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    Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

    The surprising truth that many of us don't realize is that we all have an estate plan in place, even if we haven't created one ourselves. Every state has a set of laws that dictates what happens if a person is incapacitated or dies without estate planning documents. That means that the choice each of us faces is not whether or not to have an estate plan, but whether we can do better than the one the state provides.

    The "intestacy laws" of Massachusetts provide that when a person dies without a will, assets are distributed among a surviving spouse, children, and sometimes parents, siblings or other relatives. The assets are distributed right away unless someone who gets assets is under age 18. If a minor is entitled to assets, the probate court keeps control over the assets until he or she turns 18 - at that point, they are given to the 18 year old outright.

    Where there are no estate planning documents, the probate court makes an effort to determine, often based only upon blood relationships, who should be in charge. This may be as a guardian or conservator of the person during their lifetime, as a Personal Representative after death, or as guardian of minor children after the death of the children's parents.

    The probate court will oversee all of this to make sure that the assets are distributed in accordance with the law and by the people it deems appropriate to be in charge. The records related to this administration will be available to the public to review. After about a year, the person in charge of the estate can ask the probate court to formally end the estate and end that person's obligation to the estate and the beneficiaries.

    There are times when this "ready-made" estate plan is not right for you:

    • If you want assets used for a person after your death, but not given to them outright.
    • If you want assets divided in a way other than the laws provide.
    • If you want assets that are left to your family to be protected from creditors.
    • If you want to name specific people to fill specific roles in your estate plan.
    • If you want to pay Massachusetts as little estate taxes as possible - ideally, none.
    • If you want the distribution of your assets to be private.
    • If you want to eliminate the need to deal with the courts entirely.
    • If you have a family member with special needs, an addiction or mental illness, or who receives public benefits.

    If any of these apply, you should have a customized estate plan for you and your family. If you are interested in talking further about your estate plan, please contact us at 781-864-9977.

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