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The probate process is harder without an up-to-date estate plan

Without an up-to-date estate plan, there is little to no guarantee that a Massachusetts resident's assets will end up with the person or persons intended. This will also make the probate process more difficult for family members, since they have no guide as to how an individual wanted his or her property distributed after death. There could also be additional time and costs expended in order to settle the estate.

In order to ensure that assets are distributed in accordance with an individual's wishes, he or she typically needs at least a will. Many people also add revocable living trusts to their estate plans in order to pass on assets without the need to pass through probate. Having assets in a trust prior to death can also make handling a person's affairs in the event of incapacitation less complicated.

Other assets, such as retirement accounts and insurance policies, do not normally go through probate -- with or without a trust. The proceeds of these accounts are paid out to the beneficiary designated by the account or policy owner. This happens through operation of law and supersedes a will. It can be easy to forget about changing the beneficiary on these accounts or policies, so they should be reviewed whenever other estate planning documents are reviewed.

As time goes on, the circumstances of a Massachusetts resident's life can change, and the estate plan should change with it. How simple or complicated the estate administration is, including the probate process, greatly depends on the accuracy of the documents that make up the plan. When they are kept in order and current, family members should be able to get through the process with a minimum of fuss.

Source: mainstreet.com, "Estate Plan Overhaul: Time to Shape Up Your Strategy", Bruce W. Fraser, June 10, 2014

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