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Wakefield Massachusetts Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Yes, there are valid reasons to contest wills

Many Massachusetts residents believe that as long as they have a will, their estates will be fully protected and their wishes honored when they die. Unfortunately, wills may end up being ruled invalid if not properly prepared or prepared under questionable circumstances. Here are a few reasons why one's will may end up being contested.

Reason number one: Testamentary capacity is questionable. For a will to be valid, the person for whom it is intended has to understand what it is he or she is asking for and signing. If the testator is young, has dementia or other memory problems, or is possibly a victim of fraud -- among other things -- his or her will may not be upheld in court. Proving a lack of testamentary capacity is not an easy feat, however, 

Are all assets subject to the probate process?

Designing an estate plan that meets all of one's wants and needs can be somewhat challenging. Wanting to get it right so that one is fully protected, assets go to the right people, and loved ones can avoid arguments and a lengthy probate process is certainly understandable. Asking questions is the only way to ensure the final product meets one's goals. One common question asked by Massachusetts residents is: Are all assets subject to the probate process?

The simple answer to this question is no. Certain assets are deemed non-probate assets. Such assets include:

  • Anything jointly owned
  • Anything with a payable on death -- or similar -- designation
  • Assets placed in a revocable living trust
  • Assets payable to designated beneficiaries

Disinheriting a homophobic family member

Because so many people in this country still have prejudices against those in the LGBT community, same-sex couples may have issues with certain family members inheriting any of their estate. Simply leaving someone out of a will may not be enough, as a family member could challenge a will in court. Even if the challenge is not successful, the legal expenses and time could diminish and delay the inheritance that the beneficiaries should receive.

Establishing a living trust may sidestep the potential for angry family members to cause problems.

Keeping the family peace over estate planning decisions

A peaceful family is a happy family. Massachusetts residents who are working on their estate plans likely know that estate planning could be a very emotional undertaking that could elicit strong opinions from family members -- especially siblings. There are ways to write an estate plan that minimizes any friction or rivalry that might occur from decisions made about inheritances. 

The one major issue that can cause flare-ups of negative emotions regarding parents' estate plans is a lack of communication. When parents sit down with their adult children and talk about what their estate plans contain and to get feedback from their children, it's less likely siblings will argue over decisions that have been made. A comprehensive estate plan -- one that has had input from experts if need be -- is also crucial for keeping the peace in the family.

Family disputes shouldn't be part of the estate planning process

Massachusetts adults often put off thinking about the future because they assume they are too young or not wealthy enough to need any type of protection. As adults grow older and their children become adults, they may start to see the benefit of estate planning and having specific legal and financial documents in place. This can be complicated when children are adults and have opinions of their own, and estate planning can actually be the source of family conflict.

One way to reduce the chance of family fighting and disagreements is to have a financial plan in place. Before bringing other family members into the conversation, gather important documents and look at what type of protections may be necessary. This may include making a list of all assets, liabilities, accounts, valuable property and other things that could be important in an estate plan.

Seeing the possibilities of blind trusts

There are many things people can do to effectively manage their money. Some Massachusetts residents may be wondering how trusts can be beneficial to them in the estate planning process. Those looking to have better control over their financial portfolios -- which can include stocks, real estate, bonds and the like -- might want to investigate blind trusts managed by trustees.

The grantor -- or the person to whom the trust belongs -- has a trustee look after the trust without knowing how the trustee manages the trust or what investments he or she chooses to make on the grantor's behalf. Just because the grantor does not know what is happening with the trust does not mean the trustee can do anything he or she likes. The trustee is still beholden to the grantor to make decisions he or she believes will culminate in the best outcome for the grantor. Blind trusts can either be revocable or irrevocable. 

DIY wills can lead to complications in the future

Estate planning is prudent and practical for every Massachusetts adult, and some may look for ways to save time and money during this process. One way someone may try to do this is by drafting these documents independently and without relying on the guidance of legal and financial professionals. This is not the ideal way to draft wills or any other important legal documents, and this approach can lead to complications in the future.

One can find nearly anything on the internet, including estate planning advice. Some websites even offer to draft a will for a fee, only requiring a person to input his or her information in the blanks. This may seem easier, but going this route probably does not offer the full amount of protection needed. DIY websites do not allow for a personal approach nor do they account for unique circumstances that should be included in the terms of an estate plan.

Estate planning in the digital age

The 21st century has opened a new can of worms regarding estate plans. Now on the estate planning menu for many Massachusetts residents are digital assets. Many things have been digitized and not everything everyone owns is in a hard copy format. Anything online that a person owns is considered to be a digital asset. 

These assets could include blogs, vlogs, social media pages and websites. Also, much of a person's finances are now managed online. Banking can be done online as well as things like overseeing investment portfolios. And then there are also personal assets stored online, such as photographs and videos. People need to be just as mindful of these assets when estate planning as they are of other assets.

The kind of trust you should establish depends on your goals

Chances are you have been busy either with your corporate responsibilities or in building a successful family business and you continue to accumulate assets.

Perhaps you are not far from retirement and want to take a serious look at estate planning. Trusts are among the many helpful tools, but which is best for your circumstances, revocable or irrevocable?

Estate planning tools for different life stages

Massachusetts adults can benefit from making plans and looking to the future, regardless of age or income status. Estate planning is not something reserved only for the old and wealthy, but it is useful for individuals of all life stages. Having a plan in place will provide certain benefits and protections that may be specific to the individual stage of life or unique objectives. 

Upon reaching the age of 18, an adult will benefit from drafting certain documents, such as a power of attorney, living will and health care proxy. Even at such a young age, an adult has the right to decide what type of medical care he or she may want in case of incapacitation. After marriage and the birth of children, it may be necessary to draft a will and other documents that will allow that individual to determine the distribution of personal assets in case of death.