When you die, you want your assets to be transferred to family members and others you wish to provide for as you intend. In order to ensure your wishes are honored, you must create a comprehensive estate plan.
A detailed will should be part of your estate plan. When drafting one, be certain that it meets your particular needs and that it's valid under Massachusetts law.
Why You Need a Will
A last will and testament is a legal document that allows for the distribution of your estate to your beneficiaries pursuant to the terms you establish. If you die without a valid will, your assets would be distributed under Massachusetts laws on intestate succession—which may result in assets extended to your spouse, children, or other family members in ways you wouldn't want.
Wills can be complex or simple. How yours is designed depends on your assets, your intention for the property, the individuals you designate as heirs, and other particular concerns.
There are many benefits to creating a will as part of an estate plan. Some objectives you can accomplish include:
- Disposition of your property. In a will, you can state exactly how you want your real estate, personal property, and other assets be distributed to family members, stepchildren, friends, charities, or other entities. This gives you peace of mind, knowing the people who and causes that matter to you are provided for after your death.
- Executor. You can appoint an executor—also known as your personal representative—who's responsible for probating your estate and distributing your assets pursuant to your will. This ensures someone you trust will handle the estate in the manner you intended.
- Guardian. If you're the last surviving parent of minor children, using a will to appoint a legal guardian for them and the assets they'll inherit is vital estate planning. This avoids a fight between family members over who should care for your children, and ensures they'll be raised by a person who you believe will look out for their best interests.
A will doesn't avoid the need for the probate of your estate. However, it can avoid unnecessary conflict, and establish financial certainty to individuals you wish to provide for in the future. A current will can also speed up the probate process and make it less costly.
Requirements for a Valid Will in Massachusetts
A will must meet certain requirements to be valid under Massachusetts law. For example, a handwritten not witnessed by others isn't recognized in our state. Here are the basic requirements that must be met:
- The person executing the will—also called the testator—must be 18 or older and of sound mind. To be of sound mind, a person must have the mental capacity to make informed decisions.
- The person must execute the will in front of two witnesses, who must also sign the document. It is best if the witnesses are disinterested, which means that they will not receive anything under the will. If an interested party signs, the document is still valid, but they or their spouse may not be permitted to receive their gift under the will.
- A will doesn't need to be notarized to be legal. However, if the signatures of the testator and witnesses are notarized, the will is self-proving. This means it can be accepted by the probate court without the need to contact the witnesses, which helps the probate process go faster.
An oral will is only valid in limited circumstances in Massachusetts. They're only recognized if made by a soldier on active duty or a mariner at sea who are making their last wishes known.
The Value of Experience in Estate Planning
You may be tempted to use an online form or cookie-cutter form to prepare your will to save the cost of hiring an attorney. However, this would be a big mistake, even if you don't believe you have many valuable assets or don't believe your family will fight your will in probate.
Retaining an attorney ensures your specific needs are met in the will and that it's legal and binding for beneficiaries once you die. In addition, a will is only one part of a comprehensive estate plan. You may need a revocable, irrevocable, or another type of trust; powers of attorney; and other documents to protect your assets during your life and upon your death.
Let attorney Michael Monteforte, Jr. help you create a personalized estate plan that distributes your assets as you want, protects your loved ones, and legal under Massachusetts law. To get started, call our Wilmington office today to schedule an initial consultation.