We all know that a Last Will and Testament (Will) is an important thing to have. We want to make it easier for our families after we have died. But just having a Will often causes more problems than it solves. The problem is that it may not be enough; it could be putting your hard-earned assets in jeopardy because your estate plan is missing out on important tools that can help protect you and your family.
Here’s the scary truth about having just a Will:
A Will doesn’t help you while you’re alive – A Will only goes into effect when you die. If you become incapacitated during your lifetime, your Will won’t help your family. Wills are silent as to your healthcare wishes and do not allow for the handling of financial decisions, such as accessing bank accounts or selling real estate, during your incapacitation. Another limitation is that a Will can be easily forgotten and not kept up to date. Many folks create their Wills then store the documents away and not make any changes as they go through the ups and downs of life.
Wills do not avoid probate – A Will does not make it easier for you to pass your assets onto your heirs. A Will must go through probate, where it is presented and approved by a Judge before it can take effect. This can take many months, sometimes years, and is very expensive. If your loved ones are counting on an inheritance quickly, they could be waiting while the assets are held up and possibly declining in value in a bear market.
Estate tax avoidance – In Massachusetts, if your estate is valued over a million dollars, it may be subject to an estate tax. A Will by itself does not help your family lower or avoid estate taxes. Creating a comprehensive estate plan involving trusts can lower or eliminate the estate tax burden, thus allowing your heirs or beneficiaries to keep more of your hard-earned assets.
Wills are not private – A Will is a matter of public record which means anyone, even a creditor, can see it. This also means it can be contested or claims can be made against the estate. If you are worried about your wishes being challenged, estate planning options such as trusts can be harder to successfully contest. For more on the benefits of Trusts, download our eBook “How a Trust Can Help You and Your Family”
No Protection – A Will provides almost no protection for your beneficiaries. A well crafted estate plan will protect your beneficiaries’ inheritance and make provisions in case one or more beneficiaries are minors, financially irresponsible, or going through a divorce. The right plan can even help protect your estate from nursing home expenses and much more. There are also problems with leaving an inheritance to a beneficiary or heir with special needs receiving government benefits. These protections are rarely incorporated in a Will.
A comprehensive estate plan should, at the very least, include four key documents: a will, a revocable trust, a power of attorney, and a health care directive. All documents should be reviewed with an estate planning or elder law attorney regularly to ensure the documents reflect your goals and current life situation. As we age, issues around health and long-term care should be also addressed.
Founded by a nurse attorney and with offices in Acton, Burlington, and Sudbury, Massachusetts, Generations Law Group has been helping families for over 20 years navigate the complex areas of estate planning and elder law to inform and protect loved ones of every generation.