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Boston Elder Law Blog

Estate and health care planning for aging Massachusetts residents

Many Massachusetts readers are already aware that the average age of the country's population is rising. People are living longer, which increases the odds that they will need some level of assistance toward the end of their lives. Accordingly, estate and health care planning take on more significance.

Many elderly people here in Massachusetts have already made estate plans that direct the distribution of their assets upon death and also provide for their care when they can no longer care for themselves. Many have executed powers of attorney for financial concerns and for health care. A lot of the plans have been structured to allow for Medicaid and/or veteran's benefits to help pay for their care.

70 percent of adults with children do not have wills

Most Massachusetts residents would do whatever is necessary to provide for their children. Despite this fact, many of parents do not have even a basic estate plan. In 2013, a poll revealed that nearly 70 percent of adults with children who were minors did not have wills.

A will does more than just provide for the distribution of an individual's property after death. A parent can appoint a guardian for any unemancipated children. Otherwise, family members could end up in a costly and time-consuming battle regarding custody of the children. In those circumstances, a court will decide who becomes the children's guardian, and it might not be the person the decedent would have chosen.

Review wills and estate planning documents regularly

Many Massachusetts residents have prepared estate plans to dispose of their property after death and also to make arrangements for the possibility of becoming incapacitated. As time goes by, however, their lives and family dynamics could change drastically. If wills and other estate planning documents are not reviewed on a regular basis -- or when a major life event occurs -- the intentions reflected in the documents may no longer fit the circumstances appropriately.

After the birth of a child or grandchild, the death of a loved one or a divorce is a good time to review an estate plan. If none of these events takes place, one source recommends reviewing the documents about every two years. Reviewing them does not mean that they need to be changed, but it is a good idea to be sure that they still reflect the maker's wishes. One of the biggest benefits of estate planning is that changes can be made as necessary, depending on the situation.

Any long term care plan should include powers of attorney

The unfortunate truth is that not everyone will spend their "golden years" being able to care for themselves. Therefore, it is essential that part of every Massachusetts resident's estate plan provides for long term care. Any plan for long term care should include durable powers of attorney.

Powers of attorney are documents that appoint a trusted individual or individuals to make decisions and sign documents on a person's behalf in the case of incapacitation. Many people include springing powers in their durable powers of attorney. This means that the power of attorney will only go into effect if one or more physicians certify that the individual is unable to take care of the day-to-day activities of most people (such as bathing, dressing and feeding oneself) and/or is incompetent.

Creating a revocable or irrevocable trust for pets

In 2011, Massachusetts recognized that its residents care about their pets as if they were members of their families by passing a law allowing people to create trusts for their pets' care after their deaths or incapacitation. A beloved pet could end up in a shelter or even die of starvation if no arrangements are made in advance. Creating a revocable or irrevocable trust for a pet is a way to circumvent that eventuality.

Massachusetts law allows a pet trust to be created during the owner's lifetime that does not terminate until the death of the last surviving pet. Other than any reasonable administration expenses and fees for the trustee, the assets are to be used for the care of the animal or animals. Enough assets can be placed in the trust to cover maintenance, care, including appearance, and health needs.

Powers of attorney are an essential estate planning tool

It can be easy for Massachusetts residents to forget that estate planning is not just about transferring property to family and friends upon death. Some documents are executed that put plans into place in case you are unable to make decisions and/or care for yourself during life. Powers of attorney are important for any adult since none of us knows when an accident or illness may strike.

A health care proxy and health care power of attorney work together to make your wishes known when it comes to what medical treatment you would or would not like if you were incapacitated. The proxy expresses your wishes, and the power of attorney gives your agent the power to make sure your wishes are followed. Furthermore, if an issue comes up that is not included in the proxy, your agent can make the decision for you. The key is to be sure that your agent understands what you want.

Some Massachusetts residents include wills in their estate plans

Typically, in various aspects of life, there are always some people who tend to procrastinate. If the situation at-hand is minor and considered unimportant, it doesn't necessarily mean that the person who is putting off whatever it is he or she needs to do will suffer adverse consequences. However, there are certain issues that can be crucial for Massachusetts residents and others, and continuing to place them on a back burner, so-to-speak, can have negative effects somewhere down the line. Creating an estate plan, documenting wills and considering the best means for asset protection in one's life are among matters that are best addressed in good time.

Some people find that discussing their own mortality is difficult. They tend to avoid the topic altogether. However, the one thing that is certain in life is that every person is going to die some day. Therefore, it is advisable to make certain that one's plans and wishes are documented insofar as what will happen to one's property and assets after death.

Heath Ledger's death illustrates the need to update wills

Fatal accidents and illnesses are unpredictable. Even young Massachusetts adults could fall victim to them at any time, which makes the need for wills and other estate planning documents crucial, no matter the age of an adult. The news media underscores this point every time they report that a celebrity has died.

Furthermore, the aftermath of celebrity deaths can teach many Massachusetts residents a thing or two about estate planning. Most people will not have the abundance or complexity of assets that celebrities do. However, the importance of having the correct documents under certain circumstances crosses all income barriers.

The benefits of a special needs trust for Massachusetts families

Most Massachusetts parents use estate planning to provide for their children after they pass away. If you are a couple with a special needs child, providing for him or her may take on a greater significance. Using a special needs trust to achieve that goal has numerous benefits for your child.

Simply passing assets directly to a special needs child after death can cause a loss of government benefits that may be essential to the care of your child. Putting assets into a trust will not add them to your child's estate, but will provide your child with the benefit of them. You can also control how the assets are managed and distributed by the trustee for the benefit of your child without jeopardizing access to government benefits.

Estate planning options are available for every situation

Every Massachusetts family has different needs and dynamics when it comes to financial, emotional and health issues. No one can accurately predict what will happen in the future, and it is advisable to be prepared for any eventuality. Estate planning options are available that can help in just about every circumstance.

When meeting with a Massachusetts attorney about an estate plan, it will be necessary to provide as much detail as possible about your current financial situation, any health issues and basic information about your family. These details can help in devising a plan that will meet all of your and your family's needs. Without them, your estate plan could be inadequate, which means that your wishes may not be followed.

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