Estate planning is important for adults of all ages, however, it is particularly important for those over the age of 60. There are many elder issues—including long-term care planning—which benefit from early planning, yet a significant number of those in this age bracket avoid estate planning until it is too late. In fact, according to AARP, while about 81 percent of those over the age of 72 do have some sort of estate plan, 58 percent of those between the ages of 53-71 do not. If you wonder why so many American adults seem to avoid estate planning, the top two reasons were, “I just haven’t gotten around to it,” and “I don’t have enough assets to bother with an estate plan.”

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To dispel the second excuse, virtually every adult has some level of “estate.” An estate can include a home, a vehicle, a bank account, and much, much more. It is simply not true that only the super-rich have an estate. As for the first excuse (just haven’t gotten around to it), this is truly one of those things that can lead to significant problems for you and your loved ones when it is put off too long. Even if you do not want a will or a trust to detail who you would like to receive your assets (in which case, the state of Massachusetts will make those decisions), having a health care or power of attorney is imperative.

While a will divides your property after your death, a healthcare proxy designates a trusted person to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated, whether due to an accident or an illness. Whether you are a young adult just starting out in your life or are over the age of 60, the time to engage in estate planning is now. The Law Offices of James A. Miller, P.C., is ready to help you put together an estate plan that is right for you and your specific situation in life. Attorney James Miller has the knowledge of Massachusetts estate laws—as well as extensive estate planning experience—to help make the process as painless as possible.

What is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is a strategically organized group of documents and blueprints that take into consideration the unique circumstances of the person whom the estate plan is prepared for as a planning tool for the future. Depending on your circumstances and your age, your estate plan might include only a simple Last Will and Testament, along with a healthcare proxy. If you are a young adult with few assets, this could be sufficient.

Health care proxy is crucial for adults of any age. An accident or illness is never anticipated, yet they occur every day, to those of all ages. Having a plan in place which names a trusted person who will make health decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated is always a good idea. It is important to ask questions and discuss your estate plan needs with your Massachusetts estate planning attorney to ensure your plan is uniquely tailored to your life.

Do I Need to Plan for Avoiding Probate?

Probate can be time-consuming, expensive, and public, and something that you want to avoid if at all possible. Your beneficiaries will probably not receive their inheritance as quickly when a will must be probated as they would if you had a revocable trust in place, however, a trust might not fit your financial situation as well as a will. If you leave no will, and no estate plan of any type, the state will still probate your estate, only they will be the ones making the decisions as to who will be the personal representative of your estate, and who will receive your assets.

Do I Need a Last Will and Testament?

Even if you do have a revocable or irrevocable living trust, if you have minor children, you still need a Last Will and Testament so you can name a guardian for your children. A will goes into effect only after your death, while a trust takes effect as soon as it is created and funded. A will essentially names a person as a personal representative to ensure your wishes are carried out and designates who will receive your assets. A trust can conceivably be used to distribute property prior to your death, at your death, or after your death.

A trust may have one set of beneficiaries who receive income from the trust during their lives, and another set of beneficiaries who receive what is left over when the first set of beneficiaries die. A will covers only the assets which are in your name when you die and does not cover property held in a trust or in joint tenancy. A trust covers only property that is properly transferred to the trust and re-titled in the name of the trust. Unlike a will, a trust remains private—others cannot know what is contained in the trust unless they are a beneficiary.

What About a Trust?

A revocable trust holds your assets in trust for your benefit during your lifetime, then for the benefit of your heirs after your death. Generally, you are the named trustee during your lifetime then you will name a successor trustee who will take over the duties of distributing the assets in the trust to your heirs after your death. A revocable living trust can be changed at any time or can be canceled entirely. Since a trust avoids probate, this can be helpful if you happen to own property in other states, as the property would pass directly to your heirs, rather than being subject to each state’s probate laws.

A trust is more likely to withstand an heir contesting the trust than a will; it is a more complex legal document, which is more expensive, but also, perhaps, more legally binding in the event someone wants to contest your wishes. A revocable living trust also helps you deal with a situation in which you become incapacitated through an accident or illness. Your successor trustee can step in and manage your affairs without court intervention, sparing your family for the necessity of a court-appointed guardian /conservator.

How Do I Plan for End-of-Life Issues?

Planning for end-of-life issues can be accomplished in Massachusetts via a Health Care Proxy.  A Health Care Proxy allows you to name an “agent” to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated and unable to voice your wishes. It is extremely important that you choose your agent very carefully. Your agent should be a person you trust implicitly to follow your instructions regarding your end-of-life care. End-of-life decisions could include whether you would want to be resuscitated in the event you had a terminal illness, or whether you would want to remain in a coma if you were unlikely to ever come out of it, as well as many other healthcare decisions. After choosing an agent for your Health Care Proxy, it is important that you communicate that information to loved ones.

What About Medicaid Benefits for a Nursing Home?

If you are over the age of 60, it is definitely time to think about how you could potentially receive Medicaid benefits for a nursing home without depleting all your assets, in the event you became unable to care for yourself. There are many different issues to consider, therefore, it is especially important to speak to an experienced Massachusetts estate planning attorney who can answer your questions and prepare the right estate plan for you and your loved ones.

How the Law Offices of James A. Miller, P.C., Can Help with Estate Planning

A carefully crafted, comprehensive estate plan can allow you to avoid the problems which can arise after your death. You want to ensure that your loved ones receive the assets you want to leave for them, without excess hassle or chaos. You also want to be sure that you address end-of-life issues for yourself, saving your loved ones from being forced to make decisions on your behalf they may not be comfortable making. Whatever level of estate plan you are interested in having prepared, we can help at The Law Offices of James A. Miller, P.C., have the experience, skills, resources, and knowledge necessary to ensure you receive the right estate plan not only for your life but for the life of your family. Contact the Law Offices of James A. Miller, P.C., today.