It is Important to Know the Difference Between Probate and Nonprobate Assets

Mortgage concept by money house from the coinsWhen it comes to estate planning, many people think that simple is better and they might be under the assumption that a will is all they need. However, people might be under the impression that wills can avoid problems on death because the will outlines who gets the assets. However, what many people don’t realize is that wills only govern the assets that go through a court proceeding referred to as probate.

There are some assets that are not included in the probate process. This is the distinguishing factor between non-probate assets and probate assets. Your wills govern probate assets but the will does not govern any assets outside of probate. The title to the assets or the way in which you own them determines whether or not probate is required.

A probate proceeding in Massachusetts can include paying off any taxes and debts, appraising the property and distributing any remaining assets along with the will’s provisions. In the event that there is no will, the proceeding is called administration proceeding and state law determines how your property is distributed. Probate assets are those items that are in your name alone when you pass away. If it’s not quite clear who the beneficiary is, the asset will go through the probate process. The court has to first determine that the will is valid in order to do this.  Depending on circumstances, the probate process  may be costly. Typical charges to the estate are legal fees, court costs and executor commissions. If there is a will contest or heirs can not be found, the cost of probate increases significantly.
Non-probate assets are the result of forms you signed and filed with different companies. First of all, your life insurance policy, bank account, annuity or IRA will have a beneficiary designation – and alternate beneficiary – that you signed and filed with the company. Assets that you own jointly with the right of survivorship mean that when you pass away, the asset transfers directly to the beneficiary you have named. Consult with an experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorney to learn more about the difference between probate and nonprobate assets, and whether nonprobate assets make sense for your planning.

You Need to Update Your Beneficiaries at Least Once Per Year

Family eating cotton candy on Christmas marketIt is a good idea to have your beneficiaries clearly listed on any account in which the company asks for it, including your retirement accounts and your life insurance policy. Set aside a calendar reminder every single year to sign back in or to contact these companies and verify that the beneficiary information is still correct.

One of the biggest reasons for doing this is simply that your life may change. If you have not checked your beneficiary designation on your retirement accounts recently, you may find out that the designated beneficiary who is legally entitled to receive some or all of the benefits on your retirement plan if something were to happen to you is no longer accurate. This is particularly true if you have gotten remarried, gotten divorced, or had children since your initial retirement plan account was originally established.

For example, if you originally named a charity as your beneficiary, that charity may no longer be in existence. While many people have a reminder set to look at their wills every single year and update these materials, things that are written inside your will do not necessarily transfer over to your retirement accounts.  At the same time, it is a good idea to make sure you also have contingent beneficiaries listed.

These accounts are held separately and therefore, the company is responsible for providing you with the beneficiary designations. In the event that something happens to you and you haven’t verified these accounts for years, the company is well within their rights to transfer the amounts inside your retirement accounts to the last known designated beneficiary. This could be a former spouse or someone else that you do not intend to receive these benefits.

Set a reminder every year so that you have the opportunity to meet with your Massachusetts estate planning attorney and talk about any other updates you need to make to your process.

Tips for Finding Retirement Volunteer Opportunities

Many individuals picture their retirement as being a time of quiet solitude but unfortunately, sometimes this isn’t always how it plays out. Individuals may wish to find a volunteer position in order to help them give back to the community as well as find ways to fill their time that are both meaningful and important to them.

Some of the most important steps that you need to take when entering this process include:

  •    Ask yourself your purposes for volunteering. Without this knowledge it may be difficult for you to identify a position that appropriately fits your volunteer goals. There are many different motivations for being a volunteer including making new friends, giving back to your community, giving more meaning to your life or improving your individual life circumstances.
  •    Identify a volunteer job for which you seem like a good fit. If you have particular experience or skills that are uniquely suited to a position, this can be a sign that you would be an appropriate fit as a volunteer for that organization.
  •    Does the need match with your commitment? When choosing the appropriate volunteer position make sure that the hours that are required every single week, the intensity of the work you’ll be doing, and the duration of the work period is appropriate for the time and energy that you are able to give.

Many individuals in retirement seeking out volunteer opportunities are doing so because it is a great way for them to add in extra opportunities to their schedule but you do not want to be in the position of giving away too much of your time and finding that it interferes with your life.

Stay tuned to my blog to learn more about how to plan for and enjoy retirement to the fullest.

How to Ensure That Your Estate Plan Reflects Your Life as You Get Older

Most individuals in their 50s have at least broached the subject of estate planning by consulting with a lawyer or taking a look at any wills that they’ve created years before. With many individuals today living well into their 70s and 80s, it is important as well to keep your estate planning documents up to date as you move through the aging process.

