To avoid probate, you can put a revocable trust in place. With a revocable trust, you keep control of your assets and direct how those assets are handled after you die. Your trust can be very simple, e.g., it can say that all of your assets go to your children, or it can be more complex, e.g., it can make provision for the education and support of your grandchildren, direct how a camp or summer home is to be used, allow protections for children who have creditors or financial problems and generally be customized for the particular situation of you and your family. A revocable trust avoids probate after you die. Because of this, attorney’s fees are minimal or nonexistent, the processing time is generally much faster than probate, and your family’s privacy is protected.
For people who are healthy now, and want to protect their assets should they need nursing home care in the future, we do Irrevocable Medicaid Trusts. The law of Medicaid Trusts is extremely complex and technical. In general, though, a Medicaid Trust can protect assets such as your house or your liquid assets from being depleted by a long-term nursing home stay, after the expiration of a five-year waiting period. For those who have a loved one in a nursing home right now, other techniques are available that can protect assets. For example, with a married couple, the strategic use of an immediate annuity can often protect most, if not all, of the assets without a five-year wait.
It is all well and good to establish an estate plan that avoids probate, minimizes taxes, and protects assets from the nursing home. However, wouldn’t it be heartbreaking to do all of that, and then see the inheritance lost to your children’s creditors, divorcing spouses, or simple bad decision-making. If this is a concern for you, protections can be built into your estate plan that can protect the inheritance from these unfortunate events.
For our clients who live in Massachusetts, avoiding estate taxes adds another dimension to estate planning. Massachusetts has an estate tax which kicks in when the assets reach $1 million. With today’s inflated housing market, it is much easier than you think to reach this level. A married couple can put in place two trusts, one for each spouse, which can minimize estate taxes, and sometimes avoid them completely.
If you have a special needs child, you need some very specific provisions in your estate plan. There are two reasons for this. First, if your child is a recipient of Medicaid or SSI, you cannot leave money directly to him or her. This would lead to the loss of these crucial benefits. Second, many special needs children, because of their disability, are not able to manage money. To deal with these two significant problems, we put in place what is known as a Special Needs Trust. A Special Needs Trust is structured to protect your child’s Medicaid and SSI, and also allows the inheritance to be managed by him or her.