Questions Often Asked About Wills
Do I Need a Lawyer to Prepare a Will?
We can help you draft your will and explain the tax consequences. We also can help you comply with the detailed requirements for a valid will, see that your property is distributed as you wish and reduce estate taxes and probate costs. The legal fees are usually well spent and often less than the added costs and taxes that would result from dying without a will.
You should have a will if you own any property - a home, a car, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement benefits, jewelry, clothing, household goods, and so on. A will lets you distribute your property as you want with a minimum of costs and taxes. It is an opportunity to select an executor for your estate, a guardian for your children, establish trusts, and dispense with costly bonds. If you don't have a will, ask us about drafting one without delay.
Why Do I Need a Will?
A will avoids costs and complications for your heirs when you die. Besides providing instructions about gifts of your property, your will can provide instructions for payment of your debts, selection of an executor of your estate and appointment of a guardian for your children. If you don't make a will, you will have given up your right to decide who inherits your property. Your property will be distributed according to state law, which might be quite different from what you would have wished. We can help you prepare a valid will that minimizes taxes and reduces the time and expense of probating your estate.
When Should I Change a Will?
You may need to change your will if you marry, divorce, have a child, acquire substantial property, move to a new state, or suffer the loss of a loved one. Tax law changes may also require a will update. Read and review your will at least once a year to consider changes. You can make changes by writing a new will, or by preparing an amendment to your existing will called a codicil. A new will is best if there are many changes. A codicil may be appropriate for a small change, but it must be made with the same formalities as a new will. Crossing out or writing inserts onto your will might invalidate it!
Do I Need to Appoint a Guardian for my Children?
If you have children under age 18, you should appoint a guardian in your will. Otherwise, if you and your spouse die at the same time without such appointment, a court will select a guardian to care for your children and manage their inheritance until they become adults. Your will can create a trust to control the property transferred to your children. A trust is useful if you are concerned that the children may lack the maturity to handle their inheritance after they turn 18 years of age. We can assist you in selecting a guardian and in creating a trust in your will that protects your children and your wishes.
What is a Living Will?
In addition to ordinary wills concerning your property when you die, a "living will" instructs your doctor and family on extraordinary medical procedures to withhold life support equipment while you are alive under circumstances determined by you. A living will is important if you become comatose with no hope of regaining consciousness. We can help you write a "living will".
Making Funeral Arrangements
You can include instructions for your funeral arrangements in your will. However, you may wish to put these instructions in a separate letter. Give a copy of the instructions to your executor or a family member or friend to avoid delays when you die. You also can include instructions about gifts of your body organs to hospitals for research or transplants. Such instructions for gifts of body organs can be noted on your driver’s license or a separate donor card that you can carry in your wallet.
How Can I Reduce the Taxes on my Estate?
Federal and state taxes may be deducted from your property before it is transferred to your heirs. A federal estate tax applies if the value of your property exceeds $2 million in 2006, 2007 or 2008, or exceeds 3.5 million in 2009 and thereafter. The Massachusetts state exemption is $1 million from 2006 onward. We can help you prepare an estate plan that will reduce these taxes. For example, we may suggest that you make gifts before you die to reduce taxes, hold property in joint tenancy with your spouse, transfer ownership of life insurance policies to your spouse or heirs, or use a trust arrangement.