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Wakefield Massachusetts Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Getting older should be a prompt to begin estate planning

Getting older is a natural part of life and the number of older Americans will grow exponentially in the next few years as the majority of baby boomers in Massachusetts and around the country reach retirement age. Contemplating one's mortality is not easy but procrastination where estate planning is concerned is not the way to approach it. Failure to plan for the future could result in unintended consequences including the bulk of one's estate being gobbled up by nursing homes.

January is often seen as a month of goal setting. This can include setting a goal to lose weight, exercise more, eat better and so on. Setting a goal to address estate planning can put one on the path to ensuring that one's final wishes are expressed to family members and legally documented so that they can be carried out at a person's passing.

When to consider a living trust

As you age, it may become increasingly important for you to have a solid estate plan in place to benefit your loved ones. You have numerous options available to you in terms of how to create that estate plan, and each method of protecting your assets comes with its own benefits and drawbacks.

You may find it particularly beneficial to create something known as a living trust when working on your estate plan, which is a type of fiduciary arrangement that brings with it certain notable benefits. When you establish a living trust, you typically name yourself as the trustee, giving yourself the ability to manage it as opposed to a third-party trustee. Typically, it is more difficult for beneficiaries to dispute the terms of a living trust than it is a will, and you may also have more control over how you leave assets behind when you use this method. Certain situations may make creating a living trust particularly worthwhile. For example, you may want to consider creating one if:

Communicating about family wills can be a gift

The term "estate planning" can conjure up morose and morbid thoughts and the mere idea of that can be enough to prevent discussions from taking place. The fact remains that no one gets out of this life alive and that if the issue is not addressed, what happens after a person passes away could be left to the courts. While wills are important, there are other issues that may need to be addressed in a comprehensive Massachusetts estate plan. One of the most important things is to start the conversation.

As parents age, it is normal for adult children and loved ones to wonder about medical care and plans that may be in place for the future. It is not necessarily a topic one's children will feel comfortable broaching but that does not mean it should not be discussed. If one has an estate plan in place, it is important that loved ones know of its existence and its location and the person to contact should the need arise. Having such a conversation can put one's children at ease knowing steps have been taken.

Estate planning can be a priceless gift

Another New Year has arrived and one's thoughts may turn to the future and possibly to the legacy that one might eventually want to leave for loved ones. Confronting mortality may not seem to be an appealing task, but it is inevitable as no one gets out of here alive. In considering estate planning in Massachusetts there are many questions one may wish to consider.

Some people believe a sizable estate must exist to warrant having an estate plan, which is not true. There is more than money and property to be considered and one of the most important items may be a health care directive. A health care directive, or living will, empowers someone to make medical decisions if a person becomes physically or mentally unable to do so.

Estate planning can be the best gift

Another year is coming to an end in Massachusetts. The year end brings with it a time of reflection in reviewing the past year and anticipation of what the new year may hold. Families gather and reflect and look forward together. Aging relatives may be concerned about their legacy but hesitant to raise the subject of estate planning and end-of-life planning. The truth is that family gatherings can be an excellent time to review these issues.

Children have been raised for generations to believe that money discussions are one of those subjects to shy away from. But as parents age and enter retirement, failure to have money and estate discussions can cause undo hardship in the event of an unexpected passing. The subject needn't be presented as a sad or depressing one but more as an expression of existing or pending plans.

Don't believe what movies say about trusts

Movies and TV shows like to vilify characters with trust funds, portraying them as spoiled, entitled and averse to any kind of hard work. This repeated characterization has helped shape society's view of trusts. Most people think that trusts are only useful to the very wealthy, or that creating a trust will make their heirs lazy. Neither of these are true. In fact, most people in Massachusetts could probably benefit from these powerful estate planning tools.

These myths cannot be dispelled unless people understand what trusts actually are. At its most basic, a trust is simply a legal entity meant to hold a person's assets. The trust then protects assets from things like estate taxes, probate and more. The person who created the trust -- the grantor -- can still exercise control over those assets, including after his or her death.

Estate planning and gift giving

The end of another year is approaching in Massachusetts. Thoughts may inadvertently turn to tax time but it can also be an excellent time for some proactive estate planning. The tax law affords one the opportunity to share a portion of one's estate during a person's lifetime without incurring a gift tax. It provides the opportunity for some generous gifting.

The law states that a person can gift up to $15,000 and not have to file a gift tax return. That is not for one gift of up to $15,000 but can be a per person amount and it also applies to one's spouse. For example, if a married couple has two children who in turn have two children, each child and grandchild could receive $15,000 from each parent.

Estate planning can be a popular year end task

The end of another year is approaching, and people often take time to contemplate the year that has passed and look forward and plan for the year to come. As the population of Massachusetts and the rest of the country continues to age, thoughts naturally turn to leaving a legacy and estate planning that can make that legacy a reality. Contemplating and planning for the end of one's life can be difficult, but it can be a priceless gift to family and loved ones.

For many, a major asset is the home they have lived in and in which they have raised a family. Typically, a home is owned jointly between husband and wife with what is known as right of survivorship. This states that if one spouse dies, the title would, in most cases, go to the surviving spouse. When that person passes, if there is no will or other document, such as a trust, to indicate who becomes owner of the home, the court may step in and choose a new owner.

Estate planning and tax preparation go together

It is often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Sadly, death does not preclude the need to pay taxes. In addition to the distribution of an estate according to the deceased's will or trust, taxes must be paid by the estate. If the deceased did not engage in estate planning, then the estate is settled through the courts in accordance with Massachusetts intestate law.

A personal representative, or executor of the estate, may be responsible for filing the appropriate taxes following the person's death. The estate of the deceased is responsible for paying income tax for the portion of the tax year during which he or she was alive. The representative is responsible for verifying that returns were paid in the last years of a person's life. Failure to do so could result in the representative being liable for any unpaid income taxes.