Just like countless other stars, Aretha Franklin died without a will. A will directs who will receive your assets upon your death and it appoints a personal representative to carry out your wishes. If you die without a will, or “intestate,” your property will pass according to state law. Under Massachusetts law, that generally means your assets will pass to your surviving spouse; if you have no surviving spouse, then to your children; if you have no children, then to your parents; if your parents have predeceased you, then to your siblings. Dying intestate takes away your ability to direct how your assets pass upon your death. It also opens the possibility of any relative – even one you may not prefer – petitioning the court to become the administrator of your estate.
Wills and basic estate planning are extremely important for the family you leave behind. Estate planning is not only for the wealthy, although, the more wealth you accumulate the more likely a complex estate plan will be required. A will is critically important for young adults with children regardless of the amount of their wealth. A will is the primary method for naming a guardian for your children. Absent a will, any relative could request to become your children’s guardian; and having failed to state your wishes in a will, family discord can ensue at an already difficult time in the lives of your children. A will is also imperative for older adults as it allows them to take advantage of certain asset protection strategies regarding estate taxes or minimization of long-term care costs.
Recently, there has been much discussion over the quality of online wills. I strongly discourage using online will forms unless you are a younger individual with no children and few assets. These online wills can act as a stop-gap measure until individuals accumulate more wealth; however, online wills are not appropriate for married couples, individuals with children, or elders. Simply put, there are too many issues that require specific focus for families with children and elders that cannot be adequately addressed by using an online form. Based on my experience in this area of law over the last fourteen years, the less one spends in estate planning preparation has a direct correlation to higher administration costs after death. The expense of having a properly drafted estate plan pales in comparison to the cost and stress that poorly drafted, untailored online will forms provide.
By selecting an elder law attorney to prepare your will, you give to your family a trusted individual on whom they can rely after you pass away; someone that can both guide your family during a time of grief so that you can focus on the important things; and, someone with experience to address unanswered questions.
While no one likes to discuss his or her own mortality, establishing a basic estate plan with an experienced and qualified elder law attorney will show respect to your loved ones by ensuring their burden is eased when you die.
Contact us at North Shore Elder Law and Estate Planning www.nselep.com if you are in need of a will or other estate planning documents.