Estate and Trust Administration Lawyers Helping You Plan for The Future in Cape Cod & Throughout The Islands
Having an estate plan is fundamental for those who want to be able to plan ahead in order to protect their assets and determine how they will be distributed. However, it is a mistake to think that by simply having an estate plan, things will go smoothly. There are other details and steps that you may have to take care of upon the death of a loved one, including disclaimer planning, portability advice, updating the survivor’s plan, and other considerations.
Why an Estate Plan on Its Own May Not Be Enough?
Strategic planning is extremely important to make sure all aspects of your estate plan have been addressed so that your loved ones will be able to focus on what they need to recover after your death and not have to worry about the details of how your property is being handled and distributed. Without these key steps in place, it may take years for your beneficiaries to receive the assets they are entitled to as it will be up to the state of Massachusetts to transfer ownership through probate court.
What is Probate?
Probate is a court-supervised legal process that may be required when someone dies. This process gives the surviving family member (usually a spouse or another close relative) the authority to gather the deceased person’s assets, pay taxes, and take care of other matters such as asset appraisals and distributions according to the will. Probate will also analyze the decedent’s will and determine if it is valid or not, and in the case of an invalid will, probate will assign an executor that will distribute the assets according to the state’s laws of inheritance.
Probate may also be necessary to transfer ownership of property from the deceased person to his or her beneficiaries. This is important because in order for a beneficiary to sell a property that was titled in the deceased person’s name, he or she must go through probate first. In the state of Massachusetts, going through probate usually takes around a year unless there are issues such as litigation over ownership or unusual assets or debts that must be dealt with first.
What Should I Do to Avoid Going Through Probate?
Many people want to spare their surviving relatives from the pain and expense of going through probate court. It can be a lengthy and costly process, and in some cases, there are steps that one can take to avoid probate.
In Massachusetts, one of the ways to avoid going through probate is by establishing a living trust. In short, a living trust is a document that allows you to place all of your assets in a trust and name yourself as a trustee and stay in full control of your assets for your lifetime. It also allows you to determine who will receive those assets upon your death. With a living trust, your wealth is transferred directly to a successor trustee that you previously named in the document, avoiding the probate process altogether.
There are other situations in which probate may not be necessary, such as in the case of joint property, payable-on-death designations for bank accounts, and transfer-on-death registrations for stocks and bonds. Planning ahead is key to helping your surviving loved ones be able to easily walk through the process of dividing your estate upon your passing.
What Happens If I Die Without a Will or a Trust?
Those who die without a will or a trust will have their property subject to probate court and divided per state intestacy laws. Per such laws, your next of kin will be the one most likely to inherit your property first, regardless of who they are. This may result in your property going to someone who you did not intend to transfer your assets to. Additionally, heirs may be hit with a large inheritance tax that could have been easily avoided by setting up a living trust through a qualified estate planning attorney.
Another aspect to consider is that if you have minor children and have not determined who will be responsible for them upon your passing, it will be up to a court to make that decision on your behalf. The best thing you can do to minimize future unease for your surviving loved ones is to have a well-written, thorough estate plan that includes your wishes regarding distribution of assets, beneficiaries, and guardians of your minor children.
At the Law Offices of Boyd & Boyd, we can help get you started and see you through the process of estate planning. Call us at (508) 775-7800.