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Why You Need an Estate Plan

An estate plan is important for everyone. It makes no difference whether your estate is simple or complex. It is never too early or too late to create a customized estate plan to fit your needs. Your estate plan should reflect your current life circumstances and be updated regularly (at least every five years).

Typical Estate Planning Documents

An estate plan includes more than just a will. You want to make sure your loved ones are  protected in the event of your passing or incapacitation. A common estate plan may include the following:

  • Will – Provides direction for the distribution of your assets, appoints personal representatives and guardians, and allows you to specify other wishes to be carried out in connection with your estate. A will must go through the probate process.
  • Revocable Living Trust – A funded trust facilitates the prompt passing of your property to your beneficiaries outside of the probate process. They can be designed to provide estate tax savings, provide creditor protection, and further direction for your affairs in the event of your incapacity. 
  • Healthcare Proxy – Allows you to appoint individuals to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so.
  • Living Will – Allows you to specify what medical care you would or would not want to receive for end-of-life decisions, in the event you cannot express your wishes.
  • Power of Attorney – Allows you to appoint individuals to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity.

Wills, Trusts, and the Probate Court Process

When you pass away having a will in place, you provide direction for assets and your loved ones. When someone passes away without a will, they are said to have died “intestate.” In this instance, the Probate Court appoints a representative to coordinate the distribution of your assets and handle your affairs. Absent a will, your estate is at the mercy of the intestacy laws of the state where you live or own property to determine what happens to your estate. Further, without an estate plan in place, you have provided little guidance to your loved ones which can result in stress and disharmony within the family.

Funding your Revocable Living Trust

With or without a will, your assets need to go through probate unless you have created a trust and funded it with your assets. During the probate process your assets are frozen while the court reviews the details of your estate and approves the distribution of your assets. This process often involves time-consuming court appearances, probate lawyers, paperwork, and all of the associated fees. It also takes time to sort out. Months, or even years depending on the size and complexity of the estate. This is one of the most important reasons to transfer your property to a Revocable Living Trust. Any property so transferred, escapes this probate process entirely and is received by your beneficiaries immediately upon your passing.

Saving Federal and Massachusetts Estate Taxes

Not only will a trust plan avoid the legal fees associated with probate, but it can help minimize estate taxes. Massachusetts, in particular, has a very low threshold before estate taxes are triggered. By setting up a trust you can minimize the amount of taxes that may be due.

Nominating a Guardian for Your Children

If there are no surviving family members, and nobody else volunteers, then the child could become a ward of the state. Naming a guardian, and an alternate guardian in case something happens to the original, will ensure that your child ends up being cared for in a loving home.

Protecting Yourself Through Your Estate Plan

An estate plan can also help if you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. A healthcare proxy appoints a trusted person to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. A living will enables you to articulate your end-of-life healthcare decisions in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions. A power of attorney names individuals to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. You don’t want to run the risk that your family or healthcare staff will not know what to do in the event of your incapacitation. Having these documents with clear instruction in place avoids uncertainty, and stress on your loved ones, during an already difficult time.

Our Estate Planning Attorneys are Here to Help

An estate plan isn’t just about protecting you but your loved ones as well. Having the appropriate documents in place can save time, money, stress and help ensure family harmony. When there is no estate plan in place, the state makes most of the decisions for you. Contact our estate planning lawyers today if we can help you with your estate planning needs.

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