Estate planning is more than a set of documents. It’s a conversation with your loved ones about how you want to manage your familial, medical, legal and financial affairs in the event of your illness or death. The estate planning documents are the tools by which you continue this dialogue if you are no longer able to speak for yourself.
The Law Office of Trista R. Christensen will work with you to craft your estate plan so that your documents are clear, comprehensive and reflect your wishes. We also take care to be sure that the beneficiary designations on assets which don’t pass through probate, such as your retirement accounts, savings bonds, and life insurance policies, are properly worded so that all of your assets are properly transferred after your death.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
If you die without a will, the Massachusetts law of intestacy dictates who gets to inherit the assets you owned outright and what proportions each heir would receive. Maybe you don’t think you need a will because you’re hoping that everyone will get along and divide things “fairly” or come to an agreement over your care if you are ill. But that’s not estate planning.
What if your lack of planning backfires? What if this is a second marriage – will your estate be fairly divided between the surviving spouse and the children of your first marriage? What if your failure to plan results in a fight over your assets – or over you? What if a child is incapacitated and loses benefits as a result of an inheritance? Who can be trusted to handle your minor child’s inheritance until he/she is old enough to manage the funds himself/herself? What if an old Will names people who have long since passed, or names someone you now would rather not give in inheritance?
That’s where a comprehensive estate plan comes in.
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament governs the distribution of your assets, which you own in your own name. Your Last Will and Testament nominates a personal representative to manage those assets and represent the interests of your estate in settling debts and claims. Your Last Will and Testament usually does not manage the disposition of life insurance, retirement accounts, or assets already held by a trust, which are managed through beneficiary designations, or jointly-owned assets that pass to the co-owner automatically upon death.
A trust can be a critical part of your estate plan. Whether you need help with tax planning, special needs issues, avoidance of probate administration, or something else, I will listen to your concerns and design a trust that meets your goals. A trust can:
- Save your estate thousands of dollars in Massachusetts and Federal estate taxes.
- Avoid the slow probate process
- Protect young people from getting their hands on an inheritance before they are legally and mature enough to manage it.
- Preserve the rights of a loved one with a disability to government benefits while allowing a trustee to purchase goods and services which those benefits don’t cover.
- Protect against the wasting of an inheritance by a child who may be facing a lawsuit or divorce or protect a child with a drug, alcohol or gambling problem.
- Ensure that the surviving spouse of a second marriage and the children from the first marriage are fairly treated.
Additional Estate Planning Documents
Documents which are effective during your lifetime are just as important as a Last Will and Testament. Without a health care proxy, a written release for medical information and a comprehensive power of attorney, your loved ones will be forced to go to court for a guardianship or conservatorship in order to manage your affairs on your behalf. These cases are expensive, stressful and often unpleasant. What’s more, a judge decides how your affairs are managed and who manages them, not you.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint someone else to handle your financial, health care and other affairs for you (even if you become incapacitated).
Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy is a written directive used to convey your wishes in the event you become incapacitated. A healthcare directive can express your desires as well as name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
Estate administration refers to the entire process of winding up the affairs of a decedent and transferring ownership of the decedent’s assets to the persons or trusts designated to receive them. This process covers both the actions taken in the Probate Court and the management and distribution of assets, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, outside of probate to the designated beneficiaries.
Probate attorneys separate assets owned by the decedent at the time of death into two classes. Probate assets are those assets which the decedent owns in his/her own name as of the date of death and which are not owned jointly with someone else or do not have a beneficiary designation. Non-probate assets are those assets which are jointly owned with someone else (such as real estate jointly owned by spouses), trusts for which the decedent was a beneficiary, and items like life insurance policies and retirement accounts for which the decedent designated a beneficiary to receive the proceeds after his/her death.
My goal as your estate administration attorney is to make your job easier to manage successfully and reduce your stress. I will advise you about the legal and financial process of estate administration and make sure that you understand the terms of the Last Will and Testament (if there is one), the legal requirements of the Massachusetts estate administration process and your duties as personal representative. I will prepare necessary paperwork, and help you determine what assets need to go through probate and what assets get transferred to beneficiaries without court oversight. I will help you work with accountants, insurance companies, retirement fund administrators, realtors and other professionals to ensure that assets are properly valued, managed, and transferred. I will clearly explain what your obligations are and will do my best to help you meet them. I will help you comply with court and tax filing requirements so that your liability is minimized.
If you would like additional information, please contact the Law Office of Trista R. Christensen via e-mail or call us at (978) 741-0033.