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Salem Massachusetts Estate Planning Law Blog

Estate planning for digital assets

When people living in Massachusetts begin to plan their estates, they are often concerned with personal property, real estate, savings accounts and investment funds. One group of assets that is frequently overlooked is digital assets, including email and social media accounts, online shopping profiles and digital content such as music.

Because digital assets have only been a matter of significant concern for a few decades, many people have not considered the ramifications of dying and leaving behind unattended accounts and digital products such as music, books and movies. In addition, the legal status of digital assets and intellectual property has been in flux for a significant period of time. This can lead to confusion regarding ownership and how digital content can be used by others.

How to choose a beneficiary for an IRA

Some people in Massachusetts who open an IRA may not put much thought into the beneficiary designation or may think it is something they can take care of later. However, it is important to name the right beneficiary and update the designation as needed.

A person who has no family or who does not want to leave the IRA to family might name a charity as beneficiary. A married person might be required to get written permission from a spouse to name someone else as beneficiary. If a spouse inherits the IRA, distributions will not be triggered, but they will be for anyone else. There could be tax implications. Despite this, some people might want to leave an IRA for children or grandchildren. If they are minors, then a custodian for the account should be designated.

Estate planning for your unusual valuables

Throughout your life, you have been fortunate. Your hard work paid off, and your savvy investments allowed you to spend many comfortable years doing what you enjoy. Others in your position may have traveled, built their dream home or lavished their wealth on their families. While you may have done these things too, you also took the time to acquire valuable objects.

Whether you have a variety of antiques or a collection of exclusive works of art, you know that you must make a plan for your treasures. As part of your estate, these objects may require special treatment to ensure they end up in the appropriate hands after you pass away.

Including company accounts in an estate plan

People in Massachusetts thinking about their future may consider their wills, trusts and other estate documents, but they may not turn their attention to the company benefit plans that they often signed up for on their first day of work. These benefits can be considerable, including life insurance, retirement funds, stock option plans and other accounts. In many cases, people designated their beneficiaries only once: when they first signed the documents establishing their new accounts. However, the decisions made about beneficiaries can play an important role in a person's overall estate plan.

When people draw up wills and trusts, they may consider how they want to distribute their assets. It is important for them to remember that their retirement accounts and related funds typically do not pass as an asset through probate on the owner's death. Instead, they pass using the beneficiary designation, directly to the person named as the beneficiary. This type of transfer also applies to items with joint ownership with a right of survivorship, such as many homes. In order to make sure that what actually happens after a person dies is consistent with their plans, they may need to update their beneficiaries.

People often misunderstand when to sign a power of attorney

Many people have a general understanding of what a durable power of attorney offers. However, people can also be misguided by common misunderstandings.

A durable power of attorney is an estate planning document that allows you to choose someone, called an attorney-in-fact, to manage your money and property on your behalf. A durable power of attorney often becomes most valuable when the principal becomes unable to manage his or her own finances. However, this has led to a common misunderstanding about when the durable power of attorney should be created.

Don’t forget about digital assets when estate planning

When coming up with an estate plan, people may give a great deal of attention to their physical property. However, there is another class of assets that it is important to not overlook on this front: digital assets. This includes things like social media accounts, email accounts, data on the cloud and personal or business websites.

Specifics that may need to be updated on your estate plan

Many adults in Massachusetts have the tendency to forget to update their estate plans. If one has not reviewed their plan for several years, some elements could be missing or out of date. Most people want to at least have a will and powers of attorney that appoint agents to manage financial and medical affairs in cases of incapacitation. Even with these documents, some people neglect to direct the distribution of personal items. This can cause as much or more conflict than assets of greater value.

Over time, families change, and executors or beneficiaries may have died. Life insurance policies might also be out of date. Furthermore, the estate tax exemption has increased several times in the past decade. This means strategies from earlier years may no longer be necessary. However, people should be aware that the current estate tax exemption is scheduled to sunset in 2025. It may also be necessary to update some documents if the estate owner has moved from another state.

Create your estate plan, then share the details with loved ones

The topic of inheritance is causing unease in families across Massachusetts and the nation.

An Ameriprise Financial report revealed just what is creating tension when it comes to inheritance and estate planning. Twenty-five percent of respondents said inheritance has caused drama in their families, and 69 percent haven't been told how much they stand to inherit, leading to confusion. And people expect more money than they actually will receive. Most expect to inherit more than $100,000 but get less.

Massachusetts mobster's family files claim to his estate

The siblings of Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger say they are heirs to his estate, and their legal case could play out in Suffolk Probate Court.

Bulger's brother, who served as president of both the state Senate and the University of Massachusetts, his brother and their three sisters have declared themselves the beneficiaries of an estate that currently is worthless, according to court filings.

Massachusetts residents should add these documents to estate plan

We know why people put off creating their estate planning documents. It's scary to state your wishes about your death. But in some cases, estate planning involves creating documents that will state your wishes about what happens when you're alive.

That's where planning for medical emergencies comes in. There are three documents Massachusetts residents should consider drawing up to guide family and doctors in a time of great need. Some are tailored to those who have existing medical conditions, but everyone should consider completing the documents that apply to them now while they are of sound mind and body.

  1. An advance directive, also known as a health care directive, tells your family how you'd like to be treated at the end of your life. You will designate a health care proxy who can make decisions on your behalf if you can't make them yourself, and you also will state the kind of medical treatment you would like – or don't want – in life-threatening situations. Your proxy will be able to follow your wishes by having this document. This is valuable for all adults.
  2. A Do Not Resuscitate order, commonly referred to as a DNR, tells medical personnel that you don't want to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation performed or be placed on life support. Your proxy and doctor both should have a copy of this, as well as any caregivers. This is appropriate for anyone who has a serious medical condition and is legally binding.
  3. A MOLST form is another advanced medical directive. MOLST stands for Massachusetts Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. These forms document what you and your doctors have discussed about the type of life-sustaining treatment that you desire.
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