Important considerations for setting up wills in Massachusetts

When popular actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, passed away last month at the age of 46, it was discovered that his will failed to provide for some of the most important people in his life. Nearly 10 years ago, Hoffman established a will leaving his entire estate to his partner, the mother of his then infant son. Unfortunately, his will failed to anticipate later-born children and he did not update his will when their two daughters were born.

The issues raised by having an outdated will are not insurmountable. However, simple modifications and updates could have saved his children and their mother a lot of hassle and money during the probate process.

Some reasons for a will

Failure to have a will causes your assets to pass to certain family members according to Massachusetts intestate laws. For some people, this may not seem to be a problem. However, without a will, the estate must go through probate - which can be a costly and drawn-out process. A legally executed will can give a family one less issue to deal with during the mourning process following a loved one's death.

A will can go a long way to clear up any possible confusion regarding a loved one's wishes. Wills - and other estate planning documents - allow you to designate how your assets will be divided. You may wish to provide for a charitable organization, a non-family friend or a favorite niece or nephew. Items of personal, tangible property are typically handled with a memorandum to your will. A will also allows you distribute your estate in uneven amounts, depending on your preferences, or disinherit someone for whom you have already provided during your lifetime.

If you have minor children, it is important to designate a guardian - someone who will take them in and oversee their financial and emotional wellbeing if their parents should pass before they reach the age of majority. Trusts created for minor children or older children with special needs can provide long-term care and staggered payouts of your estate at ages when you believe your children are more able to handle an influx of income.

You may be surprised to know that more Americans make provisions for their pets in their estate plans than ever before. Although money or other types of assets cannot be transferred directly to a pet, a trust may be established, assigning someone to receive money that will be used to provide care for a favored animal.

Items not to include in your will

There are many additional reasons to have a professionally prepared will, but there are some issues you should not address in your will, such as the following:

  • Funeral, burial or cremation arrangements
  • Retirement funds
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Properties held jointly with rights of survivorship

Consult a lawyer

If you do not have a will, or have not recently updated your will or other end-of-life documents, consult an experienced estate planning attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable about matters of probate, trust administration, elder law and guardianships can help ensure your final wishes are followed.