Estate Planning

As an estate planning attorney, I often encounter clients who inquire about creating a “simple will.” While a Last Will and Testament is indeed a critical document, it is just one piece of the comprehensive puzzle necessary to safeguard yourself and your loved ones in both life’s uncertainties and after your passing.

Estate planning goes beyond a will; it encompasses a range of essential documents and strategies that should be tailored to your unique circumstances to help you while you are alive and after you have passed away.  Through a well-crafted estate plan, you can ensure that your financial and healthcare decisions are handled according to your wishes and by a person of your choosing, protect your legacy from creditors, estate taxes, and the probate process, and preserve and distribute your assets to your loved ones in an efficient manner.

While planning for the future and the unexpected can be overwhelming, you should not settle for a “simple will” alone.  Pesce Law Office can guide you through our personalized estate planning process taking into account your unique circumstances, goals, and wishes to provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind and protection.  Our aim is to simplify the estate planning process, provide clarity, and guide you towards a secure future.

It is a common misconception that estate planning is exclusively for the wealthy.  In reality, every adult over the age of 18 can benefit from having an estate plan in place.  Regardless of your financial status or the value of your assets, estate planning ensures that your wishes are honored, and you and your loved ones are protected in various circumstances.

An estate plan is not just about distributing wealth; it encompasses a range of essential elements. It allows you to appoint a trusted individual to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated, provides clarity on your healthcare preferences, ensures the care of minor children, and helps minimize potential disputes among loved ones.

Moreover, an estate plan addresses the management and distribution of your assets, including bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and even digital assets.  It can help minimize taxes, avoid probate complications, and provide a clear roadmap for transferring your assets to your chosen beneficiaries.

By establishing an estate plan early on, you gain control over your future, protect your loved ones from unnecessary stress, and ensure that your wishes are carried out. Don’t fall into the misconception that estate planning is only for the wealthy. Every adult, regardless of their financial situation, should consider the importance of having an estate plan to secure their own well-being and the well-being of their loved ones.

Failing to have an estate plan in place can lead to significant complications if you become incapacitated or pass away.  In the unfortunate event of incapacity, without proper documentation in the form of a power of attorney or healthcare directive, decisions about your medical treatment and financial matters may end up in the hands of individuals who may not align with your wishes.

Likewise, if you pass away without an estate plan, your estate will be subject to the probate process and your assets will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, which may not reflect your intended beneficiary preferences.  This can result in costly legal fees, potential contention among your loved ones, delays in asset transfer, and your entire estate being subject to public proceedings in the probate court.  Dying without an estate plan also forgoes opportunities to minimize estate taxes and protect assets from creditors.  Furthermore, without an estate plan, the court will appoint a guardian for any minor children, potentially leaving their well-being in the hands of someone you would not have chosen.

Taking proactive steps to plan for incapacity and death ensures that your wishes are respected, your loved ones are protected, and the distribution of your assets is carried out smoothly and efficiently.

When it comes to estate planning, there are various types of documents that individuals should consider including in their plan. These documents serve different purposes and work together to ensure that your wishes are carried out and your loved ones are protected.

  • A Last Will and Testament is a foundational document that outlines how your assets should be distributed after your passing.  It allows you to name beneficiaries, appoint a Personal Representative to manage your estate, and specify any special instructions or requests.  This is also the document where you name a guardian for your minor children.
  • A Trust is another essential document that can provide flexibility and control over the distribution of your assets.  While there are many different types of trusts, at their most basic level, trusts allow you to avoid probate and maintain privacy.  Through a trust document you can specify who should be in charge of your trust assets and who benefits from said assets in the event you become incapacitated or pass away.
  • A Power of Attorney is a crucial document that grants someone you trust the authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. This individual, known as your attorney-in-fact, can handle tasks such as managing bank accounts, paying bills, and making legal transactions.
  • A Healthcare Proxy allows you to designate a trusted person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This document ensures that your medical preferences are respected and that the designated individual can communicate with healthcare providers on your behalf.

In addition to these core documents, you may also need beneficiary designations for assets such as retirement accounts, which allow you to specify who will receive those assets upon your death.

It’s important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine which documents are necessary based on your unique circumstances and goals. By having the right combination of estate planning documents in place, you can ensure that your wishes are honored, minimize potential disputes, and provide for the well-being of your loved ones.

Estate planning plays a crucial role in preparing for life’s inevitable changes.  Whether you’re experiencing a major life event or anticipating future transitions, having an estate plan in place ensures that you are well-prepared and protected.

