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Estate Planning

We offer estate planning services tailored to meet the special needs and objectives of each client.

Some of the most common estate planning tools include:

Wills
Trusts
Durable Power of Attorney
Advance Health Care Directive
Homestead Protection

We take particular pride in drawing basic estate plans for young families and couples to protect and provide for their children. We also work closely with financial planners who can offer further protection in the form of life insurance, or assist you with general financial growth.

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Frequently Asked Estate Planning Questions:

What is a will?

What is estate planning?

Does a will control distribution of all of my assets?

Is a handwritten will valid?

What is a living trust?

What is a trustee?

What are the advantages of a living trust?

How does a living trust avoid probate?

Does a living trust save estate taxes?

Does a living trust change my income and property taxes?

What is estate planning?

Estate Planning is the process by which people develop a plan that ensures that the assets they have accumulated during their lifetime are protected and distributed to those they love. Although many people use the phrase "estate planning" to refer to creating a trust or will, the process actually involves much more. A comprehensive estate plan addresses:

Management of your assets, if you become unable to do so for yourself
A method for making medical and personal care decisions for yourself and your minor children, if you lose the ability to make such decisions yourself
The distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries after your death
Minimization of the administrative and tax costs of transferring your assets to your beneficiaries

What is a will?

A will is perhaps the most common estate planning document, and the one with which most people are familiar. A will is a legal document that directs distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries. In addition, your will also identifies the Executor you have selected. The Executor manages and distributes your estate after your death. MOST IMPORTANTLY , your will may also name a person to care for your children, if any of your children are still minors at the time of your death. That person is called a guardian.

Does a will control distribution of all of my assets?

Generally, your will only controls distribution of assets that you own that are titled in your name alone at the time of your death. Common assets that are not controlled by your will include retirement plans, joint tenancy assets, "payable-on-death" assets, and life insurance. Each of these is discussed below.

Retirement Plans

Investments you hold in an IRA, a 401(k), a 403(b), or in other qualified retirement plans are distributed to the person(s) you have named as beneficiary in the plan documents, regardless of what your will might otherwise direct. Your will controls distribution of retirement benefits only if you have not named any beneficiaries in the plan documents, or if the beneficiaries you have named in the plan documents die before you die, or if you name your estate as your beneficiary in the plan documents. The last scenario-naming your estate as your beneficiary-may create serious negative tax consequences for you. Accordingly, you should only name your estate as beneficiary of your qualified retirement plans after consulting with a qualified professional to advise you on the tax consequences.

Joint Tenancy Assets

Assets you own with another person as a joint tenant, such as real estate, bank accounts, automobiles, and securities, will pass to the surviving joint tenant upon your death. The provisions of your will control distribution of joint tenancy assets only if you are the last of the joint tenants to die. However, if you jointly own property with another person as tenants in common, rather than as joint tenants, your will controls distribution of your interest in the property (but not the interest of the other owners) regardless of whether you die before or after the other joint owners die.

"Payable on Death" Assets

Some bank account, securities accounts, and U.S. Savings Bonds may be held with a beneficiary designation such as "payable on death" (i.e. "POD"). Bank and securities accounts may also carry the designation "In Totten trust For" (i.e., "ITT For") or "Transfer on Death to" (i.e., "TOD"). These assets will pass pursuant to those designations, and not according to the terms of your will, unless the designated beneficiary dies before you die. If the designated beneficiary predeceases you, your will controls distribution of such assets.

Life Insurance
Insurance proceeds on your life are paid to whomever you have designated as beneficiary of the policy in the form you file with the insurance company. If all of the persons named as you beneficiary die before you die, the proceeds will be paid to the person(s) as set forth in the boilerplate language of the insurance contract. Most insurance contracts direct for payments to your estate when all of your beneficiaries die before. In such case, your will controls distribution of the proceeds.

Is a handwritten will valid?

Massachusetts law states that any person 18 years or older may make a will. The will must be in writing and signed by the testator or signed by another person in the testator's presence and under the testator's express direction. At least two competent witnesses must attest to the fact that the testator has published the will as his or her own and sign the will in the testator's presence. G.L. c. 191, § 1. A written will recorded in conformity with either the law of place of execution or the law of the testator's domicile will be valid in Massachusetts. G.L. c. 191, § 5.

A holographic will is a will entirely written and signed in the handwriting of the testator without attesting witnesses. Such wills are not valid in Massachusetts.

What is a living trust?

A living trust, or inter vivos trust, is a legal entity that you create during your lifetime to hold your assets for your benefit while you are alive. Following your death, your living trust directs distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries.

What is a trustee?

Trustee refers to the person who manages your trust. Usually you name yourself as the trustee of your living trust. You also name the trustees you wish to serve if you are unable to serve as trustee because of sickness, incapacity, or death.

The trustee has authority to manage and control the assets held in the trust. However, the trustee may not use trust property for his or her own benefit. The law requires the trustee to follow the terms of the trust and to use trust property only for your benefit during your lifetime and for the benefit of your beneficiaries after your death. A trustee must account to you while you are alive and account to your beneficiaries after your death.

What are the advantages of a living trust?

Living trusts afford several benefits, including:

Management of Assets During Incapacity without a Conservator

A living trust provides for the management of your assets during your lifetime if you loose capacity to manage for yourself. If you become incapacitated, the person you have named as successor trustee can usually assume responsibility for your assets and manage them for your benefit without the appointment of a conservator by the court.

Avoidance of Probate

After your death, your successor trustee pays your debts, claims, and taxes, and then distributes your assets to the persons you have named as your beneficiaries in your living trust. The successor trustee is able to settle your affairs usually without court supervision and without the need for appointment of an Executor by the court.

Privacy

Because creation and proper funding of a living trust generally precludes the need for court intervention during your incapacity and after your death, your finances and estate plan never become public.

How does a living trust avoid probate?

When you die, assets titled in your individual name are generally subject to the jurisdiction of the probate court. The court usually supervises the payment of creditors, inventory of assets, sale of real property, and distribution to beneficiaries. This usually translates into significant costs and expenditure of time.

By contrast, a living trust avoids some of the expenses and delays associated with probate administration. Assets held in your individual name at the time of your death are subject to the jurisdiction of the probate court. Assets held in your living trust are not. Therefore, if you transfer title to virtually all of your assets into your living trust while you are alive, the probate court will not have jurisdiction over your estate when you die. In other words, when you die, you leave nothing to probate because your assets are "owned" by your living trust.

Because assets held in a living trust are not subject to probate administration, the person administering your estate after your death does not need to file a petition with the court and wait for appointment at the court hearing several weeks later before acting to settle the estate. Instead, the person administering your estate, called the successor trustee, can assume control of your trust immediately upon your death. The successor trustee can begin payment of debts and taxes at once. Further, the successor trustee often can make distribution to your beneficiaries more readily than a court-supervised executor can.

Does a living trust save estate taxes?

No. Creating a living trust does not, in and of itself, save estate taxes. A living trust may contain provisions that postpone, reduce, or even eliminate estate taxes at your death. However, these same provisions can be included in a will.

Does a living trust change my income and property taxes?

No. Creating a living trust has no effect on your income tax liability during your lifetime.

 





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