of Boston Magazine, which has a readership of one-half million per month.

Attorney Walsh is a resident of Brookline, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on family law, abuse prevention, and general civil litigation. Walsh is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut and a cum laude graduate of New England Law | Boston. Read more about Attorney Jessica M. Walsh.

Attorney McNeil is a resident of Natick, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on estate planning, estate administration, and real estate. In addition, McNeil is an adjunct professor in the Department of Economics and Business Administration at Framingham State University, where she teaches The Legal Environment of Business. She is a graduate of Framingham State University and New England Law | Boston.  Read more about Attorney Emily Towne McNeil.

Vaughn-Martel Law represents clients in divorce and family law matters, estate planning, LGBTQ law, adoption and reproductive technology, and general civil litigation. In addition to providing exceptional legal representation, our attorneys are committed to pro bono advocacy and community involvement.

 

Vaughn-Martel Law’s Jessica M. Walsh Participates in Suffolk County Family Law Workshop

998_Boston-City-Hall425570Attorney Jessica M. Walsh recently participated in a pilot program aimed at providing free legal advice to parents dealing with family law matters of any kind, regardless of whether they have actually filed a court case.  The Family Court Workshop is a joint initiative between the Honorable Judge Ordonez, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court, the Office of the Probate and Family Court, community leaders, and volunteer lawyers.  The purpose of the workshop is to provide parents with general information on family law matters; to supply and assist in the completion of necessary court forms; to refer participants to legal referral services; and to make available written information on community programs and services that are available.

According to the Court’s Press Release,

“Mothers and fathers will learn the basics of family law, including:

  • How to prepare for court and present a case before a judge
  • Legal options for filing for and responding to a divorce action and a motion for temporary orders
  • Issues for unmarried parents: establishing paternity and filing a paternity action
  • Custody agreements and parenting arrangements
  • Identifying domestic violence and how to get help

The 90-minute workshops are divided by gender, with mothers attending separate workshops from fathers. One workshop for mothers and one for fathers is available every month from January to June, with the first workshop for mothers on January 16, and the first workshop for fathers on January 30.

The workshops will be held in Boston City Hall from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and are free to residents of Suffolk County, which include residents in the cities and towns of Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop.  No sign-up or pre-registration is required.  Child care will not be provided.  Questions may be directed to Evelyn Patsos, Esq., at evelyn.patsos@jud.state.ma.us.”

The Family Court Workshop, which is divided into separate sessions for mother and fathers, are held at Boston City Hall at 5:30pm on Thursdays on the following schedule:

Workshop dates for mothers: Workshop dates for fathers:
January 16 January 30
February 13 February 27
March 13 March 27
April 10 April 17
May 8 May 22
June 12 June 26

Jessica M. Walsh is an attorney at Vaughn-Martel Law, where she practices in the areas of domestic relations and civil litigation.

Digital Life After Death: What Happens To One’s Social Media and Online Storage Accounts After Death?

updatestatussadfacejpgWith an estimated 1.23 billion active monthly Facebook users at the end of 2013, nearly 1 out of every 6 people on planet earth have at least some identity or presence on line.  In the United States, nearly 1 out of 3 people review or update their Facebook account each day!  We share photos, vacation highlights, accomplishments, bad news, political commentary, cat videos, and we give and receive congratulations and support.  In some ways, at least some part of us ‘exists’ on line.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your online presence when you pass away?   For example, what happens to your Facebook Timeline, your LinkedIn account, and all of the photos you have stored and shared on Shutterfly?  Like your personal effects and bank accounts, you have the power to choose who should have access to your online accounts after your death using carefully drafted estate planning documents, subject, of course, to the terms and conditions of any particular website.  When I draft a Will or a Trust for a client, I include provisions naming a person or persons my client would like to have access to his or her digital assets after death.

Most websites have terms and conditions that you have agreed to in order to participate in the forum, and you should read them.  Many websites will honor your wishes if you have included wording in your Will or Trust regarding digital account but, as mentioned previously, some websites will have their own procedures that will trump the instructions you leave in your estate planning documents.  It is important to acquaint yourself with the terms and conditions of all websites you are utilizing and take appropriate measures to ensure that the digital assets stored on that website would not be lost in the event of your unexpected demise.  Consider leaving a list of websites and corresponding user names and passwords for your personal representative with your Will.

Just as one example, Facebook has a clear policy for how it handles the accounts of deceased users.  Facebook will memorialize the user’s Timeline upon notification of the death of the user.  The request to memorialize the account can be made by anyone who knew the deceased user.  You can submit a Facebook Memorialization Request by clicking here.  Once the death is confirmed by Facebook, the account will become memorialized, meaning that the deceased user cannot obtain new friends, users will not be able to post to the deceased user’s Timeline, and other personal information will be removed.

