What are the Estate Planning Basics?

Estate planning is an all-encompassing term that refers to the process of organizing, inventorying and making plans for the proper handling of your affairs after you die, including your dependents as well as your assets, valuables and heirlooms. This typically involves writing a will, setting up a power of attorney and detailing funeral arrangements with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

CNET’s article entitled “Estate planning 101: Your guide to wills, trusts and all your end-of-life documents” provides us with some of the key steps in getting started with estate planning.

Create an Inventory. Your estate includes all of the things you own, such as your car and other valuable possessions, plus “intangible assets” like investments and savings. If you own a company, that’s also part of your estate. Everything you own should be given a valuation. Have your home and other valuables appraised.

Evaluate your family’s needs. A big reason for estate planning is to make certain that your family is cared for, in the case of your death or incapacitation. If you’re a breadwinner for your family, the loss of your income could be devastating financially. Consider a life insurance policy to help provide a financial cushion that can be used to cover living expenses, college tuition cost, and mortgage payments. You may also need to designate a guardian, if you have children under the age of 18.

Make job assignments. Dividing up a person’s property can be a tough and emotional task. Make it easier by ensuring that all of your assets have been assigned a beneficiary. You’ll also name a few people to coordinate the process of dividing up your belongings. List your beneficiaries, so they know who gets what.

Create a Will. You should have a legally binding document setting everything out in as much detail as possible. A will is a legal document that directs the way in which you want your assets and affairs handled after you die. This includes naming an executor, who is someone to manage how your will is executed and take care of the distribution of your assets.

Help your family if you’re incapacitated. A living will (also known as a medical care or health care directive) states your healthcare preferences, in case you’re unable to communicate or make those decisions on your own. If you need life support, a living will states your preferences.

Start estate planning sooner rather than later. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney today.

Reference: CNET (June 8, 2020) “Estate planning 101: Your guide to wills, trusts and all your end-of-life documents”

When Can an Executor Start Paying the Heirs of an Estate?

An estate executor or Personal Representative is the person who has been named to administer the estate of a deceased person.

The PR is either named by the testator in the will or is appointed by the Court where the PR named in the will has resigned or where the decedent died intestate or without a will.

In Massachusets, creditors have one year from the date of death to file a claim in a probate.  If the PR has distributed assets out of the estate to heirs or other individuals named in the will and there is insufficient assets to pay any creditors’ claims, the PR is personally liable for the payment of these debts.    If it is likely that a creditor is owed money, a Personal Reprsentative is advised by counsel to the estate to wait until the close of this period before making any distributions.    At that time, the PR will typically close the estate by filing a Closing Statement with the Court that provides the PR has provided an accounting to the beneficiaries or will file a final Account with the Court.

As the PR, you take a chance in distributing the estate not only before the creditor period has expired but also before a final accounting is provided or approved and a surety bond, if any, is released.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I distribute inheritances now or do I have to wait?” says that if one of the beneficiaries doesn’t accept the executor’s form of accounting and his or her purported share, the executor will need to bring an action in court seeking its approval of a formal accounting and release as executor.  This process of formally closing an estate can be expensive and, if there is no misfeasance by the executor found by the court, the expenses for this formal procedure is usually paid for from estate funds or assets.   This reduces the total pay-out to heirs. As a result, it reduces all the beneficiaries’ distributive shares.

An executor has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate, which means he or she must manage the estate as if it were their own and manage the assets prudently. Thus, an executor can’t do anything that intentionally harms the interests of the beneficiaries.  If the executor decides to pay some beneficiaries before all of the named beneficiaries agree to the distributions, or before the expiration of the creditor period, he or she may not have the funds to bring the formal accounting action in court.

It’s usually a best practice to wait until everyone approves the accounting and provides the necessary paperwork, before making any distributions to any heirs.   This article highlights New Jersey, and not Massachusetts, procedure, but the article highlights how probate is time and cost inefficient and why an indivdiual or family may want to speak with an estate planning attorney about how to avoid probate at death.

Reference:nj.com (May 8, 2020) “Can I distribute inheritances now or do I have to wait?”

 

Estate Planning Is a Gift and a Legacy for Loved Ones

Without an end of life plan, a doctor you’ve never even met might decide how you spend your last moments, and your loved ones may live with the burden of not knowing what you would have wished. These are just a few reasons why “End-Of-Life Planning is a ‘Lifetime Gift’ To Your Loved Ones,” as discussed in a recent article from npr.org.

It’s important to recognize that planning for the end of your life is actually not all about you. It’s about the ones you love: your parents, spouse or your children. They are the ones who will benefit from the decisions you make to prepare for the end of your life, and life after you are gone. It is a gift to those you love.

So, what should you do?

Start by preparing to have an estate plan created. If you have an estate plan but haven’t reviewed it in the last three or four years, find it and review it. If you can’t find it, then you definitely need a new one. An estate planning attorney can help you create an estate plan, including a will and other documents.

In the will, you name an executor, someone who you trust completely to carry out your directions. Some people choose a spouse or adult child to be their executor. It’s a lot of work, so pick someone who is smart, organized and trustworthy. They’ll be in charge of all of your financial assets and communicating how the estate is distributed to everyone in your will.

Create an inventory. This includes things that are of financial and sentimental value. People fight over sentimental things, so giving your family specific directions may avoid squabbles.

If you have children under age 18, name a guardian for them. This should be a person who knows your children and will raise them with same values as you would.

Pets are often overlooked in estate planning. If you want to protect your pet, in many states you can create a pet trust. It includes funds that are to be used specifically for care for your pet, and a trustee who will be responsible for ensuring that the funds are used as you intended.

Digital accounts are also part of your property, including social media, online photos, everything in your online cloud storage, credit card rewards, email, frequent flyer miles and digital assets.

Make sure your will is executed and in compliance with the laws of your state. If your will is found to be invalid, then it is as if you never made a will, and all your planning will be undone.

You also need an advance directive, a legal document that covers health care and protects your wishes at the end of life. One part of an advance directive gives a person medical power of attorney, so they can make decisions for you if you cannot. The other part is a living will, where you share how you want to be cared for and what interventions you do or don’t want if you are near death.

Reference: npr.org (June 30, 2020) “End-Of-Life Planning is a ‘Lifetime Gift’ To Your Loved Ones”