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Massachusetts Estate Planning Law Blog

Does your spouse agree with your estate planning goals?

Estate planning can be complicated if you're married because you and your spouse may not agree on how you should split up your assets.

For instance, one woman got married, had a daughter, and then got divorced. She later got married again and had a son. That marriage lasted for 20 years and then she and her second spouse began doing their estate planning.

How does writing a will help you right now?

You know that writing a will and creating an estate plan can help your heirs, and it can in this way help you in the future. However, you will be gone when your estate plan actually goes into action, so it's easy to think that you're really doing all of this planning for someone else.

That's a mistake. There are actually numerous ways that an estate plan can help you right away.

You can encourage specific actions with a trust

Do you feel like you have spent your life encouraging your heirs to take certain actions and helping them become the best that they can be? Do you want to keep doing that after you pass away?

There is one option. You can use a trust that offers monetary incentives when they hit specific goals. These goals have to be legally permissible, of course, but they allow you to have some influence over how someone's life turns out -- or that person has to give up their inheritance.

A power of attorney protects your best interests

If something happens to you and you become incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions, don't you want to know that the person making choices on your behalf really has your best interests at heart?

Say you suffer a stroke. In the span of a few seconds, you can go from living an autonomous, independent life to needing someone else to make every decision on your behalf. You may not be able to communicate at all. You may need 24/7 care. And strokes are not the only issue; you also have to consider things like car accidents, dementia, heart attacks, slip and fall accidents and much more.

Unmarried couples need to protect the surviving individual

Legally speaking, unmarried couples are not "together." You can live together for 20 years, but, unless you officially tie the knot, the state does not care.

This can lead to a lot of issues when couples do not draft an estate plan or write out a will. It may mean that the surviving individual does not have any rights and does not get any assets when the other person passes away.

Handwritten wills lead to a lot of problems

It used to be that all wills were written by hand. Today, though, most are typed out. Often, you have both electronic copies and paper copies.

There are a lot of reasons for this change -- the rise in computer technology over the decades not being least among them -- but one major reason is that typing out a will avoids some serious problems and issues that crop up with handwritten wills.

Does a legal power of attorney matter after death?

If your elderly parent sets up a legal power of attorney for you, it gives you a lot of options to work on their behalf while they're still alive. You get to access their bank account, pay their bills, pay taxes and do many other things of this nature.

Imagine that you take this role on for a significant amount of time. You get used doing it, and you don't mind it. Then your parent passes away. Does the power of attorney still matter? Does it still give you any legal abilities?

Writing a will when you had children later in life

When writing a will and doing estate planning in general, the age of your heirs makes a dramatic difference in how you plan. This is one reason why it's so important to update the plan moving forward.

For instance, when your heirs are minors, you may want to decide who should be a guardian and take physical custody of them if necessary. You may also want to set assets aside in a trust so that they can get them when they grow up; many people feel it's smarter to leave substantial amounts of money to adult children than to teens and college students.

How your heirs waste money and what you can do about it

As you craft your estate plan, you can't help worrying about ways that your heirs are going to waste your money. The risk feels too real when you start designating assets you've worked to save up for decades, and you think about how someone else may not respect the time and effort that took.

For example, here are a few of the most common ways that millennials tend to waste their own money:

  1. Going out to eat: 72.36 percent
  2. Throwing away food that did not get eaten: 31.71 percent
  3. Drinking alcohol: 27.36 percent
  4. Paying for various forms of entertainment: 26.50 percent
  5. Credit cards: 17.36 percent

Beneficiary designations are part of estate planning

Do you assume that estate planning essentially just means writing out a will that says which one of your heirs gets which assets? That's part of the process, but it's definitely not the entire process.

You need to fulfill multiple steps and consider the ways that some of your documents interact with one another.

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