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Massachusetts Estate Planning Law Blog

How can I include health care matters in my estate plan?

When it comes to the notion of having a comprehensive estate plan in place, it's important to understand that this means more than just accounting for all of your property and minimizing your tax liability. Indeed, it also includes making plans for your health care should a major medical event leave you incapacitated.  

While this may seem like it would be a complex legal undertaking, the reality is that it's actually relatively easy thanks to Massachusetts's Health Care Proxy Law, which authorizes all competent adults 18 and over to appoint what is known as a health care agent.

Understanding Massachusetts's estate tax filing requirements - II

Last week, our blog began discussing how the process surrounding Massachusetts's estate tax, which is levied on a deceased person's assets and collected prior to distribution of these assets, is rather time-sensitive. Specifically, we explored how the personal representative of an estate must file the Massachusetts Estate Tax Return, otherwise known as Form M-706, within nine months of the passing of the deceased.

From there, we discussed how the failure to file the Form M-706 and remit the necessary payment within this timeframe can result in everything from fines and the accumulation of interest to the imposition of liens.

Understanding Massachusetts's estate tax filing requirements

While the rather cynical quote attributed to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin regarding the certainty of death and taxes is incredibly popular -- it can be found emblazoned on everything from coffee cups to t-shirts -- it's also incredibly accurate nearly 200 years later.

Indeed, one needn't look any further than the code books here in Massachusetts, as our state levies an estate tax on a deceased person's assets before they can be distributed among heirs. Specifically, the person appointed to serve as the personal representative of an estate must file what is known a Massachusetts Estate Tax Return -- Form M-706 -- if the gross value of the estate exceeds the applicable exclusion amount in the Internal Revenue Code then in effect and make any necessary tax payment.

Should you keep your estate planning documents in the cloud?

Once a person has discussed, read through and appended their signature to their last estate planning document, they will likely shake hands with their attorney and depart the office with a rather thick file in hand. Their satisfaction with these efforts may prove to be short-lived, however, as they will be confronted with an important issue upon arriving home: where exactly this file should be located.   

While leaving it on a kitchen counter or coffee table is clearly not an option as it could easily get lost, there's also the possibility that putting it in a desk drawer could mean that anyone could access it or that if you get too clever, either you -- or your loved ones -- won't remember its location.

What happens when you die without a will in Massachusetts? - II

Last week, our blog started exploring how the intestate distribution scheme works here in Massachusetts in an attempt to encourage otherwise reluctant estate planners. Specifically, we theorized how learning more about how hard-earned assets could possibly be divided among undeserving family members -- or perhaps even the state -- might be the catalyst that propels people to finally take the necessary action.

To recap, when an individual passes without a will, state law dictates that there are five categories of heirs entitled to their assets, including 1) spouses, 2) descendants (children, stepchildren, etc.), 3) parents, 4) parent's descendants (siblings) and 5) next of kin.

Appointing a competent executor for your will

A last will is much more than simply a legal document that directs affected parties about what to do with your property when you pass away. It is also a declaration of your legacy and speaks volumes about your values and priorities to your heirs and beneficiaries. When setting out to write your last will, one of the most important steps in the process is choosing a qualified, competent executor.

The executor of a last will is often a trusted friend or family member, but the quality of your relationship with a person is not the only thing to consider when making this important choice. Simply because an individual is close to you or holds a prestigious position of some kind does not necessarily meant that he or she is the best candidate to be your will’s executor. While it is important to appoint someone who is trustworthy, it is also important that he or she has sufficient skills and knowledge to complete your wishes when the time comes. It is also wise to consider the how likely it is that you might outlive him or her, barring an unforeseen tragedy.

What happens when you die without a will in Massachusetts?

As we've made clear in previous posts, those who find themselves hesitant to undertake even the most basic estate planning, such as the execution of a simple will, should be aware that their property will not necessarily be distributed in accordance with their exact wishes.

As sobering as the reality of this news might be to some, it will likely be met with either misunderstanding or indifference by others. As such, it may be helpful to spend some time examining the intestate distribution scheme here in Massachusetts. 

On what grounds can you challenge a will?

A couple of months ago, we wrote a post about an estate that was challenged due to some irregularities with the will. Along with that post, we have talked extensively in the weeks since about wills and how they impact your estate, let alone the possible legal ramifications of a will should your heirs or beneficiaries challenge it. Which leads us to our question for today: on what grounds can someone challenge a will?

It's actually not as simple as it may seem. The first thing to realize is that most judges are unwilling to overturn the last wishes in a will and testament of a deceased person. However, if there is legitimate grounds for the will to be reviewed and possibly revised or struck down, then a challenge could work. In order to challenge the will, though, someone must have "standing."

Is a Totten trust right for your situation?

Ask any financial or legal professional to list the primary goals of estate planning and chances are very good that they'll put avoiding probate near the very top. This is largely because the probate process can prove to be highly time-consuming, very public and altogether costly.

Even though you are very likely on board with this idea of avoiding probate, it may nevertheless seem like it would require nothing short of a herculean effort. While it's true that avoiding probate does require sophisticated estate planning efforts, it's important to note that there are still smaller -- and easier -- steps that a person can take to work toward realizing this goal, including the formation of a Totten trust.

Committed to helping clients preserve assets for future generations

For the vast majority of people, the principal motivation for putting in long hours, fighting for promotions and keeping an eye out for new employment opportunities is providing for their family. Indeed, many of these hard-working individuals are savvy enough to recognize that they can continue to do this long after they've passed via estate planning.

While this recognition of the value of estate planning is to be commended, it's important to understand that the failure to execute the right type of estate plan can result in hard-earned assets being needlessly forfeited to both state and federal estate taxes.

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