Your will, also known as your Last Will and Testament, has several important purposes and is a basic estate planning document. At The Heritage Law Center in eastern Massachusetts, our estate planning team routinely drafts and reviews wills for our clients. Because of the complexities of inheritance and the costs and delays associated with probate, we also use other planning tools, like trusts, to protect your assets and handle special situations.
What Does Having a Will Accomplish?
Your will is designed to accomplish the following tasks:
- Direct who will receive your property when you pass away
- Name a personal representative (“executor”) to make certain your wishes are carried out
- Designate a personal guardian to care for your young children in the event of your premature death if the other parent has died or is incapacitated
- Name a trusted individual to manage whatever property you leave to your minor children
What Requirements Must a Massachusetts Will Satisfy?
In order to be legal, a Massachusetts Last Will and Testament must meet the following requirements:
- The testator (the person creating the will) must be at least 18 years of age
- The testator must be of sound mind
- It must be signed by two witnesses, neither of whom is a beneficiary
- It must be signed by the testator or by someone under the testator’s direction
- It must be written (not spoken), unless the testator is on active military duty or is a mariner at sea
It should be noted that a Massachusetts will can be changed at any time prior to the testator’s death by a legally executed codicil.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
If you die without a will (“intestate”), your property will be distributed according to state laws rather than according to your personal wishes. If you’re married, your spouse will inherit everything unless you have children or living parents. The stipulations concerning which relatives will receive what percentage of your inheritance will be followed. The state will seek out distant relatives if no close ones are found. If no relatives, however distant, can be located when you die, the state will take your property. If a relative of yours has died intestate, you’ll need a skilled, knowledgeable will and trust attorney to assist you to ensure you receive all assets you’re entitled to.
Ways to Prevent Your Will from Being Contested
Hire an experienced will lawyer.
The best way to ensure that your will isn’t contested is to work with a sharp will and trust attorney who knows how to protect your interests. Your estate plan needs to be specific and clear. If the right terminology isn’t used, it could leave your intention open to interpretation, leaving your loved ones arguing over what your true goals really are.
A no-contest clause can be written into the will itself. This clause states that a beneficiary who challenges the document shall receive no inheritance. With this clause in place, if the court finds no convincing evidence that there’s a serious problem, the contesting party has everything to lose.
Write your will early and update it regularly.
The best time to write your will is when you are in good health, and no one can contest your capacity or question whether there was any undue influence involved. “Capacity” means that the person understands the consequences of executing the documents, understands who their family is, and has a basic understanding of their assets. When a person is older and being taken care of by a caregiver, the concept of capacity and undue influence can come into play.
You should review your estate plan every few years since events will happen in your life that can affect your estate plan. Some of these changes include marriages, divorces, births, deaths, health problems with you or a family member, financial changes in the value of your estate, and changes in estate planning laws. You’ll need to review your estate plan and adjust it at times to ensure that it continues to reflect your needs and achieve your goals. An up-to-date plan shows that you thoughtfully reviewed and revised the plan based on changes in your life.
Talk to your family members about your estate plan.
If you feel comfortable advising family members of your decisions, and why you made them, then everyone will be aware of your wishes and there won’t be any misunderstandings after you pass away. Even if you don’t want to go into details, you can at least communicate to them that you put a lot of thought into the estate plan and your living will so that your wishes will be followed.
Free Estate Planning Reports
You can find more information about estate planning in our free reports: Estate Planning Essentials Report, Massachusetts Estate Planning: Saving on Taxes Report and 7 Common Mistakes Parents Make When Selecting Guardians Report.
Contact Our North Shore Will Attorney
Don’t procrastinate about such a crucial matter. Contact The Heritage Law Center to make sure your will is current and complete. There’s nothing more important than protecting your family and their future.