Basic Estate Planning

Dying Without a Will:  Dying without a Will is called "intestate" and MA "intestacy" laws provide for how your assets will pass at death, typically to your spouse and children, or other next of kin depending on which family members survive you.

What passes through your Will and your Estate:  Only assets in your name alone pass through your Will or your estate (and therefore the "probate" process).  Assets owned jointly pass directly to the surviving co-owner at your death.  Likewise, assets naming a beneficiary (i.e. life insurance) pass directly to the named beneficiary at your death.  These types of assets avoid the 1+ year probate process.

Basic Documents:  Every individual (married or non-married) should have the following 3 essential documents in place:

  • WILL:  Name an Executor, also called "Personal Representative" (person in charge of your estate when you die); Name a Guardian for minor children;  Name your beneficiaries to receive your assets when you die.
  • POWER OF ATTORNEY:  Name a person (and alternate if you wish) to make your general and financial-type decisions for your during your lifetime.  (See Lifetime Decision-Making for further information.)
  • HEALTH CARE PROXY:  Name a person (and alternate if you wish) to make your medical decisions for you during your lifetime if you can't make or communicate them.  Can include "living will" provisions (stating that you do not want artificial life support under certain circumstances) and/or organ donation provisions.   (See Lifetime Decision-Making for further information.)

Additional Documents

In addition to setting up a Will, you might want to set up a Revocable Trust (also known as "living trust") to (a) avoid the 1+ year probate process (see Probate), and/or (b) to provide for specific ages of distribution to your intended beneficiaries (i.e. later than age 18). 

If a married couple has a taxable estate (see Estate Taxes) they might want to consider 2 separate Revocable Trusts to reduce the federal and/or MA estate taxes due at their deaths.  In addition to estate tax savings, the 2 Trusts can also accomplish the objectives of avoiding probate and setting ages of distribution).

Depending on the value of your life insurance, you may consider setting up an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust ("ILIT") to exclude the value of your life insurance from estate taxation.  (See The Irrevocable Insurance Trust for further information).