Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I need an estate plan?
An estate plan gives you the power to make decisions regarding your health and finances both during life and after death. It can provide protection and guidance to your heirs and can also reduce taxes, probate and other fees and expenses of your estate. In some cases, it can be used to protect your hard-earned assets from health care costs and other liabilities. Without an estate plan you leave these important decisions up to the State and Courts, and often end up significantly reducing the value of your estate.
Will my estate have to pay a federal or Massachusetts estate tax after I die?
The Federal estate tax exemption is currently $5,000,000, however estates greater than $1,000,000 (including all accounts, investments, home equity and life insurance) must pay an estate tax in Massachusetts of up to 16%.
How can I reduce or eliminate my estate tax liability?
Couples in Massachusetts with taxable estates should at least have an A/B trust to double their exemption. In many cases, this will completely eliminate estate tax exposure. Other strategies to avoid an estate tax include creating a gifting plan, Life Insurance Trusts, Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRTs).
What is a living trust and do I need one?
A living trust is a revocable legal entity in which a Trustee (generally also the person who set up the trust) controls the trust assets to achieve estate planning goals including probate avoidance, disinheriting an heir or providing oversight for minors, limiting or eliminating estate taxes, and planning for blended families or second marriages.
What is probate?
Probate is the public legal process of proving the validity of an individual’s Last Will & Testament and appointing a Personal Representative to manage the estate, including distributing the assets per terms of the Will, settling any debts of the estate and filing State and Federal estate tax returns, if necessary. If there is no will, a Court appointed Administrator will distribute the estate according to the laws of intestacy, possibly resulting in undesired distributions.
Does all property have to go through probate when a person dies?
No. Property jointly owned with another passes to the survivor automatically upon the death of the first. Also, bank accounts with a named beneficiary or “POD” do not pass through probate. Finally, any asset owned by a Trust does not pass through probate.
What happens if a die without a will?
If you don’t make a will or use some other legal method to transfer your property when you die, state law will determine what happens to your property. Generally, it will go to your spouse and children or, if you have neither, to your other closest relatives. If no relatives can be found to inherit your property, it will go to the state.
In addition, in the absence of a will, a court will determine who will care for your young children and their property if the other parent is unavailable or unfit.
If you are part of an unmarried same-sex couple and do not have a will, your surviving partner will not inherit anything.
Should I use a will to name a guardian to care for my young children and manage their property?
Yes. Many people first do a will when they have children. In the Will you can appoint a “guardian” to be responsible for your children. You can also name an individual (can be same or different as guardian) to manage money for the children. This individual is called a Trustee. The Trust can be set up to provide that the Trustee can use the money for health, maintenance, education and support, without the money going directly to the children until they reach a pre-determined age.
Can someone challenge my will after I die?
If your Will needs to be admitted to probate upon your passing, any interested party can object. Interested parties include anyone named in your Will as well as close family members not in the Will. Using probate avoidance strategies, such as trust planning, alleviates this concern.
What is the cost of long term care?
The cost of long-term care in Massachusetts can be extremely expensive, ranging typically from $8,000 -$15,000 per month. Home Health Aides can cost $1,000-$5,000 per month. Assisted living facilities can cost $3,000-$5,000 per month. With proper planning, government benefits can assist with these costs and reduce the burden on your family significantly, while protecting hard earned assets.
Will Medicare pay for long term care?
Medicare pays for a limited amount of the costs when in short term rehab or the cost of a home health aide for a limited period of time. When these benefits expire, you will need to pay privately or seek other alternatives, such as Medicaid.
Will Medicaid pay for my long term care?
Medicaid, called MassHealth in Massachusetts, is a joint federal and state program that pays for a home health aide or nursing home for qualifying individuals. Becoming qualified often requires careful planning to meet the programs strict asset and income limits.
Mom or Dad requires more care than I can provide but do not want to enter a nursing home. Are there any options for us?
Yes. MassHealth pays for long-term care for eligible seniors, but there are many other MassHealth programs that will pay for home care services, allowing frail seniors to remain in their own home or the home of a loved one. Some programs will even pay family members to care for their loved one. By creating an effective estate strategy, many Massachusetts seniors and their families can benefit from these eligibility-based care programs.