Estate planning allows you to protect your assets and prepare for the future. Having an official plan drafted dictates how your estate will be handled and allocated. A comprehensive estate plan also includes preserving your assets, your medical decisions should you ever become incapacitated, and to whom you assign the guardianship of your children.
At The Heritage Law Center, we understand that you might feel a little anxious about doing your estate planning. If you’re seeking an experienced estate lawyer serving Boston, Matthew Karr, Esq., is here to help walk you through the process and develop your estate plan to meet your needs and give you peace of mind. His personalized approach and commitment to your needs will ensure you’re prepared for whatever the future holds.
What is an Estate?
Your estate comprises anything of economic value that you have, including your home, vehicle, any property you own, and your personal possessions. It also includes your savings and checking accounts, investments, and life insurance, among other assets. In the event of your death, developing a formal plan for your estate will allow it to be distributed according to your wishes.
A common misconception is that an estate plan only matters if you’re wealthy or have a large estate. Even if you don’t have investments or properties to allocate, it’s still important to outline an estate plan if you have some assets and want them to go to certain loved ones. Not only will an estate plan help you distribute your assets as you desire, but it will also ensure your decisions will be upheld.
Documenting Your Medical Decisions in Advance
Estate planning ahead of time is essential in many circumstances, including medical crises. If you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself or communicate your decisions, a thorough plan will outline your wishes for your care. This may include who can make health care decisions on your behalf, called your health care proxy, and what decisions you’d like to be made in regard to your end-of-life care in a living will.
Your health care plan may consider medical care like feeding tubes, resuscitation, and other life-sustaining treatments. Your loved ones may also need access to your finances via a durable power of attorney to afford your care. A documented plan allows them to provide your medical treatments as needed, which helps you get the critical care you need and eases the excess financial strain on your loved ones.
Medical crises are difficult and stressful for family members and may lead to disputes between loved ones. Having a documented plan can help ease potential conflicts and ensure your health care choices are upheld even if you become incapacitated.
Determining Your Assets for a Boston Estate Plan
Estate planning allows you to distribute your assets and possessions to your loved ones per your demands. During the estate planning process, you’ll determine what assets you own that make up your estate.
You and your estate attorney serving Boston will explore whether your needs are best suited to a trust, will, or both. Trusts and wills are both beneficial tools for your estate plan, but there are key distinctions that will help you determine which you need for your unique circumstances.
Wills for Boston Residents
The death of a loved one is a difficult, overwhelming time for family members and friends. Having a will in place ensures your family members don’t need to stress over how the estate will be distributed. It also gives Boston residents peace of mind that their loved ones will receive specific assets like family heirlooms passed onto loved ones they know would appreciate them.
If you die without a will or other estate planning in place, your family will find themselves facing probate without guidance on how you wanted your assets to be distributed. That can be a costly, time-consuming process, one that may impact your estate without the guidance of an estate attorney.
A will is a legal document that outlines how you want certain assets handled and requests carried out after your death. It assigns which designated heirs will become the beneficiaries you’d like to receive your assets.
If you have children, your will is an opportunity to assign guardianship to ensure they are cared for after your death. You’ll also appoint someone to execute your will.
Under Massachusetts state law, you must sign or acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses, and your witnesses must also sign it. Your witnesses shouldn’t be individuals who gain anything from your will. If your witness is a beneficiary according to your will, they can lose whatever they’ve been granted in the document by serving as a witness, unless two additional witnesses who have no interest in the estate also sign the will.
Ensuring you create a legally valid will can be stressful, but a skillful lawyer like Matthew Karr, Esq., can guide you through this process to ensure your will meets your needs and is valid. Seeking help from an estate lawyer serving the Boston area helps you easily comply with these regulations.
How a Trust Can Help Boston Families
Trusts are legal arrangements that define how your assets will be transferred to beneficiaries. A Massachusetts living trust allows you to keep your assets in a trust during your life and control their distribution after death.
When a Boston resident establishes a trust, they appoint someone to manage the trust, titled the trustee. You can appoint yourself to manage the trust and then a successor trustee to take over once you’ve passed away or become incapacitated. During estate planning, you can outline how you’d like the trustee to carry out the allocation of your assets, and they must handle your assets within those terms.
You may set terms regarding when and which assets may be distributed to your beneficiaries. Unlike wills, trusts become effective while you’re still alive, so if you become incapacitated, your trustee can manage your trust for you.
Living trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. Once they are created, revocable trusts can be changed and even revoked. Irrevocable trusts, once finalized, can’t be altered and can’t be ended. Irrevocable trusts offer less flexibility, but certain ones offer some advantages like protecting assets, minimizing estate taxes, and shielding assets for MassHealth eligibility.
