Three facts about estate planning in Massachusetts that you should know

Estate planning in general means that you are engaging in financial planning focused on the laws of property, wills, and trusts. Here are three facts about Massachusetts law that you should know.

Estate Tax. Federal taxes levied against the deceased’s estate in Massachusetts are extremely high. The rate can be as steep as as 55%. Moreover, these taxes must be paid in cash. They must also generally be paid within nine months subsequent to the date of death.

However, preplanning your estate can lessen or even dismiss these taxes. Both the federal government and Massachusetts allow a certain amount—up to $1 million–to be tax free. The creation of an estate plan means that one can use allowed exemptions to reduce or eliminate large estate taxes, and protect one’s family from having to use cash and assets they have inherited to pay the tax. [Read more…]

How Elder Law Attorneys Assist Senior Citizens

As you and your loved ones get older, new situations will be encountered  that involve issues due to aging. You are not quite sure how to solve these problems. Where can you get advice? A good starting place is going to an attorney that specializes in elder law.

What is Elder Law?
Elder Law is a rapidly growing legal practice that assists senior citizens needing help and guidance with legal matters. It specifically focuses on older adults in areas such as estate planning, long-term care, medical directives, nursing home issues, and Medicaid.

Estate Planning
Your parents are aging. You want to encourage them to develop an estate plan. This is a type of advance planning to organize property and financial assets and put in writing what a person’s wishes are for their assets after they are deceased. It is a hard conversation to have with your parents, but will be very useful after they have passed.

Long Term Care
As you age, you may begin thinking about the possibility that you might need assistance in everyday living when you get older. Or maybe your loved ones need that type of help now. There are several options. [Read more…]

Elder Law: The Importance of Planning

A recent Boston Globe article reveals as many as 60% of Massachusetts nursing homes are finding ways to skirt a 2012 dementia care law intended to prevent deceptive practices. The law requires that facilities advertising dementia care must meet specific criteria including dementia-specific training for staff, specialized activities, and security measures to prevent wandering.

This story is just one of many that illustrate how important it is to do your homework and advocate for your loved one through estate planning and long term care planning. Our firm assists clients with all of their elder law concerns. Areas within elder law include:

  • Nursing Home Issues – Sadly, as our population ages, we see increased cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation in nursing homes. An elder law attorney can help secure return of assets in a case of financial exploitation or recover damages for injuries resulting from neglect or abuse.
  • Medical Directives – Should you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes, it’s imperative that you have medical directives in place. In Massachusetts, you will need a living will and health care proxy. An attorney can help you through this delicate process.

[Read more…]

Estate Planning and Future Healthcare Planning in Massachusetts Law

Though many people have the notion that estate planning is only for the rich, anyone who has earned money and done a good job of investing it can benefit from careful estate planning. Without a comprehensive estate plan, all the things that you have worked so hard for can be lost or given to unintended beneficiaries. Since estate law varies from state to state, it is wise to consult with an attorney well-versed in Massachusetts law to make a solid plan for the future of your assets.

There are many ways to protect your assets for those you love by means of an effective estate plan. Your attorney can help you draft a will in which you can specify how your assets should be distributed at the time of your death.  Wills can also designate legal guardians for your children in the event they are still minors or are incompetent. Funeral and burial requests can also be included.  A Massachusetts attorney can help you draft a will that will stand even in the event that someone should contest the will in court. [Read more…]

Estate Planning Considerations for Singles and Massachusetts Law

Single persons without heirs have unique considerations when planning for the future. Unlike most married couples with spouses and/or children, they need to involve friends or other relatives in their financial, medical emergency and end of life arrangements.

Documents used to convey what should take place if a single person becomes incapacitated can include a durable power of attorney, springing power of attorney, a health care proxy advance care directive and an authorization under HIPAA. Employing one or more of these documents will authorize your agent to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are not able.

The springing power of attorney only comes into effect upon an event such incapacitation or disability. In contrast, a durable power of attorney applies when it is signed.

Despite being childless, a single person may have dependents such as parents or siblings. Perhaps, there are valued charities and friends he or she wishes to endow. Setting up a revocable living trust or making a will is the way to make sure that his or her wishes take precedence.

If there is no Will, trust, or beneficiary designations in place, the estate of a single person may become subject to Massachusetts probate process and is disbursed under Massachusetts law.

For those without family, choosing the right person to carry out your wishes might be difficult.  In this case, working with an estate planner is beneficial.

When To Review Your Estate Plan

I read an interesting article recently in the Wall Street Journal regarding the importance of reviewing your estate plan.  Although beginning the process or  discussing your existing estate plan is not an enjoyable exercise, making sure that your loved ones are taken care of if you are no longer able to provide for them is a responsible task we all must plan for.  This article stresses that your estate plan is not something you sign once and forget about.  Many things change over your lifetime, and some of these events will affect your estate and financial plan.  It is recommended to review your estate plan annually.  You can read the full article in the Wall Street Journal.

Managing the Probate Process Through Careful Estate Planning

We all work hard throughout our lives with the expectation we will be able to leave an estate to our children and heirs. Too often however, we fail to take the necessary steps to preserve our wealth and our heirs are left to deal with Massachusetts probate. Fortunately, the Massachusetts law regarding probate has been simplified over the last few years but there are still some steps you can take to ensure your assets are divided up per your wishes and avoid probate.

Your retirement accounts

Fortunately, most financial institutions require retirement account owners to specify a beneficiary when they open their accounts. However, it is important to verify the beneficiary after a divorce, death of a spouse or other life changes.

Other financial assets

There are a number of ways you can ensure your assets are divided up per your wishes while you are still alive including:

  • Stocks/bonds/mutual funds – there are two options for transferring these assets to an heir upon your death. One way is to jointly register assets using joint tenants with rights of survivorship where the ownership automatically transfers upon your death. A second method is using what is known as a “transfer on death” option which will require the designee to provide a copy of a death certificate and a letter of instruction for the new registration. [Read more…]

Reviewing Your Estate Plan

Like any other part of your overall financial plan, your estate plan should be reviewed on an annual basis or sooner if there are any significant changes.  You file taxes and meet with a financial advisor on an annual basis, so reviewing your legal documents should be included in the process to ensure your wishes have not changed.  Areas to be reviewed include:

  • Asset ownership
  • Account balances
  • Beneficiary designation
  • Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy agent appointments
  • Insurance coverage
  • Homestead protection
  • Funding of IRA/Roth IRA/401(k)
  • Discuss guardianship/trusts/UTMA accounts for minor children, if applicable
  • Long term care insurance
  • Financial aid/529 planning

There may be additional areas specific to your situation, but these areas should be a good starting point to begin your discussion.

When To Review Your Estate Plan

Developing an estate plan, while an essential first step in protecting your family and financial future, does not end when you sign and execute your will, durable power of attorney, and other important estate planning documents. Your estate plan should be reviewed periodically to determine if any changes or revisions should be made. Certain changes or events in your life also warrant a thorough review of your estate plan. Some examples include:

  • Substantial increase in the size of your estate
  • Purchase or sale of real estate
  • Relocation to another jurisdiction
  • Birth/Adoption of a child
  • Sale or purchase of a business
  • Loss of a job
  • Change in tax laws
  • Serious illness
  • Desire to change beneficiaries
  • Retirement

You should review your estate plan at least every 3-5 years or sooner if any major life event should occur. Consult a professional to discuss your options so you may have the peace of mind that your family is taken care of.