No matter how young, healthy, and financially secure you are, failing to have a comprehensive estate plan can unnecessarily burden your family after your death. If you own a business, the aftermath can become even more tangled. In the state of Massachusetts, assets that are not part of an estate plan can be subject to intestacy laws and, potentially, high estate taxes. It may surprise you to learn that state probate processes can take a year or more to conclude, even if you have a Will!
Further, when using a Will, your family will have to go through the probate process, as a judge must approve the Will. This proceeding is a matter of public record, meaning there is no privacy for your affairs. Without a Will, your estate will also go through probate but your assets could end up being distributed to people you would not wish to have them. Unfortunately, many adults are under the impression that having a Will completely takes care of their estate planning needs. In reality, wills are simply a tool for the overarching plan. At FEPLG, our team can take the stress out of the estate planning process one step at a time.
Many Wilmington small business owners and families rely on Trusts, as part of a comprehensive estate plan, when planning for their estate and business succession. Not only are Trusts extremely useful in protecting your assets, but they can also be customized for individual beneficiaries, charitable giving, and planning for a loved one with special needs. When you work with the FEPLG estate planning team, we can help you establish asset protection strategies that will ensure your legacy benefits loved ones for generations to come.
You will appreciate our unique process, which includes our SAVeT™ System, as well as our Family Care Meeting™. We help you to bring together a comprehensive team, which includes our FEPLG team as well as your financial advisors, accountants, and loved ones. Our unique SAVeT™ System incorporates simplifying, consolidating assets, aligning assets with your estate plan, and verifying that alignment. We then continually track your assets to ensure alignment and verification remain current as laws change, institutional rules change, and your assets and life circumstances change. The FEPLG team is proud to say Together We Plan for Life®.
How Divorce or Death of a Spouse Can Affect Your Estate Plan
If you are one of the 7% of families in Wilmington facing divorce, you may not have fully considered how your divorce may impact your estate plan. If you had a Will or Trust created after you were married, a good portion of your estate was likely left to your spouse. You may have even given your spouse the authority to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
Once your divorce is final it is likely you will want another beneficiary for your assets and will give the authority to handle critical health issues on your behalf to someone other than your ex. Far too many people neglect to change their estate plan following a divorce. This can result in an estate plan that fails to reflect current wishes and may leave an ex in charge of your assets and your medical decisions.
In Massachusetts, spouses can protect their estates through state and federal exemption rules to minimize tax liability after they die. Under federal estate tax law, the surviving spouse has the right to use any unused exemption amount their spouse had. This only applies if there was an estate plan already in place, and your assets are worth more than $1 million. Failing to take advantage of this tax break because you did not have an estate plan could mean you lose a valuable exemption. This can also create a tax burden that your spouse may not be able to afford. Our ongoing client care program will help you to ensure your estate plan is current, and always reflects your wishes.
Using Estate Planning for Business Succession
Another important aspect of estate planning is protecting your business assets and ensuring its succession once you have passed away. Perhaps you want to keep your company going as a family business or want it sold to financially support your loved ones after you die. No matter what your reasons, keeping your business and loved ones protected from unexpected tax liabilities and creditor debt is vital to your planning efforts.
Most business succession plans begin by choosing a successor. Making this critical decision will determine the future of your company once you are gone, and this choice could be impacted by a number of factors, including:
- Business structure
- Stakeholders in your company
Without a succession plan, disputes could arise, which can be especially devastating to your loved ones if the business is family-owned. A well-prepared estate plan takes careful planning and consideration. Working with an experienced FEPLG attorney who is familiar with Wilmington estate planning needs can significantly benefit you, both in the present and in the future. We will guide you through choosing the right individual for a future leadership role and help you to establish a dispute resolution process to prevent future litigation.
Trusts Offer More Protection than Wills in Massachusetts
You may think that a Will is all your family really needs to settle your estate in the event of your death, but as noted, Massachusetts requires wills to go through probate court for approval. This is a risky situation because your entire estate is subject to state intestacy laws if not approved. If this should happen, your family would not only be subject to estate taxes but those you wanted to receive your assets may not, according to succession laws.
On the other hand, a trust can not only shield your loved ones from probate costs and some estate taxes but can also help to prevent creditors from depleting your assets. This means your loved ones can get the support you intended them to have as quickly as possible. Trusts avoid the entire probate process because instead of you individually owning your assets, your trust owns them on your behalf, leaving you control of your assets without the exposure to the probate process.
Wilmington Estate Planning Attorneys to Plan Your Estate
For over 30 years, the Family Estate Planning Law Group team has been proud to serve families and businesses in the Wilmington area and beyond. Our staff continuously strives to provide dedicated advocacy to our clients. We provide access to comprehensive estate planning services and the tools needed to protect both assets and loved ones. No matter where you live, near Silver Lake, or up in North Wilmington, the FEPLG team has the experience you need to create a lasting legacy for your loved ones. We are never transactional with our services; rather we take care of our clients and their families through our ongoing client care program.
Despite the emotional nature of end-of-life planning, our team works hard to provide you with a comfortable experience that puts you at ease. We understand your desire to provide for your loved ones after you are gone and will help you create an estate plan that provides for them for generations to come. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with our knowledgeable estate planning attorneys to learn more. If you would like information on other related estate planning topics, explore our blog and website for informative articles that can tell you more about FEPLG and our approach to asset protection strategies.