Testing for Radon in Your Home

Part 2 of a guest series about radon gas in the home by Rick Galarneau, owner of MassRADON. Be sure to read Part 1, Radon Gas and How It Gets Into Your Home.

Let’s talk about airborne radon testing, since it’s the first step in determining if there is in fact a radon problem in your home. Let’s preface this by stating that radon gas is everywhere — it’s in the air we breathe, even in our backyard. And it is definitely in every house on the planet, even ones with a radon system. Since radon is everywhere, the real question becomes, how much radon is there?

Radon testing is the only way to know the radon levels in your house. It doesn’t matter what level your neighbor has, or anyone else on your street, for that matter; every house is different. It’s possible for unsafe levels of radon to be found in only one house on a given street, while all the other homes test as safe. Or the opposite could be true: they may all test as unsafe except for one house.

Testing comes in several forms. The EPA recommends what is known as long-term testing. Long-term testing should be done whenever possible because it will give the most accurate results regarding your average indoor radon levels. Long-term testing can last three months to a year, and it should be done across two or more seasons. Nothing special needs to be done to the house and normal living conditions should be maintained. There is no need to close up the house or worry about the weather, since this testing is designed to determine levels of radon under everyday living conditions. This is the type of test you would want to use in a house that is not for sale at the time of testing.

Short-term testing was designed to get a quick idea if a home might have an elevated radon level when there isn’t enough time for long-term testing. Short-term testing is typically conducted for 48 to 72 hours. Any method of testing should always be done for a minimum of 48 hours and under normal weather conditions, which are just what you would think: 2-3 inches of rain in a 24 hour period and high wind conditions are not normal, and such weather will greatly impact your short term testing results in a negative way. Severe weather will raise indoor radon levels substantially during the weather event. They will return to their more regular readings as that weather passes.

The EPA states that radon testing should be conducted in the lowest level of a home that is suitable to be used as a living space without major renovations. That means that most basements that have intact concrete or block walls, a concrete floor, and are mostly dry and could be used as an exercise space, family room, workshop, etc., would be the right place to test. A basement in an old house with crumbling stone walls, a dirt floor, missing concrete floor sections, or low ceilings and very damp conditions would not be the preferred location for testing because its condition makes it unsuitable to be used for much of anything. In this case the first floor living space would be the preferred testing location.

Please test your home, test your families’ homes, test every home.

Rick Galarneau has been the owner-operator of Aaron Associates, MassRADON, for the last 14 years.  He is a member of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists and the National Radon Proficiency Program. He is a National Environmental Health Association Certified radon mitigator and has successfully mitigated over 1,000 homes in Western Massachusetts. Part 3 of this series addresses mitigating radon gas in your home.

Gove Law Office, LLC is a general practice law firm with offices in Northampton and Ludlow, MA. The firm handles  a wide variety of legal needs, including residential real estate matters. For more information, please contact Attorney Michael Gove at mgove@govelawoffice.com.

Reverse Mortgages Simplified – Closing the Financial Gap for a New Generation of Retirees

By Tony Lopes, Reverse Mortgage Specialist, Reverse Mortgage Funding LLC (RMF)

Retirement has become a bit more complicated in recent years. Retirees can no longer rely on just Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement plans, and personal savings – what’s known as the “three-legged stool” of retirement planning. Many of today’s retirees simply do not have the employer-sponsored plans their parents did, and therefore need to rely more closely on personal savings and other assets to close the gap and meet their financial needs. Additionally, with increased longevity and medical expenses, planning for the unknown is difficult. That’s why Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) are growing in popularity.

If you’re 62 or older, an HECM can help you tap into the equity of your existing home and turn it into cash that can be used today or a line of credit that will be there when you need it. It also can help to persevere invested assets, leaving them intact to continue earning for you.

In short, an HECM can give you more power to live better. Do you want to make some needed or desired home improvements? Get additional funds to help cover unexpected medical costs or supplement your income? An HECM can help by eliminating your existing mortgage payment and freeing up cash to use for those purposes and others. (As the homeowner, you’d remain responsible for property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and property maintenance. An HECM is a home-secured debt payable upon default or a maturity event.)

You can receive your loan funds as a lump sum, a line of credit, a monthly payment, or any combination of these. (If you elect a fixed-rate loan, you will receive a single disbursement lump sum payment. Other payment options are available only for adjustable rate mortgages.)

