The prospect of getting started on an estate plan can be daunting. In fact, people often put off creating their estate plans because they are overwhelmed by the decisions that must be made and because they simply don’t know where to start. Having an estate plan in place, however, is among the most valuable gifts you can give to yourself and to your loved ones. With that in mind, the attorneys at Legacy Care Law Firm have put together a guide to getting your Massachusetts estate plan started.
Do I Need an Attorney to Create My Estate Plan?
One of the first questions people frequently have when it comes to estate planning is whether they need an attorney to create an estate plan. Although there is no legal requirement that you consult with an attorney, going the “Do-It-Yourself” route is risky and can end up costing your loved ones far more time and money than you saved. DIY estate planning forms that you encounter on the internet are frequently riddled with errors, are outdated, and are not state-specific. In addition, creating legal documents yourself means that you do not have the benefit of an experienced attorney who can ensure that the documents interact correctly with each other.
Ultimately, DIY estate planning forms can increase the likelihood of litigation if you become incapacitated or following your death. If that happens, your loved ones will have to spend time and money on the litigation – time and money that you could have saved them had you worked with an attorney to create your estate plan.
Step-by-Step Guide to Your Massachusetts Estate Plan
Your estate plan should be as individual as you are. Consequently, your plan will likely address goals and needs that are unique to you and your circumstances. There will also, however, be aspects of your estate plan that are common to most estate plans. The following steps will help you get started:
- Decide who you need to protect and provide for in your plan. This should be an easy first step. Think about who depends on you right now for financial support. Those people likely need to be provided for in your estate plan. If you have minor children, you also need to protect them by nominating a Guardian in your Will. You will also need to use a trust to distribute your assets if you have minor children because they cannot inherit directly from your estate.
- Think about the distribution of your estate assets. Make a detailed list of your estate assets and the value of major assets. Include this list with your estate plan when it is finished. Then decide who should inherit those assets.
- Decide if you want to use a Will or trust for your primary method of distribution. A Last Will and Testament can distribute your entire estate. For some people, a Will is sufficient; however, for others, a trust is needed and/or preferred. If you have minor children, for example, you need a trust to manage their inheritance until they reach adulthood. Even if you do not need a trust, you may prefer to use one because assets held in a trust avoid probate, meaning they can be distributed to beneficiaries much sooner.
- Choose an Executor and Trustee (if applicable). The Executor, appointed in your Will, is responsible for overseeing the administration of your estate during the legal process known as “probate.” Choose someone who will be able to focus on the practical and legal steps that need to be taken while also managing the grief triggered by your passing. If you create a trust, you will also need to appoint a Trustee whose job is to manage the trust assets and administer the trust using the terms you create in the trust agreement. Because a certain amount of financial and legal acumen is necessary to successfully administer a trust, you may wish to consider appointing a professional Trustee.
- Execute advance directives. Eventually, you may wish to include a complete incapacity planning component in your estate plan. To begin with, however, you should at least execute a Living Will and a healthcare Power of Attorney. A Living Will lets you make end-of-life medical care decisions now in case you are unable to make them later while a healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to appoint an Agent to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot express your wishes yourself.
- Consider special circumstances. Your estate plan should grow with you and your family over the years, resulting in the addition of supplementary estate planning tools and components. Your initial plan, however, may need to account for special circumstances, such as a child with special needs, a blended family, a family pet that you wish to include, or a spouse who is not a citizen of the United States. Fortunately, there are estate planning tools and strategies that can help with all these special circumstances.
Are You Ready to Get Started on Your Massachusetts Estate Plan?
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you are ready to put your guide to getting your Massachusetts estate plan started to work for you, contact our estate planning attorneys in our North Andover, Woburn, and Beverly offices at (978) 969-0331. Our Salem and Nashua, New Hampshire office can be reached at (603) 894-4141.
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