Estate planning in Massachusetts is all we do
We focus on speaking and writing in plain English, so you understand what your estate plan does. If you already have an estate plan, we can check the documents you have now and tell you about possible additions or changes. We can also start from scratch if you have not started a plan. The process usually takes about three to four weeks for a new estate plan. Time commitment by you is minimal.
"If you do not have a Will or a Living Trust, your estate is still settled when you die, But, instead of carrying out your wishes, Massachusetts law decides."
- Joel Bernstein
A little planning goes a long way for getting your affairs in order
Estate planning creates a legally binding plan to manage your wealth. And names someone to make important decisions if you become incapacitated. And for distributing your wealth after your death.
What happens if you do nothing?
In Massachusetts—if you die married, with joint children and no stepchildren—it all goes to your spouse. It may or may not be what you want. It is all costly, too. Probate costs, attorney fees, and higher estate taxes cut into what is left for your survivors.
An estate plan helps while you are alive too
An estate plan is not only about what happens after you die. If you do not have a health care proxy or a durable power of attorney, you miss an opportunity. To name one or more people you trust to advocate for you if you cannot do so yourself.
Thinking about your children’s care
If you are a parent of children under the age of 18, an estate plan can make provisions for them as well. A court-appointed guardian is involved if no parent remains.
Is having a Will good enough?
If you have a Will, congratulations! You are ahead of 50% of people who have not managed to make any kind of plan. But having only a Will means that your family may need to go through a lengthy probate process in court when you die. Be aware, too, that a Will does not affect jointly owned property, which by law must go to the surviving joint owner. Beneficiaries of a life insurance policy are also unaffected by the Will’s terms. A Will by itself means you do not have anyone named to manage your affairs if you become ill. While you are alive.
Why is a Living Trust better than a Will?
Assets in a Living Trust avoid:
How strong is your plan?
If your plan doesn't include these safeguards, consider strengthening your plan. So that you protect yourself, your loved ones, and your estate during difficult times.
An estate plan names people you trust
An estate plan names the people who will carry out your wishes and safeguard your estate while you are living and after your death. They are also the guardians of your children, maybe elderly parents, or pets. The people named in your estate plan do not need to live in Massachusetts.
Trusted appointees can be family, friends, or professionals
If you become incapacitated, it is important to name the people who will take care of:
You may choose to hire a professional if your estate is complex. These are individuals or firms that invest and decide which distributions to make. You pay them for both services. You may arrange for them to take over after your death. Sometimes they are used during your life as well, depending on the need.
Set up a durable power of attorney while you are well
Another document is a durable power of attorney. It is a document you sign that appoints a person to sign your name in the future. So others accept your agent’s signature as if it were yours. And declare it legally binding.
Estate attorneys provide a durable power of attorney as part of an estate plan. This document complements a Will or Trust.
A successor trustee named in a revocable Living Trust can take over
A revocable Living Trust can name someone to take over if you become incapacitated. Your ‘successor trustee’ takes over in the case of your illness or death. This is different from a Will that only acts after death.
Sign a Massachusetts health care proxy
You can name a person to make medical decisions for you if you cannot communicate those decisions. You do this by signing a Massachusetts health care proxy. The law allows for one person at a time, and a total of two people, the second one being a backup agent.
Your health care proxy can only make medical decisions for you. So they cannot act for you financially. Thus it is important to set up a durable power of attorney for financial decisions as well.
Name guardians for your dependents
Without an estate plan, if you die leaving minor children, the court appoints a guardian to care for them. Without knowing whom you would have chosen. Talk with potential guardians sometime between your first attorney meeting and signing your Will. You want to know their feelings about this major yet unlikely responsibility.
You name beneficiaries in a Will, Living Trust, or beneficiary form (contract)
Your estate can include many types of assets and this can be confusing when it comes to estate planning. You may have personal property (prized painting, sports car, jewelry) and real estate. And investments, cash, business interests, and life insurance.
For some people, it’s obvious to whom they want to leave assets after they die. Many times (but not always), if you have children, you want them to get what you own. Or, another person, like a spouse or partner.
Yet, for those without children or close relatives, deciding can be difficult
For some, deciding on beneficiaries can be overwhelming. Without a Will or Living Trust in place, the law says this: distribute your assets in equal parts to your nearest relatives. In legal terms, your ‘heirs at law’. In the following order: spouse, children, parents, siblings, children of siblings. With some special rules thrown in.
You can omit someone from your Will or Trust because of an estranged relationship. Or because the relative has plenty of money and does not need your assets. A surviving spouse always has rights in your estate unless they were previously waived by agreement.
A Living Trust adds another type of beneficiary
With a Living Trust, the trustee owns the trust assets. From the ‘WHO benefits’ perspective, a trustee holds assets for another beneficiary. Maybe a spouse or a child or a grandchild. And does whatever the trust says to do with those assets. Maybe distribute them very soon after death. Or maybe hold them for years and give what is appropriate to the beneficiary.
You have an estate planning choice. Give it soon after your death. Or build in some protection for a loved one.
After your death, without a Living Trust, your beneficiaries receive their full inheritance. When the probate court proceeding finishes and usually within about 18 months. To spend or misspend. Subject to all the events that life may cause. Untimely death. Divorce. Spending. Addictions.
A trustee under a Living Trust can disburse money over a time frame you determine: The WHEN
Your attorney can put clear instructions inside a Living Trust for you. Maybe you want to keep the money for any child or grandchild in trust, useable for them, until they reach an age of 30. Or the trust holding may be for the entire lifetime of a particular beneficiary. We call the person who takes over for you the ‘successor trustee’.
A Living Trust can disburse smaller amounts over time when substance abuse/drinking lurks
If you have a child or other beneficiary with a drug or alcohol problem, you may hesitate to provide a full inheritance right away. In that case, you can tell the successor trustee to continue to hold that beneficiary's share. And then to use it for the beneficiary's benefit. Keep the beneficiary housed, with food in the refrigerator and the lights and heat on.
Your estate plan considers all your wealth. Do not forgot about retirement accounts, pensions, and life insurance.
Estate planning focuses on the precise way assets are owned and distributed. Is an asset owned in your sole name? In joint names? You may also own community property, if you earned money while married and living in a Western state.
Assets in your name only and no estate plan?
If you have assets that are in your name only, the probate court process dictates who receives them. They go to your nearest relatives, outright, and are handled by the person who applied to the court to take charge.
Life insurance benefits are not determined by a Will
Without a Living Trust, life insurance benefits go directly to the beneficiary. Regardless of what your Will says. But with a Living Trust, the beneficiary is the trust. And the successor trustee manages the benefits.
Joint ownership does not always avoid probate
When two or more people hold title to an asset together in joint ownership, both own the entire asset. On death of one, that interest disappears. The surviving joint owners continue to own it. (By the way, this is the law.) Some people use joint ownership to avoid probate, but it carries risks.
A Living Trust owns most major assets
A Living Trust should own many of your assets. When you die, the successor trustee immediately controls your assets. To distribute them according to your exact instructions.
Make sure your beneficiaries receive as much as possible
A good estate plan seeks to reduce the charges that are taken off the top. Before your beneficiaries receive their inheritance, these charges may reduce the estate's size:
In most cases, a Living Trust is the best way to preserve more for your beneficiaries.
Living probate incurs court costs and attorney’s fees