If your finances permit it, you may choose to create a charitable trust, where portions of your assets are donated to charitable causes of your choosing. With a charitable remainder trust, a potential income stream is created for you or other beneficiaries you choose, with the remainder of the assets going to one or more charities. Charitable trusts like this offer special tax benefits, but they’re also subject to complex rules regarding their creation and maintenance.
If you’re considering a trust, an estate lawyer serving Boston can help explain your choices for trusts, what to expect, and what your best options are for your estate.
What Boston Families Should Know About Probate Court
Probate courts carry out the legal process of probate, the transfer of your estate after your death. In Massachusetts, probate is necessary for some circumstances. This may include instances when someone dies and a change of ownership, like rental property or bank accounts, is needed, or when a will must be verified.
If you have a will, the probate court will verify the validity of the document, ensuring it has proper signatures and meets the necessary criteria. The court will also approve the executor named in the will and creditors can make claims against the estate. Your estate will then be distributed according to your wishes outlined in your will. Probate can take many months and incurs costs that get deducted from your estate.
If you choose not to create a will or trust, the probate court will follow Massachusetts guidelines to determine the allocation of your estate. The surviving spouse is typically granted legal priority to the assets and receives the largest sum. The rest is divided among your children equally.
Without a will, probate court can be a long and stressful process. Sometimes, particularly when there are disputes between relatives, the allocation of your assets can stretch on for twelve to eighteen months. Your loved ones may not agree with how the court distributes your assets, and the choices the courts make may not be the same choices you would have made had you prepared a will.
Do Boston Residents Need an Estate Attorney?
Estate planning gives you control. You have the opportunity to make important decisions ahead of time, like how and by whom you’d like your children cared for in the event of your death. Estate planning also lets you take control of how you’d like your assets distributed so you can ensure your loved ones receive the assets you want to leave them after your death. This may include staggering the funds they receive over time with a trust, so they are not left to deal with a large sum of money all at once.
There are many reasons Boston individuals may be hesitant to pursue estate planning, even if planning ahead can give peace of mind. Some may feel anxious or overwhelmed at the idea of preparing for end-of-life decisions. Others may not be aware of how to begin the process or of what estate planning entails.
An estate lawyer serving Boston can work with you step by step and help you make the decisions, so the result is an estate plan that’s right for you and your family. If you’re feeling hesitant, talking to an estate lawyer offering services to Boston residents like Matthew Karr, Esq., can help you navigate the big questions and bring you a sense of ease. He has years of experience partnering with people to help them protect themselves, their assets, and their families.
Changing Your Boston Estate Plan
When life changes, you may want to change your estate plan accordingly. Your goals for your will and trust may shift as your assets or family grows, and updating them every few years ensures the documents stay up to date. Making sure your estate plan is updated as you wish is a key part of your Boston estate attorney’s services at The Heritage Law Center.
Different documents will have different requirements. For example, you’re always allowed to change your will during your lifetime. A trust, however, may be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust allows changes up to the time of your death or incapacity. Irrevocable trusts can’t be changed once they are created. A lawyer can guide you through updating your documents
Medical Concerns for Boston Residents
An important part of creating an estate plan is choosing someone to act as a health care proxy for you. This person can legally make health care decisions for you if you can’t do so yourself.
You should also consider your feelings about certain life-supporting medical procedures. Make sure your current feelings are accurately depicted in your living will, which spells out medical treatments you would and wouldn’t want to be used to keep you alive. Perhaps you have changed your mind about certain life-saving measures like a Do-Not-Resuscitate order.
At any point, you can alter your health care proxy and living will. Simply talk to an estate lawyer serving Boston like Matthew Karr, Esq., to either create or update these documents.
Changing Your Beneficiaries
You may also need to change who your beneficiaries are. Family dynamics can be very complicated. You have the right to disinherit family members through estate planning revisions.
You may also add new loved ones, like grandchildren or a new spouse. As long as these changes are verified legally with new witnesses and signatures, the most recent version of your estate plan will be carried out.
Speak with Your Estate Attorney Serving the Boston Area
No matter your age or the size of your estate, the sooner you develop a plan, the more prepared you will be for whatever the future holds. If unanticipated critical circumstances occur, having a formal plan for your estate will ensure your wishes for your health and property will be handled accordingly.
At The Heritage Law Center, we understand this process can feel overwhelming. Matthew Karr, Esq., strives to make the estate planning process as stress-free as possible. He understands everyone’s financial situation, family dynamics, and estate planning goals can be different, and he personalizes his approach based on your specific circumstances and requests.
If you’re seeking an estate lawyer serving Boston who truly cares about you and your unique needs, give us a call at 617-299-6976 or fill out our online contact form below for a consultation.