This is an ever-evolving area of the law, as are most internet-related issues.  As users of the fast-paced technology, it is our responsibility to review the policies of the sites we use and make appropriate provisions to protect ourselves both during life and even after death.  Be sure to review the terms and conditions as well as the personal settings of every social media website and digital storage website you utilize.  A well written estate plan along with a list of sites and login information will go a long way in the event your personal representative ever has to start picking up the pieces of your digital estate.  If you have an estate plan, review it to see whether there are provisions regarding your digital estate or websites that you use regularly.  If there are no provisions or if it has been more than a three years since your estate plan was drafted, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss your options and to update your plan.

Emily Towne McNeil is an estate planning and probate attorney at the Boston law firm of Vaughn-Martel Law.

Worth a Listen: Three-Part Audio Series About a Transgender Teen and His Family

ImageNational Public Radio’s Martha Bebinger presents her intimate interview with a transgender teen and his family.  The three-part audio series explores the challenges facing transgender teenagers through the story of Nate, a 16-year-old transgender male in Massachusetts.

Nate’s parents have an endless stream of questions: Is Nate rejecting life as girl after being bullied by a clique in middle school? Is Nate really a tough lesbian, as he seemed to be at age 14? Or, Jackie asks, “Is this something — I feel terrible saying it — is it a phase? Are you going to change your mind in a few years?”

The article, Nate’s Transgender Story, is broken down into 3 parts, each with intimate videos of family discussions, warm family photos, text of the interview, and transgender resources.

 

Is “Divorce Monday” Real?

Divorce_CoupleWell, the holidays are over and the champagne has gone flat.

The Monday of the first full week in January is known as “Blue Monday” – officially, the most depressing day of the year.  Blue Monday was originally identified in 2005 by academic Cliff Arnall and has continued to be analyzed and studied in recent years, specifically by analyzing “tweets” posted on Twitter in the month of January.  “Blue Monday” may be considered the most depressing day of the year for reasons such as the end of the holiday season, the return to work after many days and/or weeks off, failed New Year’s resolutions, holiday debt, and the long stretch of gloomy and cold weather ahead.

But legal experts have also coined Blue Monday as “Divorce Monday”.  Statistically, this is the busiest day of the year for divorce lawyers.  Many factors are said to contribute to this increase in divorce filings in January, including the dissipating of feelings of “holiday cheer”, quarrels over holiday debt couples find themselves in, too much family time over the holidays, and general depression and sadness due to lack of sunlight and cold temperatures.

Divorce lawyers in both the US and UK report that January, generally, is their busiest month, seeing the highest rate of divorce inquiries during this month.

While not everyone gets behind the hype of new year’s resolutions, it can’t be denied that the beginning of a new year is indeed the perfect time for a fresh start and some self reflection.

Whatever your resolution or hope for 2014, we wish you a happy, prosperous and fulfilling new year!

Vaughn-Martel Law Attorneys Walsh and McNeil Make Boston Magazine’s 2013 List of ‘Rising Stars’

Super Lawyer 2013 ImageCongratulations to Attorneys Jessica M. Walsh and Emily Towne McNeil, who were both recognized as ‘Rising Stars’ by Boston Magazine in its 2013 list of Super Lawyers.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. Among the Super Lawyers list, ‘Rising Stars’ are attorneys with demonstrated achievement under the age of 40 or in practice less than 10 years. No more than 2.5% of all Massachusetts lawyers are named to Boston Magazine’s annual list of Rising Stars.

Attorney Walsh is a native of Needham, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on family law, divorce, and abuse prevention. Walsh is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut and a cum laude graduate of New England Law | Boston. Read more about Attorney Jessica M. Walsh.

Attorney McNeil is a resident of Natick, Massachusetts, whose practice focuses on estate planning, estate administration, and real estate. In addition, McNeil is an adjunct professor in the Department of Economics and Business Administration at Framingham State University, where she teaches The Legal Environment of Business. She is a graduate of Framingham State University and New England Law | Boston.  Read more about Attorney Emily Towne McNeil.

The Firm’s owner and founding partner, Chris Vaughn-Martel, was recognized as a Rising Star in 2009. As a Firm, we are honored and deeply gratified to have all three of our attorneys recognized as outstanding young practitioners in the profession. Vaughn-Martel Law represents clients in divorce and family law matters, estate planning, LGBT law, adoption and reproductive technology, and general civil litigation. In addition to providing exceptional legal representation, our attorneys are committed to pro bono advocacy and community involvement.

The annual Super Lawyers supplement can be found in the November, 2013 issue of Boston Magazine and is widely distributed in regional publications and across the country.