The HECM loan program was created by the Federal Housing Administration specifically for homeowners age 62 and older, and has been growing in popularity. Today, many consumers and their financial advisors view HECMs, in the right circumstances, as a smart solution to help qualified homeowners achieve their retirement goals.

Over the coming weeks we will discuss recent changes to the HECM program that have made the program safer and less costly for seniors. We will also discuss common misconceptions and uses for HECM’s that seniors and financial advisors implement to improve quality of life in retirement.

Tony Lopes is an experienced HECM Loan Specialist with Reverse Mortgage Funding. Prior to originating loans, he spent 7 years as a HUD Approved Reverse Mortgage counselor. Tony is available at alopes@reversefunding.com or 413-478-2013 to help educate borrowers and their families. Branch Address: 1325 Springfield St, Feeding Hills, MA 01030. NMLS # 1408098

Gove Law Office, LLC is a general practice law firm with offices in Northampton and Ludlow, MA. The firm handles  a wide variety of legal needs, including residential real estate matters. For more information, please contact Attorney Michael Gove at mgove@govelawoffice.com.

Why You Should Have a Will

By Attorney Gregory R. Bell

There are many reasons why a person should have a will; it is arguably one of the most important things you can do for your family. While by no means an exhaustive list, here are just a few of the benefits:

You decide how your estate will be distributed. If you do not determine through a will who will inherit your estate, the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts make that determination for you through the laws of intestacy (passing having no will). Given that alternative, almost everyone would want to make that decision for themselves and not leave it to the state.

You can decide the personal representative who will administer your estate. You can pick the person you trust to administer your estate, as well as choose an alternate if for any reason your first choice is unable to fulfill that role. And you can give this person expanded powers in the will that make it easier to administer the estate than it would be through the probate process without a will.

You decide who will be guardian of your minor children. If you have minor children, this is a huge decision. You can name who will be the guardian and raise your kids, as well as make sure that guardianship does not go to someone whom you do not want to raise them.

You can disinherit anyone you decide you do not want to share in your estate. For his/her own reasons, an individual may decide to leave nothing or a limited value to a relative that, without a will, might inherit much more. When you create a will, you are making this decision rather than leaving it to the state.

Thinking about creating a will can raise uncomfortable feelings about one’s mortality. But given the many benefits of having a will, there is no good reason to wait. Being prepared ensures that your wishes will be accomplished, while also making the probate process easier for your family.

Gregory R. Bell is an attorney at Gove Law Office, LLC , a general practice law firm with offices in Northampton and Ludlow, MA. The firm handles a wide variety of legal needs, including wills and other areas of estate planning and administration. For more information, please contact the office by calling 413-583-5916 or emailing gbell@govelawoffice.com.

Radon Gas and How it Gets Into Your Home

Part 1 of a guest series about radon gas in the home by Rick Galarheau, owner of MassRADON.

Radon gas is a decay product of uranium. Uranium is a naturally occurring element found on planet Earth. Typically it is found deep underground in the bedrock and can run in “veins.” Uranium, like most radioactive elements, goes through a decay process in which it breaks down over time and gives off, or becomes, something else that is also radioactive. In the case of uranium, it decays into another element called radium. Radium also decays and it breaks down into radon gas. Because it is a gas, radon moves easily through cracks in the earth and can travel underground with other soil gases. It can also find its way into underground water supplies. That’s how it gets into your well water. As it moves underground it works its way to the surface of the earth and naturally vents itself into the atmosphere, or into your basement and the rest of your home

Once it’s in the house, radon gas attaches itself to dust particles and travels around your house, where you breathe it in. Once it is in your lungs, radon, like the other radioactive elements, breaks down again and gives off what is known as radon daughters. These radon daughters give off a small burst of energy when they are created and that energy can damage cells in the lungs, which can in turn become a cancerous cell.

Radon in the well water creates the same problems as radon in the air. Waterborne radon is released into the air at its point of use, which is usually on the living floor. Once it’s released into the air and you breathe it in, the results are the same as airborne radon. Municipal water supplies treat the water for radon, so it has been removed before it is delivered to your home.

All houses should be tested for radon gas in the air and, if the airborne levels are elevated, in the well water. Radon is also present in the outside air at a reduced concentration, so while you cannot find a house that does not have some radon, you can test your home and it can be reduced to less toxic levels.

