Important COVID-19 Update: We offer free consultations via phone, video, or in-person. Here’s information about our process during the this time.

Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning and MassHealth

Estate planning can often seem overwhelming and confusing. To add some clarity to the process, we’ve compiled a list of FAQs about estate planning and MassHealth planning in the space below. If you have further inquiries, don’t hesitate to contact our office, and we’ll happily answer your questions.

An estate plan gives you the power to make decisions regarding your health and finances both during life and after death. It can provide protection and guidance to your heirs, and can also reduce taxes, probate costs, and other fees and expenses of your estate. In some cases, it can be used to protect your hard-earned assets from health care costs and other liabilities. Without an estate plan you leave these important decisions up to the state and courts, and often end up significantly reducing the value of your estate. More information is available in our articles “Why You Should FINALLY Get Your Estate Planning Done” and “The Right Estate Planning Can Protect Your Assets.”

The federal estate tax exemption is currently $5,000,000, however estates greater than $1,000,000 (including all accounts, investments, home equity, and life insurance) must pay an estate tax in Massachusetts of up to 16%.

Couples in Massachusetts with taxable estates should at least have an A/B trust to double their exemption. In many cases, this will completely eliminate estate tax exposure. Other strategies to avoid an estate tax include creating a gifting plan, life insurance trusts, and qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs). This blog talks more about the state estate tax: “Using a Trust to Limit Massachusetts Estate Taxes for Couples.”

A living trust is a revocable legal entity in which a trustee (generally also the person who set up the trust) controls the trust assets to achieve estate planning goals including probate avoidance, disinheriting an heir or providing oversight for minors, limiting or eliminating estate taxes, and planning for blended families or second marriages. For more information about a living trust, read our blogs “How a Trust Can Strengthen Your Estate Plan” and “What is the Difference Between a Trust vs. a Will?”

Probate is the court and process that looks after people who cannot make their own personal, health care and financial decisions. These people fall into three general categories: Minor Children (under age 18 in most states); Incapacitated Adults; and People who have died without legal arrangements to avoid probate. Probate proceedings can be expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, the court proceeding and associated documents are all a matter of public record. Many people choose to avoid probate in order to save money, spare their heirs a legal hassle, and keep their personal affairs private.

No. Property jointly owned with another passes to the survivor automatically upon the death of the first. Also, bank accounts with a named beneficiary or “POD” don’t pass through probate. Finally, any asset owned by a trust doesn’t pass through probate. For more information, read our blog “What Are Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets.”

If you don’t make a will or use some other legal method to transfer your property when you die, state law will determine what happens to your property. Generally, it will go to your spouse and children or, if you have neither, to your other closest relatives. If no relatives can be found to inherit your property, it will go to the state.

In addition, in the absence of a will, a court will determine who will care for your young children and their property if the other parent is unavailable or unfit.

If you’re part of an unmarried same-sex couple and do not have a will, your surviving partner won’t inherit anything.

Yes. Many people first do a will when they have children. In the will you can appoint a guardian to be responsible for your children. You can also name an individual (who can be the same or different than the guardian) to manage money for the children. This individual is called a trustee. The trust can be set up to provide that the trustee can use the money for health, maintenance, education, and support without the money going directly to the children until they reach a pre-determined age. More information is available on our blog “Protecting Your Kids Through Proper Estate Planning.”

In addition, in the absence of a will, a court will determine who will care for your young children and their property if the other parent is unavailable or unfit.

If you’re part of an unmarried same-sex couple and do not have a will, your surviving partner won’t inherit anything.

If your will needs to be admitted to probate upon your passing, any interested party can object. Interested parties include anyone named in your will as well as close family members not in the will. Using probate avoidance strategies, such as trust planning, alleviates this concern.

In addition, in the absence of a will, a court will determine who will care for your young children and their property if the other parent is unavailable or unfit.

If you’re part of an unmarried same-sex couple and do not have a will, your surviving partner won’t inherit anything.

Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, married or single, if you own titled assets such as a house and want your loved ones to avoid court interference at your death or incapacity, consider a revocable living trust. A trust allows you to bring all of your assets together under one plan.

Medicare pays for a limited amount of the costs when in short-term rehab or the cost of a home health aide for a limited period of time. When these benefits expire, you’ll need to pay privately or seek other alternatives, such as Medicaid.

Medicaid, called MassHealth in Massachusetts, is a joint federal and state program that pays for a home health aide or nursing home for qualifying individuals. Becoming qualified often requires careful planning to meet the program’s strict asset and income limits. More information about MassHealth eligibility and the need to plan ahead can be found on these blog articles: “What Assets and Income Count Toward MassHealth Eligibility?” and “Why You Should Plan Ahead for MassHealth Eligibility.”

Yes. MassHealth pays for long-term care for eligible seniors, but there are many other MassHealth programs that will pay for home care services, allowing frail seniors to remain in their own home or the home of a loved one. Some programs will even pay family members to care for their loved one. By creating an effective estate strategy, many Massachusetts seniors and their families can benefit from these eligibility-based care programs.