You may have different concerns at different stages in your life. For example, while in your fifties you may be caring for your own children while also helping with aging parents. This is a great opportunity to update your own estate plans and check on whether your parent’s plans are accurate, too. In your 60s you may want to update your plans to reflect the current state of your family.

Perhaps your adult children have had grandchildren or perhaps you have even gotten divorced yourself and remarried, which means that family law and estate planning intersect in unique and sometimes challenging ways prompting an update in your documents. In your 70s, you want to ensure that your estate plan is still on track and take an inventory of your assets.

Reviewing your beneficiaries and notifying your family about the planning that you have done and where they can locate it in an emergency situation is strongly recommended. In your 80s, you may be asking for someone to assist you with the management of your finances and you could also be looking into charitable giving as an option.

A Massachusetts estate planning attorney can help you with these complex concerns.

Tips for Avoiding Social Isolation with Seniors

Whether you’re an adult child concerned about an aging parent or growing concerned about your own social isolation, recognizing the signs and symptoms is often the first step to be taken to protect yourself.

Sadly, isolation for senior citizens is a relatively common issue. It’s something that family members and the senior should pay attention to. Family members can play a crucial role in supporting an elderly loved one by being aware of the risks and signals of isolation and by stepping in to help with transportation.

Here are several tips that can help avoid social isolation:

  • Make sure that a loved one who has maintained church attendance continues to do so by identifying carpool opportunities or making other transportation available
  • Keep neighbors in the loop for regular check-ins and encourage weekly or regular social gatherings or meals.
  • Attend regular vision and hearing tests, as many seniors may be avoiding social interaction due to embarrassment about being able to see or hear properly. Making these tests easily accessible with transportation can be very helpful for a loved one.
  • Plan regular family interactions that include the elderly loved one. A weekly check-in or Sunday night dinner can give a senior something to look forward to and it’s a chance for family members to monitor health and nutrition issues in the elderly loved one.

Social isolation, when ignored, could lead to anxiety and depression. It can also amplify the impacts of cognitive and other healthcare issues.

If you’re concerned about an elderly loved one and want to ensure that he or she has properly planned for the future, consult with an experienced elder law attorney.

Your area Council on Aging might also offer programs to assist with these issues and some even offer free or reduced transportation. The following resources may be a great place to start:




Planning Ahead for Aging in Place

Man with a tennis ball and a racquetIf you’re looking ahead to your retirement and the years beyond, there’s a strong chance that you’d like to remain in your own home independently as long as possible. This is because a growing number of older individuals – not just in Massachusetts – but across the country want the same. This is referred to as aging in place.

In certain situations, aging in place makes a lot of sense. You can make use of additional support systems such as family members or outside care professionals, if necessary, while still living in your own home and retaining a lot of independence.

One of the first and most important steps regarding your wish to age in place is to have this conversation with your family members. If you’re in relatively good health, aging in place may be the right fit for you, but your family members should be aware of your needs and desires. Furthermore, they might be able to help with the second step of the process, which is determining whether or not your current home supports you fully. Some minor modifications to the home might make it a reality for you to continue to stay there largely on your own.

The next stage of the process is to determine what mix of caregiving you would have access to if something happened to you. Usually the first type of support you’ll receive comes from family, but you may also want to work with outside caregivers like a home health aide if you have some minor needs on an ongoing basis.

Finally, make sure that all of your estate planning and medical documents are up to date. Being in good health now does not guarantee that things will always be the same, but getting family members on board with your wishes regarding care and having clearly-written documents outlining your plans can be very helpful if something happens to you suddenly.

If you’d like to learn more about the estate planning documents that can be helpful when you intend to age in place, contact a Massachusetts estate planning lawyer today.

Moving Forward with Estate Planning When Your Spouse is Uncomfortable with It

Majorca, Spain
As one part of a married couple, perhaps you put off estate planning because you need your spouse in order for it to be effective. If that’s the case, a non-cooperative spouse who doesn’t want to think or talk about it can lead to gridlock. That doesn’t mean estate planning is something you should ignore entirely, though. It can place you in a difficult position to attempt to move forward with this process when your spouse simply doesn’t want to.

One of the best things things to keep in mind is the concept that continually reminding your spouse that the planning needs to be done probably won’t work. You might want to try the alternative route of showing them what can go wrong if you skip planning altogether. Unfortunately, there are plenty of stories of celebrity estate planning blunders, but you might also know family members struggling through probate after their loved one avoided planning, too. All of these can be used as a conversation opener.

