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Boston Elder Law Blog

Family contests the costs of estate administration

In 2007, a man and his wife died when their private plane went down near the runway at a Massachusetts airport. Since that time, the administration of their estates has been fraught with controversy, including a claim that their wills were forgeries. Now, the couple's heirs are contesting the costs of estate administration, which reach into the millions of dollars.

Reports indicate that, over the years, somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.3 million in various payments and fees have been taken from the estates. Moreover, records of real estate transactions indicate losses of around $1.9 million. The niece and four nephews who will inherit the remainder of the estates would like the court to order the administrators of the estates to produce documentation regarding all of the money that has gone out of the estates. 

Older family members may need help with asset protection

Growing older is not always easy. Aside from the physical aches and pains many older Massachusetts residents feel, their memories and mental acuity may also suffer due to the aging process. Before their conditions worsen, they may need help with asset protection, along with other estate planning issues.

Before anything else can be done, it is necessary to determine the current state of an elderly family member's finances. All of his or her assets need to be identified and located. Information regarding each asset should be catalogued, including account numbers, names and addresses of financial institutions and any contact person. Do not forget to gather information regarding online assets such as usernames and passwords. The same process should be accomplished with the individual's debts.

Probate process not going smoothly for Robin Williams' heirs

It might be difficult for Massachusetts fans of Robin Williams to believe that it has been nearly six months since he passed away. He attempted to set up a conflict free estate plan that provided for the people he loved, but that has not stopped his heirs from finding their way into court. The contentious probate process is not over the big assets that he owned -- instead, it is about his personal items.

Prior to his death, Williams created trusts for his children and updated his will. He and his third wife signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage. At that time, Williams had no reason to believe that a legal dispute would arise among his heirs.

Estate planning gives peace of mind to Massachusetts families

Some Massachusetts residents may put off creating an estate plan because they are not comfortable contemplating their own deaths. While these feelings may be natural, not engaging in estate planning can make circumstances even more difficult for the family members who are left behind. Planning now can give everyone in a family peace of mind from the knowledge that estate distribution will be easier when the time comes.

One advantage of an estate plan is that its creator maintains control over who will be responsible for certain actions, while retaining the power to choose who will receive his or her assets and how they will be distributed. Without a will and/or trust outlining an individual's wishes, those determinations will be made by the state of Massachusetts. If that happens, assets may not be passed to heirs in accordance with a decedent's wishes.

Protecting Massachusetts incapacitated adults and minor children

Every day, residents in Massachusetts are faced with making the decision to protect a loved one from himself or herself. Whether they are protecting an incapacitated adult or minor children, family members will need some legal authority to act on one's behalf. Without such authority, a person's health and assets are vulnerable.

If an adult created an estate plan that included powers of attorney for health care and finances, his or her agent has the necessary legal authority to act as soon as that adult is declared incapacitated. Therefore, if an individual wants to maintain control over who will take care of these important issues on his or her behalf in the event that he or she is no longer able to, creating an estate plan is essential. However, if these documents do not exist, a family member can ask the Massachusetts courts to appoint him or her as a guardian and/or conservator to serve the same functions.

A revocable trust can provide for children of a single parent

Massachusetts residents may not realize that it is not only the wealthy who benefit from the use of trusts. In reality, anyone can benefit from using a trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan. One group of people who could benefit from the use of a trust, such as a revocable trust, are single parents.

A revocable trust is created during the life of the grantor. In most cases, he or she retains control of his or her assets. Another person is also named in the trust who will take over the management of the trust if the grantor passes away or becomes incapacitated. This allows a single parent's children to continue to be provided for with little interruption because the assets in the trust do not have to go through probate.

New federal exemption allows people to refocus asset protection

For 2015, the federal estate tax exemption has been raised to $5.43 million per person. This means that a dwindling number of estates will actually exceed the exemption. Here in Massachusetts, however, the exemption is only $1 million. Therefore, asset protection can be refocused toward reducing other types of taxes, including the Massachusetts estate tax.

It is not immediately known whether the Massachusetts Legislature is considering increasing the estate tax exemption for its residents. Therefore, anyone with an estate that exceeds the current exemption still needs to structure his or her estate plan to eliminate -- or at least reduce as much as possible -- his or her taxable estate. Doing so will leave more of an individual's estate to be distributed to his or her heirs and beneficiaries.

Trusts provide asset protection for minor children

Nearly all Massachusetts parents likely expect to live long enough to raise their children and watch them become the adults they are meant to be. However, the reality is that none of us knows how long we will live. As loving, responsible parents, we need to put a plan into place to ensure that minor children will be taken care of in the event of death. Asset protection is a major concern for parents with minor children.

Minor children are not able to own property. Therefore, the property intended for them needs to be somehow safeguarded. Trusts can hold any property or other assets you intend to be used for the benefit of your children. The assets put into the trust are often protected from taxes, creditors and anyone else who may want to get at the assets, including an ex-spouse. As your minor children reach the age of majority, you can specify how and when they will receive distributions from the trust.

How do Massachusetts parents leave assets to minor children?

Massachusetts parents want to be able to provide for their children -- even after death. However, minor children cannot legally inherit property. Therefore, the biggest question involves how to leave assets to them.

Naming a minor child directly as the beneficiary of an asset could result in numerous legal issues upon a parent's death. In dealing with the issue, a Massachusetts court can easily misinterpret the parent's intentions, which could lead to unintentional delays and interference. An account created under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act would allow its owner to choose a custodian for the account upon his or her death but would not allow control over how it is distributed.

Long-term health care planning is a larger issue for women

Statistics show that men live an average of five years less than women do. As a result, many women will spend more time in long-term care at the end of their lives than men will. Therefore, long-term health care planning is more of an issue for Massachusetts women than men.

Other data indicates that 74 percent of women are concerned about how they will pay for long-term care. A person can spend an average of 835 days in a nursing home, which could cost upward of $200,000. The average stay in an assisted living center is comparable in time, but it may cost only approximately $90,000. Even an assisted living center may be cost prohibitive without some planning.

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