What Are the Most Essential Estate Planning Documents?

9estate planningWhen you approach the subject of estate planning in Massachusetts, you should know that it might look a little different for everyone. What works for one does not work for another because the strategies and tools of estate planning are aligned with your specific needs.

That being said, there are several documents that may be beneficial for consideration as you meet with your Massachusetts estate planning attorney. There are three major documents that are likely to be an overall part of your planning strategy, each helping you accomplish specific goals.

To start with, your last will and testament is frequently the cornerstone of your planning. It’s your chance to outline how you wish to pass your assets on to others. This helps avoid some of the downsides of the probate process while also giving you the chance to make these important decisions and protect them.

Second, think about the benefits of a power of attorney. This document allows you to name someone else who will have legal authority to act in your stead if you become incapacitated. You might also use a limited power of attorney, which specifics certain instances in which the agent is authorized to act.

Finally, a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will, often called an advanced directive in other states, are important documents to consider if you have specific wishes about your healthcare. If you have specific feelings about whether or not you want life-sustaining activities to stop if there is no chance of your recovery, your advanced directive is the place to articulate this. Without a document like this, your family members may disagree on the options and it can make a difficult time even more challenging for them.

These three documents are just a starting point. You’ll need to speak with your Massachusetts estate planning attorney to determine if there are other tools and strategies from which you can benefit.

How Is a Living Will Different From a Will?

Last Will ConceptIf you are thinking about planning ahead for your estate in Massachusetts, you probably have many questions about the most appropriate tools to use. One of the most common questions for individuals who have not spent much time with estate planning in the past has to do with how a living will is different from a will. These terms are frequently misunderstood as meaning one and the same. Read on to discover the distinction and how you can use one or both in your estate plan.

What’s a Living Will?

A living will, however, only addresses your healthcare concerns. It’s an official statement that you do or do not want your death artificially prolonged in the event that you have a terminal injury or illness, or in a situation where your death appears imminent and the medical treatment you are currently receiving from physicians is only prolonging the process of death. A living will frequently works alongside a healthcare proxy in Massachusetts.

The living will outlines official guidance to the appointed healthcare agent in the event that your healthcare agent is ever needed to make a life or death decision.

In Massachusetts there is no specific statute that details how a living will is created or what language is needed. However, having a Living Will to expand on the information in your Health Care Proxy gives your agent and a clear understanding of your wishes.

What’s a Last Will and Testament?

Your last will and testament, on the other hand, is your written declaration of how you want your assets distributed after you pass away.  Your will must be executed in accordance with relevant Massachusetts state laws. Both of these documents can be drafted and reviewed by a Massachusetts estate planning attorney, but it’s important to understand how they operate differently and function as part of your estate plan rather than as two similar documents.

Should We Use Life Insurance to Fund a Special Needs Trust?

insurance policyGuardians or parents of special needs children have many different challenges and special concerns when it comes to estate planning. Some of the most important concerns have to do with what will happen to the adult child after the parents or guardian passes away. Thinking ahead involves careful consideration of the best tool for protecting your loved one’s interests without compromising any of the other benefits that your loved one may rely on. This is why you should consult with an estate planning attorney in Massachusetts as soon as possible about your options to learn more.

Some Tips for Selecting Insurance

There are several different kinds of insurance that can be helpful for individuals planning ahead for a special needs beneficiary. One of the most important aspects of opting to use an insurance policy to fund a special needs trust is ensuring that the appropriate death benefit has been linked to policy.

Protect Government Benefits

Government benefits could be in jeopardy if the special needs beneficiary is named as a person instead of having a trust created for their benefit. Life insurance can be a critical component of funds to be put into a trust for the benefit of a loved one with special needs. Planning ahead for a special needs beneficiary involves important consideration questions about not jeopardizing the beneficiary’s eligibility for government programs. Consulting with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney about your options is the best way to avoid problems.

Why Tax Time is the Perfect Window for Reviewing Your Will

Time for taxes with moneyWhen you’re going through your financial paperwork for the last year and preparing to file your taxes, it’s a good idea to take a look at any other legal documents that you have to ensure that they are written properly and still carry out the wishes that you want.
What Should I Review at Tax Time?
Some examples could include beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and your will. Make sure that the individuals you have named in any official estate planning documents are still willing and available to help.
Life Changes and the Passage of Time Necessitate Review

Things might have changed in your life over the course of the past year and these changes should be reflected in your estate planning documents. For example, one common area that is overlooked after an individual goes through a divorce is updating all of the beneficiary designations and estate planning documents that name your former spouse as an authorized agent. Of course, after a divorce you will want to update these but this is not the only event in your life that warrants a significant change.
Accomplish All Your Review at Once

Getting all of your paperwork out of the way at the same time ensures that you don’t have to think about it for a while and gives you the peace of mind that you know your documents are there to protect you and your needs for the year to come. Set up a consultation with a Massachusetts estate planning attorney to talk more about making these changes to your documents.

