Estate Planning and Probate
Massachusetts Estate Planning Lawyer
Handling Wills, Trusts, & Probate Matters
The purpose of an estate plan is to decide not only who will receive your property and when they will get it, but also how the rest of your affairs will be handled should you pass away or become incapacitated. You may choose to set up a trust, which can determine that your property be held until a specified date in the future, or until the person you want to receive it reaches a certain age.
An experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorney from DiBella Law Offices, P.C., can also help you distribute property from your estate to the charity of your choice, should you decide to do so.
From offices throughout Massachusetts, our firm creates comprehensive estate plans for clients, including:
- Health care proxies
- Living will
- Last will and testament
Even if you have an estate plan in place, it is advisable that you have it looked over by our knowledgeable lawyer.
The Components of an Estate Plan Explained
Creating an estate plan seems intimidating to many people, perhaps because the word “plan” makes it seem as though it’s going to be something very long and involved. But an estate plan really only needs to include five key components. These are:
- A will. A will is a legal document that dictates how the assets owned by a person who has passed away will be distributed. A will can only distribute assets that do not have another legal distribution mechanism, such as a trust. Property held in a trust is not considered to be the deceased’s property and so, the distribution of this property will not be included in a will. Because a trust already has a beneficiary, one does not need to be included in a will.
- Trusts. Trusts are separate from wills, although they often supplement them. The benefit of having a trust is that the testator (the person creating the trust) can be sure that the property within that trust will be distributed to the beneficiary. But trusts hold another benefit: they can help minimize the tax burden for high-net-worth individuals and couples. The federal exemption for estate tax is higher than $5 million, so few individuals use trusts for this reason. But in Massachusetts, state estate taxes have a much smaller exemption amount, making trusts very beneficial for those who don’t want to pay lots of tax money when someone passes away.
- Living wills. Unlike other wills that are created to help the courts and family members determine what to do with assets after a person passes away, living wills help the family make end-of-life decisions when the testator is still living, but in a condition that has left him or her unable to make healthcare decisions. For instance, a person who has been in a coma for an extended period of time may have a living will that dictates when to take him off life support. This can greatly reduce the burden placed on family members, as they will not have to make the heartbreaking decision.
- Power of attorney. The power of attorney is a document authorizing one person to act on the testator’s behalf when he or she is unable to communicate. This differs from a living will because instead of a testator dictating the measures to be taken, he is giving the power to another person to make those decisions. Those decisions may not always be medical, sometimes involving when to sell a home or other assets.
- Healthcare proxies. Like a power of attorney, a healthcare proxy will be authorized by the testator to make decisions for him or her. However, healthcare proxies are limited to only making healthcare decisions and will not be involved in other decisions that the power of attorney may be.
Pitfalls When Estate Planning By Yourself
Many people choose to do their own estate planning by simply filling out will kits. But this is a mistake, as those kits often don’t include all the information necessary – and individuals are relying on them to comply with federal laws and state laws. Even the best computer software programs cannot foresee every situation, circumstance, or type of property. And when people fill out these documents on their own, they are opening themselves up to a number of pitfalls, including:
- Failing to keep the estate plan updated. Life can change rapidly sometimes and when it does, there’s a good chance that a person’s estate plan needs to be changed too. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and more all affect an estate plan. When the person who has created the plan forgets to change it accordingly, family members can be left in the dust.
- Only creating a will. Wills are important, and anyone over the age of 18 should have one. But there’s so much more to estate planning than simply creating a will. An attorney can provide valuable insight on what else is needed to complete an entire estate plan and help individuals do so.
- Failing to protect assets. There is a lot to take into consideration when it comes to an estate plan and the taxes that will be attached to it. And many people simply aren’t aware of these tax pitfalls. An attorney can inform them, and help them avoid overpaying taxes or being hit with unexpected taxes.
- Problematic witnesses for signatures. Wills that are created online can be challenged in court if they were "signed" electronically and had no witnesses to see the signing. An attorney can bypass this, making sure that all witnesses are present and even offering advice on who should be used as a witness.
- Poor wording and grammar mistakes. This may sound very basic, but it’s extremely important and it’s something many people often overlook when creating their own wills. Attorneys will scrutinize every single detail, including all wording to ensure that the will reflects what the testator really wants. This can help prevent the problem of a sister only receiving $200 when the sibling actually meant for her to receive $200,000.
Having an estate plan is important for everyone, and having an attorney to help is just as vital. For people who own a significant amount of property, an estate plan is even more important. These individuals in particular should never leave the writing of a will to a computer program.
Guiding You through Complicated Probates
We also represent executors, heirs, beneficiaries, and administrators in probate proceedings in Massachusetts courts. Our MA probate lawyer is extremely compassionate, determined, and effective at achieving our clients' desired results.
Probate can be complicated, especially when heirs are contesting the terms of an estate plan. At DiBella Law Offices, P.C., we have more than a decade of experience practicing law and representing clients from our offices in Boston, Methuen, and Burlington.
Contact a Massachusetts Estate Planning Lawyer
Are you ready to get started by creating a will or trust or updating your existing estate plan? Or have you recently lost a loved one and need help with probate? Reach out to our firm today for advice. Our Massachusetts estate planning attorney is available by phone 24/7 so you can count on us to be here when you need us.
We can be reached online or at (781) 262-3338 and are happy to offer free consultations in all three of our offices, Burlington, Methuen, and Boston.