Spouses should keep several things in mind when preparing their estate plan to protect each other, their children, and their estate. A good estate plan encompasses much more than merely distributing a person’s wealth when they die. A Massachusetts estate planning attorney can help married couples evaluate their specific circumstances and explain what the couple should consider in their estate plan.
Protecting Both Spouses During Their Lifetimes
Many people think of an estate plan as only a will or living trust. It can be less than exciting to pay legal fees for something that doesn’t seem to benefit you directly, but when you understand how valuable an estate plan can be to you while you’re alive, you realize that the return is well worth the expense.
Incapacity Planning: An estate plan can include documents that let you decide ahead of time what will happen if you or your spouse become incapacitated. A power of attorney can designate someone to handle your finances, in case you aren’t able to do so, even temporarily. The document needs to be “durable” so that it doesn’t automatically become invalid when you lose legal capacity.
Health Care Planning: You can use a health care proxy to name someone you trust to make your medical decisions for you if you can’t do so. A living will gives instructions as to what you want to be done in certain situations, like a ventilator or tube feeding.
It’s risky to assume that your spouse will be able to serve as your decision-maker. In Massachusetts, a spouse doesn’t automatically have the legal authority to make health decisions on your behalf unless appointed in a health care proxy. Also, if you and your spouse become very ill simultaneously, and you don’t have a health care proxy that names someone else as your agent or successor agent, your loved ones will have to get a court order that gives someone that authority. That legal process can take months and cost thousands of dollars.
Providing for the Surviving Spouse and Children
A good estate plan imagines what the surviving spouse and children will need to maintain their accustomed lifestyle when one spouse passes away. Your lawyer can help you calculate how much money they’ll need and advise you on ways to fund that need through things like life insurance.
Protecting the Community Spouse
When one spouse needs to move into a nursing home, the long-term care expenses can erode the life savings of the couple quickly. Depending on your circumstances, a MassHealth trust could preserve some assets and income for the spouse who doesn’t live in the nursing home, also called the “community spouse.”
Minimizing or Avoiding Estate Taxes
Estate planning can include strategies for the estate to minimize the amount of estate taxes or avoid these taxes entirely. Every dollar of taxes the estate has to pay is a dollar that doesn’t go to the surviving spouse, the children or grandchildren, or your favorite charity.
As a skilled Massachusetts estate planning attorney, Matthew Karr, Esq., can work with you to tailor an estate plan to your unique situation and goals to protect you and your spouse and safeguard your estate and loved ones. Contact our office today online or call 617.299.6976 for a free initial consultation.