Marriage, the birth of a child, or the purchase of a new property are examples of significant life events that warrant a review and potential update of your estate plan.  By revisiting your plan during these times, you can make necessary adjustments to reflect your changing circumstances, such as updating beneficiaries, appointing guardians for children, or adjusting distribution strategies.

Similarly, estate planning allows you to prepare for unexpected events and uncertainties. Creating powers of attorney and healthcare directives ensures that trusted individuals are empowered to make important decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.  This provides peace of mind and ensures that your wishes are carried out even if you’re unable to express them yourself.

Additionally, as you progress through different life stages, your financial situation may change. Estate planning enables you to develop strategies to protect and manage your assets, minimize tax obligations, and plan for retirement.  This can involve establishing trusts, reevaluating beneficiary designations, or exploring charitable giving options.

By actively engaging in estate planning and regularly reviewing and updating your plan, you can adapt to life’s changes with confidence.  Whether you’re getting married, having children, experiencing career shifts, or entering retirement, your estate plan can be tailored to meet your evolving needs and goals.

Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is crucial during these times of change. They can provide guidance, expertise, and personalized advice to ensure that your estate plan remains current and effective in addressing your unique circumstances. Be proactive in preparing for life changes through thoughtful estate planning to secure your future and protect your loved ones.

Estate Planning Review

Pesce Law Office offers two packages for the review of estate planning documents.  The cost to review estate plans consisting of just wills is $450.  The cost to review estate plans consisting of trusts is $750.  

If you decide to engage my services to update your plan, it is an additional cost.  At the conclusion of our strategy session, I will provide you with the flat fee cost to update your plan.

The Planning Questionnaire provides crucial information about yourself and your loved ones, as well as information on your assets and liabilities.  Without this information, Pesce Law Office is unable to provide a comprehensive review of your existing documents.  The Planning Questionnaire allows us to identify any gaps or changes that need to be addressed in the existing plan. 

Pesce Law Office accommodates in person meetings upon request.

Estate Administration

Estate administration refers to the process of managing and settling the affairs of a deceased individual, commonly known as the decedent.  It involves a series of legal and financial tasks that must be undertaken to distribute the decedent’s assets, settle outstanding debts and taxes, and fulfill any other obligations related to the estate.

The estate administration process typically begins with the identification and collection of the decedent’s assets.  This includes taking an inventory of the assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and other property owned by the decedent at the time of their death.  It may be necessary to file a probate petition with the Court in order to obtain the authority to deal with any assets in the decedent’s sole name at death.

Once the assets have been identified, the next step is to determine and settle any outstanding debts and expenses. This may involve notifying creditors, reviewing and paying off debts, and addressing any claims or disputes that may arise.

Simultaneously, estate administrators or Personal Representatives must ensure that all necessary tax returns, such as income tax and estate tax returns, are filed and any tax liabilities are settled. This includes calculating and paying any estate taxes that may be due.

After debts and taxes have been addressed, the remaining assets of the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries as outlined in the decedent’s estate planning documents such as a Will or Trust or according to the intestacy laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in cases where there is no valid will.

 

Administering an estate involves a range of duties and responsibilities that must be fulfilled by the estate administrator or Personal Representative. These duties may include:

  • Probate Process
  • Asset Identification and Inventory
  • Notification of Interested Parties
  • Debt & Expense Management
  • Estate Tax Obligations
  • Asset Protection
  • Asset Management
  • Communication with Beneficiaries
  • Distribution of Assets
  • Record-Keeping
  • Accounting
  • Legal Compliance

When undertaking estate administration, the estate administrator or Personal Representative assumes a fiduciary duty.  A fiduciary duty is a legal obligation to act in the best interests of another party, in this case, the estate and its beneficiaries. The fiduciary duty encompasses several key responsibilities, including:

  • Loyalty
  • Prudence & Care
  • Communication
  • Record-Keeping
  • Impartiality
  • Legal Compliance
  • Investment

 

Failure to fulfill these fiduciary duties can result in legal consequences and potential liability for the estate administrator or Personal Representative. Therefore, it is crucial to act diligently, ethically, and in accordance with the highest standards of fiduciary responsibility throughout the estate administration process. Seeking guidance from an experienced estate administration attorney can help ensure compliance with fiduciary duties and navigate complex legal matters effectively.

