What Happens if You Die Without an Estate Plan in Massachusetts?
When is the right time to prepare an estate plan? Do you really need one at all? If you are like most people, these kinds of questions are the reasons why you do not currently have an estate plan in place.
While there is nothing that says you are legally required to prepare an estate plan before you die (and people die without estate plans every day), the benefits of having an estate plan far outweigh the modest costs of putting one together. To illustrate what will happen if you die without an estate plan in Massachusetts, let’s take a look at just some of the most-basic consequences.
If You Die Without an Estate Plan…
…Your Estate Will End Up in Probate.
Preparing a comprehensive estate plan that incorporates a revocable trust, beneficiary designations, and other appropriate documentation is the only way to keep your estate out of probate. If you die without an estate plan, there is actually a plan for you based on the laws. Intestacy laws dictate who gets what and who gets to be in charge of an estate. If you die without a will, the probate court will oversee the entire process. “Probate” is the court-supervised process of administering a person’s estate, and it is more complicated, more expensive, and more time-consuming than the alternative of creating a plan and appointing someone you trust to administer your estate on your behalf.
…The Court Will Appoint Someone to Administer Your Final Affairs.
When you prepare a will, you have the opportunity to designate a personal representative. This is the person who will manage your final affairs after you die. If you do not designate a personal representative in a will, the probate court will need to choose someone on your behalf. Under the law, there are certain people who have priority to serve as the personal representative if you do not have a will.
It’s worth noting that the personal representative is in charge of your will, which will still require probate. The only way to avoid probate is to create a revocable trust funded with your assets.
…The Court Will Appoint a Guardian for Your Minor Children.
While distributing your assets is one reason to have an estate plan, it is far from the only one. For parents of minor children, another key benefit of preparing an estate plan is the opportunity to appoint a guardian for their minor children. A guardian is an individual legally appointed to provide health and physical care for a minor child. The guardianship process can be a long and emotional process that is similar in nature to probate.
If you have not appointed a guardian for your children, the court will appoint a guardian for you. There can sometimes be disagreement amongst family members over who should be appointed the guardian. Incorporating a guardianship appointment into your will makes this process much easier for your children and the rest of your family. If you’d like to leave your child with assets from your estate, you’ll need to appoint a trustee or the court will appoint a conservator to manage the assets until your child becomes a legal adult (18 in Massachusetts). An individual can be both a conservator/trustee and the legal guardian, but they can also be two separate individuals.
…Your Loved Ones Won’t Have Clear Direction for Distributing Your Estate.
If you die without an estate plan, once your debts have been paid, your remaining assets will be distributed according to Massachusetts’ laws of intestate succession. However, even if these laws dictate that your estate to be distributed to your desired heirs in your desired proportions (which is highly unlikely to be the case), they still do not resolve the issue of “who gets what.” To make sure your spouse, children, grandchildren, and other loved ones do not have to go through the difficult task of divvying up your property, you need to have a comprehensive estate plan.
…Your Estate and Loved Ones Will Incur More Costs and Taxes than Necessary.
Failing to plan your estate also means that your estate and your loved ones will incur more costs and taxes than necessary. From the costs of probate to capital gains taxes on realized income, there are various ways that you can maximize the value of your estate for your loved ones with careful planning.
What Happens if You Become Incapacitated Without an Estate Plan?
In addition to planning for what will happen after your death, with a comprehensive estate plan, you can also plan for what will happen if you become incapacitated due to a debilitating illness or traumatic injury. Who will make decisions about your medical care? Who will manage your finances? Who will manage your business? These are additional key questions that you can answer for yourself and your loved ones by preparing an estate plan.
Speak with Cambridge, MA Estate Planning Attorney Today
If you would like more information about the benefits of estate planning and the steps involved in putting a plan in place, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential initial consultation. To speak with an attorney at our law offices in Cambridge, MA, please call (855) 743-3136 or inquire online today.