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Boston Elder Law Blog

Wedding bells, wills and other estate planning documents

When the gifts are all unwrapped and the honeymoon is over, a Massachusetts newlywed couple's life begins. Thinking about how that life could end may not be at the top of the couple's list, but many would argue that it should be. It is important that they execute wills and other estate planning documents in order to provide each other with the peace of mind that if something happens, a plan is in place.

Without a will, the state of Massachusetts will determine who receives an individual's assets upon death. No one should assume that it will be the person or persons intended. Therefore, a will is often considered the core of every estate plan. After this document is created, the unique circumstances of each individual dictate what other documents may be needed in order to ensure that the assets are distributed in the manner desired. If the parties executed a prenuptial agreement, it should also be integrated into the estate plans of each spouse.

Will a revocable trust help meet estate planning goals?

The old saying, "you can't take it with you," is true. However, that does not mean that Massachusetts residents cannot retain control over with happens to it. For instance, some people may need nothing more than a will to meet their goals, but others will need something else -- such as a revocable trust -- in order to ensure that their assets are protected and distributed in accordance with their wishes.

Either approach will work, depending on an individual's preference. Some people are content with their assets being directly distributed after their death, and that is the case for numerous individuals. However, for people with more complex family dynamics and holdings, trusts can be invaluable.

Estate planning can help pay for long-term care

Health care costs are not the only expenses that continue to rise. The cost of long-term health care is also increasing. Massachusetts residents who include the possibility of needing extended care during estate planning could have the funds available when the time comes.

Current estimates put the average yearly cost of sharing a room in a nursing home at approximately $77,380. However, here in Massachusetts, that average can go as high as $120,000. Assisted living can be less expensive, but it can still average around $42,000 per year.

The basics of the Massachusetts probate process

If you agreed to be the executor of a family member's will, you may not have truly understood what duties you are expected to perform upon his or her death. The Massachusetts probate process requires that certain steps be taken before the estate can be distributed and considered closed. Below are the basic steps that must be taken during the administration of an estate.

Even though you are named as the executor in the will, the court still needs to officially appoint you. This is done through the filing of a probate petition. Once the will is declared valid, you will be given the authority to act on behalf of the estate. The process from start to finish can take up to a year if there are no complications.

Single people also need wills and other estate planning documents

Data gathered over the last few years indicates that more people in the United States are single, and undoubtedly, many of those people are here in Massachusetts. Unmarried individuals may unknowingly face certain challenges when it comes to estate planning that married people do not. Potentially, wills and powers of attorney can be more critical for single people.

Married Massachusetts residents often rely on their spouse to make financial and health care decisions for them if they are unable to do so. This is obviously not an option for a single person. Executing a durable power of attorney for financial decisions and a health care power of attorney are needed to allow a trusted friend or family member to step in under these circumstances. Otherwise, court intervention will be necessary.

Estate planning barriers to achieving asset protection

Many Massachusetts residents engage in estate planning to ensure that their family will receive their assets after death. However, if they are not careful, they could end up sabotaging their efforts. Understanding potential estate planning barriers to achieving asset protection might remove this risk.

One deceptive method of avoiding probate is to title assets jointly with a child or other family member. This may transfer an asset directly to the other party upon death, but it also gives that person legal rights to it as well. This means that if the original owner decided to sell the property, the sale could not go through without the approval of the joint owner. In addition, the property could be used to satisfy an obligation of the other party owed to creditors, ex-spouses or others.

Retirement planning should not neglect the probate process

Many Massachusetts residents look forward to retirement and make sure that they plan for it. However, they fail to plan for what comes after retirement -- the probate process. Moreover, retirement plans could be interrupted by an illness or accident. Failing to plan for either of these possibilities could lead to other problems in the future.

Without an estate plan that includes at least the basic documents -- a will, powers of attorney for health care and finances, and advanced directives -- family members will have to spend time and money obtaining the right to act on behalf of a deceased relative. Further, an individual who is incapacitated will relinquish the right to maintain control over his or her estate and health care decisions. These documents allow an individual to decide in advance who will handle money and medical decisions in the event of incapacitation and who will receive what assets upon his or her death.

Careful financial inventory can help with estate administration

Careful planning when one is of sound mind and body can help to ensure that one's desires and intentions are properly carried out upon one's death. Organization of one's finances and assets ahead of time also benefits a person who becomes mentally or physically incapacitated and no longer able to govern his or her own estate. A professor of finance from a university outside of Massachusetts published a recent article about the benefits of taking a financial inventory for the purpose of future estate administration.

Creating a list of one's financial accounts and contact information for important people can ease the administration of one's estate when the time comes. The recent article stated that a financial inventory helps to place all of one's assets, insurance policies and other pertinent information in one location. This, in turn, simplifies the process for those who will need the information in the event of an estate owner's death or incapacitated state.

Estate administration may be too much for some family members

An estate plan is designed to take care of the family members left behind after a Massachusetts resident passes away. Ordinarily, the documents are set up to make estate administration easier and less time-consuming for his or her loved ones. However, dealing with the particulars of how everything will happen is too much for some loved ones. In that case, it will not matter how well an estate plan is crafted.

Some Massachusetts residents just are not adept at dealing with financial and/or business matters -- it simply is not their strength. For example, in most marriages, either the husband or the wife shoulders the majority of the responsibility for the family's financial affairs. Often, the other spouse is kept up-to-date but has no interest in being a part of the process.

Long-term health care planning options for Massachusetts elders

Medical advancements are allowing people to live longer. This means that as many as 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will need medical care for a longer period of time than in the past. Long-term health care planning could help pay for that care. Whether a Massachusetts resident is looking to save for themselves, a spouse or elderly parents, he or she has several options from which to choose.

Many people opt to purchase long-term care insurance or other insurance products that provide for in-home care, assisted living or a nursing home. Other people rely on government assistance programs such as Medicaid. However, with the increasing amount of people making use of these products and benefits, they could become cost-prohibitive at some point.

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