In Massachusetts, an estate tax return must be filed if the decedent’s estate meets certain criteria. Generally, an estate tax return, known as Form M-706, must be filed with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue if the decedent’s gross estate, including both probate and non-probate assets, exceeds the state’s estate tax exemption threshold of $2 million.  It may also be necessary to file a federal estate tax return if the decedent’s gross estate plus adjusted taxable gifts exceeds the federal estate tax exemption amount in effect at the time of their death.  It’s important to note that federal estate tax laws and exemption amounts can change over time, so it is necessary to consult the most up-to-date information or seek professional advice to determine the applicable federal exemption.

Probate

Probate is a legal process supervised by the Massachusetts Probate Court through which a deceased person’s probate estate is administered.  Under the probate process, the Court grants authority to an appointed individual, the Personal Representative, to gather the deceased individual’s assets, settle outstanding debts, and distribute any remaining assets in accordance with the terms of a valid Last Will and Testament.  In cases where someone passes away without a Will, the distribution of a decedent’s assets follows the intestacy laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Assets that are subject to probate are typically those that are solely owned by the deceased individual and do not have a designated beneficiary or transfer-on-death provision. Here are some common types of assets that may be subject to probate:

  1. Real Estate: Real property owned solely by the deceased, such as a house or land, is typically subject to probate unless it is held in a trust or is owned jointly with another individual who has rights of survivorship.
  2. Bank Accounts: Bank accounts held solely in the decedent’s name without any payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) designation are usually subject to probate.
  3. Investment Accounts: Individual investment accounts, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, that are solely owned by the deceased may be subject to probate if they do not have a designated beneficiary or transfer-on-death provision.
  4. Personal Property: Personal belongings, such as furniture, jewelry, artwork, and vehicles, that are owned solely by the deceased are generally subject to probate unless they are specifically bequeathed in a will or transferred outside of probate through mechanisms like trusts.
  5. Business Interests: If the deceased individual owned a business outright without any co-owners or succession plans in place, the business interest may be subject to probate.

It’s important to note that some assets can pass directly to beneficiaries outside of probate. These include assets with designated beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts. These assets transfer directly to the named beneficiaries without going through the probate process.

To avoid or minimize the impact of probate, individuals often engage in estate planning strategies such as establishing trusts, making lifetime gifts, or designating beneficiaries on accounts and policies. These measures can help streamline the transfer of assets and bypass the probate process, saving time, costs, and maintaining privacy.

The probate process in Massachusetts involves various legal requirements, the filing of court pleadings, and at times, court hearings.  Although probate proceedings can vary case by case, most probate matters require the following steps:

  1. Locating the decedent’s Last Will and Testament;
  2. Determining what the decedent’s assets are and if they qualify as a probate asset;
  3. Determining the proper probate petition to file with the Probate Court;
  4. Gathering information about the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs at law;
  5. Completing the proper probate pleadings and filing the Will with the probate Court;
  6. Publishing a citation in a newspaper;
  7. Validating and paying any debts of the decedent or creditor claims;
  8. Obtaining valuations and appraisals of the probate property;
  9. Preparing an accounting of the probate assets;
  10. Keeping interested parties informed; and
  11. Distributing the probate property to the correct beneficiaries.

The duration of the probate process in Massachusetts can vary depending on many factors, including the complexity of the estate, the presence of disputes or challenges, and the efficiency of the court system.  While it is challenging to provide an exact timeline, the probate process typically takes several months to a year or more to complete.  In fact, under Massachusetts law, a probate matter cannot be closed with the Court until twelve months have passed to allow creditors to file claims against the estate.  

While the probate process in Massachusetts can take time, proper planning and the guidance of an experienced probate attorney can help navigate the complexities, reduce delays, and ensure the efficient settlement and distribution of the estate.

The cost of going through the probate process in Massachusetts can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the estate, the value of the assets involved, and any legal fees associated with hiring an attorney.

Some of the expenses typically associated with the probate process in Massachusetts include:

  1. Court Fees: There are filing fees associated with initiating probate proceedings, filing documents, and obtaining certified copies of court orders. The fees can vary depending on the specific court and the nature of the filing.
  2. Attorney Fees: Many individuals choose to hire an attorney to navigate the probate process. Attorney fees can vary widely depending on the complexity of the estate and the services provided.  Pesce Law Office requires a retainer for probate matters and bills hourly against the retainer. 
  3. Fiduciary Fees: If a Personal Representative is appointed to administer the estate, they may be entitled to a fee for their services.
  4. Appraisal Fees: If the estate includes valuable assets that require professional appraisal, such as real estate or valuable collectibles, the cost of these appraisals will need to be considered.
  5. Publication Costs: In some cases, Massachusetts law requires publishing a notice of probate in a local newspaper. The cost of publication fees should be factored into the overall expenses.

