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Wakefield Massachusetts Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Terminal illness and estate planning

Some people set up an estate plan when they are in good health and are not aware of any major health concerns. However, others may decide to create a will or a trust when they discover that they have a terminal illness. Whether someone is diagnosed with late-stage cancer or another illness that threatens their life, this can be an overwhelming and emotionally devastating position to be in. People struggling with a terminal illness may have many questions and a lot of uncertainty about their future, their assets and how this illness will affect those they love. Fortunately, estate plans can offer peace of mind and security.

If you are struggling with a terminal illness, it is crucial to look into your estate planning options and protect your assets promptly. You should try to stay positive, although our law firm knows how difficult that can be. Some people have been able to live much longer than expected and estate plans can be very helpful in these circumstances as well. After all, knowing that your estate will be taken care of in the event that something happens can allow people who are suffering to focus on other responsibilities and aspects of life.

Probating small estates

The probate process can indeed prove costly the longer it takes an estate case in Wakefield to be resolved. Yet the court does not want to see one' assets eaten up in probate, leaving nothing to settle a decedent's debts and liabilities or to pass on to their heirs. Thus, special circumstances exist that may allow estates with lower overall values the opportunity to expedite the process and settle their cases faster. 

The most common of these is a summary probate procedure. Section 190B.3-201 of Massachusetts' General Laws details the process for petitioning for such a procedure in the state. First off, one's estate can only consist of personal property that has an overall value of less than $25,000 (separate the value of the decedent's vehicle) in order to qualify. If the estate does qualify, then any interested person can file a petition with the court after 30 days has passed since the decedent's passing. The estate then enters a waiting period that is purposely truncated compared to standard probate proceedings. Creditors are allowed to file claims against the estate during this waiting period. Once it has passed, the person who petitioned for the summary probate procedure must then settle the estate's debts and then disperse its remaining assets to designated beneficiaries. 

Estate planning and post-traumatic stress disorder

Those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may face many challenges in daily life. Whether someone has difficulty in the workplace or in their personal relationships, PTSD can be very difficult to deal with. Moreover, this can carry over into other facets of one life. For example, someone may have high levels of anxiety and be hesitant to set up an estate plan even though doing so would be in their best interests. Fortunately, creating an estate plan may be helpful for some people who struggle with PTSD and other mental health challenges by creating a sense of security.

People develop PTSD for all sorts of reasons, whether they were involved in combat or a devastating traffic accident. Everyone has a different experience when it comes to dealing with PTSD and people who are in this position should do everything in their power to manage the challenges associated with PTSD properly. There are many other ways to work on progressing, such as finding a new hobby or reaching out to a counselor. However, setting up an estate plan may also be helpful for people who are going through these hardships.

Choose your guardian with care

When creating your Massachusetts estate plan, there are many factors to consider, from who gets the jewelry and car to setting up a trust for your minor children or grandchildren. However, establishing a legal guardian in the event you become incapacitated is crucial to maintaining your care and finances. At Curley Law Firm LLP, we help clients protect their assets and minimize general liability risks by ensuring a responsible person can make decisions if mental capacity becomes impaired.

FindLaw states that many people select a guardian during their estate planning. This person can legally act on your wishes if you cannot make them known as a result of incapacitation or failing mental health. Due to the importance of this position, you should give serious thought to whom you select.

What you should know about beneficiaries

It is completely natural to worry about what will become of your assets after you are gone. You spent your whole life working and saving so that you and your descendants could enjoy the fruits of that labor. You have every right to ensure it passes into the right hands.

There can be a lot of uncertainty over who receives what following your passing, and it may put strain on the relationships within your family. Designating beneficiaries can ease this tension.

Ademption explained

There are a number of complexities that can be inherent with the estate planning process. One would think, however, that remembering exactly what properties and assets comprise one's estate in Wakefield might not be one of them. Yet people often draft their wills several years prior to their deaths. During the time between the writing of the will and a testator's passing, properties that were included as part of an estate can change hands, thus causing them to fall out of a will's purview. 

According to the Cornell Law School, this is known as ademption. Oftentimes it is associated with smaller assets whose change of ownership may simply be overlooked. For example, one might stipulate that a piece of artwork is to go to a beneficiary in their will, yet later on, that artwork is donated to a museum or charitable organization. Given that it is no longer part of the estate, the intended beneficiary has no claim to it. 

Estate planning concerns following divorce

This may go without saying, but getting divorced in Wakefield is by no means easy. Even after the conclusion of your divorce proceedings, there still may be much to do. Think about just how involved in your life your now ex-spouse truly was. It is likely that their names are still associated with your bank records, insurance policies, utility accounts and much, much more. While you may have had time since your initial separation to literally separate yourselves from them in your common financial affairs, one area that many in your position forget to revisit is your estate planning. This leads to many coming to us here at the Curley Law Firm, LLP concerned that their ex-spouse's may still be in a position to inherit their assets. 

If you share this same worry, do not be troubled; state law takes care of this concern for you. Section 2-804 of Massachusetts' General Laws states that a divorce or annulment automatically revokes any provisions of your estate planning that confer any of the following on your ex-spouse: 

  • Assets and properties (any that considered your own separate property, that is)
  • Powers of appointment
  • Nominations to serve in any fiduciary capacity 

Setting up a trust as a business owner

There are a number of advantages when it comes to trust, and this is especially true for those who own a business. Whether you run a large corporation or a smaller local business, you may benefit from a trust in many ways. For example, a trust can help ensure that your business will be run smoothly in the event that you are no longer able to take care of things, for whatever reason. Whether you are incapacitated due to a health problem or an age-related issue, or you find yourself in a motor vehicle crash that you never saw coming, trusts can make these hardships easier for you to deal with.

You have a number of options when it comes to creating a trust. Perhaps you will want to set up a living trust, and you can also look into the benefits of having a power of attorney as well. This will allow you to identify a person who you would like to give key decision-making powers to in the event that you are unable to make important financial decisions. There are many other trusts you may want to look into before moving forward, and you should be aware of the various benefits and legal topics to examine regarding trusts, such as the tax implications of your trust.

Death during a divorce and claims to an estate

Some of the most challenging and turbulent difficulties that people may encounter in life are the loss of a spouse, the divorce process and figuring out how an estate will be distributed after someone passes away. In some instances, someone may find themselves facing all of these challenges at the same time, and they may have a lot of legal questions. For example, someone may have split up with their spouse, and their ex may pass away before their divorce is finalized. This can raise many questions, such as how his or her estate will be split up and whether their spouse will be entitled to any portion of their estate.

First of all, it is important to be aware of how laws vary from one state to the next and realize that every situation is different. For example, if a spouse was clearly named in an estate plan, they may be able to receive a portion of the estate even though they had been living apart and were in the process of divorcing the person who created the estate plan. On the other hand, someone may not have any rights to their former spouse’s estate after their ex has passed away, even if they were still legally married at the time of death.

What kind of problems might I run into when choosing an executor?

When it comes to finalizing your affairs in Massachusetts, choosing a good executor may not be as easy as you think. Forbes describes your executor as the fiduciary responsible for managing your estate at the time of your passing. Being an executor is no easy task, so many people who have already served as an executor in the past may decline to do it again.

If you have already acted as the executor for someone’s estate, then you may be familiar with the reasons people are often reluctant. If not, here are some of the many responsibilities of the executor of your will:

  •          Deciding on tax elections
  •          Working closely with CPAs
  •          Accounting for all your assets and debts
  •          Submitting your will to the relevant courts
  •          Mediating disputes between family members