When Do I Really Need to Update My Living Will?

Living will In the state of Massachusetts, a living will is a suggested supplement and companion document for your healthcare proxy. While your healthcare proxy is the official document that allows you to name individuals who you wish to help you in the event that you’re unable to make healthcare decisions on your own, your living will is the document that actually outlines what those wishes are, should those agents need to take action.

Use a Living Will for Your Unique Wishes and Needs

Your living will is highly personalized and tailored specifically to your individual needs. Remember that these needs and wishes may change over the course of your life or as your health situation changes. This is why it’s a good idea to set aside time to review your living will annually and to update it as needed. There are several different times that you may wish to update your living will outside of an annual review. These include:

  • When you are preparing for the birth of a child
  • When you have had a major change in your health or a significant diagnosis
  • On milestone birthdays ending in a five or a zero
  • If you can’t remember what your living will outlines
  • When a family member has recently gone through a health crisis and you want to ensure that your own documents help prepare for situations that may have happened
  • Before you go to surgery
  • After hearing a media story about where not having a living will impacted an individual and you want to make sure that a similar challenge won’t make life difficult for your family.

It’s never a good idea to attempt to write a living will on your own. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a Massachusetts estate planning attorney to be sure that all of your needs are addressed properly. Do not hesitate to get help as soon as possible in this situation.

Why Tax Time is the Perfect Window for Reviewing Your Will

When you’re going through your financial paperwork for the last year and preparing to file your taxes, it’s a good idea to take a look at any other legal documents that you have to ensure that they are written properly and still carry out the wishes that you want.

What Should I Review at Tax Time?

Some examples could include beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and your will. Make sure that the individuals you have named in any official estate planning documents are still willing and available to help.

Life Changes and the Passage of Time Necessitate Review

Things might have changed in your life over the course of the past year and these changes should be reflected in your estate planning documents. For example, one common area that is overlooked after an individual goes through a divorce is updating all of the beneficiary designations and estate planning documents that name your former spouse as an authorized agent. Of course, after a divorce you will want to update these but this is not the only event in your life that warrants a significant change.

Accomplish All Your Review at Once

Getting all of your paperwork out of the way at the same time ensures that you don’t have to think about it for a while and gives you the peace of mind that you know your documents are there to protect you and your needs for the year to come. Set up a consultation with a Massachusetts estate planning attorney to talk more about making these changes to your documents.

What Happens to Stocks After the Death of the Owner?

Business Stock Exchange Trading ConceptsAcross the United States, stock ownership is extremely common and this is why the question about what happens to stock ownership transfer when the holder passes away is of great importance to many individuals.

There are numerous variables that impact this, but the most important one has to do with whether or not the stocks are jointly owned. Since Massachusetts is not a community property state, you need to walk through your planning options with an attorney to make sure all of your assets and accounts are organized properly.

Typically, any jointly owned equities  pass to the survivor, although laws of different states can differ especially when it comes to what is classified as separate property. One of the most common methods for passing stock along is to use a registration referred to as ‘transfer on death.’.This means that a named beneficiary can take ownership of the stocks while avoiding the probate process.

Bear in mind that not all states allow for transfer on death registration for stocks, meaning that the probate process could still be required when the inheritance comes through a will or intestacy. If you are thinking about planning ahead for your own future, you will carefully want to consider all assets and how you want them included in your planning.

Meeting with a Masschusetts estate planning attorney can be extremely helpful if you intend to outline the distribution of assets that you wish to exclude from probate. Using tools like trust, for example, can help ensure that you maintain control over the distribution of assets without having concerns associated with your beneficiaries having to go through the probate process. You can talk over your options with an estate planning attorney about how jointly owned property will be treated when you pass away.

An estate planning attorney can also help you walk through all of the different assets in your estate to ensure that you have provided for the appropriate planning for each of them. Taking a comprehensive look at your estate planning is always beneficial.

Living Longer

Senior woman portraitRecently, President and Mrs. Obama made news when they enjoyed a visit and short dance with a 106-year-old woman from Washington D.C.

Virginia McLaurin, told reporters she had waited all her life to see a black man in the White House and had launched her own social media campaign two years ago, to visit the President before he left office. Her quote, after, seeing herself on You Tube was simply, “I can die with a smile on my face now.”

But, her performance brought to the fore a long held belief about the life expectancy difference between men and women. All over the globe, people have just assumed that it was something in the makeup of the female anatomy that allowed them to live longer.

