No one likes to think about what would happen in the event of their untimely death; therefore many people delay their estate planning unnecessarily. The beginning of a new year is a good time to address the important issues in our lives which should include your estate plan.
I stress to my estate-planning clients — and ensure that they understand it — that they draft an estate plan not only for themselves, but more importantly for the family members they leave behind.
For those who die without a will, which we call intestate, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will control what happens to your probate property. A probate asset is any asset that does not pass by operation of law. What does that mean? The easiest way to explain this concept is to provide a couple of examples.
For example, if you own your home with your spouse and it is titled in both your names as “tenants by the entirety,” when one of you dies the ownership of the house transfers automatically to the other spouse. There is no need to do anything else to transfer the ownership of the house because the title to the house passes by operation of law. (It is extremely important to understand how real property is titled to know what will happen when you die.)
Another example is a joint savings account with the right of survivorship that you have with someone else. When one person dies, the survivor automatically becomes the owner of the savings account.
But here’s the problem for someone who does not have a will: If an asset does not pass by operation of law, then it must be probated so that the new person gets the legal ownership of the property. If you do not have a will that you executed, the Commonwealth decides who gets your property. This may or may not be what you would have wanted – but if you failed to execute a will this is what will happen.
Another significant benefit that a will provides for people with children under 18 is to clearly define who will serve as the legal guardian of your minor children when you are no longer alive. If you do not have a will, then the Probate Court will decide who should be the guardian of your children.
As a bottom line, one of the most important things you can do for those you care about is to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney and discuss your situation and the best way to take care of those you love so much.
I have been practicing law for more than 25 years and estate planning is one of my major areas of concentration.
If you would like to set up an appointment for an initial meeting to discuss your estate planning, please call me at 781-585-2900 or e-mail me at George@BoergerLaw.com.