Rick Galarneau has been the owner-operator of Aaron Associates, MassRADON, for the last 14 years.  He is a member of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists and the National Radon Proficiency Program. He is a National Environmental Health Association Certified radon mitigator and has successfully mitigated over 1,000 homes in Western Massachusetts. Parts 2 & 3 of this series cover testing for and mitigating radon in the home.

Gove Law Office, LLC is a general practice law firm with offices in Northampton and Ludlow, MA. The firm handles a wide variety of legal needs, including residential real estate matters. For more information, please contact Attorney Michael Gove at mgove@govelawoffice.com.

Divorce Options: Limited Assistance Representation

Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) provides a new innovative approach to representation in Probate and Family Court, Housing Court, Land Court, and District Court. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts were the first to adopt this alternative type of representation. LAR allows a client to retain an attorney for just part of their case and to limit the scope of the work that the attorney does on their behalf. This particular type of representation is especially useful in family law matters due to the often contested nature of divorces, child custody/parenting time, and child support, and the need for representation at hearings for temporary orders, motions, or contempt.

Courts recognize the need for attorneys to assist clients with aspects of litigation, but perhaps not the entire case. Clients can retain counsel for a portion of their matter, such as for the drafting of a separation agreement or attending a hearing, and can limit the scope of the work done to that one portion or event. All of the work done on their behalf is charged on a flat fee or hourly rate schedule, and payment is due on the date the work is completed. If a client wishes for their attorney to attend another hearing or prepare additional work on their behalf, he or she can retain counsel again for another limited purpose. This is especially useful for clients who have the ability to handle the majority of the representation themselves and only need an attorney for a few portions of their case. Additionally, this approach is useful for financial reasons. Some clients lack the financial means to pay an upfront retainer, so paying on this per instance basis works best for them.

One example where LAR is frequently used is an uncontested divorce. A majority of clients choose to retain an attorney in this capacity to draft or review a separation agreement and to attend the divorce hearing. Most of the other paperwork can be completed by the client since it is significantly less complicated and time consuming when both parties can agree upon the terms of their divorce. We have seen an increase in the use of LAR for cases involving child support where both parties need to complete a financial statement prior to the hearing but are unfamiliar with certain terminology on the forms. Clients want to ensure they are well informed before entering into agreements, especially those for child support, due to the significant financial impact that they can have.

LAR is a great way to make legal representation more affordable and accessible to those in need. Each courthouse in Massachusetts has a list of attorneys who are trained and certified to provide this type of representation. It is always best to consult an attorney before entering into agreements that can be binding and have a lasting effect upon your and your family’s lives. LAR can provide you with peace of mind in a cost-effective manner.

If you need any assistance with a divorce or family law matter, please contact our office at 413-583-5196 or info@govelawoffice.com. Also see the subsequent posts in our series on divorce options, Mediation and Litigation.

Trusts: More Uses Than You Might Think

Often times, when meeting with clients, I bring up the topic of a trust. Most people immediately dismiss the idea, claiming they’re not worth millions of dollars and don’t need a trust. They’re right — one reason to establish a trust is to help protect large amounts of wealth from high estate tax penalties. But there are four other common reasons to consider a trust, and they don’t depend on you being a multi-millionaire:

  1. Control Assets After Your Death
  2. One of the most common reasons clients use a trust is to have a mechanism in place where they can control the distribution and use of assets after their death. Parents with young children don’t always have a lot of cash assets on hand but they may own property and likely have life insurance, which means if they were to die, there would be significant assets in their estate. If both parents were to pass away, however, their children would become eligible to receive those assets when they turned twenty-one. Instead, by creating a trust, you (or other relatives) can control those assets, and direct the assets be held for the benefit of your children, but not distributed until your children are older, or have reached a specific point in their lives (graduating college, or getting married, for example).

  3. Hold and Share Control of Real Estate or Business Interests
  4. Real property or business assets can be placed into a trust for the purpose of sharing control of the asset between the trustees, or sharing the distribution of the value of the asset between the beneficiaries. Instead of transferring the asset directly to individuals, you can use the trust to make sure the asset will eventually be transferred, but will remain cared for and under a level of control for as long as the trust exists.

  5. Protect Assets Prior to Applying for Medicare Assistance
  6. To be approved for nursing home care through Medicare, you cannot have any significant assets in your own name. The government, however, looks to see if the applicant has gifted away assets any time over the last five years (this is referred to as the “five year look back period”). It’s important to consider moving assets out of your name earlier so you can avoid the five year look back period, but transferring your house or cash assets directly to your children can be filled with risks. One way to minimize those risks is to transfer assets into an irrevocable trust, which moves them out of your name without granting full ownership in any individual.