But, according to scientists, that has only been true since the end of the 19th century.

A University of Wisconsin researcher studied deaths going back 200 years in 13 countries across North America and Europe. When combined with mortality data from the World Health Organization, they found that women and men had roughly the same life expectancy. Overall their lives were short, due to a number of factors, including lack of access to clean water and food as well as modern antibiotics.

But once those factors were available to everyone, women began to gain a longevity edge. For people born between 1900 and 1935, men were two or three times more likely to die in their 50’s and 60’s than their female counter parts.

For the first part of the 20th century smoking was much more common in men which accounted for some of the differences, but according to the study the gap really widened when people started eating more animal fats. A high-fat diet may do more damage to your system and since men tend to eat more animal fat that may account for the difference in mortality rates.

I’m not an expert in health and wellness but I know that you need to be prepared for the end of life regardless of sex or age. I am Noreen Murphy and would be happy to help you with Elder Care advice or Estate Planning guidance.

How Much Debt is Too Much?

Dept SignpostA recent report from the New York Federal Reserve, as reported in the Wall Street Journal,  pointed out that older Americans are holding more debt than previous generations.

According to the report, the average Baby Boomer over 65 has 47% more mortgage debt and 29% more auto debt than a 65-year-old had in 2003 (after adjusting for inflation).

In 2003 many seniors had no debt at all. A married couple who had lived in the same home for over 30 years was proud they had no mortgage, owned their own cars and were living a comfortably in retirement.

But there are number of lifestyle factors at work.

First, there are many more 65-year-olds today than there were in 2003. The Baby Boom generation is growing exponentially, so the range of potential lifestyles has changed significantly.

Eliminating a mortgage, and its tax deduction, may not be in their best interest. Borrowing money from your home at historically low interest rates (3%) to fund an investment that makes 5%, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about cash flow as the MBA types would say.

While our parent’s generation did not have to fund our undergraduate education, many do so willingly now, hoping to alleviate student debt and get their children started off on an even financial footing.

Many seniors, who have more resources, are allowed to take on more debt because traditionally they have been able to pay off their loans.

The figures that are available indicate seniors have more debt but have not defaulted at a higher rate than in the past and are able to manage their debt more successfully – at least according to their credit scores.

Noreen Murphy Law can help with your estate planning , elder law or Veterans benefits needs. Please give her a call.

Who is a Qualifying Relative

Mother and daughterFor many years Baby Boomers were consumed by ‘empty nest syndrome’ when their children moved out and they had fewer responsibilities. Anxiety centered around everything from what to do with the rest of your life to how to use the extra space and whether your should move into a smaller home.

But then The Recession hit, and college graduates realized how much they still owed for their college educations. Thousands of young adults lost their jobs and had no choice but to move back home.

Aging parents, who did not have the means to support themselves added to the pressure and Baby Boomers became the ‘sandwich generation.’ Everyone, it seemed, was turning to them for help.

The result was an increased number of parents who had adult relatives living with them. These days, in some parts of the country, housing is so expensive adult children cannot even afford a place of their own so mom and dad are a great place to stay while they try to save money.

Love and compassion make it tough to say no, but there are some practical things to consider, such as what impact this will have on your taxes.

Claiming an adult dependent on your taxes is possible but the IRS has a specific set of factors that have to be considered for a qualifying relative.

Factors such as age, relationship, income, and how much support you actually provide are all part of the equation.

Noreen Murphy Law  for all your estate planning needs, if you need help with your estate, elder law or Veterans benefits please give her a call.

A Warning for Long-Term Care Patients: Monitor Your B12 Levels

too many meds macroToday’s entry is a little different from my usual blogs, and it’s written especially for my clients who are currently receiving some form of long-term care.

A brand-new study out of Canada, reported in U.S. News & World Report, finds that Vitamin B12 deficiency is surprisingly prevalent among long-term care patients, and it’s a real concern.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked with:

  • Amenia
  • Changes in skin pigmentation
  • Depression
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nerve problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Vision loss
  • Weakness

Many of those conditions can exacerbate problems already common among long-term care patients.

Most concerning, though, is the fact that several studies have shown a direct link between vitamin B12 deficiency and memory loss, including dementia. That’s startling when you consider that dementia is emerging as one of the primary factors in the rising need for long-term care in the first place.

While many people assume that the deficiency is caused by a lack of B12 in the diet, it often stems from medications and/or underlying medical conditions that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the B12 already in your diet.

The good news is that most cases of B12 deficiency can be easily managed. Detection is the key. That’s why we’re sounding the alarm.

If you or someone you love is in long-term care, have a talk with your healthcare provider about vitamin B12 as soon as possible.