If you already created documents decades or years ago and this is one of the reasons your spouse doesn’t want to get on board, use this as a chance to sit down and walk through how that estate planning scenario would work out. Under your current documents, what would happened to your minor children? Your assets? This may help trigger your spouse to reopen the conversation if it turns out that your previous plans just don’t measure up.

Finally, if you’re unable to spur action with these steps, it might be time to do as much as you can on your own. Start with an inventory of all the assets and go from there. A meeting with an estate planning lawyer in Massachusetts can help you figure out what’s necessary moving forward

Do You Need an Estate Planning Audit?

Couple going over financesDoes thinking about your original estate planning documents conjure up images of meeting in someone’s office a decade ago when you first got married or when you had a child? Or was it in the more recent past, but there are numerous changes you’ve undergone in your life and family since then? If either one of these situations describes you, it may be time for an estate planning audit.

Plenty of people fall victim to the myth that estate planning is a one-and-done scenario. They schedule a meeting with a lawyer, get the basic documents in line, store them safely, and then forget about it. Those initial steps to get your will, trusts, and powers of attorney documents in line are important nonetheless, but your estate planning can only work properly for you if it’s in line with your current needs, not your past ones.

One of the biggest benefits of setting up an estate planning audit with a Massachusetts lawyer is to learn whether or not all the tools and documents you have now carry out your wishes as they should. For example, if you have gotten divorced since your last meeting with an attorney, there’s a good chance your current documents award everything or give power to make decisions on your behalf to your former spouse. These documents may remain legally valid even with a divorce decree. It is your responsibility to change them at the appropriate time.

It’s easy to write off an estate planning audit as something you intend to get around to. The truth is that most people don’t anticipate a disabling life event that triggers a power of attorney. Even more people don’t want to think about their own mortality, making it easier to push estate planning to the back burner.

Passing away with inaccurate materials, however, can be even more troubling for your loved ones in the wake of coping with their grief over your loss. You can help to avoid this situation by setting up a meeting with an experienced Massachusetts estate planning lawyer today.

Multiple Reasons Why Your Estate Planning Needs a Lift This Year

Old-Fashioned Will And TestamentAs we quickly approach 2017, it is an excellent opportunity to review your existing estate planning documents and determine if  you have fallen short. Unfortunately, far too many people make simple mistakes that can end up turning into big problems down the road if they are not careful.

These simple mistakes often catch family members by surprise when a loved one unexpectedly passes away. This is because it is usually the family members dealing with the management of estate planning documents or probate in Massachusetts.

What follows are some of the most common mistakes made in the estate planning realm. These include:

  •      Wrongly titled or untitled assets. If you do choose to use a trust, you should follow through by having all assets titled in the name of the trust, otherwise your assets will actually be disposed of by your will.
  •      Leaving assets directly to beneficiaries. The inheritance that you intended to pass on to a beneficiary could be subject to an attack from a divorcing spouse, a creditor or other lawsuits. Make sure that you carefully consider other opportunities for shielding that asset.
  •      Not keeping your end-of-life planning or medical care planning up to date. Your desires regarding your medical care should always be clearly articulated on a regular basis including your living will and your healthcare documents.  Setting up a meeting with an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you accomplish these goals.

Key Tips to Help Maximize the Value of Parental Assets as They Age

House on pile of moneyThere may come a time when your parents turn to you as the adult child and request your assistance in helping them put together their estate plan or manage their assets appropriately.

This is a worthwhile concern as you or other beneficiaries may stand to benefit from all opportunities to minimize tax obligations and maximize the value of assets. Furthermore, you are doing a good deed by helping your parents stay organized and understand how various state and federal laws affect them.

  • There are several different tax saving strategies that you can implement in order to maximize the value of their assets. These include:
  • Encouraging them to keep stocks that have gains and selling stocks that have losses.
  • Using trusts to protect assets and avoid the probate process.
  • Evaluating their estate planning documents on a regular basis to ensure they are still valid and accurate for your parents’ needs.
  • Encourage your parents to take advantage of gift taxes. Each individual in the U.S. is allowed to give up to $14,000 per year to other people. If your parents have an estate large enough to be subjected to the estate tax, then minimizing their tax liability by giving things away while they are still alive can benefit them.
  • Consider situations in which you may be eligible to claim your parents as dependents if they qualify.

Consulting with a dedicated estate planning attorney in Massachusetts can help you accomplish the vast majority of goals associated with your needs and their concerns.