 

It is important to note that the expenses associated with probate can reduce the overall value of the estate that will eventually be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Hiring an experienced probate lawyer to navigate the probate process in Massachusetts can provide numerous benefits and ensure a smoother experience for all involved.  Here are some compelling reasons why you should consider hiring a lawyer for probate cases:

  • Legal Expertise
  • Representative Support
  • Estate Administration Assistance
  • Time & Cost Savings
  • Peace of Mind

Trust Administration

Trust administration can be complex, and the specific tasks involved may vary depending on the nature of the trust and the assets held within it. Seeking guidance from an experienced trust administration attorney can help trustees navigate the process, ensure compliance with legal obligations, and fulfill their duties in administering the trust efficiently and effectively.

Trust Administration may involve:

  • Asset Management
  • Beneficiary Communication
  • Record-Keeping
  • Accounting
  • Compliance with Legal & Fiduciary Duties
  • Tax Planning
  • Tax Reporting
  • Distribution of Trust Assets
  • Legal Compliance
  • Risk Management

 

We understand that trust administration can be a complex process, which is why we work closely with our clients to provide personalized support throughout the entire process. Whether you are a trustee looking for guidance on your fiduciary responsibilities or a beneficiary seeking to understand your rights under a trust, we are here to help. 

With our comprehensive trust administration services, you can ensure that your trust will be managed properly and that your loved ones are taken care of according to your wishes. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help navigate complex probate issues or other potential legal challenges that may arise during trust administration. Contact the dedicated estate planning attorneys at Pesce Law Office to help you with your trust administration and ensure that your legal and financial rights are protected. 

The duration of trust administration can vary depending on several factors, including the terms of the trust, the complexity of the trust, the assets involved, the beneficiaries, and any potential complications that may arise during the process.  Trust administration typically takes several months to a few years to complete.  Factors that can influence the timeline include gathering and valuing assets, resolving any creditor claims, addressing tax matters, and fulfilling the distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries. It is important to consult with an experienced trust administration attorney who can provide a more accurate estimate based on the specific circumstances of your trust.

Hiring an attorney to assist with trust administration offers several important benefits:

  1. Legal Expertise: Trust administration involves complex legal processes, compliance with relevant laws and regulations, and understanding the terms of the trust document. An attorney specializing in trust administration has the necessary expertise to navigate these complexities, ensuring that the trust is administered in accordance with the law and the grantor’s intentions.
  2. Minimizing Errors and Disputes: Mistakes or oversights during trust administration can have significant consequences, potentially leading to disputes among beneficiaries or legal challenges. An attorney can help minimize the risk of errors, ensuring that all legal requirements are met, and reducing the likelihood of disputes arising in the future.
  3. Fulfilling Fiduciary Duties: As a trustee, you have fiduciary duties to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. An attorney can provide guidance on meeting these duties, including managing trust assets, making distributions, and maintaining accurate records. This helps ensure compliance with your legal obligations and protects you from personal liability.
  4. Efficient Administration: Trust administration can be time-consuming and complex, requiring meticulous attention to detail. By hiring an attorney, you can delegate the administrative tasks, allowing you to focus on other responsibilities or personal matters. An attorney can streamline the process, expedite necessary filings, and handle the paperwork efficiently.
  5. Tax Planning and Compliance: Trusts can have tax implications, including income tax, capital gains tax, and estate tax. An attorney with knowledge of tax laws can help you navigate these complexities, minimize tax liabilities, and ensure compliance with reporting requirements. This can help preserve the value of the trust assets and optimize tax efficiency.

Overall, hiring an attorney for trust administration provides peace of mind, reduces the risk of mistakes, and ensures that the trust is administered in a legally sound and efficient manner. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process, provide personalized advice, and help you fulfill your fiduciary duties as a trustee.

In Massachusetts, an estate tax return must be filed if the decedent’s estate meets certain criteria. Generally, an estate tax return, known as Form M-706, must be filed with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue if the decedent’s gross estate, including both probate and non-probate assets, exceeds the state’s estate tax exemption threshold of $1 million.  It may also be necessary to file a federal estate tax return if the decedent’s gross estate plus adjusted taxable gifts exceeds the federal estate tax exemption amount in effect at the time of their death.  It’s important to note that federal estate tax laws and exemption amounts can change over time, so it is necessary to consult the most up-to-date information or seek professional advice to determine the applicable federal exemption.