  7. Provide for the Care and Protection of Your Pets
  8. Recent changes in Massachusetts law allow you to leave money in trust for your pets. These Pet Trusts can provide guidance about the level of care the pet should receive, and leave room to name both a caretaker for the pet and someone to ensure the trust is being enforced. (For more information, see our earlier post about Pet Trusts.)

If you have questions about trusts, or any estate planning issues, contact us at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

Enforcement of Non-Competition Agreements Depend on Competition

Investing in employees is important for all businesses, and the appropriate use of a non-compete agreement can help protect an employer from making these investments and then watching their employees leave to work for a competitor. Whether a non-compete agreement will be enforced, however, can be significantly impacted by whether the old employer and new employer are actually competing, according to a recent U.S. District Court ruling.

Like most requests to enforce a non-compete agreement, the ruling was part of a request for a preliminary injunction, which is made at the initial stage of litigation and requires a clear set of facts for the judge to rule on. In this case, the former employer provided recording keeping and administrative services to Section 529 savings plans; in contrast, the new employer provided recording keeping and administrative services to Section 529 prepaid plans. Ultimately, and in part because of the difficult standard that must be reached in a request for preliminary injunction, the court determined the employee had created enough doubt regarding whether the record keeping functions between the two employers were similar enough to constitute competition. Because the court could not determine the employers were actually competing, it declined to enforce the non-compete agreement.

This case is a very good reminder that whether or not a non-compete agreement will be enforced is often determined when the agreement is drafted, LONG before a dispute arises. If you have questions about non-compete agreements, or would like to discuss any employee issues within your company, contact us at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

New Rules for Notices in Probate Administration

Recent statutory changes now require that anyone filing an estate in the Probate Court must also provide notice of the filing to the Division of Medical Assistance, regardless of whether the filing is informal or formal. The DMA must be provided notice of the filing seven days before the petition is filed with the court. (The new procedure is outlined here.)

This new requirement adds to the many steps that must be undertaken to correctly probate an estate.

If you have any questions regarding the administration of an estate, or would like to discuss your estate plans, contact us at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

Use Supplemental Needs Trusts to Ensure Benefits Are Not Lost

When someone suffers from a physical or mental disability, they may be eligible for state and federal benefits. Many benefit programs, however, are “need based,” which means the individual is prohibited from having too much income or too many assets. The asset limitations can often be as low as $2,000, which means that even the smallest, well-meaning gifts or bequests from family members to the disabled individual can have dire consequences for that individual’s care.

To avoid an inadvertent disqualification, any gifts or bequests to the disabled individual should be made to a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT) which names the disabled individual as the beneficiary, but allows an independent trustee to determine exactly how and when money is spent on the beneficiary’s behalf. The funds and assets in the SNT can be used to pay for additional services or care which are not covered by the benefit programs. These services and care can include:

• Transportation
• Training and rehabilitation programs
• Specialized equipment
• Medical expenses
• Entertainment
• Home health aide expenses
• Items and possessions to enhance quality of life.

An SNT can hold most types of assets, and can even be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. The most important thing to remember, however, is that an SNT should be drafted in advance to ensure it accomplishes the desires of the person funding the trust and meets the needs of the disabled beneficiary.

If you have any questions about Supplemental Needs Trusts, would like to gift money to someone with a disability, or would like to discuss other estate planning questions, contact us at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

Gove Law Office To Expand

I am excited to announce the Gove Law Office has purchased the law practice of Thompson & Bell of Ludlow and has opened a second office in that community, my hometown.

The firm was formerly operated by the late James “Jason” Thompson and his associate, Gregory R. Bell, and Gove Law Office will be remaining at the Ludlow office at 358 Sewall Street. I am proud that Attorney Bell and the entire staff of Thompson & Bell will remain with the Gove Law Office.

Gove Law Office will continue to provide services to our clients in the areas of business matters, real estate transactions, landlord-tenant issues, estate planning, and probate administration. In addition, the Gove Law Office is now offering representation in the areas of personal injury and bankruptcy.

It’s an honor to assume the legal practice from Atty. Thompson, a man whom I had the privilege to know for over twenty years as a business and civic leader, and father to my long-time friend, Sean Thompson.

We are pleased to be expanding the Gove Law Office into Hampden County. Please contact us at 413.570.3170 or 413.583.5196 for assistance with your legal needs.

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