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Are wills really that important for Massachusetts residents?

Many Massachusetts residents might be questioning whether or not they really need an estate plan. Wills may not seem to be that important since family members still have to file paperwork with the probate court. That may be true, but without wills, the time spent in probate often takes longer, costs more and often results in an individual's assets being distributed contrary to what the decedent would have preferred.

Any adult who owns any property or has children needs a will. This document allows a Massachusetts resident to choose who will receive his or her property after death. Parents are afforded the opportunity to choose who will act as the guardian of their children. Otherwise, family members could spend unnecessary time and money in court determining with whom the children will live. Moreover, it will be the last expression of love from parents to their children.

People who already have wills need to be sure that they are kept up to date. Periodic reviews are good, but if a major life event occurs, it may need to be updated then as well. For instance, a divorce or the birth of a child could dramatically change who receives what assets. This is also a good time to review any beneficiary designations on accounts such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts since those designations will dictate where the account proceeds go -- not a will.

Wills are often considered the cornerstone of any estate plan. They are necessary in order to give the executor the right to settle the estate. Further, they provide basic instructions that the courts will generally honor so long as they are not illegal or contrary to public policy. Many websites claim to offer do-it-yourself documents that are inexpensive, but each state has certain laws that must be followed in order for it to be considered valid upon death. If these laws are not followed, the consequences could be disastrous for surviving family members.

Source: fool.com, "Estate Planning Checklist: How to Protect Your Future, Your Family, and Your Property", July 15, 2015

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