In today’s (February 7, 2019) Boston Globe, a heartbreaking story made the front page. The story is about a family who has been living in the same home for almost 40 years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is now facing the loss of the home due to the death of their patriarch.
Several generations of this blended family have lived in the home over the years. Originally purchased by the current occupant’s mother and stepfather, the home holds countless family memories. It has also seen an increase in value from the original purchase price of $23,000 to over $1 million in value today. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison failed to plan for their estate. Mr. Harrison’s stepdaughter has lived in the home for over 30 years and provided care to her step-father in his final years. Mr. Harrison has died, and his step-daughter now finds herself in the unfortunate position of not being his heir and having no rights to inherit his estate. In Massachusetts, if you die without a will (also known as dying “intestate”) and own property, such as real estate, bank accounts, etc., in your own name alone, the intestate laws of the Commonwealth will determine how your estate will be distributed and who will inherit your assets. In the case at hand, Mr. Harrison’s relatives, who live out of the country and have had little, if any, contact with him throughout the years, are set to inherit all of his property and belongings.
Failing to plan for one’s eventual death is not uncommon. Only a small portion of Americans have completed their estate plans, which can include Wills, Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies and other planning documents. Like wearing your seat-belt, or changing the batteries in your smoke detector, completing your will is a “safety-net” to protect the ones you love.
There are many reasons why we fail to plan (See our blog on the Top 5 Reasons People Don’t Have a Will or Estate plan and the Risk of Inaction). However, few of us understand the devastating consequences that failing to plan can have on our loved ones. No matter what your family circumstances, blended or traditional family, single or married, children or not, planning for your future and your eventual death is imperative to protect your loved ones and ensure your assets (large or small) benefit the people or organizations you cherish.