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Wakefield Massachusetts Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Understanding the process of estate planning can prevent mistakes

One of the last things that many Massachusetts families consider doing is planning their estate. For many folks, they do not see the value in spending time and resources to plan their future when their immediate situation is satisfactory, comfortable and successful. However, people who fail to plan ahead and take initiative when it comes to preparing their estate, may be in for a rude awakening when their assets are not distributed the way they would have envisioned. Their procrastination can also create major stress and contention for surviving family members. 

When people do their research and understand the process of coordinating, planning and implementing an estate plan, they can execute the process with a lessened chance of making critical errors. For starters, they should remember that waiting for the perfect moment is nothing but a myth. There is no better time for anyone to begin planning their estate than right now. They should also put aside the false notion that planning an estate is hard, complicated and lengthy. Working toward creating a plan is actually fairly simple and when done without rushing, can actually be a bit of an enjoyable experience for some. 

When an adult with autism needs a guardian or conservator

Many parents in Massachusetts take care of the special needs of their children with autism without a second thought as to their authority to be a child’s decision maker. However, when their child becomes a legal adult, things change.

According to Autism Speaks Inc., if an adult with autism cannot make his or her own decisions, including those involving their finances and health care, then he or she needs a legal guardian or conservator. This is done through the court system.

Difference between living wills and healthcare proxies

People can begin making most types of estate plans as soon as they turn 18. However, most people do not seriously consider these documents until they are much older. There are many types of documents to have on the books in the event you become incapable of making decisions on your own. As a result, it is a good idea to have both healthcare proxies and a living will even though Massachusetts does not recognize living wills. However, living wills are still good to create because they can guide physicians and agents of what to do regarding your health. 

While both have their benefits, it is important to be aware of the ramifications of each type of estate plan. Creating both helps ensure a doctor follows your wishes in the event you cannot communicate.

What do you need to know about personal representatives?

Whether you have a will or not, when you die, someone has to take over the duties related to legally closing your Massachusetts estate (unless all your assets are jointly owned or distributed to beneficiaries named in, for example, life insurance policies, retirement accounts or trusts). This estate administrator, known as your personal representative, has many responsibilities while probating your estate. 

According to Mass.gov, these include the following:

  • Establishing that there is a valid will, if relevant
  • Managing your assets and property until the probate process is complete
  • Changing the ownership of any real estate and other property that is solely in your name
  • Paying your debts
  • Acquiring your medical records
  • Filing and paying the taxes of your estate

Do you need a pour-over will?

You set up a trust years ago, and you've been putting assets such as your home in Massachusetts into it, updating it as needed. After all, you are determined that your beneficiaries get all of your assets with as few tax consequences as possible. However, what if the unthinkable happens before you have a chance to make the most recent updates?

FindLaw explains that a pour-over will ensures that your assets are transferred to your trust when you die, even if they are not mentioned in any other of your estate planning documents. Say for example that you recently purchased a valuable collection, and you die before you can adjust your will or transfer it to the trust. Without a pour-over will, the state would distribute that asset to your heirs based on intestacy laws. But a pour-over will specifically declares that any assets not mentioned in any other document should still be moved to the trust and distributed according to the directions of the trust.

Different ways divorce may affect your estate plan

There are a wide variety of issues that couples often have to work through when they end their marriage and in the wake of their divorce. From financial matters such as property distribution, child support payments and alimony to custody disputes and parental relocation, divorce can be a tricky time for many people. Moreover, there are other issues that may need to be closely examined when a marriage is terminated. For example, someone who has an estate plan may need to make revisions once their marriage has been brought to an end.

A divorce may affect an estate plan in different ways. For starters, if someone named their former spouse as the executor, they may want to remove them and find a new person to fill this role. Moreover, a divorce may affect how someone decides to divide their property among beneficiaries. For example, someone may remove their spouse or their spouse’s children from the estate plan. Moreover, someone may enter into a new marriage with someone else who has children and they may want to add these children as beneficiaries.

When a trustee should be replaced

Trustees shoulder a lot of responsibility, and when people set up irrevocable trusts as part of their Massachusetts estate plan, they generally put a lot of thought into whether to choose a person, a professional or an institution. After the designation is made, however, there may be times when a person discovers the choice was not ideal. 

FindLaw explains that a trustee should be replaced when that person or institution does not act in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Mismanagement of assets and breach of fiduciary duty are two such actions. Because trustees must typically be able to communicate effectively with beneficiaries, if there is a breakdown in communication or hostility develops, this is also a valid reason for designating a new trustee.

What to expect when you become an executor

If you have accepted the job of executor for a deceased loved one or friend, you may feel overwhelmed when you learn about the size of the estate and what is involved.

The good news is that you can proceed in a step-by-step manner and rely on professional help whenever you need it. Here are five responsibilities common to all executors:

Can you name a legal guardian without offending someone you love?

You have recently come to the conclusion that it is time to name a legal guardian to take care of your children in case something tragic ever happens to you and your spouse. While it may seem relatively simple to choose someone you trust in Massachusetts, have you ever considered the potential that you offend someone you love because you did not choose him or her? Fortunately, there are effective ways that you can carefully navigate around feelings while still choosing someone who you are completely comfortable with. 

Selecting a guardian requires you to pay significant attention to the lifestyle, parenting techniques, location, financial stability and even the ages of the people or person you select. Skipping any one of these important details may create a major hurdle when your chosen person takes over guardianship. In an effort to minimize the emotional and physical stress on your children after your passing, your best bet is to carefully assess each of the aforementioned aspects. 

What should executors know about filing estate taxes?

If you are the executor of an estate that exceeds the Massachusetts exclusion amount of $1 million, you may have some questions about paying the estate taxes.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about filing estate taxes, according to Mass.gov: