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Boston Elder Law Blog

No will? The fate of Prince's assets could take years to resolve

By now, nearly everyone across the globe has heard about the passing of music legend Prince. Considering how protective the artist was when it came to his music, it might surprise Massachusetts readers that it appears that he had no will. It could take years before the fate of his assets is decided.

His sister has already petitioned the court to appoint an administrator to handle his estate. In it, she reveals that the music legend had six full or half siblings (that number includes her). Whoever ends up with the rights to his music will have the freedom to do what he, she or they want to with it despite how Prince protected it during his life.

Estate planning for a second marriage focuses on asset protection

Finding love for the second time can be exciting, but it can also create an estate planning challenge -- especially if there are children from a prior marriage involved. When a Massachusetts resident is getting married for the second time, asset protection becomes a focal point. Many people want to provide for their new spouses in the event of their deaths, but they also want to ensure that their existing children are not denied their inheritances.

By law, surviving spouses are entitled to a certain percentage of a decedent's estate in the absence of a will and other estate planning documents to the contrary. In this eventuality, the children from a prior marriage might not receive what the deceased spouse would have wanted. Therefore, it is essential that estate planning documents be updated to recognize the new spouse and protect children.

Contemplating the probate process is often uncomfortable

The fact of the matter is that everyone will die someday, and many people could end up incapacitated beforehand. Most Massachusetts residents would accept these statements to be true, yet when it comes time to contemplate how they would like the probate process to go when they pass away, it can be uncomfortable. In fact, it can be uncomfortable enough that many people fail to engage in estate planning even when they know they should.

Unfortunately, the discomfort extends beyond having to face that the inevitable will happen one day. The estate planning process also forces people to look at their relationships with those closest to them. For instance, it might require an individual to face the hard truth that the relationship with a child or sibling has degraded to a point where that person would not be a consideration to make decisions on his or her behalf if the need arose.

For many people, the hardest part of estate planning is beginning

No one likes to contemplate his or her own demise or a time when someone else may need to make important decisions because he or she is not able. That may be why one of the hardest decisions for most Massachusetts residents to make is to begin the estate planning process. Once begun, other decisions can be made that will give the individual and family members peace of mind that a plan is in place.

For instance, an individual will want to choose one or more parties to make decisions regarding the health care and financial matters of the individual in the event that he or she is either permanently or temporarily incapacitated due to an illness or injury. The individual should trust that the person or persons appointed understand what he or she would want and will carry out those wishes. These documents can be executed in conjunction with other arrangements for long term care.

Keeping the probate process family friendly

One of the goals of estate planning for many Massachusetts residents is to eliminate -- or at least minimize -- any potential arguments among family members. Making the probate process family friendly is possible, but it takes some work up front. Once an estate plan is made, it will need to be reviewed and updated as needed to ensure that it still meets this and other goals.

Many Massachusetts residents are familiar with the old adage that change is the only constant in life. This means that an estate plan created five to 10 years ago could need some changes -- especially if there have been any major life events within that time, such as marriages, births or divorces, among other things. In addition, property could be bought or sold, which means that current documents could be disposing of property that no longer owned while not accounting for new property.

Getting through the probate process as an executor

Being the executor of an estate could be an intimidating responsibility for a Massachusetts resident. Many people are not quite sure what they are supposed to do in this position. Fortunately, understanding the duties can help, and it is not necessary to go through the probate process alone.

An executor has three main duties. These are to locate all of the decedent's assets, pay his or her bills and distribute whatever assets are remaining to the heirs. Perhaps the most time-consuming and tedious of these tasks is gathering the information about certain assets and securing all physical and digital assets.

Estate planning is essential to long-term care

More than likely, Massachusetts residents do not want to think about a time when they may be unable to deal with day-to-day tasks alone. Even so, as the age of the country's population increases, the probability of needing long-term care is also increasing. Further, no one can predict when an accident or illness will prevent him or her from making decisions. Therefore, it would be beneficial to plan for this eventuality, and estate planning is essential to this process. 

Without the proper documentation in place, vital medical care could be delayed while family members attempt to obtain the right to make decisions on your behalf and/or ascertain what you would want done. Advance directives let loved ones know what types of life-saving and end-of-life treatments an individual does -- and does not -- want. A health care power of attorney appoints a trusted person to carry out those wishes when the individual is unable to do so.

Using a revocable trust to distribute assets to children

There are many types of trusts that can be used depending on an individual's circumstances and family dynamics. Even so, the most popular type of trust used by people here in Massachusetts and elsewhere is the revocable trust. This is because the grantor can make changes to the trust during his or her lifetime.

Only after death does a revocable trust become unchangeable, or irrevocable. A will can appoint a guardian for children in the event that both parents die. A trust can provide for that child until adulthood and beyond.

Estate planning is needed for digital asset protection

Nearly every Massachusetts resident has an online presence. Social media, online only bank accounts and investment accounts are becoming the norm. What happens to these accounts when an individual dies? A growing number of people who engage in estate planning are concerned about digital asset protection, but the laws not able to keep up with technological changes.

Online only bank and investment accounts can still be transferred to an heir or beneficiary. However, the process for doing so could be different for each account. It would be beneficial to do some research up front to determine what the institution requires in order to arrange for a transfer after death. For some accounts, an individual will only need to fill out a form to transfer the funds on death, but that might not be the case for others.

Estate planning is not only for married couples

A Massachusetts resident does not have to be married in order to benefit from an estate plan. Being single might not mean that there is a spouse or children to worry about, but that does not mean that estate planning is not a necessity. In some ways, it is even more important for someone who does not have his or her own family to make preparations in case of incapacitation or death.

Married couples have each other to fall back on when something bad happens. Single people do not have another person they are legally bound to who can step into their shoes in a crisis. Therefore, even a basic estate plan is needed to make decisions on behalf of someone in these circumstances.

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